Pinay-Palestine writes, ‘How can Filipinos not understand oppression?’

By Yasmin Abdel Khaleq

Hi, my name is Yasmin. I am a pharmacy student here in the Philippines. In my four years of living here, I have received comments from fellow Filipinos, curious of where I come from, seeing my big nose and almond-shaped eyes. They would proceed to assume “From Israel?” and I would say “Palestinian po ako.” They would then say “Ah, Khamas.” It reached the point that I do not want to prolong these kinds of conversations anymore. So, for strangers, I would just say “Pinoy lang po ako. Opo, Pinoy lang po talaga ako,” to end these.  

I regret denying my roots. I regret failing to tell Filipinos WHO I AM.  

I AM UNAPOLOGETICALLY FILIPINO-PALESTINIAN AND NO ONE CAN TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME.  

I am dedicating this post to YOU. To you FILIPINOS who comment here on Facebook nonstop, saying “Bakit kayo nangingialam sa problema ng ibang bansa?” Sabay sasabihin ninyo, “Pray For Israel.”  

I know that EVERYONE sees what is going on right now. They call it the “Israeli-Hamas Conflict” or “war”. 

Real history, real traditions 

No matter what history timeline you believe in, you cannot deny the fact that the State of Israel was only established 75 years ago. If you read up on the diaries of the founders of Zionism, you will find out that the land where Israeli Zionists are settling in right now WAS ALREADY INHABITED BY THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE. No, it was not a desert.  

Zionism is a movement, a settler-colonial project, which aims to establish a Jewish nation-state in Palestine, now called the State of Israel. In 1922, after World War I, Palestine was under a British Mandate. It was even considered a “Class A” mandate because of the advanced infrastructures Palestine had. The Balfour Declaration was then established that promised a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. This helped the Zionist movement to further achieve its aims.  

Also, stop calling people anti-semitic for standing with Palestine! Mind you, there is nothing wrong with Jewish self-determination. What is completely wrong is the ethnic cleansing and dispossession of the Palestinian people for the past 75+ years just so these Zionists who came from all over the world can establish a homeland.  

We do not hate Jews. We hate Zionism. There is a HUGE difference. If you see the protests going on in the world right now, you will notice that Jewish people condemn the State of Israel and are ashamed of the Zionist Israeli settlers for using their name as Jews, for using the Torah, for using the name of God, as an excuse to kill and displace Palestinians. A homeland is not built this way.  

Palestine wasn’t an empty piece of land with no people. Palestinians were already there! Sabi ko nga kanina, it was a land filled with advanced infrastructures with agricultural capabilities. My grandparents grew up there and so did our entire family line of Palestinians before 1948. Ask any Palestinian, we can mention the names of our ancestors who were born in Palestine.  

On the other hand, ask any Israeli where they came from. Most likely, they would say they moved to Israel but were originally from Italy, Poland, France, Yemen, Lebanon, or wherever else in the world they came from. The only thing they have in common is being Zionists settlers. That’s why they steal Palestinian traditions and make it their own to show the world that they have something in common.  

Remember when Miss Universe Philippines 2021 Beatrice Luigi Gomez went to the State of Israel where an event was held. She wore a Thobe (a traditional Palestinian dress) and helped prepare Warak Enab (a Palestinian dish). That’s exactly what I’m talking about.  

A 2021 bike rally for Palestine. (Bulatlat photo)

‘Wouldn’t you want to fight back?’ 

Now on to “Hamas” which some of you can’t even pronounce correctly. The only reason why Hamas attacked is to free Palestinian prisoners, stop Israeli aggression on Al-Aqsa Mosque, and to break the siege on Gaza. Did you know that the release of one Israeli soldier frees approximately 1,000 Palestinian prisoners? Prisoners who were kept in cells unjustly and inhumanely, prisoners who did no wrong other than being Palestinian, prisoners who are women and children. INSTEAD, the assault has led to non-stop Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, around 6,000 bombs the past week. Around 800 Palestinian children killed. Around 2 million Palestinians displaced once again.  

Moving on, if you ask the people of Gaza if they support Hamas, they would simply say THEY DO NOT HAVE A CHOICE. Imagine living in an open-air prison for years with your electricity and water allowed for only 3 hours a day? Sudden bombings here and there? How would you feel? Wouldn’t you want to fight back?  

Fifty percent of the population in Gaza are CHILDREN. One cannot imagine the pain they experience. Children witness the killings of their sisters, brothers, parents, and they are the only victims left alive. There are records of Palestinian children committing suicide because of this.  

By saying “But, Hamas…” is the equivalent of saying “ALL LIVES MATTER.” You are justifying the violence inflicted upon Palestinians, the collective punishment done to Palestinians, when in fact we are powerless. We are only asking for freedom to literally get back what we actually owned.  Also, no matter how many people in Palestine vote for Hamas, IT STILL DOES NOT EXCUSE ISRAEL’S ONGOING GENOCIDE OF THE PALESTINIAN PEOPLE. YOU CAN ADVOCATE FOR THE LIVES OF PALESTINIANS WITHOUT ADVOCATING FOR HAMAS. 

Now, if you are STILL taking a neutral stance and staying blinded when everything is in front of you, let me ask you: Do you condone the killings of civilians, medical personnel, journalists, bombings of hospitals, and the bombings of ambulances? BECAUSE ISRAEL HAS BEEN DOING THAT TO PALESTINIANS. THEY DISREGARD THE PROTECTIVE EMBLEM THAT PALESTINIAN HEALTH WORKERS AND JOURNALISTS WEAR AND THAT IS AGAINST INTERNATIONAL LAW.  

How could you now side with the oppressors?  

At this point of reading my post, you may wonder, why are these information not being reported in news outlets? Here’s why: Mainstream media coverage favors Israel where five major U.S. newspapers show negativity only for Palestinian stories.  

There are studies that cover media bias favoring Israeli narratives. Palestinians are HIGHLY underrepresented. This is why there is so much misinformation going on, news reporters in the West would literally report fake news, then say sorry later on as if the damage hasn’t been done already. It isn’t fair at all.  

Mainstream media says out loud that both sides should be grieved but the reality is that only the Palestinians are buried in mass graves. Other than that, the massive support of the U.S. government to Israel (120 billion US dollars in military aid), is definitely enabling the genocide in Gaza.  

Israel’s civilians are armed, their forces has an army, a navy, an airforce, and nuclear weapons. What do Palestinians have? This is why it is not a conflict! It is a situation of the oppressor and the oppressed. Hindi patas ang armas dito, hindi ‘to gyera. Literal na gusto nilang patayin at tanggalin ang lahat ng Palestino sa mundo.  

Mainstream media continues its 75+ years of misreporting what actually happens to Palestinians. We are NOT seen as HUMANS anymore because of this. The Israeli narrative has harmful and grave effects. This can be seen in the recent killing of 6-year-old Wades Al-Fayoume in the U.S. because he was Muslim and Palestinian-American. 

Do not tell me ISRAEL has the right to defend itself. Palestinians have the right to resist by any means necessary. This is outlined in the U.N. Resolution 3236. You may ask, what about the Israeli civilians? Well, have you seen the video last week? How they rushed to the airports to leave “Israel”? There’s your answer. Let them all go back to where they came from. They have passports and families there anyway. 

Stand with the Palestinian people. Stand with the oppressed. You are a Filipino and so am I. We share the same sentiments as Palestinians. Every Filipino should unconditionally support Palestinians and all oppressed peoples as our struggles are interconnected. Our countrymen have fought off our oppressors before. How could you now side with the oppressors?  

If anything, we understand what occupation means. We are ONE in the struggle for liberation from U.S. imperialism. STAND AGAINST the U.S. that backs the State of Israel. Condemn the State of Israel! It isn’t complicated! Palestinians are experiencing genocide while the whole world is idly watching! 

Let the whole world know the truth 

This is the end of my post. Please do your own research, your own readings. Make sure that the sites you are viewing aren’t biased to the Israeli narrative. I suggest checking out DecolonizePalestine‘s website, a project founded by two Palestinians in Ramallah. It is filled with research and articles, a collection of resources such as books so one can learn more about Palestine. Also check out Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, a movement that aims to end the international support of Israel’s oppression against Palestinians via boycott, divestment, and sanctions.  

Lastly, please follow Palestinian Instagram accounts. They cover everything that happens in Gaza as they experience the genocide imposed to them by the State of Israel. They risk their lives as journalists and medical personnel to report, whilst they witness the death of their family members and friends. I have a whole list posted in my Instagram stories and highlights (@ycsmcn on Instagram).  

Reach out to your friends and family. Let the whole world know the truth. Continue sharing what Israel is trying to shut off from the world as they cut off electricity and water supply in Gaza, as they commit international crimes. This is the least you can do as a HUMAN.  

Pilipino ako. Palestino rin ako. In our lifetime, Palestine will be free.

 Solidarity always! 

#IStandWithPalestine

#FreePalestine

(This essay is published with approval by the author.)

Not defeat, but a resolve to seek justice

By Nuel M. Bacarra

I interviewed Raymond Manalo early in the morning of the promulgation of his and brother Reynaldo’s kidnapping and illegal detention with serious physical injuries case against retired Major General Jovito Palparan last Friday, October 6. He was excited and, as was the mark of his 16-year narrative against “The Butcher” and cohorts, he was straightforward and hopeful. “GUILTY!” Raymond blurted when I asked him what he thought the verdict would be.

Raymond was justifiably confident as he presented generally the same testimony he provided in the case that convicted Palparan of the same charges involving missing University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño in 2018. He added that his testimony was even stronger this time as he was no longer a simple witness but he was testifying on his and his brother’s own abduction and torture in the hands of Palparan’s men.

Meeting the general and other victims

Raymond had always been consistent in his revelations against the accused. He and Reynaldo were abducted on February 14, 2006 from their home in San Ildefonso, Bulacan by the paramilitary under the 7th Infantry Division then commanded by Palparan. They were brought to various military camps throughout Central Luzon for 18 months but eventually escaped from a chicken farm somewhere in Pangasinan province where they suffered forced labor in the hands of their captors.

Raymond told the Court that after their abduction Palparan himself ordered the brothers brought to the barangay hall in Sapang, San Miguel, Bulacan where the most notorious general of the Gloria Arroyo regime personally gave him P1,500 to give to his parents. Palparan instructed Raymond to give the amount to his parents and tell them it was “his income from his new boss.” Palparan also told Raymond to tell his parents not to “attend hearings or join rallies and that he already joined Palparan.” In addition, The Butcher also told Raymond that, “If he attempted to escape, his family will be massacred and he and Reynaldo will also be killed.”

In a Philippine Army camp in Limay, Bataan, Raymond testified that he witnessed the torture of Karen and Sherlyn, as well as the the murder of farmer Manuel Merino who was kidnapped with the students. Merino was stabbed and his remains were burned. Raymond added that he saw the fire burning in the distance the entire night. Afterwards, Raymond and Reynaldo were brought to a resort in Iba, Zambales. But when they were brought back to Limay, Karen and Sherlyn weren’t there anymore.

READ: Abandoned Mount Samat Military Camp Yields Bones, Evidence; Quest for Justice Continues

Raymond’s testimony in Karen and Sherlyn’s case was so strong that the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court upheld Palparan’s conviction.

Raymond himself was severely manhandled by the soldiers. He still sports a scar on his forehead that came from a blow with the butt of a gun. His back became an ashtray of the troopers during a drinking spree and he also became their punching bag. He also underwent sessions of “water cure” from his captors.

Unacceptable verdict

But the Malolos Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 19 under Judge Francisco P. Felizmenio acquitted Palparan last Friday afternoon.

We saw Raymond rushing down the courthouse after the promulgation to join his supporters gathered by the curb. Crying, he shouted: “Walang katarungan dito! Ang katarungan ay para lang sa mayayaman, hindi para sa mahihirap! (There’s no justice here! Justice are only for the rich, not for the poor!)

Karapatan secretary general Tinay Palabay immediately embraced Raymond to console him and asked water for the crying victim. Edith Burgos, mother of involuntary disappearance victim Jonas Burgos, also embraced and comforted him. It was Atty. Julian Oliva Jr. who fielded the reporters’ questions about what happened inside the courtroom. I hardly understood the questions and answers as I could not take my eyes of Raymond. He was heaving with grief as he covered his face with a towel.

Raymond Manalo being consoled by Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay. (Nuel M. Bacarra/Kodao)

What followed were indignant speeches about the Court’s decision. When Raymond had somewhat recovered, the group decided to go back to Manila. At six in the evening of the same day, a rally was held at the Boy Scout Rotunda in Quezon City for more indignant speeches against the verdict. Human rights and progressive groups said they could not reconcile Felizmenio’s decision with the fact that Raymond’s testimony that convicted Palparan earlier—one that was upheld by superior Courts—was junked. They agreed with the victim when he shouted, Takot ka, Judge!” (You’re scared, Judge!)

Raymond was himself the last speaker at the indignation rally. Composed this time, he said the pursuit for justice in his and his brother’s case will continue. He assured the media and his supporters that a new round of battle in the courts and in the streets will soon commence. Palparan would not escape accountability, he said.

Covering the promulgation had been one of the longest for me since I became a reporter for Kodao. My advancing age tells me there should be few of this kind of coverage, but my tiredness was overshadowed by Raymond’s determination and strength. What could a reporter do when he has compelling stories and strong subjects like Raymond Manalo but accompany him (and others like him) in their journey?

Yes, I was sad for Raymond and his brother last Friday. But I ended my coverage with the same hope that he asked everyone who accompanied him that day: “Justice will be served as long as we don’t give up.” #

Learning from the young and brave

By Nuel M. Bacarra

In the morning of September 19, a press conference organized by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) was held to present two new trophies, young “surrenderers” to the public. But the presscon blew up in the face of NTF-ELCAC personnel when Jonila Castro bravely revealed that she and Jhed Reiyana Tamano were abducted by the military forces and were forced to surrender because of the threat to their lives.

The presscon was broadcast live on a local government unit public information office Facebook page as well as on SMNI, galvanized church, rights defenders and activist groups to troop to Plaridel, Bulacan to demand for their immediate release.

I joined them to cover the event. We arrived past lunchtime, finding several Bulacan State University students already protesting in front of the municipal hall, faced by a phalanx of police personnel. The students took off their footwear and placed these in between themselves and the police, symbolizing the two sandals left behind when Jonila and Jhed were abducted in Orion, Bataan on September 2.

Upstairs, in front of the mayor’s office, I waited with fellow journalists, waiting for further developments. Jhed and Jonila were being kept at the mayor’s office as the local chief executive was deciding on her next move as the military did not want to surrender the two victims to her custody. Jhed and Jonila are Plaridel residents.

Minutes before three in the afternoon, I heard loud voices at the ground floor. I rushed downstairs and saw the police personnel dispersing the protesters. A protester was shouting “Huwag kayong manulak!” (Don’t push us!). I saw a young girl got hit by a policeman randomly punching the protesters. The youth pleading with the officers not to push was also hurt.

The police failed to disperse the protesters. Soon, they reasserted their place in front of the building’s main door and resumed their protest. This time, they faced the onlookers, some of them approaching and explaining what is happening at the mayor’s office. By then, Jonila’s parents have arrived with their lawyers and Makabayan bloc Representatives Arlene Brosas and Raoul Manuel to negotiate with the mayor.

I tried going back to where Jonila and Jhed were being kept to get more direct information but was no longer allowed by the police. We soon received information that the two would be brought to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) where the turnover of Jhed and Jonila to their families and supporters would take place. I asked to myself, “Why not turn them over now as family and lawyers are already there?” Then I thought, the mayor must be covering her behind because of the military’s objection to the victim’s release.

Minutes later, we saw Jonila and Jhed coming out of the building with their lawyers and family. We ran to our vehicles to join the convoy to Quezon City. As we approached the CHR headquarters after a mad dash from Bulacan, we saw activists lined up along Commonwealth Avenue who rushed into the compound as soon as our vehicles arrived.

We were allowed to take photos inside the conference room where the victims and their supporters were ushered in. We were asked thereafter to leave as the meeting would be closed door.

I made my way out of the building to take photos of the protesters. It was past six in the evening and I was really hungry at the time. A protester offered me a snack which I wolfed down as we waited for further developments.

After a while, we were told that Jhed and Jonila would be addressing the crowd.

The two thanked their supporters, saying their freedom is also because of the clamor for them to be surfaced. They said they knew people were looking for them and reiterated the correctness of what they are fighting for: a stop to the reclamation projects at Manila Bay.

The saga of Jhed and Jonila are far from over, however. The military and the NTF-ELCAC are doubling down on their canard that the two voluntarily surrendered. I think, though, the sandals left behind when the victims struggled during their abduction could not have been staged. And between two young girls and the NTF-ELCAC, who do we immediately see as liars?

That Tuesday had been the longest and most tiring day of coverage that I have had so far since I joined Kodao. I am a senior citizen with many bodily aches and pains associated with my age. I did not know I could still do it. But the significance of the events made me forget all these.

Jonila Castro and Jhed Reiyana Tamano, young as they are, showed us how to deal with state terrorism. They spoke the truth and turned the table around on their captors. Their courage is a shining example, showing the world how people’s rights are violated in the Philippines and how these are asserted and won. #

THE CURIOUS CASE OF ROGIE SENDING: Investigation or bullying?

Something wrong is happening in the bowels of the House of Representatives compound where a veteran broadcaster had been languishing in detention since August 17. Rogelio Sending, known to his listeners in Tuguegarao City and, until a few years back in Metro Manila, as Bombo Rogie had been ordered detained there for 30 days.

Sending’s plight had been largely unreported by the press, except in Cagayan province and on social media. Ordinarily, such an occurrence to a member of the working press would gather immediate and widespread condemnation, as it should. But there was hardly a peep because Sending is no longer an organic employee of the network that he served for years but is now Cagayan’s provincial information officer. While he still graced the airwaves until last August 8, he was in fact an anchor of his daily radio program in behalf of the provincial government. On many days, he shared the radio booth with his boss, Cagayan Governor Manuel Mamba. Technically, Sending has left the ranks of the working press since 2019 and is now a civil servant.

Sending’s troubles started when the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms jointly with the Committee on Public Accounts, following a privileged speech by Cagayan Third District Representative Joseph Lara, launched an investigation on alleged violations on the ban on public spending during an election campaign period. The meat of the allegation is that Mamba ordered his capitol employees to withdraw hundreds of millions and distribute these as financial aid to Cagayanos mere days before the May 9, 2022 local elections. Under the laws—even though the Commission on Audit said it appears the entire amount had been accounted for—that is prohibited.

Lara alleges that Mamba did not only commit graft but vote buying as well. And so the committees have summoned the governor and several other provincial government employees since March. Early on, Mamba submitted himself before his nemesis and the committees, several members of which were his colleagues when he was congressman himself. But the governor refused to answer their questions, citing a case of the same nature had been filed before a local court and providing answers may violate the sub-judice rule. The congresspersons had no choice but to excuse him but went after his subordinates in subsequent hearings.

Congress has the powers of the Constitution in conducting such investigations, and it should. That the government is very corrupt and graft-ridden is no longer a matter of debate. But there is much to be said on how congressional investigations and hearings are conducted. The investigation on Mamba is no different.

During the hearings, majority of the congresspersons went after Mamba’s subordinates with venom. The capitol employees were shouted at and could hardly get a word in even as they were simply trying to answer the congresspersons’ questions. They were reduced to stuttering most times, making them appear more guilty than Dismas and Gestas. Granting that it appeared the employees tried to cover up for their boss, the way the congresspersons treated them is plainly un-parliamentary.

Sending had been summoned to appear before the committees on August 7 and 9 but failed to do so on both dates. When he finally presented himself last August 12, he received even worse treatment than his colleagues. He tried to explain that contrary to allegations that he is not Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas-accredited broadcaster, he, in fact, is. He proved that he did not go on air on August 9 when he was supposed to be present in the hearing. Sending tried to explain that the reason why he failed to appear in previous hearings was because Cagayan was at the time recovering from the effects of Typhoon Egay and he was ordered by the governor to document relief efforts being conducted. Moreover, Sending said, he was confused as to whether he is allowed to absent himself from his duties in the province and had to wait for clear instructions from the capitol’s legal office.

But in failing to appear, Sending offended the high and mighty. On top of the very public flagellation he received, he was meted the extraordinary punishment of 30 days of detention for contempt of Congress.

Let us not talk here of the Paduanos, the Marcoletas and the Acops who, as hearings in both houses of Congress go, are of the same mold as their upper chamber colleagues, the Batos, Tulfos, Villars and Padillas. Let us instead talk about their colleague who started all these.

Lara, instigator of the so-called investigations, is Mamba’s political nemesis in the province of Cagayan. Lara’s wife was Mamba’s rival in the last local elections who lost badly to the latter. It is therefore not hard to see one other very compelling motive in all these.

Those who closely follow the proceedings could see that Lara’s complaint has a point. Mamba could have ordered the distribution of aid way before or even after the May 9, 2022 polls. It is not farfetched that his candidacy benefited from the aid distribution. The fact that his subordinates scrambled to withdraw the funds even without the expressed permission of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan adds weight to the allegations.

[On a possibly related issue: Is Mamba’s flagellation also intended to force him to withdraw his opposition to the two new EDCA sites in his province?]

But there is hypocrisy here. Who believes that traditional politicians do not buy votes, in Cagayan and in the entire country? I heard that a party in these investigations even pioneered the use of QR (quick response) codes in vote buying.

Congressional investigations are important in giving representatives a chance to craft better laws and to expose shenanigans in government. But these noble purposes are in danger of being seen as nothing more than witch hunt and self-serving vendetta when the real targets are missed and only foot soldiers are bleeding in the field of battle, in a manner of speaking.

I think the investigations on the misspending of public funds during the last elections in Cagayan have already established that those should not have been distributed when they did. But the fact that an information officer—one who absolutely had no power over said funds and had no hand in distributing them—is now suffering for it, is wrong. Governor Mamba is as powerful as his enemies, Sending is not.

Making underlings suffer when the real target is still out there is not judicious exercise of power. That is simply bullying. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

PAMPANGITI: How a new corruption euphemism contributed to the Laguna de Bay tragedy

It is the usual corruption in government that contributed to the capsizing of a motor boat on Laguna de Bay last July 27 and killed 27 passengers, a Senate inquiry bared on Tuesday. Motor Boat (MB) Aya Express driver Donald Anain admitted he bribed the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) personnel stationed in Binangonan, Rizal to be allowed to sail his overloaded boat without inspection.

Anain described their practice as “pampangiti”.

“You give them anything… I just bought P100 worth of bananas.  Some money was also involved.  Fifty pesos for snacks,” Anain testified.

Anain claimed it was not his intention to overload but had a hard time preventing passengers from boarding the boat, a tale refuted by John Marr Nino de los Reyes, one of the 47 survivors of the tragedy. “In fact,” he returned to the port to take in eight more passengers,” de los Reyes said.

The survivor also revealed that some passengers had complained that they were already overloaded but were ignored. Other survivors interviewed immediately after the incident said they were not required to don life vests.

Life for bananas

A Kodao source who frequently visited Talim Island said he has never seen a PCG personnel conduct an inspection of the boats before casting off. The source also said that not only are the boats frequently overloaded, they have never been asked to don life vests.

Petty Officer 2 Jay Rivera, on duty at the PCG station that day, admitted at the Senate inquiry that while he received Anain’s manifest listing 22 passengers, he did not perform a personal inspection of the boat. It turned out that the boat had 70 souls on board, only 43 of whom survived the tragedy. The passenger limit for MB Aya Express was only 42.

PCG Commander Admiral Artemio Abu said Rivera was indeed “negligent” and had ordered his relief from duties, along with PCG Rizal chief Lieutenant  (Junior Grade) Arjohn Elumba pending further investigations of the tragedy. The PCG however said it does not believe–in fact it is “absurd”–their personnel succumb to bananas.

Motor Boat Aya Express driver Donald Anain revealing “pampangiti” as another corruption euphemism at the Senate inquiry last August 8. (Photo from Sen. Grace Poe’s FB page)

Unsafe ferry boats nationwide

Aside from having no captain’s license to operate the vessel, the boat plying the Binangonan-Talim Island route itself is without a license from the Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA), the Senate inquiry also revealed. The MARINA also told the senators that such wooden-hulled boats were already banned by the maritime agency since 2016. MB Aya Express’ blueprint was not approved by MARINA prior to its construction nor was it ever inspected by the agency, the inquiry further revealed.

Many of the motor boat ferries on Laguna de Bay, as well as in other parts of the country, are still wooden-hulled, such as the one that capsized off Romblon last week that also killed one passenger.

Committee chairperson Senator Grace Poe said she is proposing the creation of a National Transport Safety Board designed to oversee the operation of transport systems in the country. “In a country composed of thousands of islands, Philippines should have the highest safety standards in water transportation,” she added.

‘Pampangiti’

Tuesday’s Senate committee hearing might have also revealed a new euphemism that illustrates the rampant corruption in government.

A new addition to the country’s collection of corruption-related words, “pampangiti” may be loosely translated to English as “a bribe to make the taker smile.”

In 2008, think-tank Center for People Empowerment in Governance published the book “Corruptionary: A Unique Dictionary of Corruption Words”, a compilation of 450 words of corruption in the Philippines.

Other corruption-related words that have become bywords in political discussions are “tong-pats”, “bukol”, “padulas”, “for the boys” and others. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Despite persecution, seasoned missioners serve rural poor in Philippines

By Sr. Edita C. Eslopor, OSB/RMP

I have belonged to the Congregation of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing for 40 years, and since I am assigned to the remotest of the rural areas — serving those on the margins of society (the lost, the least and the last living) — I also work with the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.

I have found my niche interacting with the sisters and lay mission partners from different congregations in the Philippines, and with parishes whose visions and missions share our common commitment to helping people in poverty. It is here that I genuinely appreciated the charism of our congregation. I am indeed grateful for God’s grace to persevere in my call to be a missionary in the Philippines.

From my experience, I could compare the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, as an organization, to a nutshell.

A nutshell is a hard covering in which the edible kernel of a nut is enclosed; it is sturdy and impenetrable and cannot be broken easily. If you strike it incorrectly, it will bounce back and be unchanged. The term in a nutshell is also used in writing or speaking to say something briefly, using a few words.

Missionary Benedictine Sr. Edita Eslopor climbs to visit an Indigenous Lumad village in the Philippines after an hourlong motorcycle ride. (Courtesy of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines)

I was reflecting on this when the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines commemorated its 54th anniversary last August 2022. It had struggled through the pandemic; relentless “red-tagging” as terrorist or communist under the Anti-Terrorism Law; ongoing vilifications; killings; and freezing the group’s funds through the government’s Anti-Money Laundering Council. These funds should have been spent to help the rural people in poverty, especially peasants, Indigenous peoples, fisherfolk, and their people’s organizations.

Founded on Aug. 15, 1969, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines is the oldest mission partner of the Conference of the Major Superiors in the Philippines. In a nutshell — Rural Missionaries of the Philippines is resilient and can weather storm after storm, for it is well-designed to serve the poorest of the poor in the rural areas in the Philippines.

Seasoned religious women, men and lay partners who espouse the vision, mission and goals of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines are at the helm of the organization. They have accomplished much and made a name here and abroad for more than five decades now.

They are a paragon of service to the rural poor. Hence, the group is closely watched and vilified by the powers that be, and red-tagged by the military because the missionaries are so down-to-earth. They remind me of what Pope Francis said when he instructed priests: “Be shepherds with the smell of the sheep.”

And how relevant is what Bishop Dom Hélder Câmara said: “When I give food to the poor they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

As the military unjustly attacked the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines by red-tagging them and freezing the funds intended for the peasants’ organizations, the missioners bounced back and continued to perform their missionary undertakings according to the saying: The mission is not ours; the mission is God’s.

The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines is home to different sisters, priests and lay mission partners from different congregations. They took to heart their mission and seriously looked at the signs of the times — not as an ordinary event but as a call and a challenge that needed a response.

What made these followers of Christ read the signs of the times with the eyes and ears of their hearts? The sisters who have led the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines through the years are visionary and extraordinary women at the forefront of contextualizing their faith. Their feat is amazing and worth emulating.

To celebrate how the group has enfleshed its God-given mission, I tried to itemize it:

  • Five decades — of grateful and consistent journeying with the rural poor, partner organizations and funding agencies, to give birth to an organization of missionary doctors and health professionals (the Council for Health and Development);
  • 600 months — of meeting, assessing, planning to research, and attending rallies in solidarity with the people and other cause-oriented groups;
  • 2,607 weeks — of breathing in the “smell of their sheep,” working with farmers, fisherfolk and Indigenous people, stressing the need to ally with the people’s organizations;
  • 18,263 days — of talking the talk, facilitating fact-finding missions, medical missions, scholarship, and the like; of walking the walk with back-breaking responsibilities to help the people help themselves through their projects, thus empowering them;
  • 18,438,312 hours — of home visiting, contact building, providing/facilitating task reflections/assemblies/exposure, sharing and praying the Bible in the context of the lived experiences of the poor people they serve;
  • 26,298,720 minutes — of parrying the impact of the red-tagging and vilifying attacks from the military, of defending their God-given mission and congregational mandates, and of praying most earnestly for God’s guidance and protection.

As I lived my missionary life and when I looked to the lifelong members with their lean figures and malformed bodies, and dearly beloved departed missionaries, they always energized me beyond words. They mirrored the long years of great service and unwavering belief in the God of the poor and the giftedness of the people they served; their sacrifices for a cause they believed in; and their efforts without counting the cost that made their lives relevant and meaningful.

Missionary Benedictine Sr. Edita Eslopor and an African fellow sister distribute school supplies in a village in the rural Philippines. (Courtesy of Rural Missionaries of the Philippines)

Francis reminded those who serve, “We must not forget that true power, at whatever level, is service.” Their whole worthwhile life is their humble offering back to God for the grace and care that God has bestowed on them through the years.

These people are awash with good memories of their experiences with the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines. Such a treasure — more precious than gold — is cherished in their hearts through the years.

Quo vadis, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, in the next 50 years? This is a question often asked, given the worsening situation in the country and a lackluster Philippine president. But the missioners have the hope and a cast-iron certainty that God is always on the side of the poor, as he loved them and made so many of them!

As for those who served the people living in poverty, God will always bless them with peace and grace. The missionaries endured and will continue to persevere, for in the words of an African proverb, they stand tall on the shoulders of many ancestors.

The rural missionaries will move on with grit and determination. God’s grace transformed them into extraordinary missioners. And they take heart from St. Oscar Romero’s testimonial: “Even when they call us mad, when they call us subversives and communists and all the epithets they put on us, we know we only preach the subversive witness of the Beatitudes, which have turned everything upside down.” #

= = = = =

Editor’s note: Sr. Edita Eslopor was red-tagged herself and her community has missioned her to another location.

This article was originally published by the globalsistersreport.org.

I was Luis Teodoro’s student, and I took it for granted

By JC Gotinga

I was a broadcasting student at UP Diliman, and Journalism 101 was part of the syllabus. But I had no plans of becoming a journalist, and I didn’t really concern myself with current affairs.

I thought I was going to be a hotshot TV-and-film director. This was before there were smartphones. We shot our projects with MiniDV handycams. The iPod, a music player that didn’t require CDs or tapes, was just a rumor.

I remember next to nothing from my Journ 101 classes. What I do remember in vivid detail was the time I made Professor Teodoro so fuming mad, I worried he was going to have a heart attack.

My friend Naomi and I sat on the back row of his class – very telling of how much interest we had in the subject. That day, a new issue of a university paper that was a parody of The Collegian was going around. In the middle of class, Naomi nudged me and showed me something funny – inappropriate – on the back page. I don’t remember what it was, but I blurted out in laughter.

It was a scene out of a jackass movie where the whole class turns to look at you, tutting their disapproval.

I had never offended a teacher before that. I was a teacher’s pet all through elementary and high school, and I’d generally been cool with my college profs. It’s just that journ class bored me to death, and I didn’t think I’d have anything to do with journalism.

Even I was in shock and disbelief at the creature I had, at that moment, become.

“Who laughed?” Professor Teodoro demanded to know.

I raised my hand.

I forget what he had been discussing, but it was, like all of his lectures, serious. In so many words, he told me how dare I laugh in the face of such profundities. How dare I make light of a subject, of a practice, of a tradition for which he and his contemporaries had been incarcerated and tortured, even murdered.

He was so angry he was trembling. I half-expected him to faint. His eyes behind his thick glasses watered.

He walked away from the whiteboard and towards the window. He held on to the sill, and I thought he was being dramatic. The light from outside cut him a sharp profile from where I sat.

He then started talking about the mortal dangers he and his contemporaries lived through while fighting the Marcos dictatorship. He mentioned Amando Doronila who I gathered was his friend and an equally battle-scarred journo.

I think back on this now and I realize it might not have been anger that riled him up but frustration. Frustration at how, no matter how sharp, eloquent, beautiful, profound his lectures were, the message was still lost on the likes of me – heathen children of a younger generation privileged to not have known mortal crisis.

The heat of his rage dissipated and his tone mellowed. Still by the window where the light outlined his sharp nose and tall forehead, he talked about the struggles of the era we were lucky to have missed. He talked about jail. I couldn’t imagine him, the most dignified man I had ever met, a prisoner.

I imagined myself as a prisoner. I asked my self, fleetingly, if I would ever let myself be so given to a cause like patriotism or free speech that I’d end up a prisoner.

No, thanks, Professor. Thank you for your sacrifices. But I am a soft child of my fortunate generation. I am sorry you lived through a terrible time, but now is a different time. A more enlightened time. People and the world have evolved, and we don’t need to inherit your hard-skinned virtues.

My thoughts at the time. And then life and current events happened. Here I am, a journalist.

I understand now how events can turn so that a good, dignified man can end up in prison. That powerful people with much to lose are capable of torture and other nasty things because, like every other person, they’re selfish, but the stakes for them are much higher, and they’d probably long sold their soul to get to that level of wealth and influence anyway.

I’ve now seen for myself the [many forms of] oppression the Professor battled. I now try to battle them myself as another wielder of a pen. I now ride the nag I inherited from him and his contemporaries to confront dragons disguised as windmills. I, like him, now even make references to literary classics.

Time has a way of teaching you the lessons you missed when they were first taught to you, right? I’ve found myself staring out of windows a few times, wondering what went wrong and what I could have done differently and how else I could communicate what I think people need to understand. In the few years since our democracy started to decline, I’ve been in a constant rage, wanting to both embrace and destroy this heathen generation that can’t seem to recognize its own good.

I don’t think Professor Teodoro would have remembered me. I did hope to find myself again in the same room as him and introduce myself as that student who laughed during his class two decades ago, and say that I am sorry. Not just for disrespecting him, but for taking his message for granted.

That message found another way to reach me, and I still cannot really claim to be his student in the real sense of the word. But at least I think he would have enjoyed the irony and savored the poetic justice time has served him.

I could wish his heart wasn’t broken by our country’s recent history, but I am certain it was. I, the heathen who only recently came to the light, am heartbroken. How could he, who had wagered far more for the cause than anyone, not be?

His sun set under the rule of the same family that terrorized his generation. If we are headed for darker times, then his passing is a mercy to one who has fought battles long enough.

Because what I did pick up as the man averted his gaze from me that day I disrespected him was that he would never, ever, have stopped fighting. Even then, he seemed frail of body, but I saw his spirit, and it made me tremble. Only his body could fail him.

Rest in peace, Professor Teodoro. Please forgive me. #

A YEAR OF HEROES: A 2022 Yearender

By Renato Reyes Jr., Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general

I will remember 2022 for the heroic sacrifices of comrades and friends who fought for a just, free and democratic society. While there are those are no longer with us, there are also those who continue on the path of resistance. I offer this year-ender as a tribute to all those who have departed while serving the people to their very last breath. I likewise give recognition to the tireless work done by the different sectors, groups and organizations who remain steadfast amid great difficulties. The propaganda machinery of the state will try their best to vilify them and tarnish their memory, but the people know better and these lies will ultimately be exposed.

The start of the year saw the passing of Rita T. Baua, our longest serving official in Bayan, after a battle with cancer. A week before her passing, she struggled to sit on the hospital bed, to raise her fist, for a picture that would be sent to comrades and friends, as if to challenge them to keep fighting.

Not long after Rita’s passing, we mourned the death of Chad Booc who was killed together with Lumad volunteer teacher Jojarain Alce Nguho III, health worker Elgyn Balonga, and drivers Roberto Aragon and Tirso Añar. The military claimed there was an encounter but witnesses deny this. Their deaths were again part of a “fake encounter” used to justify the extrajudicial killings. We also bade goodbye this year to Nelia Sancho, a stalwart of the feminist movement in the Philippines and former Gabriela founder and Bayan chair. This year, we also lost Marie Hilao Enriquez, the former chair of Karapatan, due to illness.

Towards the end of the year, we grieved the death of our dear friend Ericson Acosta, who was killed by the military in another “fake encounter” in Kabankalan, Negros . His death weighed heavily on us, coming a little over a year after the death of his wife Kerima Tariman. The outpouring of love and support however from various sectors and from the cultural community assures us that his memory will live on. The fight for justice will continue in 2024.

And then there was the death of the revolutionary trailblazer and thinker Prof. Jose Ma. Sison, 83, which was mourned all over the world, most especially by activists and revolutionaries in the Philippines. Tributes came in from different groups and personalities amid the relentless attacks by the enemies of the people and absurd restrictions and repeated take-downs by social media giant Facebook. His memory lives on in the people’s struggles for national and social liberation.

The electoral campaign

The year 2022 was marked by intense struggles, from the electoral campaign, to the resistance to a Marcos restoration, continuing human rights violations and the worsening economic crisis.

The first half of the year saw an upsurge in mass mobilizations during the electoral campaign in support of the Opposition forces against the Marcos-Duterte tandem. Hundreds of thousands of people joined the Leni-Kiko rallies across the country. Issues such as the Marcos ill-gotten wealth, human rights violations and abuse of power were discussed on a daily basis during the campaign. After two years of pandemic restrictions, it was time for the people to turn out in large numbers to let their voices be heard. Thousands of volunteers went house to house, and undertook a massive campaign to counter the well-funded machinery of the Marcoses.

The Marcos-Duterte tandem employed a combination of vote-buying, massive disinformation, red-tagging and fascist repression, together with a non-transparent automated election system, to be able to claim victory. It was apparent that despite the clam of 31 million votes, there were no spontaneous celebrations of so-called Marcos supporters in the aftermath of the counting. There were however protest marches in front of the Comelec, near the PICC, the CHR and in Plaza Miranda in the days after the election results were announced.

While Leni Robredo may have conceded the elections, many refused to simply accept the outcome and vowed to continue fighting. Ika nga, kapag namulat, kasalanan na ang pumikit. We welcome the many concerned individuals and activists who have taken the extra step beyond the electoral arena, and into the much wider arena of struggle for systemic change.

Political prisoners fight back

This year saw the release of several political prisoners including labor leader Dennise Velasco, and the Tondo 3 of Reina Mae Nasino, Alma Moran and Ram Carlo Bautista, Bayan Panay chair Elmer Forro, Bayan CL chair Pol Viuya, Karapatan human rights worker Nimfa Lanzanas from Laguna, and several others from Bicol and Cagayan. They are all victims either of questionable search warrants or plain trumped-up charges. The State, especially under Duterte, has resorted to the perversion of the legal system and gross violations of due process just so they could put activists behind bars. Many remain incarcerated on false charges, including several peace consultants of the NDFP. The political prisoners who continue to struggle even when behind bars, are among this year’s heroes.

ML@50

The Filipino people observed the 50th anniversary of the imposition of Marcos’ martial law with a firm commitment to never forget and to fight historical distortions aimed at whitewashing the crimes of the dictator. During this period, there were lectures, historical tours, film screenings, and a huge gathering in UP, all with the same message of “never again” and “never forget”. Katips the Movie served as a timely counterpoint to Maid in Malacanang. The Bantayog ng mga Bayani became a classroom for lessons on history.

Revolutionaries are not terrorists

On the same day the Filipino people were commemorating the 50th anniversary of Martial Law, news broke that a Manila RTC judge dismissed the proscription case filed against the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army. Overnight, Judge Marlo Malagar became the number one target of the mouthpieces of the NTF-ELCAC, which even earned one a show cause order from no less than the Supreme Court. The decision of Judge Malagar provides an interesting legal insight on why revolutionaries, and those who take up arms for clear political objectives and programs, are not necessarily terrorists. It also exposed the folly of the Philippine government’s attacks against the revolutionary forces, instead of addressing the roots of the armed conflict.

PH human rights record under scrutiny

The Philippine government’s human rights record came under heavy scrutiny by United Nations member-states during the regular Universal Periodic review. Several states called for accountability in the drug war killings under Duterte, an end to red-tagging of activists and journalists, and for the Philippines to rejoin the ICC. The Philippine government was put on the defensive over the lack of meaningful changes in the human rights situation in the Philippines after the Marcos regime took power. During the year, we witnessed intense militarization of the cities and countryside, including the bombings and artillery shelling of communities and forrest areas suspected of being NPA encampments. The practice of forcing civilians to “surrender” as members of the NPA, to be paraded in public as part of the so-called “localized peace talks” aka “surrender talks”, continues.

Another victory for justice was achieved when a Bacolod court convicted two military personnel over the killing of labor organizer and Bayan Muna coordinator Benjamin Bayles 12 years ago in Himamaylan, Negros Occidental.

Protests against Kamala, US military aid

During the second half of the year, US Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Philippines to promote the lopsided US-PH relations. The US continues to maintain its strategic interest in the Philippines and Asia, with Marcos Jr providing unqualified support for his imperialist masters. Marcos Jr, during his recent trip to the US, which was met with daily protests, Marcos said he could not imagine a future without the US. The US State Department meanwhile has pledged to provide $100 million in military aid to the Philippines, which will likely be used for state terrorism against revolutionary groups and the people. Marcos is seen moving closer to the US than his predecessor.

The economic crisis and the people’s response

The start of the Marcos II regime was marked by public debt at a historic high, soaring inflation, a weakening peso, and a clamor for higher wages and lower prices. Inflation and low wages were consistently the top two concerns of the people, according to surveys. This year brought us record high prices for gasoline and onions, bringing tears to the eyes of consumers.

Amid the economic crisis, the Marcoses were seen partying in Singapore for the F1 Grand Prix, an incident which drew widespread criticism of the ostentatious lifestyle of the President.

Before the year ended, labor groups and consumers were clamoring for a substantial wage hike and for government intervention to lower prices. Various labor groups joined forces for a huge march on November 30, the birth anniversary of the revolutionary Andres Bonifacio, to call for the implementation of the family living wage.

Mass transport crisis remains

As COVID restrictions were eased and the movement of people increased, the issue of the mass transport crisis again came to the fore. Free rides at the EDSA Carousel are about to end, and the Marcos regime is now thinking of privatizing the carousel. The NAIA is also slated for privatization. Instead of investing in mass transport and basic transportation facilities, the Marcos regime has chosen the discredited path of privatization which will inevitably lead to price increases and profit guarantees shouldered by tax payers. Just take a look at the water services which are set to increase again over the next five years, or the rising cost of privatized electricity which are a source of non-stop burden for consumers. Privatizing mass transport shows a lack of effort and long-term solutions on the part of the government.

SIM card registration

Before the year ended, mobile phone users were forced to register their SIM cards starting December 27. On its first few days, there were already problems that threatened the privacy of consumers. Selfies were required from people registering their prepaid SIM cards even if such was not part of the law. Some telcos made their subscribers sign waivers on the use of their data by the telcos, which proved the criticism of various groups that user’s privacy will be compromised as telcos attempt to profit from these. The collection of user’s personal information in a data base by telcos poses many problems which we are seeing unfold right now. It will only be a matter of time before this law is again challenged in the courts and in the streets.

Mandatory ROTC and Maharlika Fund

Before session ended, two measures were rushed by the allies of the President in the Lower House, These were the Maharlika Investment Fund, whose name was a deliberate throwback to the dictator Marcos, and the two-year mandatory National Citizens Service Training (NCST) program. The Maharlika Investment Fund was initially met with strong opposition when it proposed to utilize the pension funds of the SSS and GSIS. The proposal comes in the wake of massive public debt and a looming global recession in 2023. It has been branded as a vehicle for crony capitalism, wherein state funds are funneled into companies with suspected links to the families in power. The NCST meanwhile has been criticized as “mandatory ROTC in disguise” and as another means of extending the reach of the military inside educational institutions.

For the year 2023, we draw inspiration from our heroes who have passed on, and from the heroes who continue to fight on despite tremendous challenges. We have an unshakeable faith in the people, in their capacity to understand, act and triumph. Ang masa, ang siyang tunay na bayani, as the song goes. We remain ever optimistic and steadfast in the struggle. #

‘We will never forget the atrocities! We will continue our fight for justice!’

Reaction to Senator Robin Padilla’s statement re Martial Law@50

By Amirah Lidasan

Assalamo Alaikum, brother Robin.

Your Bangsamoro brothers and sisters cannot accept your talk asking us to forget the dark years of Martial Law, and “move on” so that we can “grow.”

To forget the decade-long dictatorship is to perpetuate impunity and injustice for the victims of human rights abuses during Martial Law.

As survivors and families of victims of Martial Law, we can never forget the brutal military operations launched to force the Bangsamoro people out of our communities in Mindanao and to subdue the Bangsamoro resistance that defended our communities and fought for our right to self-determination.

The author (left) during the protest actions marking the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law by former president Ferdinand Marcos Sr.

How can we forget the killings or “salvaging,” the massacres, the mass arrests and detention, the torture, the burning and destruction of our communities?

Many Bangsamoro children were not only orphaned but became victims themselves as the military, police, and vigilantes committed the worst forms of human rights violations against our people.

On September 24, we will be reminded again of the Palembang Massacre, the death of more than 1,500 Bangsamoro people in the town of Sultan Kudarat in 1972.

To this day, the perpetrators are still not held accountable for these crimes. Worse, they returned to power with the help of a systematized campaign of historical distortion, massive disinformation, electoral fraud, and six-year years of former President Duterte’s fascist rule.

Most of the Bangsamoro victims were not recognized and some were left out of the compensation program. We were again subjected to the same atrocities as former President Duterte unleashed a five-month campaign of military airstrikes and ground operations in Marawi City.

It is disappointing and downright insulting to ask us to forget. We had hoped that your place in the Senate would help amplify our voice for justice, rather than be part of the apologists of the worst human rights violators. #

(The author is an officer of Bayan Muna Party and the Moro-Christian Peoples’ Alliance)

‘Uncle Eddie’

That’s me slumped at the edge of the EDSA Shrine platform, wearing a white t-shirt and looking at the programme print out that has just been totally disordered by the arrival of wearing a white undershirt and addressing the crowd. I was co-emceeing and we just introduced him, his first appearance at the historic event. He walked from the airport to the EDSA Shrine because traffic was at a standstill and, when he arrived, immediately re-enacted his iconic “People Power Jump.” That’s FVR of course, the guy who has had a huge impact in our country’s recent history and who has died three days ago at 94 years old.

FVR addressing the crowd at EDSA People Power II. (Photo by Ramon Ramirez [+]/Arkibong Bayan)

My paternal grandfather Leon was reportedly a childhood friend and constant playmate of FVR’s dad, the diplomat and politician Narciso. There was also a claim by Pangasinan relatives that our respective families are kin. How, no one among the living on our side could now substantiate. So, far removed at best, if at all. A second degree aunt was a long-time caretaker of the Ramos family’s ancestral house in Asingan, now a museum. I once told this story to his nephew, veteran peace negotiator and former mayor-congressman-cabinet secretary Nani Braganza, and he and I have since taken to calling each other “manong”.

In my younger and hungrier times, I was a struggling business reporter when given an assignment to write a piece on former First Lady Ming Ramos’ Clean & Green Foundation-Piso Para sa Pasig. Someone must’ve have liked what I came out with because I was pirated on the day it was published. Then began nine years of me ghostwriting for the then FL. The most memorable pieces I churned out were her speeches. Inevitably, I had been tasked to do one for FVR himself when we launched the Pasig River International Marathon with him as special guest. That’s just a one off however, FVR having a dedicated team of highly-regarded wordsmiths as speechwriters when he was President, including my UP professor Butch Dalisay.

After his photo ops run with the runners, FVR was relaxing under a tent with his trademark unlit cigar (never saw him smoke them) when the Foundation executive director grabbed my arm to drag and introduce me : “Mr. President, meet the guy who wrote your speech, Raymund,” she said. Before I could greet him good morning, the old man had by then grabbed my hand for a shake and squeezed so hard I began to tear up. “I liked the speech,” he said. He said more kind words but I could not recall them now, remembering only that I was struggling not to yelp while trying hard to squeeze hard back to save some dignity.

He asked me to have a sit with him and, prolly noticing my skin, asked, “Ilokano ka met, balong?” “Ybanag, Mr. President. But my father is Ilokano from San Manuel.” I then told him about my father’s family’s claim of once being close to his family. He then fished out a cigar from his breast pocket and offered it to me, saying “For that speech, kaanakan,” he said.

The author [right, in white t-shirt] during the violent dispersal of protesters during FVR’s 1994 SONA. (Photo by now unknown photographer)

Of course I did not tell him I was an activist and became one when he was president.  I did not like that he privatized many government assets and I disagreed with his liberalization of the economy. One time, when he was no longer president, we met him at his Peace and Development Foundation office in Makati to ask him to remind the water concessionaires to make good with their commitment to treat wastewater per their privatization contracts. We told him the Pasig River will never be fully rehabilitated if untreated wastewater is still dumped on the country’s most famous waterway. He rebuffed us, but in a nice enough way.

I rejoined journalism years later and started reporting on the peace process between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). I learned that the most number and most significant peace agreements were forged with the former general as president. Among these were The Hague Joint Declaration, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees and the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (which was affirmed by the Joseph Estrada administration a few months after its crafting). These are the documents that—surprise! surprise!—the NDFP insists should be respected and used as framework in the talks, unlike the militarists and the social democrats who always try to have them dismissed as “documents of perpetual division.”

Peace talks between the GRP and the NDFP were most successful with Ramos as GRP President, both parties agree. Veteran negotiators like to narrate that once the GRP panel declared an end to the talks and went home because of a very contentious issue, FVR ordered them go back and resume the negotiations with the words: “Who told you to stop negotiating?”

We know how the talks went with the Erap, GMA, PNoy and Duterte administrations. Based on pronouncements of the new administration, it is looking like there will not a resumption in the near future either.

If only for how FVR pushed forward the peace process, let me say, “Agyaman, Uncle.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

The former president’s wake shall be at the Heritage Park in Taguig City starting tomorrow, August 4 until August 8. He will be interred at the Libingan ng mga Bayani on August 9.