Achieving Happiness

January 12, 2011

The Consolations of philosophy and the art in everyday existence (Eight books by British writer Alain de Botton)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 11:02 am

This is my first article for Bulatlat.com. Sana mabasa ni Alain de Botton, hahahaha!

There are no step-by-step guidebooks to life, and most people simply try to get by from day-to-day. Writer Alain de Botton, however, offers his body of work as Post-its and reminders that there is so much more to living than being awake. His series of clever, compassionate and intellectually stimulating books on philosophy and art tries to provide insight on the lighter side of the human condition and the difficulties of coping with the world’s challenges.

On Love (1993)

Here, de Botton writes a treatise on love, using a hammersmash of theories from various schools and periods. The narrator tells a story of one specific experience in falling in love – his own – and he describes moment-by-moment how he came to fall in love with a woman named Chloe.Anyone who has ever gone through the experience of romantic relationships can relate to the author as he goes through the ups and down of being with another person. But before you can scoff and dismiss the book as an expanded excerpt from , say, Cosmo or any other glossy magazine devoting pages and pages to female confusion about the opposite sex, On Love makes clever and intelligent use of theories in art and literary criticism, political discourse, and religious worship, and applies them to romantic situations.

For instance, when confessing the difficulties of understanding his girlfriend, he says it’s a battle between the two schools of Marx– the one founded by the German proletariat Karl, and the other being led by Groucho. The self-sacrificing, humanity-embracing philosophy of the former is what he truly wants to live by when dealing with problems with his beloved, but often when he loses patience (and when the beloved throws a fit as well), everything deteriorates into a situation reminiscent of the skits by the latter and his brothers.

Love, as the cliche goes, is a battlefield; and it is fraught with conflict ranging from small to enormous. Inevitably, however, there will either be a comfortable peace or the damage wrought too extensive for repair. In the book, the story ends with hope after a broken heart, but solace is found in poetry and the syrupy torch songs.

This is the first book de Botton wrote, and it sets the tone for the other books he has written through the years. He writes with intelligence and humor, compassion and an unstated but evident wish to help readers make sense of the chaos that is the romantic world as we know it.

Kiss and Tell (1995)

Here, de Botton creates an ersatz biography of another girlfriend, and as he does this, he posits a few questions: does one really need to be known to be written about? Or is any life so long as it has been lived well worth desribing? In the progression of his biography of Isabel, an ordinary woman with an ordinary background and a less than successful career in publishing, it becomes evident that there really are no ordinary lives: the minute details of our day-to-day existence become weighted by meaning when we glean lessons from them. From these lessons we learn, and the mistakes or weaknesses of our past also become valuable for the same reason.

The uniqueness of every human life depends on how we experience every moment, every challenge, and how we respond to them, either to betray grace under pressure or to show the yellow feather and run. Truth were told, all lives are interesting if told right; but what is crucial in biographies is not the tribute being paid to the subject, but how the life as it is written impacts on the reader.

De Botton’s subject Isabel captivates his biographer with the little quirks of her character, and inspires in him affection. While primary the book reads like an offbeat romantic comedy, there’s more than it in the end because of what the more analytical reader can realize about the difference between the lives of ordinary folk (who are seldom written about) and the members of the ruling classes (who erect statues, build museums, publish books after their own deeds and themselves). Isabel is an ordinary girl, but because she inspired the narrator, she became the subject of his scrutiny and writing.

There are biographies of men and women who enjoyed immense wealth and power, but what do these books say to readers: “Get rich like me or you’re a loser”? Then there are the biographies of people who quietly devoted their lives to causes that seek to redeem humanity and give hope to the following generations. De Botton does not make specific distinctions nor does he lay down judgments, but leaves it to the reader to discern for himself what matters most when reading biographies (or choosing subjects for biographies, for that matter).

A life well lived means a life that was also lived for others: it is here where the uniqueness of a specific life is more defined.

How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997)

The genius Marcel Proust, according to Botton’s book, is a hypochondriac who alternately spent his days sick in bed and writing long sentences and meandering observations.

Here was a man who enjoyed the good life but at the same time, always feared being ill that he seldom went out. He lived with his mother all his life and seldom left her side, but he was able to describe places and imagine events in his work that betrayed a well travelled, wordly and experienced individual. Here was a man who was said to have talked in monosylables with James Joyce, but wrote ‘In Search of Lost Time’ wherein he devoted a total of 17 pages to describing a man toss and turn in bed because of insomnia.

Proust can change your life if you choose not to live like him and instead, live the way Proust wrote: actively, consistently and with grace. Proust may not have been able to live an active life, but as a writer he was prolific, observant, embracing the world. De Botton uses examples from Proust’s life and dealings with others as guidepost on how to live: be resolute and active in pursuing what you believe what will make you a productive human being even if Proust mainly didn’t. The products of Proust’s life — his books, his letters — were, suffice it to say, better than his actual life and how he spent it.

What this humorous yet analytical work seems to say is that the learning about the lives of celebrated writers have the effect of making more discerning and more critical when reading their work. While there are those who much prefer critiquing works of fiction without making much mention of the life of the writers who created them, it is still instructive to not lose ourselves in the work without knowing who was behind it lest we find ourselves misled.

The Consolations of Philosophy (2000)

This is the ultimate self-help book. De Botton picks six ordinary problems: Unpopularity; Not having enough money; Frustration; Inadequacy; A broken heart; and Difficulties, and presents the lives and philosophies of six thinkers as means to achieve solutions.

Rarely does it occur to us that the philosophers of the early ages have anything to say about the conflicts small and large we suffer as we try to maneuver through various aspects of our lives and our careers. Here, de Botton distills the philosophies of Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and presents readers with a virtual guidebook on how to handle stress and difficulties using the lessons from said teachers and intellectuals.

What does Schopenhauer say about being alone? Or Socrates about remaining steadfast in your belief even in the face of hostility? Can Epicurus give consolation to someone who doesn’t have enough money? How will Montaigne’s philosophy address and remove feelings of inadequacy?

Ordinarily when we need advice or a patient ear, we turn to friends or relatives we respect; de Botton gives another alternative: consult the philosophers and see what they have to say about your problem. More often than not, the solutions that the philosophers — and de Botton – recommend have to do with making adjustments in our our personal behavior and views of others and the world.

For instance, on dealing with frustrations of not having enough money, de Botton offers the Athenian Epicurus.

It’s a common misconception that Epicurean philosophy was all about hedonism — the single minded pursuit of pleasure for the sake of it. What comes to mind are all night partying, ostentatious living and scandalous affairs.

The real Epicurus extolled none of that. What he prescribed as a solution to unhappiness and the problems caused by envy of others was simplicity. According to him, life became pleasurable when you succeeded in ridding yourself of unnecessary wants and needs and secured the support and affection of true friends.

Epicurus also went as far as to separate desires into three categories — the natural and necessary (Friends, Freedom, Thought, Food, shelter and clothes); the natural but unnecessary (Grand house, private baths, banquets, servants, fish and meat); and the neither natural nor necessary (Fame, Power).

Happiness, the philosopher said, was not reliant on the amount of money you earn or the accumulation of various possessions. Having freedom to read and think, to confide in people you trust, and to enjoy food you prepared yourself are enough for any one to be happy.

De Botton synthesizes Epicurean philosophy for the modern society: “Most businesses stimulate unnecessary desires in people who fail to understand their true needs, levels of consumption would be destroyed by greater self-awareness and appreciation of simplicity.” It is in the interests of commercial enterprises to skew the hierachy of our needs, to promote a material vision of the good and the downplay an unsaleable one.

The many causes of life’s anxities, Epicurus says, comes as a result of objects and goals that are unnecessary.

The Art of Travel (2002)

Not everyone has the luxury of time or money to go places, but where we are and the things immediately around us can already teach us and bring us further than our ordinary experience.

In this book, De Botton presents a means to see and perhaps understand the world and humanity through the eyes of artists –poets, novelists, painters –and their work. It’s not only travel in the physical sense that he describes, but how to be a true traveller who sees more than what the eyes can perceive and experiences all that he can absorb with an open mind and heart. As he visits a myriad of places from Madrid to Barbados to London, he uses as tour guides the work and lives of the likes of poet Charles Baudelaire, painter Edward Hopper, the author of Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert, the tortured genius Vincent Van Gogh, and the biblical character Job.

It doesn’t matter if you travel to Egypt or Amsterdam; or if you ride a steamship to get there or a plane; what counts is cultivating the habit of noticing. Our appreciation of what we see around us is heightened by the depth of our awaress and knowledge about the object or phenomenon. The same then can be said of our understanding of society itself and its economic and political workings: the more we learn about it, the more that we can understand about our own circumstances especially if it’s evident that what trials and tribulations we suffer cannot be accrued to our own faults, irresponsibility, laziness, etc. Learning first comes from observation, and from there, understanding can begin. It may be far off in the process, but new knowledge can lead and has often led to positive action.

This is what happened in the cases of the tour guide artists who’s respective work sought to comment on the societies they were born to, its norms and traditions, and the rules of what merits something beautiful or correct. The more we observe and learn, the greater will our drive be to create and to create something daring or insightful.It can be our reaction to what already exists – say, a society where injustice is prevalent – or our aspiration for something to happen,for example, the attainment of true democracy. Artists use their work to express more than themselves, but to denounce or to praise the status quo and its elements.

Finally in the book, De Botton posits that to be a true traveller is to be more than a visitor or a tourist: it means learning. Travelling to places far removed from the places of our origins grants us a set of fresh eyes. We can compare the differences between our current abode and the one we left behind, and acknowledge that there are more than ecological or environmental variances but the descrepancies between societies are more of a man-made, willful and systemic nature. What we do with our realizations is our choice. As we travel the world, we also conduct journeys within.

Status Anxiety (2004)

Daily we grow weary trying to cope with the demands and expectations of the world. For some of us, work has become more than a means to earn and hence to survive; it has become a definition, meaning the kind of work you perform speaks much about you. It doesn’t matter if it’s manual labor or mental work: when you compare yourself to your fellows and colleagues and how they have been faring, you can get a guage of your own relative status. The question that arises then is this: are you satisfied with it or not? If you’re not, what do you do about it?

De Botton offers oblique criticism against the concept of status as an guage for what is admirable or ideal: society puts too much stress on the accumulation of wealth when the ugly truth is that this very same pursuit of material gain is precisely what makes the world vicious and ugly. He tactfuly but pointedly instructs the reader to assess his standards of what makes success; what defines meaning purpose; and inevitably, what constitutes happiness.

Status, he says, is granted or imposed by society, and we all know that society is controlled by a ruling class. He then goes on to quote Marx who laid down that the ruling class is largely responsible for disseminating beliefs, many of them illogical and unjust. If the often foolish and irrational standards used to determine what is high status as opposed to low status are done away with, it is the ruling classes who deserve to be labelled ‘low.’ Why? Because its members feed off the labor and sacrifice of those below them in economic stature. An ideal conferment of status as a measurement of what is admirable would be to accord the highest title to the working people because it is actually through their toil that the world revolves.

In the end, the values that one embraces are reflected in he conducts himself in all arenas of life, be it work or friendship, romantic relationships and advocacies. The worries and anxieties are also colored by what one holds important: if you think that being fashionable is important, it will cause you anxiety to be seen wearing last season’s shoes. If you believe that public health and nutrition are important, you will be angry to find out that your government has slashed allocations for services for public hospitals while increasing provisions for military expenditures. Status anxiety is only as great or important as how you see your own worth to be granting that you are aware of what are truly important in life.

The Architecture of Happiness (2006)

In this book, de Botton guides us through the history of various cultures and the art they created when it came to physical structures and monuments. He presents the varying and sometimes conflicting schools of thought when it came to architecture and what makes a building beautiful, impressive, or quite simply, appealing.

As he has been wont to do in all of his books, de Botton gives his insight on the human condition, this time by using architecture. As an expression of the self and the prevalent beliefs of the times, what could be more telling than a building erected to the specifications set not only by the laws of engineering or physics, but the personal ideals of the architect and/or his client?

People have altered the environment to suit their whims and needs, and the birth and popularization of of various architectural philosophies throughout the centuries are a reflection of the same. Citing various famous landmarks and non-so-known buildings all over the world, de Botton explains that it is our natural inclination to surround ourselves with what will either reflect what we want of ourselves (our ambitions, hopes and dreams), or what will make us comfortable and feel ‘at home.’ For instance, a museum cannot be anyone’s house, but one can still feel at home surrounded by objects and works of art that inspire or agitate. The skylight, the empty spaces, the way the floor meets the walls and proceeds to guide you towards the stairs or a hidden recess, they can all contribute to how we feel at any given moment.

The value of this book is how, after reading it, one is compelled to look to one’s surroundings and see everything in a different way. The architectural construction of office buildings, banks, military bases, churches, hotels, schools — all of it makes a comment about their occupants and visitors, and on the whole contributes to a general image of the society it all belongs to. Again, the values we hold dear are determinant in how we construct our abodes and other physical structures. For instance, a society that considers education important will take pains to construct a physical environment of buildings and elements that are conducive to learning: large classrooms with good ventilation and lighting; comfortable bathrooms, flood-proof stairwells, etc. Beauty is not only in appearance, but more important, in form and utility.

Architecture can also be a telling sign of hypocrisy or twisted priorities in a society: imagine fast-tracking the beautification of public parks ahead of building public housing facilities for thousands of homeless people.

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (2009)

This, by far, is the most impressive of de Botton’s books. Here he leaves behind books and historical learning and goes out into the world to speak to and learn from actual living people and their experiences in their respective workplaces.

In this book, de Botton observes and describes people and their work, ranging from biscuit manufacturing, rocket launching, career counselling, painting, accountancy, aviation, and the logistics of procuring tuna tuna for the dining table.

In the last, he traces the origins of a vacuum-sealed pack of tuna to the seas in the Maldives. Through a series of captioned pictures, de Botton tells how he joined a team of fishermen, rode their boat and suffered through bouts of intestinal inflammation.

After witnessing the fishermen make a successful haul, he proceeded to the fish processing plant with ties to British importers and supermarkets. He watched the workers fillet the tuna, then the machines as they packed, sealed and labelled the fillets. After this, he went on to follow the shipment of fish as it boarded a plane towards England (the fish was in the cargo hold, while de Botton secured a seat in Economy). The shipment is unloaded in Heathrow, where de Botton finds supermarket merchandisers waiting. Eventually, the fillets are sold , and a pack ends up in the kitchen of a middle-class family. The fish, de Botton discovers, is for a young boy’s dinner. He sits with the boy and speaks to him over the meal which the boy Sam eats, even as he, Sam, proclaims that he hates tuna.

All throughout the book, de Botton expresses a wistful hope that we might gain a healthier respect for the working people if we understood better the nature of their work and the difficulties they experience in the conduct of their tasks.

In the process of learning and understanding, we also open ourselves to the possibility of being amazed at how far humanity has gone as a species when it comes to technological advancement even as we rue the backwardness of many of our traditions, values and beliefs, and how we relate to one another. The value we attach to certain pursuits can be seen as mislaid, and our own goals sometimes shallow when seen in the larger context of how the world works, or rather, how it is run.

Given this, work is more than a means of attaining a living when you think of the long hours we commit to it: it can become a means by which we can define ourselves. Far from considering manual labor as inferior to mental work, de Botton calls on the righteousness of being proud in one’s honest labor and its contribution to the social machinery. If we do our work well, no matter how menial it is, we should hold our head high.

Positive Reviews

For the most part, Alain de Botton’s books receive positive reviews. Some criticize his tendency to be pedantic, or the sometimes too-obvious effort to be clever ; but on the whole, it’s never a waste of time to read him. One could certainly do much worse than spend an afternoon in the company of de Botton and the philosophers.

January 7, 2011

To A and the elephant that danced

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 7:54 am

That he wore a replica of the ring worn by Aragon, King of Gondor in the Lord of the Rings movie was already an indication that A would still, essentially, be the same person he was two decades ago.

It’s been 17 years since A and I last saw each other. I was still studying in that supposedly premier state university in Diliman, while he attended that private learning institution in Intramuros that annually churned out engineers and architects. Previous to that, though, we were classmates in high school, and in the last two years that I wore the school uniform, I had a silent crush on him for reasons similar to my childhood belief in fairies and my appreciation for stories that end sadly.

I admit now that I was a bit nervous about seeing A again. The intervening years between the last time we spoke had seen me changing into someone quite different from the person he’d met in high school or seen during the few times we saw each other as university students. But more than anything, I was apprehensive because the last time we had met, I didn’t know if I had broken his heart or at least chipped it.

None of my worries, however, were enough to make me think it was a bad idea to see him again. We had communicated though Friendster and then on Facebook. He was always friendly, he was always kind. I felt that maybe he had forgotten, and that if there was anything to forgive, that he had done that, too.

And so we agreed to meet for tea and cake. I was back in the country and so was he for a short while. It made me happy to think that we could be friends again, and this is what made me shrug off everything else. We hugged and smiled and he apologized for being 20 minutes late. It was easy to forgive him because it was obvious that he had hurried the entire time to get there: he was sweating, and he was practically running when he arrived.

For the next hour he told me about how he had been. He was happy, and while he didn’t come out directly and say it out of modesty, successful; but five years ago he went through hell when his marriage dissolved in a way one would associate with the melodramas shown in the 80s and scriptwriters could not be bothered to be more creative.

I was sympathetic and shocked that he went through all that, but it was hard to keep from laughing: he narrated his story of woe in a self-mocking manner, and while he was not detached, it was obvious that he had succeeded in putting much emotional distance between his experience and himself. He could already afford to laugh and to pretend to look sad. He had recovered; for this I was grateful — I didn’t like the idea of A suffering.

Truth be told, he is the sort you would never think to hurt because, well, he always seemed to me a gentle soul, almost a child, really. Back in high school he was never mean or arrogant or overly self-confident. True, none of the other boys in our class were, but A, to me at least, was a shade nicer than most. But I’m being biased, so nevermind. Privately, I thought his former wife was an idiot.

Then we moved on to other things. I told him about this and that about my life, my work, the onset of what promised to be a brutal winter in Europe that prompted my and my daughter’s hasty departure leaving behind my husband who still had two years to finish his doctorate degree.

By then I was no longer apprehensive, I was certain that no mention of the even more distant past would take place. We could focus on the present, I thought; the elephant that threatened to enter the room would never have to show its face and it would go back to the circus that was my emotional and relationship history.

I was wrong. Not only did the elephant entered the room, it did so being carefully led by A himself.

“I have a confession to make. I know it’s been years and years and years, but I still want to come out and tell you,” he began. I noticed that he sat even straighter in his chair, and he was leaning forward in his eagerness to speak out. As for me, I felt myself slowly turning into a snail.

So he began to talk. He told me that in high school he had a crush on me, and did I ever know that? I shook my head: honestly, I didn’t. There was the prom and we danced…There were times when our friends teased us, didn’t I remember?

Mute, head shaking, weak smile.

But what about after high school — the few times he visited me in Diliman? It was a long ride from Intramuros to Quezon City, did it never occur to me why he made the effort? Or the other times we went out to watch movies? The times we talked and it wasn’t like he was always making jokes…

This is what he said that made the elephant dance: he said that I told him that there was someone else that I cared for, and while that declaration from me did not really constitute a refusal for him and what he had yet to really offer, it was enough to stop him from ‘bothering’ me. It hurt, he said. He wasn’t expecting it. And while he said it with regret, he didn’t sound at all like he was blaming me for the pain.

I could only shake my head. Right then I knew exactly how Celine in that movie Before Sunset felt when Jesse kept telling her details of their one whole day together a decade before, and she kept denying everything: it turned out, in the end, that she remembered everything even as she forced herself to forget.

Interruption — I decided to write about this because I felt, as a writer, that it was something interesting to describe. Chuck Palahniuk in a recent blog post came out with a list of writing tips, and among them he said to ‘write about the things that upset you because they’re the only things really worth writing about.’ Well, this reunion with A upset me, and while it’s not in a bad way, it affected me enough to make me want to write about it.

Then here’s the truth: I did feel that the short time I spent with A back in our college years was happy, and when it ended suddenly, abruptly, and without proper explanations as a result of my …confusion and — let it be said even if some would say it’s a corny excuse — youth, I felt bad and sad about it.

The cliches about closure are true: it is needed. It doesn’t matter if it’s been months or years and even decades; the words left unsaid, the unfulfilled necessity of showing gratitude for kindness received and affection felt; the unperformed ritual of saying goodbyes and stating sincere wishes that a friendship will be kept despite, they all need to be spoken and done.

It had been years, but suddenly it felt like only yesterday. That’s another cliche that I have personally proven to be true. Right then I began to remember what I said, what I did, and it was like being caught between sliding doors. Memory is a funny thing, really. It turned out that, boy!, A had a very good one, and mine, well, there have been so many things that I have chosen to forget because they caused me pain; and there are other things I chose to forget because they caused me shame and a measure of, yes, regret.

Ah, Celine! If only you were real, I would’ve tracked you down in Paris and asked you about the persistence of memory and how it can surprise you!

In the end, all I could offer A was the explanation that I never said that I already loved someone else (I could barely get the ‘L’ word out) and that I didn’t want to see him again; all I said was that there was a friend I cared about and the said person was more or less relying on my friendship (gad, how’s that for a grayish description of a relationship). I told A these things because I wanted to be honest, and I wanted to be fair. At the time I was uncertain why exactly A rode the jeep from Intramuros to Quezon City to see me (no, I’m not clueless; I just don’t like to assume things because I’m not vain), so if he was going to speak up, then was a good time as any.

And no, it was not at all like I didn’t like A or didn’t care about him (two years of having a giant a crush on somebody is not nothing; and I did write him this strange letter…).

But he didn’t speak up. Instead, he became silent, and he all but disappeared from my life until Friendster was invented and then years later, Facebook.

Return to the present. To make amends, I made a vow to answer all A’s questions honestly if he issued them. We agreed to meet again for dinner a few days after.

I don’t know what prompted him to tell me, but he told me about how his life was like in college, how he had to struggle to stay in school, and then afterwards to find work. It was not an easy life, and he often felt at a loss, but he persevered. He loved his family, he put them ahead of everything else, and it was for them that he gave all that he could to his work.

In the meantime, I felt it no short of amazing how I, who had once upon a time, had the courage and the anger to accost and berate a row of police armed with truncheons and shields; I who could help emcee a political rally with a crowd of thousands, had to breathe deeply to muster the strength to be honest and to not falter with my words. It made me sound flippant, the effort it took. I was to apologize for this later on, but right then as I sat across A, listening to him, answering his questions, even the ones for which there were no certain answers because the conditions they presented were unknown and could never be realized, I was thankful I could still speak.

I didn’t know that he had to struggle to finish school, and that he worked nights in various fastfood chains so he could have money for class projects; or that he sometimes did the homework of classmates so they would, in return, treat him to lunch…

Oh, but I was happy for him, and proud of how he had succeeded against so many odds! He loved his former wife, and while it didn’t turn out the way he wanted, he at least emerged in one piece from the remnants of their marriage that she broke. More than whole — he was not essentially altered because he became neither bitter or cynical. He was, still, whole at heart.

But this has been a long entry, and I don’t know how to end it. Generous of heart and kind to a fault, A deserves all the happiness he can get. It was a good day for friendship, that afternoon and evening we spent talking. It was not always awkward (on my part — only the guilty feel uncomfortable), and we both laughed and laughed over his romantic misadventures after that episode with his marriage. I told him about my husband, our daughter and how she takes after her father. I told him that no relationships were ever perfect, that they really took a lot of effort and that sometimes it was exhausting to the point of pain and tears. What it all boils down is constancy: love requires faith and constant work, and if you let down your guard or if you are careless, you could lose it and never recover it.

This, he said, was good advice, something he would remember when he finally finds HER. In fact, he may have already found her, but he’s uncertain how to proceed…

A! You wear Aragorn’s ring, and while I did tell you it was soooo geeky, it’s also cool in a Big Bang Theory way and because you believe in what Aragorn fought for and his quest. Forget my comment about it, and forget what I said about Arwen’s pendant and how you want to give it to HER. It’s a gesture that speaks much about you, what you’re like, and what you believe in. I wish you well, I wish you the courage to tell HER and nevermind all your fears and worries — full speed ahead! Thank you for the Listerine juice, thank you for your honesty, thank you for the friendship and the willingness to listen to this bad girl you didn’t know about and about to the ‘different’ life she leads.

And finally, you thought I didn’t hear it when you asked: you more than exceeded all my expectations formed in high school.

December 23, 2010

Christmas of the haves and have-nots; Red interviews

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 3:40 am

It’s been years since I last felt that Christmas truly meant something beyond the usual get-togethers and the exchange of gifts and the mad rush to buy new clothes and clothes. If anything, Christmas has become somewhat sad for me, nevermind that I now have a daughter whom I could spoil and pamper during the season if I had the mind to ( I don’t).

Why is it sad? Because the holidays all the more throw into stark contrast the lives of the haves and the have-nots. The poverty of the poor and the wealth of the rich are all the more made glaringly obvious than usual, and everything even more painful to me when I see the children of the poor roam the streets, begging for alms, or warbling and lisping their way through songs with mangled lyrics in the hopes that they will receive a few coins in return.

They have no good food to look forward to. They will wear no new clothes or shoes. They will not be receiving toys from relatives, or from their parents. Their parents in the meantime are away somewhere trying to scrape enough money so they can at least eat on December 24 midnight, even if it’s only various scraps from hotel restaurants sold by the kilo in Divisoria.

I did not have the energy or the enthusiasm to put up a tree this year. I saw so many real Christmas trees in Bremen, Germany when we went there to see the Christmas Market, and all that beauty (twinkling lights, gorgeously bright and colorful ornaments, the clean scent of pine and the gentle feel of falling snow) in such an affluent country felt right. I didn’t feel guilty about enjoying myself. I looked at my daughter and saw how she actively looked around her, learning new things, tasting new food, experiencing new sensations, and I felt content.

But here, back home, where poverty and unemployment levels are so high they make you scream; and where so many do not even have money to two kilos of rice at a time much less ham, keso de bola or the ingredients for fruit salad, well, I can’t seem to muster Christmassy feelings.

Vendors in Baclaran loudly hawk their wares (plastic toys, knock-off brands of shoes, underwear, costume jewelry, cooking implements) and even as they laughed off their exhaustion with their fellows, one could still see their desperation to sell sell sell because more sales mean better than usual food on the table on the eve of December 25. Along Roxas Boulevard and within the vicinity of the Redemptorist Church, entire families live in make-shift shelters. The shelters can’t even be properly called that because they barely provide it: pieces of cardboard and advertising tarps tied together with twine and rusty wire form the low roof, while the floor is comprised of plastic and cotton sacks that used to contain rice and flour. For these families, December 25 is just another day for them and their children: to be spent in hunger, while they themselves remained dirty and smelly because there are no toilets or bathrooms.

I look through the pages of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and there were feature articles on the gifts various celebrities and politicians are buying for themselves and for their families, and everything made me ill. They’re buying each other watches that cost P50,000;chocolates that come in Murano vases and have tag prices of at least P5,000; designer clothes and leather shoes whose combined prices would’ve fed an urban poor family for two, even four months as well as settled their electricity and water bills. They’re getting each other iPads and Galaxy tablets and various other gadgets and while they enjoy their new hardware, on tv there’s a report of how schoolchildren in Northern Luzon are grateful beyond tears because they received rainboots: their school has all but sunk under floodwater and for the last semester their feet have remained wet as they waded to and from their classroom.

Now I don’t have a problem with gifts, giving or receiving. Neither do I have an issue with buying clothes (I buy mine at ukay-ukay stores, though. Even in Holland I went to the second-hand shops). But there’s something…evil…about spending so much when so many, many others have so very little and so many, many others are dying because they don’t have money for hospital and medical care, proper nutrition, or adequate shelter.

It’s depressing, I tell you.

But there are reasons to be happy and grateful all the same. I am, after all, home. I traveled a total of 16 hours with my daughter from the Netherlands then Singapore, and it was a smooth and uneventful journey. We were most fortunate to have sat next to kind and generous people who didn’t mind having a toddler talk to them in gibberish for hours at a stretch until she fell asleep or got hungry. They helped me put on my daughter’s seatbelt straight when I, stressed out, couldn’t remember how to attach it to my own. They watched her for me when I needed to go to the lavatory, and they asked the flight crew for an extra pillow for her when she began nodding off in her seat. There are still kind people in the world – and I am very glad to have been reminded of this.

I am happy because my daughter now knows her daddy better, and I am happy because my husband is a good (albeit overly protective) father. I am happy because my mother’s health is secure, and because my sister is finding fulfillment in her work. I am happy because the friends I made in college are still my friends today. I am happy because the newer friends I have are intelligent, kind and compassionate people. and I am happy because I have highly interesting work for the coming year and I am excited at the prospect of writing about another individual deeply worthy of emulation and respect.

——-

The following are interviews from a documentary made by a foreign film maker who was visiting The Netherlands. He had previously visited the Philippines, and apparently he learned much from the experience and he wanted to share everything with his own countrymen by making a documentary. I helped a little by editing the English version of the script and subtitles of the footage, and I thought I’d share a few excerpts. Suffice it to say that I also learned a lot from editing it.

Interviews with Guerrillas
Bojoy (22): “I have been a guerrilla for the last four years. I did not know anything about the revolution before. The comrades from the NPA came to our village and spoke with the people. They explained what it was they were fighting for, and taught us what exactly is was that caused our poverty and the great problems the Philippines faced that kept it from developing.

“But it was not just problems they spoke about: they also said that there were solutions. They mentioned the word ‘revolution’ many times, and it was then that I began to wonder what it was. I wanted to know why there people who were willing to give themselves to such a cause, and why they saw it so important that all Filipinos be part of it.

“It was then that I began to believe.

“I was 16 years old at that time and had attended high school. I quietly found answers to the questions in my mind. So, I started to imagine being a communist warrior. Of course I could not say that I had knowledge about revolution, ‘protracted people’s war’ and other heavy matters in the Philippines before I joined the NPA; but what I already knew, what I already believed was sufficient to help me make up my mind.

“In the NPA I learned what protracted people’s war means, and revolution.

“In the NPA I don’t see any gender inequality. Of course I can’t say that there isn’t completely any. For instance, some men would say “You are women, you cannot fight, you cannot use weapons.” But the Party discusses misconceptions like this with comrades and explain why this is wrong.

“Women in the NPA are always given opportunities to prove themselves. We sometimes carry the staffs faster than the male comrades, and sometimes we are quicker in using our weapons. Also, the health care comrades are women, and they are able to take care of all the injured, and at the same time fight in engagement areas.

“It does not mean that men don’t or can’t do this, but as women we also prove that we can fight as much as they can.

“I have also memories in my life as a guerrilla that I am unable to forget. I have had terrible experiences as well.

“One time, the military raided our camp, and as we retreated, several comrades were killed. I became depressed. I did not want to carry the gun anymore and I wanted to leave. I spoke to the comrades, and they did their best to help me, but I refused to listen to their advice and words of comfort. But we had to continue our work, so we went to a village to speak with the community residents there.

“In the village, three children and an old woman came and hugged me. They said “Don’t leave us, you are our hope. If you go, we wouldn’t know what to do and whom to trust.”

“I was shocked and I wept. It is not only because of them I cried, but also because I realized how selfish I was. I joined the NPA to help the revolution succeed, to help the people. I had already accepted that victory will not come without lives being lost, without the revolution having martyrs.

“I gave up all my plans to leave, and have since become stronger than I was before.”

———–
Clara (22) (from the Manobo community)

“I am new here. I have been in NPA for only 17 months.

“What I like to share most with the masses are the things that I have learned in the NPA. It is exciting to be with masses and being with them encourages me to improve my work in the Movement more.

“I haven’t yet had the chance to see my family since I joined NPA. My family was against my joining the revolutionary struggle and they were influenced by state’s “the NPA are terrorists” black propaganda. I know they are mistaken, and I am happy I decided to become an NPA.

“When I was a school boy, my schoolmates made fun of me. They mocked my hair and skin. They always told me that I was different. I did not understand, but I felt that that they attacking me personally.

“Eventually I understood that it wasn’t a personal issue. All jokes were directed against my skin color, so it meant that they were actually making fun of my people.

“I never had any dream to go to university, or get a job to become rich. I graduated from high school and then I joined the struggle, and that has been the best and most meaningful decision of my life.

“I believe that women should unite against their common enemy: not men, but a system of exploitation that violates the rights of both women and men. I want all women in my country to join the struggle and fight for emancipation that only the revolution can give us. This is also a call to all women across the world. Women should know that their emancipation is in the revolution.”

——-
Ka Andrea (Farmer) : “I did not immediately become an NPA when I first joined the struggle. I began by being a member of the youth organization in our village. I met my husband in the group’s activities. It was 1996 when I first knew him, but we did not become a couple then.

“We joined the NPA in 2003, and he sought permission from the Party so he could propose marriage to me. He proposed and I accepted. We participated in the Party’s marriage program.

“Comrades who want to marry are encouraged to be a part of a program wherein they learn what is expected from them as a couple in the revolution. We learn that our marriages are not ordinary because they are in the context of revolution, and we are more than husbands and wives but partners, comrades in the struggle.”

“There are collective discussions in the program where we help each other cope with any difficulties we encounter in our marriage and our family lives.

“Now we have a child, a one-year old boy. Of course, it is difficult to be far away from our son I miss him very much, but I struggle to overcome my emotion because the sacrifices we are making in the revolution are also for him, for his future.”

—-
Maria Malaya : “I met Oris after I became a full-time activist. Oris was in the guerrilla front, I was in the white area. We have been working full-time in the rural areas since the 1980s. We have two children.

“When I first got pregnant, my biggest difficulty was where I would leave my children to be taken care of. My daughter was almost kidnapped by soldiers, but they failed when the person taking care of her screamed for help and the neighbors came to rescue them.

“Our son looks like his father and our daughter looks like me. Whenever there is a military operation, our children leave the village where they live.

——-
Milan (21) : “ Our country is semi-colonized and semi-feudal, and Filipinos suffer great exploitation.

“I decided to join NPA to fight exploitation the same way the other comrades seek to do. I want a country where there is compassion and justice, where there is true freedom and national independence.”

“I know there are many obstacles in the path of true freedom, and many lives have been sacrificed and many more will be lost. But these difficulties are part and parcel of the struggle, and I understand this. I am not here to help bring freedom for my people.

“It often rains here in the mountains, and the paths can get very slippery. But I can’t imagine not being here, being part of the struggle. I can easily bear with these weather conditions, they are nothing compared to the greater challenges we will meet as we continue. The revolution entails many sacrifices, and coping with bad weather is a small thing. I am ready to make greater sacrifices, I am prepared to give my life for the revolution.”

———
Ka Bayani (23): “I belong to Mamanua minority, and as a minority group we face much hardship.

“I joined the revolution on behalf of my tribe. I want an end to the inhumane treatment we are often subjected to.

“ My people want an end to discrimination, and we want to be treated with respect and live with dignity. My people want to live harmoniously with other minorities, and with all Filipinos. I want an end to all the insults and name-calling we often suffer; because of our dark skin and our curly hair, we have been discriminated against. I’ve been called a monkey, ‘King-Kong.’ I’ve been beaten by bullies because of how I look.

“Minorities such as my tribe have been denied their rights to education and health services. I joined the revolution so I could help my people have access to both, and to more things that will enable them to live in dignity.

“There is only one way to achieve freedom for this country, and this is true revolution. I am happy here. It is first time that I have been regarded as a human being. Nobody insults and makes fun of me because of my appearance. I am treated as an equal by other comrades and I can express my opinions freely. This how I want my people to live and to be treated. There is no discrimination here, everyone is equal. Because there is no racial discrimination in the revolutionary struggle. We are all comrades.


Sydney (24) : “I have been in NPA for four years. I am assistant company commander.

“We closely and faithfully implement international humanitarian laws on the treatment of captives.

“First, we do a thorough background check on the captive. For instance, we find out whether he has perpetrated crimes against the people. If yes, what sort of crimes and where.

“If the captive is a soldier and he has no record of crimes against the people, we release him.

“If a captive has committed crimes, punishment is meted out, and the gravity is equal to the seriousness of the crime he committed. The punishment is equal to the crime, and it is done in response to the demands of the people for justice.

“Crimes against the people mean any and all action damaging to the welfare of the masses. The more serious crimes are when violence in inflicted against the people, if they have been subjected to torture or if people have been killed.

“Naturally, the perpetrators of such serious crimes are sentenced with capital punishment. We place them in handcuffs and they are detained in a secure place. We don’t handcuff them all day, such as when we are walking through the area, but we make sure that they can be easily secured if and when necessary.

“As I said before, we do a thorough background check and research on the captive. The findings are presented for deliberation to a committee that has been formed for this purpose. The members of the committee always meet the captives. The head of the committee seeks out the captive’s family, and communicate with them regarding the status of the captive. We send letters, or we call. This is most immediate especially in cases where the captive has been injured in an engagement area, and he surrendered.

“We also seek intervention from impartial parties. From instance, our unit launched an attack against the General Luna Police Station in Siargao Island on August, 2008. We sought to confiscate the weapons of the police. In the raid, two policemen were injured. We immediately gave them medical attention. We removed the bullet from one of the injured policemen, then we let them go. They thought we were kidding, and they didn’t believe us when we told them that they could leave.

“One of the comrades, our medic, said to them “We are not murderers”, and he explained to him why we attacked the station, The policemen listened, and began to understand why precisely the NPA conducts raids.

“These policemen changed their minds about the NPA because of how the NPA treated them when they were wounded, and this is what they told the media when news came out about the raid.

“In contrast, the enemy is not at all humane when it’s an NPA that has been injured. The enemy neither respects nor implements international humanitarian laws.

“My unit was in a gunfight, but we had to retreat. One of our comrades was caught behind enemy lines and we were unable to rescue him.

“Our comrade was alive when we last saw him—he did not die from his first injury, but we saw how that even though he was clearly wounded, the enemy did not stop shooting him with their M14s, even though he had already fallen to the ground.

“There are many other examples to prove the inhumanity of the enemy. They torture captives until they die. They vanish their captives without a trace, and their families never find their loved ones’ remains. They harass the families of captives. Soldiers rape women, and they have no compunction against using torture even against children. They once burned a mother and her son. They were members of a peasant organization that supported the NPA.

Ian (22): “Revolutionary culture must be strengthened and made popular to counteract bourgeois culture that distorts the truth about society and further corrupts it.

“This guitar is an instrument to do this. I want to help create revolutionary culture in the form of music for both the comrades and the masses.

“Sometimes I miss my family. Whenever I feel sad missing them, I play on my guitar. It helps me feel better. I have not seen my family since I became an NPA three years ago.

“Any comrade can visit their families after their first year in the NPA, that a rule. Afterwards, they can visit their families when necessary. I, however, have not had the chance to see my own family. If my brigade goes to the region where my loved ones live, I will find a way to see them.

“It is because of security reasons that I have stayed away from my family. I tried to visit them before, but there were enemy forces very close to the village where my family lived. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love my family when I stay away from them; I am protecting them from being harassed by the military, or from worse treatment.

“I am in an active war, and as time goes on, the Party and the comrades have become more of my family than my blood kin. If I were not here, I would feel greatly incomplete. I often carry our army’s equipment, and I get so tired at the end of day. Despite the exhaustion, however, I am happy because my strength was used for the comrades, for the revolution.”

December 15, 2010

The Morong 43 and Noynoy’s cautious egg-carrying

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 10:18 am

After 10 long months of being unjustly imprisoned, the Morong 43 now stand on the verge of being released. Based on developments and accounts faithfully reported by the likes of Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes, it has been a most painful ordeal all around, not only for the Morong 43 and their families, but for the urban and rural poor who were the primary beneficiaries of the selfless service of the imprisoned health workers.

One of the detainees, Nanay Del or Lydia Obera, wept as she was interviewed by ABS-CBN; but her tears were not for herself or the family she no doubt misses. She cried because she remembered the communities she and her colleagues have been forced to neglect. These were the communities they used to regularly visit and provide medical services to; these are the same communities whose dire need for health and medical programs and provisions the national government has failed to address and deliver. Already weakened because of the hunger strike she participated in, Nanay Del struggled to regain her composure but failed: the unnecessary guilt and sadness over the duties she was forced to let go of weighed on her heart.

Think of the selflessness, feel the strong sense of compassion and empathy, and be angry that such individuals as Nanay Del have been imprisoned.

There are many others like her and not just among the ranks of the Morong 43. Individuals who have sought to devote their lives and skills to others, seeking nothing but the betterment of the lives of the poor and the oppressed. Somewhere along the way their dreams and ambitions for their own selves melted into what they dream and want for the Filipino people and this country. In their selflessness, the poor benefit. In their compassion, others thrive. But in their refusal to back down from injustice, they were arrested and thrown in jail. Many, many others suffered worse fates: many are missing, many have been brutally killed.

This unjust system propped by abusive military might and founded on a long history of exploitation and calculated cruelty creates political prisoners out of Filipinos who choose not to become deaf, mute or blind victims. Human rights advocates, labor activists and socially concerned employees, workers and professionals including those among the Morong 43 remain on the hitlist of the military and the state because of their unrelenting commitment to a cause that will never be irrelevant, unnecessary or incorrect.

Even as they fight and oppose the injustices committed against the poor, they also strive to provide alternatives. They are not content to only criticize and condemn, they also seek to offer tangible service. All these prove an unwavering truth that true democracy can happen in the Philippines, and it will be built on the unity of those who have previously suffered in silence but have awakened and become empowered.

Their impending release from detention is a personal victory for each of the Morong 43; that they remained steadfast throughout their ordeal is proof of their individual strength. Beyond this, however, it’s also a brilliant testament to the righteousness of the cause they consistently sought to uphold: all that serves the best interest of the Filipino people and all that will pave the way towards a society that upholds civil, political and human rights.

The Morong 43 gained the support of Filipinos and members of the international community because they were heroes unjustly and illegally arrested. The call for their freedom did not fell on deaf ears and instead it was echoed by many. At the same time, the hypocrisy of the incumbent administration for declaring its full support for the campaign for the immediate release erstwhile Myanmar political prisoner and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi even there are over 400 political detainees languishing in various detention centers and jails all over the Philippines was exposed.

The Morong 43 rightly deserved all the support they received because their imprisonment represented so much of what’s wrong this country and what needs to be corrected, and the public was outraged by this.

—-
For its part, the Noynoy Aquino regime chose to take its time in deliberating the merits of the case against the Morong 43 despite the overwhelming and glaring facts proving that their arrest and subsequent detention were illegal and unjustified. Noynoy became president in June, but it was only in recent months –around October– that he began to speak on the issue. And when he did begin to speak, he walked around eggs all the same out of fear and worry that he might antagonize the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Noynoy Aquino chose the easy path and stuck to the irregularities surrounding the arrest of the Morong 43 and remained silent on the conduct of the military and what their actions imply when it came to the human rights situation in the Philippines. Perhaps on his own volition, perhaps upon the recommendations of his numerous advisors, Noynoy chose his words carefully when speaking about the Morong 43 and the infamy of the AFP for arresting them. He was very cautious against implying any wrong-doing on the part of the military, all he said was that the process they used in arresting the Morong 43 left much to be desired by way of fulfilling legal and procedural requirements.

I suppose nothing more can be expected of Noynoy Aquino. Here is a man whose service record as a politician was at best lackluster and indifferent. Here is a man who chooses to surround himself with recycled officials whose own records show no obvious bent towards genuine social transformation, pro-poor politics and incorruptible practices. It would have spoken volumes about the kind of values he espouses had he taken action on the demands for the release of the Morong 43 with alacrity, but he dragged his feet and instead allowed justice secretary Leila de Lima do all the work.

In truth one cannot feel a measure of regret that Noynoy Aquino finds it easy to pass off opportunities to do what is just when it comes to human rights. Time and again he has been presented these opportunities, but he did nothing or worse, turned away and undermined issues that have serious repercussions on the economic and political welfare of the Filipino people.

There is no truth to claims that there are always two sides or even three to every issue and leaders must remain objective. Sometimes there’s only black and white, and one must take a stand and decide without fear or compromise. The arrest of the Morong 43 and the ten long months they have spent in detention is a portrait of black, but Noynoy chose to see other colors in it. Not even his trademark yellow could overcome, and what it supposedly represented — change — was proven false.

In the meantime, the AFP feigns magnanimity and arrogantly insists that it was right and justified in arresting the Morong 43. Morons among the mercenary institutions who act as officials conveniently forgot or ignored what has already been exposed in the earlier conducted hearings of the Commission on Human Right, namely that the warrant used in the arrest of the health workers was defective and more importantly, the arrested, tortured and detained victims were genuinely and undeniably civilians, far from being combatants.

The morons also asserted that the Morong 43 are confirmed New Peoples Army (NPA) members because the National Democratic Front of the Philippines’ (NDFP) chief negotiator in the peace talks Luis Jalandoni expressed support and demanded their release as a confidence-building measure in the upcoming negotiations with the GRP. Extending this twisted logic, all the local and foreign government officials, members of religious groups, heads of parishes and legal experts who gave their support for the Morong 43 are automatically enemies of the state.

It was also too much to expect that members and officials of the AFP use their brains to come up with less stupid and transparently malicious reasoning.
—-
As of this writing, there has been no final word as to when the Morong 43 will be released. Noynoy Aquino has finally made a strong enough stand in support for the dismissal of the charges against the health workers, and the latter’s lawyers have expressed hope that it will only be a matter of time before the Justice department lays down a definite order making it possible for the Morong 43 to walk free.

With the release of the Morong 43 comes no rest, however. There are still the rest of the almost 400 other political prisoners whose rights have been denied them and whose continuing detention reeks of injustice and political persecution. Each and every single one of these men and women should be released, and every day that sees them behind bars is a day proving that the Philippines is far from being a democratic country.

Political dissent remains a crime, even as the true criminals run and manage the political system through corruption and with iron fists. The struggle against political persecution and human rights abuses must continue and strengthen. If political prisoners like the Morong 43 never grew weary even for a moment, neither must we who still walk freely let down our guard in the unending fight for true freedom democracy.

December 4, 2010

The lies about Jose Ma. Sison

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 11:31 pm

Former press secretary of the Macapagal-Arroyo government in 2002 and current Inquirer columnist Rigoberto Tiglao came out with a review of the Mario Miclat’s “Secrets of the Eighteen Mansions: A Novel” (Manila: Anvil Publishing, 2010), a book which attacks the Communist Party of the Philippines, its members, and what they have struggled for all these years.

The same day, a separate review came out wherein the lies peddled in the Miclat book were exposed and the book author’s own self-serving motives for coming out with such a memoir of twisted recollections were laid bare.

Now I don’t know who Mario Miclat is apart from what I’ve read about him in both Tiglao’s column and the book review; but I will admit that I know Jose Ma. Sison (whom Miclat attacks and vilifies in his book) and what he has done for the national democratic movement and the struggle for genuine freedom and democracy in the Philippines. This personal knowledge of who Jose Ma. Sison and all that he has fought for and continues to fight for is what immediately caused me a measure of annoyance and even anger after reading Tiglao’s column.

Attacks against JMS are nothing new, and the man is used to it, I suppose. I bet he even laughs whenever reading anything that slanders him and paints him in the most unlikeable colors. But even if JMS himself shrugs off this sort of thing, people who believe in him, who are grateful for all that he has done in service of the cause of national liberation in the Philippines, people like me, well, the attacks feel like they’re also leveled against me to some degree. They feel quite personal.

Why? Because JMS is a revolutionary I look up to; and his life in the struggle for freedom is one I find greatly worthy of emulating.

Here’s a man who has devoted all his intelligence, strength and will to the cause of the poor and working people. From his youth he has given all that he had to create a movement strong enough to fight and bring down a dictatorship (and continue to expose and oppose the anti-people governments that succeeded the Marcos regime), and he was imprisoned for 10 years because of it.

After he gained his freedom, he did not retire to a life of comfort and instead continued to write and speak about the conditions of miserable poverty and oppression the Filipino people continued to face. His refusal to be silent is what led to the cancellation of his passport: the Aquino government maliciously revoked the validity of his passport when he was out of the country in 1988 and forced him to go into exile.

Here’s a man who continues to be persecuted for being a freedom fighter and is denied the right to be given asylum in a foreign country, while at the same time he cannot go home to his own country because he will most assuredly be assassinated the moment he steps on the tarmac.

Here’s a man who continues to be maligned and slandered for supposedly living the lavish life in the Netherlands when in truth he and comrade-wife Juliet de Lima maintain the most frugal of lifestyles — so simple and humble that it can hardly even be called to possess ‘style.’ After being included in the US and European Union’s terrorist list, he has also been denied the right to travel outside the Netherlands and forbidden from finding any means of livelihood. Every week he has to report to the local police station and prove that he has neither gone into hiding nor left the country.

It’s most infuriating how the propaganda agents of the enemies of the Filipino people harp on how JMS supposedly lives like a king in the Netherlands. The man rides public transport — the bus or the train — or relies on the few comrades with decidedly luxurious and uncompromisingly functional cars to take him to appointments.

He reads and writes for work and for leisure, and he spends hours on interviews or lectures about the international economic and political situation or the prospects of the Philippines for true progress and related issues. He meets with students and journalists, employees and housewives, diplomats and laborers. Anyone who has an interest in matters of national and international liberation, freedom and democracy will always find it easy to begin a conversation with Jose Ma. Sison.

As for his supposed penchant for the high life, the only gatherings he goes to are the ones where he is invited and where he doesn’t need to spend a euro: get-togethers sponsored by Filipino migrant groups; despidadas or welcome parties for friends, the occasional home-cooked dinner after meetings, or when there are visiting dignitaries and they seek to consult or speak with him.

It’s even uncertain if he has a MuseumKaart and has visited a tenth of the museums in Utrecht or nearby Amsterdam: the cards cost 40 euro and with it one can visit various museums all over the Netherlands for free. He and wife Julie survive on 800 euro a month — the subsidy grudgingly provided by the Dutch government. From this meager amount they have to pay utilities and rent, and everything that remains goes to food.

Those who have never been to the Netherlands think that life here (or anywhere else in Europe) is easy. In many ways, from the simple reasons to the more important ones, it is.

Yes it’s easier here because the air and the environment are much cleaner than in the Philippines. There are public parks where one can jog or stroll with one’s children or play basketball. There’s hardly any pollution because there are trees everywhere so breathing does not entail risks. Traffic jams are almost unheard off because the cities are well planned and road rules are strictly enforced and mostly obeyed. The government despite its corruption at least uses much of taxpayers’ money to provide and maintain social services that are more or less accessible to the general public: garbage is regularly and efficiently collected and disposed off; there are public clinics for babies and children up to to 18 years old; and health insurance is mandatory for everyone.

But Jose Ma. Sison did not come to the Netherlands on his own volition; he didn’t stay here because he was trying to escape the chaos in his own country.

He went to the Netherlands on a speaking tour on the invitation of solidarity groups and it was then that his passport was cancelled and he was rendered suddenly homeless. He remains in the Netherlands because he is compelled to by circumstances and because he is bound by the collective decision of his comrades and allies who are correct is ascertaining that he is much more useful alive here in this cold and faraway country than dead in the one he loves and was forced to leave.

No doubt if left on his own and allowed to make his own decisions without regard for the threats to his own life, he would’ve taken the first KLM flight to the Philippines. No doubt if he were home in the Philippines he would be at the thick of all activities of the national democratic movement, at the frontline of protests demanding respect for civil, political and human rights.

Those who attack Jose Ma. Sison resort to slandering him because they continue to fail in their efforts to discredit and prove wrong everything about the Movement that he helped build and continue to give guidance and inspiration to through his books and speeches and other writings. He has written books that set to rights the falsities of history as it was previously written about the Philippines, and removes the blinders that keep Filipinos unaware of how their nation has been raped and continue to be raped.

His body of written work provide a veritable map or manual to how the Filipino people can destroy the shackles that bind them to poverty and begin to build a government and a nation that puts a premium not on profit but on the sanctity of human life above everything else. His analysis of global developments also prove valuable contributions to the international struggle against imperialism: an internationalist to the core, he is always able and willing to give support to the campaigns of the working people of other sovereign countries in defending themselves against all forms of imperialist aggression.

They do their best to expose Jose Ma. Sison as a man with personal weaknesses and who has committed mistakes as a leader, husband, father, friend or brother; but they say nothing about what he has done to atone for whatever mistakes he has made and how he has more than evolved into a finer specimen of humanity and compassion through the years because of the support and love of his wife and children, friends and family. He was included in the terrorist list and on the hit list of the US and its agents in the Philippines because he remains committed to the cause that embraces all that seeks betterment and good for the oppressed;and because the Movement he helped build and lead continues to gain strength.

In the meantime, he has never lost what kept him sane through 10 years of imprisonment and through agonizing hours and days and weeks of torture in its various forms: a sense of humor that is both keen and giving; and a lightness of heart even as his will remained built of steel.

Those who attack Jose Ma. Sison make much of how he is able to laugh and sing and dance even as he speaks of revolution. They say he shouldn’t even smile because his comrades in the Philippines live in dire poverty and want.

This says much about how those who are against the revolution: they believe that only the oppressors and exploiters have the right to laugh and sing and dance; after all, they find delight in the death and suffering they cause among the poor and exploited just so they could live in castles and bathe in champagne if it was their whim.

What they don’t know is how revolutionaries like Jose Ma. Sison can continue to sing, dance, and yes, laugh and laugh til tears flow. Even in the midst of greatest despair and even as the darkness never seems to end, when one has a great and uncompromising hope, one will always be able to find joy. All hope springs from the certainty of how one day, there will be justice; how one day, there will be freedom; and how one day, there will be boundless happiness because revolutionaries from the mountains and revolutionaries from far away like Jose Ma. Sison will be able to go home. And that is no lie.

For information about the life and work of Jose Ma. Sison, visit this website.

November 5, 2010

Truth in advertising

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 2:05 pm

Commercials are primarily aimed at selling stuff and convincing the audience that they’re in dire need of some new fangled product or another; but these days I’m more interested in the products themselves and the images connected to them when they’re being marketed. The kind of products being sold says much about the target market, how big it is, and how members of said market live: are they rich? Are they poor? Can they really afford to buy things they don’t really need but merely want? And how closely do the advertisements on these products reflect the kind of economy where they’re being sold?

In the Philippines, to my reckoning and I don’t have figures here, the ads are mostly food products, followed by consumer goods that supposedly promote ‘health and beauty’ and then lastly there are the household cleaning agents.


Food products mean
(1) Canned goods like sardines, tuna, and ‘lutong ulam’ or meat-based dishes.
Canned sardines in the Philippines, is primarily poor-people food and nobody disputes that.

Canned tuna is being marketted as a healthy alternative to meat by Century Canning Corp and it fields the Century Tuna brand. Century Tuna ads feature models with buff bodies, and they’re seen eating tuna sandwiches, tuna salad, or tuna with rice. Century Canning carries a cheaper brand, 555, and mainly the message of the ads is that tuna can taste like meat if its cooked in adobo, mechado, afritada or Bicol express sauce.

Before I left the country, there were ads on a new variety of canned tuna: corned tuna. The ads of San Marino (Century’s main competitor) featured a starlet and a matinee idol who were supposedly bored with food and with each other, but when they ate corned tuna, their love and appetites were rekindled.

Now it’s fine that there are tv commercials that exhort the public to eat healthier; but it’s clear that the target market for the eat-tuna-be-healthy ads are the yuppies; they’re the ones who can afford to go to gyms and possess the level of vanity to exercise for the sake of looking good, just like the tv models selling the canned tuna.

As for the corned tuna (no matter what Boy Abunda says, it doesn’t taste anything like corned beef) and the rollicking lovers, well, if you’re a fan of soap stars Marian Rivera and Dingdong Dantes, maybe they’ll work on you. And for the most part, it’s the C-D classes that watch the soaps, with some members of the A and B who like mocking the actors and making fun of the dialogue and the improbable twists and turns of the plots.

The ‘lutong-ulam’ or viand-in-a-can variety is relatively a novelty. One is supposed to open the can and pour its contents over a heaping mound of freshly-cooked rice. No cook, no mess and I suppose for the laborers who are its target market, much cheaper than an order of ulam from the karinderias or eateries surrounding the factories.

2) Instant noodle soup, instant pancit canton, instant macaroni/lasagna dish
Through the years and as the economy continued its nosedive, more and more Filipinos have resorted to eating these instant noodle and pasta products as an alternative to rice and ulam. Instant noodle soup is, after-all, hot and filling and best of all, cheap. It saves you both time and money to cook and eat. It’s also flavorful because it’s loaded with monosodium glutamate.

For variety, there’s also the pasta-based products with ersatz cheese and tomato sauce; and then there’s also instant pancit canton.

There have been ads for these products that target children and young adults. The ads for noodle soup show children becoming smarter and more alert; and the ads for the pasta varieties show kids who have more fun after being bored with eating instant noodle soup.

3)Cookies, candies and gum
The ads are often fantasy-based (models end up flying or having their wishes granted by mischievous genies) or the models –children and adults — are shown being happy and hyperactive.

In the ads, when you eat/chew cookies/candies/gum, you can alternately be happier, win more friends (because you share with them your cookies etc) or win the girl/boy of your dreams (because he/she also happens to like your brand of sweets or chewing gum).

These products target the younger crowd.

Other food products with big ad campaigns are instant juice drinks (instant meaning powdered; ‘drink’ meaning artificial and opposed to the liquid and unreconstituted fruit juice. Of late, companies have released juice concentrate powders which can make a liter of artificial juice with one small packet. My mother’s nephrologist almost had conniptions telling my mother off when she, my mom said that she likes drinking concentrated iced tea: ‘They’re poison!’ , Dr. Dimacali said); soft drinks; hotdogs; powdered milk and milk formula; and the fast food chains.

I’m not a nutritionist, but it strikes me that all these products (excepting the milk) are not exactly high on nutritional value. The advertisers and companies producing them don’t lie either — they don’t focus on that in their marketting. And a common denominator in the ads is the issue of price: they all claim to get buyers the better value for their money.

But what does it say about the country when people buy and eat instant noodles, canned food on a regular basis in lieu of prepared meals which should meet dietary nutritional requirements? That children are considered lucky when they drink fake juice loaded with sugar and god knows what kinds of chemicals?

Now for the products advertised in Holland.

Commercials in Holland are also the same in the Philippines in the sense that they also feature food products, health and beauty products, and cleaning agents.

Food products in Holland mean
(1) Pre-heat food like grilled chicken fillet, burgers, pizza. All for busy people who have no time to cook because they’re too busy working. You just pop the product in the microwave, wait a few minutes, and voila.

(1.a) Everything sold in the supermarkets like Jumbo, Albert Heijn, Super de Boer, C1000 and Plus. These grocery stores always advertise themselves on tv; always and frequently. Each claims to give consumers a wider range of options, and for better prices.

2) Milk and dairy products; fruit and juice
Powdered milk is only for infants and after age 1 children are given liquid fresh milk. Almost no ads for this product, but there are a lot when it comes to cheese, yoghurt, fla, and ice cream. The ads for said products all claim that they, the products, come from very healthy cows (cows are often on tv) that eat fresh grass (a lot of grass, too. Acres and acres of it). Eating ice cream or fla is presented as a fun thing to do with the family, and it cheers you up.

Powdered juice is not marketed (and not sold, either, as far as I know. Haven’t seen any in the stores). Juice is marketed as a product of nature that’s good for everyone regardless of age. It should be fresh to be truly healthy, and companies compete to show that their product is the most fresh: there’s an ad (Coolbest) that says that the fruit Coolbest extracts its juice from is immediately packed and stored and then sent ‘to the coolest places on earth’ and they don’t mean Ibiza but the Arctic.
Children are shown drinking juice to cheer themselves up after a difficult day at school and their laptops were too heavy.

3) Chocolates, biscuits, and licorice candy
The chocolates in the ads are either veritable slabs or bite-sized and the ads feature them as products that make good gifts to close friends or as an expression of gratitude towards those who have given one assistance. There are no ads featuring children eating them, only adults.

Licorice, or drop, is big here in the Netherlands. The ads are funny, and they feature adults who do extreme things to get them like grow a nose on their fingers so they can sniff out candy hidden in the desks or pockets of colleagues.

The biscuits and cookies ads are simple and straightforward: there are so many varieties, but all the ads try to show that the cookies and biscuits are healthy and fun to eat because they’re made from wheat and milk and fruits and nuts. Again, acres and acres of agricultural land are shown.

When it comes to food products, the stress on healthy eating is unmistakable.

Comparing the products advertised on tv in the Philippines and here in the Netherlands already gives one an introduction to the kind of country the products are being marketed in. More obviously, though, they give one idea on how people in the two countries live.

I know that in advertising the truth is a rare element; companies and advertisers exaggerate their claims on how amazing their products are and how they will improve the quality of life of those who buy and use them. In more economically better-off societies, however, I think the lies are better founded, more closely related to the truth.

In Holland, when the ads depict mothers pouring liquid laundry detergent into their washing machines or popping soap tablets into that little box in the dishwasher, their counterparts in the real world are doing the same thing. Tv moms and real moms live in similar abodes — homes with central heating, electricity, running water, and appliances that make chores and life easier and much enjoyable like microwave open, flatscreen televisions, vacuum cleaners, clothes dryers, computer consoles and creature comforts of all sorts and sizes.

In contrast, I think that in the Philippines, only the laundry detergent/laundry soaps and the cooking condiments like soy sauce, fish sauce (patis) and vinegar are being advertised with honesty. With that I mean that the ads on these products mirror more accurately the circumstances of the consumers they’re targetting.

Why do I say that the ads on these products are honest? Concretely, they feature the products being used by models who actually resemble consumers or the models are placed in a situation reflecting the circumstances of the intended users. Laundry soap ads show communities of laundry women with pails of water and big basins, and the women are wearing dusters, their hair tied in ponytails or rolled up in buns so the hair doesn’t get into their eyes when they tackle mounds of dirty clothes.

Vinegar or soy sauce ads show mothers in the kitchen cooking lunch or dinner, and their houses are ordinary and plain. Their children are shown coming in from school after getting off public transport vehicles like buses or jeepneys.

I dislike the shampoo and whitening lotion ads the most. In them, the women get all crazy and obsessed keeping their hair sleek and shiny to the extent that they get depressed if they get so much as a split end. they buy bottles of shampoo and hair conditioner, and thank the hair stylists who endorse them. In reality, most Filipinas rely more on more on the shampoo sold in sachets because they’re cheaper. They don’t go to stylists– they go the friendly neighborhood beautician who had a month’s formal training in hair curling/straightening and received a diploma. Often it’s a risk you take when you go to them, but hey, anything for beauty.

The ads for whitening creams and lotions are plain lying.

Dental care means having a good toothbrush and using toothpaste (Dentists are like churches for lapsed Catholics: you only visit them when you have an emergency like a toothache).

The most truthful ads I’ve seen are the ones featuring pawnshops and motorcycles.

Pawnshops are often the first resort of people in sudden and desperate need of money or short-term loans. The ads show a mother weeping over a sick child, then her older daughter goes to pawn a wedding ring and later comes back with money.

The ad on motorcycles show a family man driving a motorcyle converted into a tricycle. He uses it to earn money to support his family, and with it he sends his daughter to college. Years pass and the daughter graduates. The motorcycle is as sturdy and reliable as the day it was bought.

Then there’s another ad where a laborer uses a bicycle to deliver some consumer product from the factory to the stores, and his wife takes pity on him so she asks her mother for a loan so they can buy a motorcyle. The final scene shows husband and wife on the the motorcycle –to which the man presumably attached an open metal cage where he puts the items he delivers — and they take it for a joyride.

That vastly different lifestyles and economic statuses exist in society at large in the Philippines is very evident if the ads are to be used as indicators.

One moment there’s an ad for Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) and the costumers in the restaurant are wearing designer clothes and shoes (imagine getting dressed up just to eat at KFC!), then the next moment there’s a commercial for laundry powder where mothers in a fishing community (where the fishermen used wooden boats and toss nets into the sea with their bare arms and without the aid of machinery) are given a demonstration on which brand makes clothes cleaner with the least handwashing.

There are ads wherein well-dressed employees go to Jollibee to take advantage of the P35 meal promo and they’re seen being wowed at being able to save a few pesos. Homemakers are depicted as walking to the nearest sari-sari store to buy a sachet of dishwashing liquid for P5 and she’s also seen as ecstatic over the idea of being able to clean so many plates for so little an amount of money. Immediately right after these ads, however, can be commercials for the newest Samsung cellphone, or a Pinay supermodel’s endorsement of Olay facial cream which sells at P700 a bottle.

In Holland, everything is more or less consistent: there are no mothers scrimping, no fisherfolk risking life and limb in stormy weather at sea, no school children catching colds and flu from being exposed to sick fellow passengers riding public transport. Instead, there’s a monotonous series of commercials showing people in more or else the same economic circumstances: families who can’t decide which car to buy or where to go on vacation. Children getting up very early so they can be the one to open the Nutela jar or the muesli cereal box. Grandparents who ably cling to the last vestiges of their youth by playing tag with their grandchildren on a wide expanse of lawn (health insurance ads).

Everyone is the ads look like they have immediate and regular access to pediatricians, dentists, cardio and neuro experts. And in this, the ads are not lying: people in Holland make sure that they and everyone in their families have health insurance: it’s the law.

In the meantime, there are products and services that are hardly if ever advertised in the Philippines. In the Netherlands, there are commercials on vastly more expensive and luxurious products as well like cars (Skoda, Opel, BMW, Renault, Ferrari) perfume (Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Ralph Lauren, Chanel), vacations to ‘exotic’ locations like Dubai, Egypt, Thailand; Apple (the company) products. Bank and insurance companies deliver their pitches, as well as investment experts, travel agents, real estate agents, gold merchants, cable tv/internet/cellular phone service providers (these services come in packages: pay, say, 20E a month for all three).

These same products and services are not advertised in the Philippines because the public cannot afford them. These are products and services utilized and enjoyed by the elite which comprise the smallest sliver of the population, and by the members of the very small middle class who have to sell their souls in corporate jobs.

Imagine advertising high-end shoes in a country where so many people in the provinces don’t even have slippers. Or trying to sell perfume in gold-tinted, jewel-encrusted bottles where consumers ordinary cologne sold in plastic spritzers are already considered a luxury. No one needs travel agents — people hardly travel outside the country for fun and leisure; those who do leave for abroad do so for work. Cellphone companies continue to find ways to get costumers to continue using their services by providing more affordable packages: text or call or text and call all day for P20.

Both the Philippines and the Netherlands have their respective shares of problems. There’s worsening racism in Holland, the government is cutting provisions for social welfare and benefits, and unemployment is slowly rising. These are very real problems for the Dutch people, but without intending to undermine the gravity of these social challenges, it can be rightly said that the problems in the Philippines are much, much worse. Even the commercials hint at this, however obliquely.

In other countries, the debate when it comes to advertising and broadcast advertising is focused on stereotypes: how women, gay people and the so-called ethnic minorities are depicted and the misconceptions perpetuated and propagated by carelessly written and produced commercials. In the Philippines, this isn’t really the case and the public — excepting the cause-oriented and special interest groups –, sadly, don’t raise a fuss over how commercials strengthen false beliefs and destructive biases that cultivate very backward, sexist, alternatingly discriminatory and patronizing perceptions about the aforementioned sectors. The values are stake are much more basic: is something affordable or not?

Commercials in the Philippines, more the most part, feature products and services that fill the most basic needs but none of the more humble wants. Ad agencies have no pressing need to come up with truly innovative or creative commercials, because their target markets have very minimal purchasing power. How many ways can you sell pancit canton, sardines or toothpaste?

And as things stand, commercials and advertising in the Philippines is not powered by wishes, wants or desires; ad companies and manufacturing companies take their cue from the economic capabilities of consumers, and right now (as they have been for decades), these capabilities are weak. It’s a race to promote products with, supposedly, high quality at the lowest price while there’s the undeniable intent to make profits.

The sachet is proof of this — shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, whitening creme, moisturizers, deodorant sold are in them; , tomato sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, ketchu sandwich spread come in bigger sachets. In the meantime, diapers are sold in packs of 12, sanitary pad companies slashed their prices, cooking oil comes in plastic bags, and softdrink in smaller bottles. Filipinos struggle hard to stretch their meager budgets; manufacturers have to work harder to convince them to part with their money.

Commercials in countries like Holland encourage spending because consumers have the means. Commercials in the Philippines cannot push people to spend; they can only convince people to choose a specific brand instead of another if and when they do buy and spend.

If the so-called economic experts in the Philippines still insist on saying that the country is well on the way to economic recovery, ask them this: how come more and more Filipinos eat instant noodles, hardly if ever buy butter and instead opt for margarine, make weak coffee, use cooking oil at least seven times before discarding it? Even the commercials say so.

The Philippines is a regular basket case economically and politically, but there are solutions to its problems. Living in foreign and more prosperous societies like Hong Kong and Holland has helped me see the kind of changes I want done in the Philippines right after the systemic corruption has been done away with.

Sitting in front of the tv watching commercials one afternoon gave me a idea of one kind of concrete and obvious change I want in the Philippines: I want the tv commercials there become more reflective of the life actually lived by their audiences, the potential consumers, and vice-versa — for audiences to be able to relate more to the commercials instead of merely wishing they could buy the products.

I’m not saying that I want Filipinos to become more consumerist and worldly; but I do want Filipinos to be able to have the option and the means to, say, give their children pancakes or waffles for breakfast when they want something else than rice (meaning the parents can well afford to buy rice. And meat. And fish. And all kinds of fruits and vegetables. And real juice.)

I want the commercials to promote affordable but healthy products other than vitamins like Enervon for adults, Tiki-Tiki for babies or Cherifer for teenagers and I want people to be able to buy them because they’re necessities and not luxuries. I want all families to be able to afford advertised services like cable tv and internet (it goes without saying that they have computers — to say nothing about electricity and water; sofas and book cases and other furniture; concrete walls and galvanized steel roofs; indoor toilets that flush).

I want all Filipinos, particularly those who operate the machines that create the products and ensure the delivery of services and those who toil in the fields to produce food that nourish the rest of society, to be able to enjoy the fruit of their labors. Those who make cheese and ice cream have the option to eat both on a regular basis if they want; those who plant rice should never go hungry and instead be able to cook desserts made from wheat like cake and pastries.Those who build buildings and roads and bridges be able to go home to houses that do not resemble or have the sturdiness of cardboard boxes or chicken coops. I want them to be able to watch commercials and have the immediate means to buy the products advertised if they want.

But the best thing would be this: for the Philippines to evolve into a society where tv commercials would not be about fake needs and artificial necessities (how many kinds of shampoo, deodorant or toothpaste do you need anyway? Or would it kill you to not have that cellphone?) but about reminders of the services the national government is able to provide 24/7: free health and dental services in the closest public hospital, just call to make appointments; quality public school education and weekly tours for school children to museums and libraries; employment opportunities in the government-run enterprises and business, please email your resume or contact your local government unit.

And on and on in a new society wherein Filipinos will be finally free to aspire to more than just ordinary consumer products and services. In the future, hopefully, the minutes and hours that used to be devoted to promoting said products will be used to promote arts and sciences, both of the sort that celebrate Filipino ingenuity, intelligence, talent and creativity without the need to compromise dignity and self-worth; or to imitate foreign crap pop culture. Commercials will be advertisements on a society that has done away with useless spending, brainless consumerism,and they will serve as introductions to programs that teach, entertain, enlighten and empower.

Sheesh. This is a long blog. I have to stop watching tv — I’m seeing too many commercials.

October 25, 2010

Pain that neither recognizes nor respects time

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 7:29 pm

Parenthood changes you in so many good and happy ways; but there are also changes that you wish never happened.

Parenthood makes you afraid. If you were fearless before and you scoffed at danger; if you were daring before and you thumbed your nose at warnings; if before you had the courage to present yourself to the world and tell it to prepare itself for your coming and devil take those who ignored you and your fierceness: if you were all that before, then all the more will you feel how vulnerable you are once you become a parent.

You fear, but it’s not for yourself but for your child. Your courage always stands to be tested, and you struggle to maintain reserves of strength should you be called upon to provide it.

In the meantime, worries are endless like water flowing from rivers inevitably into seas. You learn to look not only to the left or right, but up and down and diagonally, trying to see into the future so you can protect your child in the present. The smallest cut on the little one’s leg, arm or – heaven forbid- face- causes hours of self-loathing; his or her poor appetite makes you despair.

You pray when you seldom if ever prayed before for her or his safety, and the prayers are repetitive, pleading, consistent. You always pray for good weather, for clear roads, for sane drivers, for telecom firms to never lose their signals, for an intelligent and accessible pediatrician, for drugstores that never close just in case, for hospitals that have compassionate, efficient and professional staff and doctors just in case, for rains that never cause floods, for sunlight that won’t cause sunburn, for food that won’t cause botulism, diarrhea, stomachaches. You check products at least five times before buying them. You worry about kidnappers, pedophiles, child molesters, drunk drivers, drug addicts, an older child who’s mean or rude or violent.

You worry and even during moments when there is laughter and you can freely breathe as you watch him or her slowly but surely growing in strength and grace, you look over your shoulder and double check so that the next moment will not bring pain, sadness or harm to your child.

This is how I am with my own daughter. Of course she doesn’t really see me worrying or being paralyzed by fear — I try hard to never show her and instead what she sees is her mother, confident and firm. But I know the true score, and I am resigned to it: she is my child, I carried her inside me for nine months, she means more to me than my own life.
————–
But this isn’t the only relationship I cherish,and inevitably, worry about endlessly (yes, it is my nature to worry — I tend to over-analyze, to magnify tiny problematic points until they’re veritable dinosaurs).

I am myself a daughter, and I love my mother deeply the same way I loved my father when he was still alive. I worry if she’s taken her meds; if she’s tired; if any of her plants have died and made her sad; if the dogs are too noisy and cause her to lose sleep at night.

I am a sibling, and my sister — two years older than I am and at least 10 IQ points more intelligent — at least 15 EQ points less mature than I am so I worry about her as well.

I am a wife, with a husband who is independent to a fault, and whom I love very much despite his lack of belief in the fact.

I am a friend to a number of remarkable and kind people, and though I seldom see them, they are necessary to my happy existence.

My relationships to these people, and to others who have touched my life, make me very grateful, despite the worry they sometimes bring me. They keep me human, and they give my life meaning. I cannot imagine my life without them, and the very idea is painful.

So on this cold night I imagine and am saddened by my imaginings, how it is for those whose loved ones— their children, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers, friends, comrades — have been taken away from them by force and then made to vanish into the limbo of the uncertain, the unknown?

They themselves were suddenly and viciously forced to continue their lives bearing the burden of memory of unfinished conversations, unexpressed affection and the awareness of loss that may or may never be recovered. The slightest hope of finding those who have been taken both revives and causes despair. Despair because the waiting is endless, and the pain doesn’t recognize the passing of seconds, minutes or hours, not even if they turn to days, months and years.

The anguish of losing someone to death especially by way of injustice and cruelty is considerable; but the pain of losing someone to injustice and cruelty — and to have the loved one’s physical self removed from reach save for the gift of memory and the imagination –is greater.

Those whose loved ones were martyred by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the inhumane and brutal system they defend will carry their pain their whole lives; but they have at least the relief that comes from knowing that the suffering has ended for the dead even if it doesn’t for the living. The living have ceremonies where they can pay tribute to their martyred dead, and continue to give them honor. They can find for themselves a sort of closure (never complete because justice has not been attained) and move forward.

But those whose loved have disappeared — made to disappear, hidden from the sight and warmth of those they left behind, vanished as if they never existed –for them there is no comfort. The horror of uncertainty denies peace, and even if one succeeds in accepting the probability that the disappeared loved one will never be found and an exchange of final goodbyes will never happen, there will always be the unrelenting anguish at the unknown: how did she die? Where did he die? Was he in pain the entire time? Before she closed her eyes for the last time, was the last thing she saw were the faces of human monsters?

The families of the disappeared also move on with their lives, but the empty spaces are not filled and so they search on for what will fill it: a sign, some proof, a grave even unmarked.

The families of the disappeared can only affirm in their hearts and to the rest of the world that the missing are always loved, and the search for them — even if only for the dust that made them what they were before — is unrelenting.

I have been thinking about all this as I read about the lives of the disappeared, among them Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeno, two daughters of two mothers; and Jonas Burgos, another mother’s son.

On June 26, 2006, University of the Philippines students and activists Sherlyn, then 29, and Karen, then 23, were taken by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Hagonoy, Bulacan, north of Manila. Witnesses have testified that it was Macapagal-Arroyo’s favorite henchman and main implementer Oplan Bantay Laya Gen. Jovito Palparan who directly ordered the abduction, torture and rape of the two women. Karen and Sherlyn remain missing.

On April 28, 2007, in San Miguel, Bulacan, peasant advocate Jonas Burgos conducted a organic farming training for members of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Bulacan, a chapter of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas. He was last seen that same afternoon in a restaurant at the Ever Gotesco Mall in Quezon City. Witnesses said that Jonas was dragged away by a group of men and thrown inside a van.

Sherly, Karen and Jonas all have mothers, and fathers, and families and friends who hold them dear. The anguish unleashed by their sudden disappearance and the circumstances surrounding their loss, the enormity of the challenge to find them is the stuff that breaks hearts even as it inspires great outrage.

Before I became a mother, I related more to Karen, Sherlyn and Jonas because I, too, am someone who dreams of a country where justice and true democracy live and breathe. While I cannot declare myself to be on equal footing with them and the without doubt larger sacrifices they have made in pursuing the collective ideals, however, I am keenly aware of the brutality of those who seek to crush dreamers and what they struggle to bring to realization. My fears and greatest worries for other comrades and close friends in the Movement are the same fears I have for myself and my own loved ones.

Fast-forward to the present: Jonas, Sherlyn and Karen remain missing and I am now a mother. The sympathy I have always felt for their mothers has now sharpened to the point of pain: I look at my own child, think of my own hopes for her, and I remember what kind of society she will be growing up in, and my fears intensify. I am a mother, and I can understand, even feel what other mothers feel. But to imagine how it is to lose a child and to know that they suffered…

The Philippines remains a country where the likes of Sherlyn, Jonas and Karen are abducted and tortured and even killed. These three young Filipinos who let go of their own ambitions and instead caught firm hold of something greater than themselves, embracing the welfare of so many oppressed others – they were snatched away and subjected to unknown nightmares made real. So many others like Sherlyn, Karen and Jonas — activists, dreamers all — were made to disappear by human monsters and the state they defend.

If you love, you must fight injustice. If you love, you must work to help bring justice to the Disappeared and struggle for a society where no dreamers will ever be lost.

I salute the courage of the families of the Disappeared: as they search for their lost loved ones, they also struggle to clear the path for those who continue what their sons, daughters, wives, husbands begun and they themselves, too are dreamers. They bear their grief the best way they can, and transform it into something more pure: determination to not allow the darkness stay, the disappeared unfound, and this nation and its people in shackles. Daily, in their campaign for justice and in their unrelenting search, they give tribute to the Disappeared and what they fought for.

—–
Noynoy Aquino’s first 100 days in office has seen 16 political activists fall victim to extrajudicial killings. This number is shockingly big when compared to the 18 killed in the last six months of the previous administration (January-June 2010).

In the meantime, none of the perpetrators of the 1,207 extrajudicial political killings, 206 enforced disappearances and hundreds of human rights violations cases committed under the aegis of the Macapagal-Arroyo regime have been apprehended, much less charged and convicted.

According to the group Karapatan’s records, there are 388 political prisoners languishing in various military camps and detention cells all over the country. They include the Morong 43 health workers.

It’s worth noting that Noynoy’s mother, former president Corazon C. Aquino set free all political prisoners in her first two months in office after EDSA 1. That was a total of 441 prisoners of conscience imprisoned by the Marcos dictatorship.

September 3, 2010

For Alex who served his Muse well

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 8:36 pm

Hi, Alex. I’m still in shock over the news that you’re gone. Jo (Abaya-Santos) had been giving me updates as to how you were doing, and for the last three days I’d been under the relieved impression that you were doing better and on the sure path to recovery.

You were always such a good friend to me, Alex. Another soul who loved the written word and reveled in it. When we first met in 2002, you were immediately friendly and open and willing to share all that you knew.

I remember the time when we emailed each other extensively about books and poetry and writing and art and whether it was okay to give alms to beggars (we agreed that it was — nevermind the warnings that many beggars were actually members of syndicates: why ignore the opportunity to give an old woman or a reed-thin child enough money for one meal? Why take the risk of turning away from someone who really needs help? Giving alms, we agreed, was the least that anyone could do.) I remember you saying how much you were interested in history– it was like an archeological dig to you, you said. Always something new to discover in the past, you said. History, you said, always has something to teach us.

And you wrote about your brother and how proud you were of him. And your mother, whom you deeply loved. You were a family that wrote and read and shared what you read and wrote and through literature and learning you made life bearable despite the unromantic economic challenges that came your way.

Alex. I used to call you the angry young man (sorry, but you were younger than me!) because of your stories about how you often had to stop yourself from butting in on strangers’ conversations and wanting to correct their wrong views and opinions.

“It’s hard having to listen to naive-bordering-on-the-stupid-remarks,” you said. So as you rode the bus — a long journey from San Pedro to Manila then on to Quezon City — you plugged your ears with music to avoid hearing (1) ‘stupid remarks from strangers’; and (2) ‘idiotic commentaries from so-called broadcast journalists during their radio shows’.

And who could forget your stories about wanting to punch certain people in the face? Politicians, military men, high-ranking government officials. It always cracked me up how you could sound so angry one moment and then be smiling the next.

Oh but you kept your temper, and what anger you felt you channeled into your writing, your poetry. You controlled your temper and all the world saw was you smiling, even if your written words always betrayed that under that smiling exterior was a young man who felt such fire, such compassion for the poor, such love for the Revolution.

Alex, you made me stop writing poetry. I bet you didn’t know that. Ay Kasama, sobrang husay at sobrang bilis mo kasing gumawa ng tula, talagang inggit ako sa iyo noon! It always took me at least a day to give poetic shape and form to feelings, and everytime you emailed me your latest work, I felt envious and annoyed at myself for not being as prolific as you. So I said, crap, why write poems about (1) poverty (2) justice (3) freedom (4) the dawn we are all waiting for when Alex Remollino has already written them?

It was always good to hang out with you during rallies and symposia. You were an attentive listener, and could always be relied on to repeat things one missed hearing. I remember you sometimes getting emotional during rallies led by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas or the Kilusang Mayo Uno– you were then the angry young man whose compassion made him bleed out poems that raged against the injustice suffered by the poor and working people. You shook your head as you shared news you’ve heard, and a sharp curse would sometimes escape you as you wished for the death of exploiters, those who denied life to so many, many others.

The last time we saw each other was during the launch of my book ‘Crispin Beltran: the Life and Struggle of Ka Bel.’ You had helped edit the book and combed through the dates and places mentioned in it, and I will always be grateful for how kindly and swiftly you responded when I first sought your help. (You could always be depended on to help fellow writers, Alex– generous with your time and thoughts. How many of the comments on my blog entries came from you, kaibigan? You were always sharing your enthusiasms and ideas, and you were such a kindred spirit.)

After the launch, you walked up to me and gave me that smile I will never forget. We shook hands, and you asked me to sign two copies – one for you, and one for your fiancee Becca. I remember how shy you sounded when you said her name, and how your smile deepened. Ah, Alex – that smile of yours was the smile of a man in love! Becca is lucky to have had you, and that night when you made me sign a book in her name, it was clear how you felt that it was you who was lucky.

And now, well, Alex, you were 33, just barely 33, and you will always be 33. Had you won your last battle, I know you would have written more poems about your ordeal and say how our commitment to the cause of freedom and justice is more than enough reason to fight for life and go on living. You fought the good fight, Alex, and this is what we, all of us who love you, will remember. Your poetry, your compassion, your deep and unabiding sense of right and wrong made you who you were, and we are honored to have been your friends. You have left us, but your words will never leave us, and in that way you will always be with us all the same.

Alex. The Revolution was your muse, and you served her well. Pinakamataas na pagpupugay sa iyong alaala, manunulat at makata, aktibista at Kasama. Goodbye Alex, and thank you for the friendship!
—————-
For my friend and comrade Alexander Martin Remollino 1977-2010.

August 27, 2010

For her son and for justice:Free Judilyn Oliveros of the Morong 43

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 10:13 pm

It’s been two months since Benigno C. Aquino III became president, and since then, despite assertions to the contrary, not much has changed in the Philippines and the state of human rights.

Noynoy has promised that he would be very different from his predecessor, but he has yet to prove it. If he was sincere in his declaration that he will uphold human rights and undo all the damage his predecessor has done to civil liberties, then he should not hesitate to take immediate action on two very pressing issues: 1) the long-standing and well-justified claim of Hacienda Luisita farmworkers to the land they have made productive for two decades; and 2) the Morong 43.

Noynoy’s stand on the first has been patently clear even before he became president: he refuses to recognize the legal and more importantly moral right of the farmworkers to HLI.
As for the second, he has not said a word.

One would have thought that given Noynoy’s own experiences as the son of Ninoy, a former political detainee who was eventually brutally assassinated by the government he refused to give in to, Noynoy would show more compassion towards all political detainees. One also would have thought that Noynoy would rush to free all political prisoners and put an end to all military operations and government programs that allow for a culture of impunity and injustice to flourish.
——————–

The community health workers known as the Morong 43 have been unjustly imprisoned since February 6, 2010. They were in the middle of a one-week health training program sponsored by the Community Medicine Foundation Incorporated (COMMED) and the Council for Health and Development (CHD) in Morong, Rizal. Among them were two medical doctors, a registered nurse, two midwives, two health educators and 36 volunteer community health workers.

Very early on Feb. 6, an estimated 300 soldiers in full battle gear from the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) 2nd Infantry Division and the Rizal Provincial Police raided the venue. The participants of the training – 43 in all — were manhandled, blindfolded, handcuffed and taken to Camp Capinpin, Tanay, Rizal. They were not shown a search or arrest warrant, neither were they told why they were being arrested. They were denied legal counsel, and for hours before the alarm was sounded, the 43 health workers suffered cruel treatment at the hands of their military guards.

For 36 hours the 43 experienced various forms of torture – mental, physical and psychological – and then they were verbally accused of illegal possession of fire arms and explosives. It was only on February 11, however, five days after they were arrested were they formally charged with same at the the RTC Branch 78,in Morong Rizal.

Soon after it came out that the 43 were arrested on a defective warrant, and if they were not forced to testify at the hearings initiated by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the AFP would not have admitted that the search warrant was completely bogus — it was issued in the name of an unknown and most likely fictitious man supposedly named ‘Mario Condes.’

Six months have passed, and the 43 remain detained. In the meantime, one of them has given birth. On July 22, Carina Judilyn Oliveros’ son was born and like his mother, he became a prisoner of the state.

It’s painful to imagine how Judilyn suffered the last six months. Any woman who has been pregnant will testify that pregnancy is not easy. The body changes and with it one’s state of mind and feeling. One if often in a state of discomfort; and even when one deeply loves the unborn child growing inside one’s body, it cannot be denied that one does not love the aches and pains, the swollen feet and ankles, the oddness of appetite, the mood swings and the fear of something bad happening to the baby.

Judilyn suffered through all this,and more: she suffered them as an innocent prisoner surrounded by armed guards, with no immediate access to family and friends, and perpetually plagued by memories of torture. In fact, during her first 36 hours as a detainee, she was denied food and water, and denied rest: she was questioned again and again, and doubtless, even without the interrogation, sleep was always far from coming and when it did, it was restless.

Judilyn gave birth at the Philippine General Hospital, but immediately after she and her baby were taken back to Camp Bagong Diwa, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology’s (BJMP) detention facility in Bicutan where all of the Morong 43 were detained after their transfer from Camp Capinpin. The new mother was handcuffed and not allowed to carry her son as they left the hospital.

Again, the shortest separation between a mother and a newborn brings a measure of pain. The mother is often unable to keep her eyes of her child, and sometimes the urge, the need to constantly touch and kiss the baby is so strong that the fulfillment of it brings tears. In a just and humane society, she would have been immediately released if not for the complete illegality of the charges against her (and the rest of the Morong 43), then on humanitarian grounds.

Instead, Judilyn remained a prisoner: Judge Gina Cenat Escoto of the Morong RTC rejected the petition Judilyn’s lawyers filed for her temporary release on recognizance due to humanitarian reasons: Judily wanted to breastfeed her child and take care of him in a place conducive to the health and safety of a child. On Aug. 16, the court ordered Judilyn’s return to Bicutan, saying that there was no basis to allow her release.

Undaunted, Judilyn’s lawyers from the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) and the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) filed an appeal, and on August 25, the court reversed its previous ruling and allowed Judilyn and her baby to return to the PGH and stay there for three months. The RTC issued the more humane decision after the Department of Justice dropped its opposition to the original motion and gave recognition to the provisions of the United Nations’ Innocenti Declaration on the Protection, Promotion and Support of Breastfeeding.

As of this writing, mother and baby are still at Camp Bagong Diwa and the BJMP is yet to receive the court order to effect the transfer.

—–
When one thinks of Judilyn, one cannot help but think of other mothers.

The large majority of Filipino mothers give birth and raise their children in conditions that are far from the ideal. Because of poverty, many rely on the often limited services and medical provisions of public health centers. Most do not have access to valuable information on how to take care of their health to prevent pregnancy-related diseases like gestational diabetes.

Those in the far-flung areas do not even see doctors and depend only on community midwives. In the more squalid areas in the urban centers, pregnant women are often undernourished, and their babies are born underweight. Some are born with deformities, or worse, they die at birth or shortly after.

Immediately after giving birth, these new mothers are forced to get up and attend not only to the needs of their newborns, but the needs of the rest of their families. If employed, to go back to work. Those who are homemakers fight their fatigue and perform their duties as such. If some suffer from postnatal depression, there is no way to diagnose it: ever so often in the seedier tabloids there are reports of mothers suffocating their babies or drowning them in nearby canals.

Then the mothers face the challenge of struggling to be always strong, not so much for themselves, but for their children.

The social, political and economic realities of life in a country as backward as the Philippines are without doubt harsh,and especially for children. Because of a system of government that lays siege to the most fundamental of human rights — the right to protect the self and to live in dignity and peace — mothers suffer seeing their children grow up lacking adequate food, safe shelter, good education, access to immediate medical attention.As for their children, thankfully, many are blissfully unaware of what society has denied them.

The sacrifices of mothers are myriad, and they never end, but because of the bond of love, these sacrifices are willingly shouldered, even embraced.

Judilyn Oliveros and her son have a long and difficult struggle ahead of them as citizens of a country wherein social justice is but a phrase that means very little to those in power. As political detainees, they now suffer being directly denied their right as innocent civilians to be free.

Judilyn, it is certain, now thinks and worries of her son’s welfare more often than she does about her own.

What anger she justly feels against the injustice done against her and the rest of the Morong 43 is without doubt sharpened by the knowledge that her imprisonment also means imprisonment for her son. She is a mother now, and all the commitment she has devoted to her political advocacy and acknowledged duty as a health worker serving the poor can only be strengthened by the love she has for her child.

She remains true to her calling, and her fight for freedom is also a fight for her son. Given this, the unjustness of her plight should anger all mothers, and all those who believe in justice.

Free Judilyn Oliveros and son! Free the 43!

The Health Alliance for Democracy, Karapatan, and Gabriela are also campaigning for the immediate release on human grounds of another member of the Morong 43, 27-year old Mercy Castro. Mercy is seven months pregnant and is expected to give birth in October.

August 26, 2010

Aftermath

Filed under: Uncategorized — Ina Alleco @ 9:26 pm


In the aftermath of the Quirino Grandstand hostage crisis which left in its wake eight civilians dead, the international spotlight is once more trained on the Philippines. Most regrettably but quite understandably, many Chinese people are angry at the country, and some have taken to bashing not only it, but its citizens.

They’d be right to abhor the incumbent government led by Noynoy Aquino (the man was most likely dozing when the hours dwindled to minutes and then seconds for the eight killed inside the bus); and it would shocking to say the least if they didn’t feel a almost blinding and deafening anger against the PNP and its members’ utter lack of skill and genuine courage and determination to save human lives; but what is terribly sad (but again, unfortunately, understandable) is that the rage is also being directed against all Filipinos in general.

The PNP and the Aquino government failed their mandate to ensure the safety of foreign visitors to the country (unsurprising, really – they fail to protect this country’s own citizens, but we’ll let that go for now) and now Filipinos living in China and Hong Kong are under threat to lose not so much as face but their employment, and the damage is multiplied a thousandfold because of their families who rely on their monthly remittances. Many others in the Philippines’ tourism areas also stand to lose income and livelihood as tourists from China and HK erase the country from their vacation itineraries.

These are the least of the problems still, however: racism can hurt in many, many ways and the effects are long lasting and sometimes mortal. All that can be done to ease the enmity must be done; it will take a long time, and the Aquino government should swallow what bitterness comes afterward (and inevitably, stand responsible for all blame).

How one wishes that in the aftermath of this specific tragedy, people of other nationalities and more importantly, Filipinos themselves, would see how tragedy is actually a way of life in this country. Recognize this and maybe, just maybe, grow so incensed and appalled that they would take action to overhaul things.

It’s ironic that many Filipinos were themselves outraged at what happened that day that crept into night at the Quirino grandstand, but couldn’t be expected to even mutter one expression of shock at the greater (but not to reduce or dismiss the gravity of the brutal killing of the 8 Chinese citizens at the hands of a former policeman) horrors that unfold on a daily basis in the Philippines.

The injustice that takes place day in and day out in the Philippines takes various shapes and forms. Some come as slow-moving or inevitably unjust or long-delayed resolutions to legal cases and are monsters that devour entire lives such as those of farmers and workers as they defend their rights to land and decent employment. Recall the strikes of workers of the Light Rail Transit (LRT), Nestle, Philippine Airlines. Then there’s the injustice that comes as the non-implementation of genuine land reform, or the militarization of land disputes think of Hacienda Luisita in 2004; or Palo, Leyte in 2005. This kind of injustice bring with it monsters that rent and tear and destroy.

(On Nov. 21, 2005 a platoon from the Philippine Army’s 19th Infantry Battalion attacked a group of farmers as they gathered to begin cultivating the land awarded them by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). They were members of the DAR-accredited ed San Agustin Farmers-Beneficiaries Cooperative, Alang-alang Small Farmers Association (ASFA) and Bayan Muna. The soldiers arrived and without warning strafed the gathering and when the smoke cleared, nine people were dead including a pregnant woman and her unborn child.)

These monsters also dare show their fangs (not their faces) in broad daylight and with guns, grenades, knives and blindfolds steal away mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers; often their bodies are found afterward, bloodied and stripped of dignity, the marks of mindless viciousness on their broken limbs; but sometimes and more cruelly, their bodies seemingly disappear, and they families and friends weep into endless days and nights of searching.

The list of the disappeared is long, and continues to grow. The number of those killed as they pursued ideals of a more humane and compassionate society also increases. In the meantime, there are also those who are neither killed nor disappeared, but are denied their rights and freedom and accused of the most improbable and unlikely crimes: the Morong 43, the health workers who sought to continue giving communities much needed health services, have been unjustly detained since March. It is now August.

There are also the relatively smaller injustices, but these too maintain the sharpest, most poisonous teeth that bite deeply into what should feed, house, clothe, teach, entertain, cure, delight, sustain, provide for the poor majority — corruption is inherent in all levels of government, and the fight against it is neverending and seldom winning.

The effects are inescapable: public hospitals are forced to turn away patients with no money. Public schools are forced to teach students 50, 60 to a class.The social security funds for private sector workers and government employees end up buying luxury cars and mansions for those tasked to manage them.

Because of corruption, there’s barely money to build or improve hospitals and schools; and there’s no money at all to develop and utilize alternative sources of electricity and fuel,much less a genuinely efficient and reliable disaster preparedness, relief and rescue program of national scale. We curse as we pay for electricity and water we did not consume. Our children cannot read, write or comprehend. We try to swim in the floods, and many drown.

Because of corruption, the roads are killing fields. Bus companies that continue to operate despite their accident-prone vehicles, people suddenly meet their deaths on bottom of ravines or in the middle of highways, their life bleeding away, their bones crushed, their spines severed. The DOTC and the LTFRB are unable to inspect all public utility vehicles and allow even the transport companies with notorious records of accidents to continue operations for a fee, some of it given under the table. The DPWH cannot pave all roads or erect street lamps where needed.

These are injustices committed against the Filipino people, and they are also tragedies because they take place under a so-called democracy. The failure of the PNP to save the hostages in that ill-fated bus is but a byproduct of a society where injustice reigns. The PNP has never been a force meant to truly protect the public good: policemen are better trained at manhandling and beating up activists and labor unionists than upholding public peace and fighting crime.

The utter lack of ethics of the broadcast media of ABS-CBN an GMA-7and how they prioritized sensational coverage above responsible journalism and concern for human life is also part and parcel of the backwardness of this society and its twisted nature. For the most part, many media institutions fall short of their duty to educate, inform and empower; they focus more on providing silly distractions, mindless entertainment, hollow and useless advocacies. All these, it should be said, to rake in billions in profit from advertisers.

As we rant and rage against what happened at the Quirino Grandstand, let’s all take a look around us and notice that all of us, our children and the next generation of Filipinos, are also being held hostage and the gun is always pointed , sometimes at our heads, sometimes at our hearts, often at our stomachs. The Philippines is one big bus, and whether we like it our not, we are its passengers, some of us are just seated at the back and out of the immediate line of fire.

So passengers at the back, listen: the injustice suffered by the poor and the working people is more than enough reason to cry foul and demand change. Their poverty and want, the way they are denied their human rights and dignity, if we allow all this to continue, makes us accomplices to the hostage-takers. Let us react and take action, and not settle to be outraged bystanders.

WHAT NOW, MR. PRESIDENT?
When Noynoy Aquino first ran for president, he made promises to turn the country around, lead it down the straight path. So far he has taken stands on the following: (1)banning sirens for the vehicles of government officials; (2) more airtime for original Filipino music on all FM radio stations; and (3) threatening litterbugs from throwing trash into the Pasig river and in all public places. In the meantime, he has vowed to increase the EVAT from 12% to 15%, to continue the implementation of Oplan-Bantay Laya, and to remain hands-off on the issue of land distribution to the long-suffering farmworkers of his family’s Hacienda Luisita.

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