Titus as Journalist: Titus Brandsma and the Freedom of the Press

By Raymund B Villanueva

(Lecture delivered last April 26 to an Institute of Spirituality in Asia webinar as part of Titus Brandsma Canonization 2022 Committee celebrations of the Order of Carmelites in the Philippines. Pope Francis is set to canonize Blessed Titus Brandsma, OCarm with nine others at the Vatican today, March 15.)

Thank you once more for inviting me to yet another Institute of Spirituality in Asia webinar. This time, I won’t be talking about something I am very familiar with. In fact, it is a bit presumptuous of me to accept the invitation to talk about the Blessed Titus Brandsma as a journalist because I am quite sure he is more familiar to you than he is to me. I accepted because I believe I can make comparisons, parallelisms and juxtapositions to what he endured to defend freedom of the press and of expression and what we as practicing journalists of today have to contend with as well. Also, it is quite an honor to be made part of the Philippine celebrations in anticipation of his canonization next month, one that should not be declined lightly.

Aside from being a philosophy teacher, a Carmelite religious, mystic, reformer and many other things, Titus took on the role of a journalist and was chief editor of De Stad Oss, which he gave a new identity to. He wrote an impressive number of articles for the Carmelrozen Magazine that focused on spirituality. Sources said journalism occupied a special place in Titus’ heart, considering it an excellent opportunity to give the spiritual life a place in what was then an increasingly secularizing Dutch society. He also wrote articles on Dutch piety in De Gerderlander and served as an adviser to the Roman Catholic Journalists’ Association.

Here is where I will attempt to draw parallelisms and juxtapositions.

I consider those who enter the world of journalism lucky because it was not only their dream but also because they have spent their young lives preparing to become one. They are blessed with not only clear dreams and definite goals and so have studied and trained to become one from school. Many were fortunate to be hired and to work as one, and more blessed are they if they have spent the best years of their lives being, serving and living as journalists.

They must have seen and still see journalism as a life worth living, a force of good not just for themselves but for others. To devote oneself to such a lifelong undertaking, they must consider the calling as beyond just trade, skill, a way to earn a living, or, for personal glory by way of the byline. Sure, these are reasons by themselves, but journalism, good or bad, is beyond all these.

Blessed Titus’ journey into journalism started, I believe, like most lifelong journalists did and do, at least in the Philippines. He was not a child who dreamt of being a journalist and formally studied to become one. He studied and trained to become a religious and, when he was already one, became a journalist as well, among many other concerns and personal projects.

I have heard it said repeatedly that becoming a good journalist is not necessarily premised on having studied journalism formally. In fact, one should study and master other disciplines in order to become a knowledgeable journalist, one who is not just a master in stringing words together but someone who may also know a thing or two about what s/he reports about. For example, one who has studied economics has a better chance of becoming a good business reporter or a political science graduate is more likely to become a good correspondent reporting on government.

But what about news writing and reportorial skills? Shouldn’t prospective journalists study that as their main training? Well, yes. But what I am trying to say is, becoming anything is not solely dependent on one’s academic training. One can become good at anything if s/he puts his/her mind and body into it which, in Blessed Titus’ case, was successful. Journalists do not just come from journalism schools. They come from everywhere, as Fr. Ritche Salgado, OCarm, who was already a licensed physical therapist before becoming a journalist and later on a religious, showed us. I am another example of sorts. I studied Philosophy and Letters at a school that had no journalism program, yet here I am fancying and styling myself as one.

But Blessed Titus was, of course, a cut above our humble examples. Because of his spirituality, he became a journalist to amplify his thoughts, beliefs and faith. His journalism became an energetic conduit to sharing, informing, educating, evangelizing and witnessing. He wrote, edited and published to give more fullness to his calling and mission. He was a force in arguing for the spiritual life in an increasingly secularizing society.

Blessed Titus’ spirituality and his journalism were not nebulous things. They were also firmly anchored in the temporal, such as denouncing and fighting evil in this world like Nazism and the assassination of freedom of the press and expression. It came to fore when the Third Reich invaded his homeland The Netherlands in May 1940. He did not only write against this evil, he also took on the very dangerous mission in January 1942 to deliver by hand a letter from the Conference of Dutch Bishops to the editors of Catholic newspapers ordering them not to print official Nazi documents, as was dictated by the German occupiers. He also urged Catholic newspapers and magazines to not accept and print advertisements from groups that supported Nazism. He had accomplished delivering this message to 14 editors before being arrested on 19 January of that year. He is now known, most of all by the Philippine Carmel, to be the Martyr of Press Freedom for refusing to let falsehood and evil see print, even at the cost of his life.

And here is another parallelism: fascism is still with us today, no less evil as when Nazi boots trampled Blessed Titus’ people. Spilled blood paint streets, lives ebb as plaintive cries rend the air. Poverty is the people’s reality while our rulers flaunt wealth sucked from the sinews and marrows of emaciated bodies of workers. Have you seen how our people patiently wait for the chance to catch a ride morning and night, dreaming of laying their heads for a few hours of rest before another day’s suffering? Titus would have looked at these scenes and wrote about them from and with his light. It is possible that had he been a journalist during our times, he would have railed against the social injustices and be persecuted.

Many journalists today die because because of such stories. Marlene Esperat exposed the fertilizer scam and died for it when armed men stormed into her house one night and shot her in front of her children. Broadcaster Gerry Ortega railed against the rape and plunder of the environment and was shot to death in full view of many people in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. Under the Rodrigo Duterte regime, at least 22 journalists have been killed. We have documented hundreds and hundreds of attacks on press freedom including cyber-attacks, vilification, arrests, trumped-up charges, red-tagging and many others.

Because as in the time of Hitler, so it is today with Duterte. In the face of social injustices, many journalists try to be as Titus, refusing to be dictated upon, muzzled, and ordered to be the purveyor of falsehood and evil. They may not have heard about Titus Brandsma, but one thing with goodness and light is that they manifest in other humans and through acts that may be described as spiritual for one.

In a few weeks’ time, the Church will elevate Blessed Titus to its pantheon of saints. He shall be another intercession for our collective dream for fullness of humanity. And this blessing could not come at a better time for journalists and the Filipino people. When the religious, the journalists, human rights defenders, public interest lawyers, land reform advocates, militant labor, are being killed, St. Titus would implore us to be with them as witnesses. When falsehoods are misrepresented as facts, when the media are subverted and corrupted, when trolls try to be the definers of truth, St. Titus, by his witness, would implore us to counter with real truth. #

(The author is the 2015 Titus Brandsma Philippines awardee for Emerging Leadership in Journalism.)

ANXIETY, FEAR, HOPE: A first time voter’s journal

By Justine Nicole Malonzo

I was nervous when I stepped inside our voters’ precinct last Monday. I held my ballot and pen gently, afraid I might accidentally put an unwanted mark or shade the wrong circle that would invalidate my vote.

I was worried when the machine didn’t read my ballot the first time. And the second time. And the third time. I gave out a nervous laugh and the election inspector, in an effort to relax me a bit, said, “The machine is just tired.” I do not know if it was in their manual of operations but the machine finally read my ballot on my fourth try after the inspector suggested I feed it bottom first. Relief washed over me when my voters’ receipt reflected my votes correctly.

It was 10 AM in the morning when I cast my first-ever ballot.

Except for my ballot-feeding difficulties, my entire family had an easy time of it, unlike many other voters. As a first time voter, I was curious at the long lines I saw in other precincts. We were lucky, it turned out.

We left for home soon after, except for my father who is a media worker and had to do his job. As a Kontra Daya volunteer, I later on proceeded to its Quezon City headquarters, excited to be contributing my time verifying reports of election anomalies. Kontra Daya is a poll watchdog that documents and reports poll fraud. I was oriented on what I would be doing, verifying reported anomalies in precincts listed in a Google Sheet I was given. To verify said reports, I would call and ask sources for further details.

My elation at having successfully cast my first ever ballot was again replaced with anxiety when reports of broken vote counting machines (VCM) came flooding in. There were also reports of illegal campaigning and other issues, such as VCMs refusing to print ballot receipts. Hundreds of precincts had to resort to asking voters to sign waivers agreeing to let the poll watchers feed the ballots to replacement VCMS when and if they arrive.

The issue of broken VCMS persisted until nighttime. I was still talking to people who failed to cast their votes even when the precincts have supposedly closed by 7 PM. By then, the unofficial count was already being projected at the headquarters, and the one leading in the presidential race was the son of the dictator.

And my anxiety turned to foreboding. I was scared for myself, for my family, for every Filipino’s future.

As a journalism student I’ve studied in several courses about what Marcos supporters now tout as the “golden era of the Philippines.” I heard from a professor her experiences under Martial Law that prompted me to read up on our recent history. I also met people who survived imprisonment and torture under Marcos Sr.’s regime. With the election results scrolling before my eyes, I felt so bad and devastated for all those who either died or survived the dictatorship.

Nearly a week after the polls, I still cringe whenever I see someone celebrating Marcos Jr.’s impending victory. I cried when my best friend told me how her family ridicules student activists protesting on the streets — I was one of them. My friend’s family also mocks her, a Robredo supporter, telling her to give up because the margin of Marcos’ victory was insurmountable. I cry every time I hear “Rosas”, that aspirational song I sang lustfully with the Pink crowds during the campaign period. It’s now a song that reminds me of what could have been had my candidate won.

I am sad at how the first election I directly participated in turned out. But it’s not over because I am not losing hope. I will oppose the next six year if it turns out to be the same horror story that I heard and read about. I believe there are enough number of Filipinos who will not let it happen again.  I am hopeful that the Filipino youth are discovering their worth and would be the generation that will stand up for truth. They will not let the people be silenced and oppressed again. #

[FIRST PERSON] EDSA, kaarawan at Oishi 2022

Ni Amy V. Padilla

Ipinanganak ako sa panahon ng Martial Law. Ang diktador na si Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. na ang kinagisnan kong presidente hanggang sa mapatalsik ito ng mamamayang Pilipino noong 1986 Edsa People Power. Isang event at petsa na minemorya lang ang Martial Law. Sa madaling salita, buong formative at elementary years ko ay lansakang mga kasinungalingan na ng ‘golden years’, ‘peace and order’ at maayos na pamumuhay ang tinuro sa paaralan.

Kung dati si Maricel Soriano lang alam kong ka-birthday ko, mula nang 1986 ay lagi nang may tambal na Edsa at komemorasyon.

May mga kalat-kalat akong alaala bilang bata bago mag People Power. Tumatak sa akin ang matinding kagutuman ng mga sacada ng Negros, at dahil ito sa makapangyarihang larawan ng batang malnourished na kalaunan ay namatay. Naririnig ko ang usapan ng mga matatanda sa bahay – mataas na presyo ng langis, bilihin, maraming gutom – na hindi ko pa intindi. Ang naging intindi ko lang ay ganito rin ang sasapitin namin kaya inipon ko ilang natirang barya mula sa baon, pumunta sa sari-sari store at bumili ng mga tsitsiriang Oishi at Kirei prawn crackers para may pagkain kami. Nilagay ko pa ito sa cabinet at sinabi sa Nanay ko. Natawa sya.

Noong 1983 ng pinapatay ng diktador na si Marcos ang dating Senador Benigno Aquino, naiyak ang aking Nanay. Hindi ko unawa bakit.

Bago mapatalsik ang mga Marcos at patapos na ko ng elementarya, ang isa kong Tita naman ay nagpakilala sa akin ng akda ni Renato Constantino na “The Miseducation of the Filipino”. Nagsikap akong unti-unting basahin at unawain sa abot ng makakaya – na napakasalat. Ngunit dito ang simula ng unawa ko ng kolonyalismo at paggamit ng edukasyon para isulong ang interes ng mananakop. [Sa pagtanda na ang unawa sa papel ng ruling elite sa pananatili nito at ng imperyalismong US.]

Noong Edsa 1986, nakisali lang ako sa mga matatanda sa bahay sa pagmonitor ng balita; hindi nagtagumpay makalabas ng bahay ang Nanay ko dahil sa higpit ng lolo ko. Pero ng sumunod na taon, sinama ako ng Nanay ko sa Edsa para gunitain ito. Masaya ang atmosphere.

Kung kaya malaki ang pagpapasalamat ko sa aking Nanay at aking Tita na hindi pulos boladas ng rehimeng US-Marcos ang natanim sa akin bilang bata. Ang mga magulang ko ay kapwa mga kabataang aktibista noong dekada sitenta. Turing kong badge of honor na luwal ako ng mga kabataang mulat at kumilos sa partikular na sirkumstansya nila noon.

Pinatalsik ang mga baseng militar ng US sa huling taon ko high school – marginal lang sya sa akin habang nagkukumahog pumasa sa NCEE (eto pa dati) at college entrance exams. Ngunit sa Catholic high school nasimulang mabuo ang diwa ng paglilingkod sa kapwa, bagaman wala pa sa lente ng makauring pagsusuri.

Sa pagpasok ko ng kolehiyo, unti-unting mas nasistematisa ang unawa sa lipunang Pilipino lalo sa ilalim ng diktadurya – ang pangangayupapa sa US sa neoliberal na mga patakaran (para manatiling bansot, atrasadong agraryo, pre-industrial ang ekonomiya) at mga malalaki nitong base militar, burukrata kapitalismo na crony capitalism ni Marcos, pandarambong, at talamak na human rights violations.

At ano ang partikuar na kalagayan noong 1983 na nag-Oishi panic buying ako? Kasagsagan ng foreign debt borrowing binge ni Marcos na may kaakibat na austerity measures na lalong nagpahirap sa ordinaryong mamamayan. Sa tindi ng pangungutang ng diktador, Pilipinas lang ang tanging bansang bansa sa Asya na kumaharap ng debt crisis.

Sa tuwirang pakikisalamuha at pakikisangkot sa isyung masa mas luminaw ang lagim ng diktadurya –  lalo na ng makilala at makasamang kumilos ang mga biktima nito gaya nila Ka Satur Ocampo, Crispin Beltran at napakarami pang iba.

Hindi hugot sa hangin ang tala ng Amnesty International na mula 1971 hanggang 1981, nasa 72,00 ang nakulong; 34,000 ang tinortyur at 3,240 ang pinatay. Ang mga pangalan ng martir ng Martial Law, kabilang ang nagsulong ng armadong pakikibaka para labanan ang diktaduryang US-Marcos, ay nasa Bantayog ng mga Bayani.

Isang ‘shining moment’ sa ating kasaysayan ang Edsa People Power na nagsilbing inspirasyon sa buong mundo. Akumulasyon ito ng mahabang panahong paglaban ng mga mamamayan sa matinding pahirap ng rehimen, bunsod pangunahin ng napakalalang krisis pangekonomiya.

Subalit hindi nito binago ang pundamental na karakter ng lipunang Pilipino na malakolonyal at malapyudal; ang paghahari at pagsasamantala ng iilan sa mayoryang naghihirap na mamamayan; at ang kontrol ng imperyalismong US. Wala namang ilusyon na sa isang iglap ay maisasakatuparan ang pambansang demokratikong interes at kahilingan ng batayang masa na hindi nababago sa saligan ang moda ng produksyon.

Ngunit maraming aral ang Edsa na mahalaga. Ang sama-samang pagkilos ng mamamayan laban sa tiraniya at diktadurya para sa demokrasya. Ang maninidigan para sa interes ng mga mahirap at api, na ubod ng Kristiyanong panananampalataya na ‘love thy neighbor’ o ‘serve the people’ sa aktibistang turan. Lalo ngayon, ang labanan sa abot ng ating kayanin na huwag manumbalik ang mga Marcos sa Malacanang at manatili ang copycat Duterte sa poder sa pamamagitan ng anak. Ang pabulaanan ang malawakang historical revisionism at distortion na aktibong ginagawa ng mga Marcos.

Sinuka, pinatalsik na ng bayan ang pamilyang Marcos. Nasa kasaysayan maging ng buong mundo ang pandarambong, pagpatay at pagpapasasa sa nakaw na yaman. Hindi na sila dapat manumbalik pa at bagkus, dapat papanagutin sa mga krimen at kasalanan sa mamamayang Pilipino.

Tatlumpung-anim na taon matapos ang Edsa People Power, malayo na inabot ng unawa mula sa petiburges, musmos Oishi panic-buying ng dekada otsenta. Dapat namang may pagkatandaan. Ngunit mas marami pang aral na hahalawin sa praktika at teorya – kabilang ang mula sa mga nakakatandang naghahawan ng landas, gumagabay sa susunod na mga henerasyon. Lalo sa pagdiin ng ating abang mortalidad sa panahon ng pandemya, mahalaga ang legacy na iiwan.

Sa aking sariling salinlahi na lumaking mulat at may pagmamahal sa bayan, at mga nakababatang naging kasama na naimpluwensiyahan kahit papaano sa iba’t-ibang kapasidad at paraan, gaano man kamunti – may assurance na may magpapatuloy ng laban. The kids are alright, ika nga. Maligaya sa pagtanda, still.

Never Again. Never Forget.

No to Another Marcos in Malacanang!

= = = =

Ang may akda ay nagdiwang ng kanyang kaarawan sa EDSA People Power Monument kahapon, Pebrero 25. Hindi alam ng Kodao kung ilang taon na siya.

[EXPLAINER] Who is Doc Naty and why is her arrest unjust?

She may well be the poster girl of service and selflessness. But the State thinks she is a top criminal deserving of the heavy-handed arrest she was subjected to by the police last Friday.

Dr. Ma. Natividad Marian Castro was arrested commando style in their San Juan City home in the heart of the metropolis, the police disregarding her Constitutionally-guaranteed rights to apprehend who they allege is a top Communist Party of the Philippines leader.

But as her arrest quickly spread on social media, institutions she was associated with described her and her life’s work with nothing but acclaim and immediately condemned what she is being made to endure.

Who is Doc Naty? What made her a target of State heavy-handedness? Why do many people demand her freedom?

Honor student

One of the first institutions that immediately condemned Doc Naty’s arrest was her alma mater St. Scholastica’s College-Manila (SSC-M) where she graduated High School Batch ’84 valedictorian. The community doctor, the school said, was one of the 100 outstanding alumnae who was awarded the St. Scholastica’s Alumnae Foundation Inc. Centennial Award in 2006 because of her outstanding humanitarian work setting up community-based health programs and services in Mindanao.

“She exemplifies the Scholastican and Benedictine spirit, in her life of ora et labora (prayer and work) and service especially to the poor and the marginalized sectors of our society. She embraced the lives of the most impoverished of farmers, fisher folk and indigenous people on the mountains and plains in the Caraga Region of Mindanao. Dr. Naty even brought to Geneva some of the Lumad people to seek help as victims of militarization,” SSC-M said in a statement a day after her arrest.

In their own statement of support, Doc Naty’s fellow Isko/Iska (people’s scholars) said she was outstanding in academics “[i]n UP Diliman where she graduated cum laude in BS Zoology, and onto UP College of Medicine where she graduated with [them] in 1995.”

“Naty is not an ordinary doctor. She is a servant leader actively involved in health and human rights and working towards providing health care for all by serving in rural and geographically isolated areas,” members of the UP College of Medicine (UPCM) Class of 1995 said.

UPCM’s Department of Family and Community Medicine said Doc Naty did nothing but live up to the ideals of a doctor that the country invested in. “Her 26-year career is not of wrongdoing but that of selfless service to the poor and the marginalized,” it said.

Many other health and human rights organizations immediately came out with their acclamation of Doc Naty’s life’s work and condemnation of the brutish manner in which she was arrested, including the Health Action for Human Rights, Karapatan, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), Gabriela, Pangkalusugang Lingkod Bayan-UP Manila, Community Medicine Development Foundation (COMMED), Community-Based Health Program (CBHP)-Butuan, and even former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Michel Forst who twitted said he was “more than worried” over her arrest. Even senatorial candidates Dr. Minguita Padilla and Dr. Carl Balita condemned the arrest.

SSC-M said it is ridiculous to accuse its alumna of kidnapping and illegal detention of those she is helping and whose human rights she is defending.

“It is unjust that one who has chosen to live in places that are not reached by the services that every human being is entitled to receive; one who has committed her life to give life to others, is now deprived of her right to life, a life that she has lived witnessing to Christ’s love and compassion,” the school said.

In her own words

What was Doc Naty, a top graduate of the country’s top schools, doing in the hinterlands, dispensing health care to people who obviously could not afford to pay for even the most basic of health care?

In her own words, Doc Naty said she had been working as a community doctor, public health practitioner and human rights activist in the Agusan Provinces since she started practicing medicine professionally in 1996.  

“I worked with marginalized sectors in rural and urban communities, mainly with families of farmers, agricultural and mining workers, informal sectors in the urban poor and national minorities, helping peoples’ organizations build their capacity to respond to their immediate and long term health needs within the context of mutual cooperation and empowerment,” she wrote in September 11, 2021, explaining what she does to her batch mates in the UPCM Class of 1995.

She listed the organizations that she worked in all these years, including CBHP-Butuan, COMMED, Karapatan, the Missionary Sisters of Mary, the Religious of the Good Shepherd, SSC-M’s ENFIDE Institute, and even the government’s own Department of Health-Region 10 in its European Union-sponsored Women’s Health and Safe Motherhood Project.

“I started in Agusan at a time when epidemics of cholera and measles were yearly cycles and malaria, schistosomiasis and tuberculosis were so rampant that our health services were vital in remote Lumad and peasant communities or else people died for lack of medical care,” she revealed.

Dr. Ma. Natividad Marian Castro being comforted by her sister when she was surfaced at Bayugan City Jail last Saturday. (Photo from Dr. Darby Santiago’s FB wall.)

Like most other community doctors, Doc Naty was witness to the other injustices their patients suffer. These include the killings of farmers, workers and Lumad for the sake of mining in the region she chose to serve. She described the violence as a widespread displacement of Lumad communities to clear the path for the foreign exploitation of non-renewable resources such as metals and coal, the declaration of large tracts of land with peasant and Lumad communities as special economic zones, rendering the people powerless to assert their right to land, livelihood and resources.

“[T]hese issues have become central to my work in the past 10 years, I find myself working more and more with church people, people in the academe, media, the educated youth and other professionals to explain issues of environment justice and human rights, how the basic sectors of farmers and workers should have a voice in the path to sustainable and just development, how the rights of the Lumad as historical and cultural stewards of their ancestral domain must take precedence over its destruction in the name of development,” she explained.

It was with this conviction that Doc Naty traveled to Geneva, Switzerland in 2016 to plead the case of the Lumad before the international community. This may be one of the reasons why posters were put all over Caraga on November 20, 2020 by suspected state agents alleging Doc Naty and other known human rights defenders of the region are “communist NPAs (New People’s Army).”

But Doc Naty said that all the medical missions she was part of, all the trainings she conducted to tutor thousands of new community health workers from among the peasant and the Lumad, all the workshops she held to produce effective herbal medicines, all the encouragements she dispensed to encourage “walking blood banks”, all the minor surgery and dental extractions she performed, and all the births she assisted, were worth it.  As a result of their work in communities and through cooperation and collaboration with government and non-government programs and projects, disease control programs for malaria, schistosomiasis and tuberculosis have effectively reached the grassroots level while epidemics of cholera and measles have become scarce in the past 10 years.

“I have seen death sown and life being rebuilt. I take comfort in the sure knowledge that the struggle for people’s development will continue as surely as I helped develop leaders and workers with integrity and fire in their hearts for the poor and marginalized,” she wrote.

Doc Naty was aware of how her work is viewed by the government. “In my field of work, the money is scarce, job/personal security is poor (hahaha) but the rewards are immeasurable when I see the babies that I have delivered thrive and become leaders themselves, dedicating their lives to continuing the development work that I helped start in their communities,” she wrote.

It is in the midst of a global pandemic and while Doc Naty was taking care of family members that she was repaid by a contemptuous State in ways it is most accustomed to.

Raid on an ancestral home

Doc Naty’s younger sister Menchi graphically described in a Rappler interview how Friday’s arrest went. Menchi said that she just came from hearing Mass and was opening their gate when plains-clothed men approached, pushed her aside and caused her bruises. They did not identify themselves and forced their way in. Menchi said that other men in civilian clothes scaled their walls. The raiders destroyed their front door and arrested Doc Naty.

Menchi added that it was only when the raiders were already inside the house that they were able to talk to them. They were showed a photocopy of an arrest warrant issued by the Bayugan City Regional Trial Court that contained hundreds of names that did not include Doc Naty’s. The doctor was then whisked away without being allowed to put on shoes.

The FLAG, retained as counsels by Doc Naty’s relatives after the raid, immediately sought access to her at the Intelligence Group, Camp Crame, where she was reportedly brought and detained. Before this, her sister, who was also at Crame, was denied access, as was another lawyer-friend.

“Upon inquiry, police officers from the Intelligence Group informed FLAG that Dr. Castro was no longer at Camp Crame as she was supposedly ‘brought to the airport’ to be ‘delivered to the court’ in Butuan City. Family members proceeded to the airport but were not able to see her there. The scheduled flight to Butuan took off without any confirmation of Dr. Castro being on board. Requests for copies of the warrant of arrest, reports and documents relative to Dr. Castro’s arrests and transportation likewise went unheeded,” FLAG revealed.

Throughout the whole afternoon and continuing to the present, none of her relatives or lawyers has been able to gain access to Doc Naty and no official confirmation from her captors, the PNP, has been made as to her whereabouts,” the group of human rights lawyers narrated.

“Dr. Castro has been denied access to her counsel and to her family, in violation of her rights under the Constitution and the law. She was also denied her medication for her hypertension and diabetes because the police refused to allow her sister who wanted to bring her medicines and test kits to have access to Dr. Castro,” it continued.

Dr. Ma. Natividad Marian Castro at Bayugan City last Saturday. (Photo from Dr. Darby Santiago’s FB page)

On Saturday, Doc Naty was surfaced at the Bayugan City Jail where her family was finally allowed to see and talk to her. The CHR, who was also present, was informed that the doctor would be presented to the public prosecutor’s office when it opens tomorrow, Monday.

As the charges against Doc Naty are non-bailable, chances of her immediately regaining freedom are slim. But her lawyers are sure to question the manner of her arrest as well as her name’s absence in the photocopied arrest warrant shown her family. It will surely take months or years before the community doctor would again be free to dispense health care to the peasant and Lumad communities dear to her. But as in the case of vice principal and ACT Teachers Union secretary general Rosanilla “Lai” Consad in Butuan who was released after less than a year in jail, Doc Naty’s family and friends hope it shall be sooner than later. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Tungkong Mangga: From farmers’ paradise to stove of violence

By Raymund B. Villanueva

A fact-finding mission on the demolition of four farmers’ houses last Wednesday in Barangay Tungkong Mangga, San Jose del Monte City (SJDM), Bulacan was underway at 11 AM yesterday when guards armed with high-powered guns arrived and fired indiscriminately. The firing lasted for 10 minutes and forced the victims and members of the mission to run for their lives. When it finally stopped after what seemed an eternity to the mission participants, two were injured. Several had their bags, wallets, mobile phones and other equipment seized by the guards. The armed men are under the employ of Gregorio Maria “Greggy” Araneta III, husband of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s daughter Irene and brother-in-law to presidential aspirant Marcos Jr.

Friday’s shooting had been the third of a series of harassment against farmers of the community in a year, mission co-organizer Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) reported. Last year, more cases of harassment were also reported, causing the residents to fear for their lives and livelihood.

READ: Araneta guards fire guns at farmers in SJDM

Where and what is Tungkong Mangga? Why are its farmers being harassed and evicted? Who is Greggy and what is his company Araneta Properties, Inc. (API) doing there? Who rightfully owns the land disputed by poor farmers and a powerful interest that tries to impose its will with guns and threats of death?

Land of sweet bananas

Tungkong Mangga is not a remote and wild place that yesterday’s incident may suggest. It is a community located just north of Quezon and Caloocan cities where Metro Manila’s sprawl is seen atop its rolling hills. It boasts of a huge shopping mall, many restaurants and other establishments, even high-end residential subdivisions developed by the Ayala, Villar, Sta. Lucia and Araneta business groups. Its undulating roads are favorites to weekend bikers who catch their breaths in the area’s many summits, drinking coffee and other refreshments from guerilla cafes put up by enterprising residents. The barangay is called such because of the many mango trees dotting the stove-shaped area.

The view from one of the bikers’ stops near where Friday’s shooting happened. On the background are farms that produce many produce supplied to Metro Manila residents. (R. Villanueva/Kodao)

A large portion of Tungkong Mangga remains agricultural however. From many vantage points, one sees many hectares of farms planted with bananas and other fruit and vegetable crops. It is a major supplier of food to several major markets of Quezon City such as those located in Novaliches and along Commonwealth Avenue. Of particular pride to its farmers is a variety of saba banana that are smaller yet much sweeter than the more common ones we have as turon and banana Qs.

Increasing violence and terror are happening where these farms and the houses of the farmers who till them are located however. The once idyllic place is increasingly ringed by barbed wire fences and guarded by armed personnel of SECURICOR Security and Investigation Services, Inc. While residents freely moved about in the past, they now have to seek permission from the guards for ingress and egress to their communities and farms. They often could not take and sell their produce to the markets anymore.

Terror against food producers

News of Friday’s shooting first reached Kodao through a Facebook Live video of farmer and Alyansa ng Magbubukid ng Bulacan (AMB) member Lea Jordan. She was screaming for help as she was running away from the API guards who shot at them at a clearing where the mission gathered.

LISTEN: Will the UN Decade of Family Farming solve lack of land among poor Filipino farmers?

Lea’s family was from Samar who migrated to SJDM more than three decades back when she was but a child in the early 1990s. In an interview with Kodao last November, Lea said Tungkong Mangga was still forested and known as public land when they arrived. Many families have already settled in the area before them and, like her family, poor and landless from other parts of the country. Over time, more than a hundred families developed about the same number of hectares in the area into productive farms.

Lea was actually on her way to an AMB meeting to have themselves registered with the Department of Agriculture (DA) to be officially recognized by the government as farmers when interviewed by Kodao. She said that, if successful, they will be qualified for support and grants from the DA and it will be helpful for their struggle against the exemption of their land from the government’s agrarian reform program.

On the first month of this year, however, a crying, fleeing and terrorized Lea is what we hear of her first.

WATCH LEA’S FB LIVE VIDEO HERE: https://www.facebook.com/lea.jordan.9/videos/284527883591106/

Farmlands to financial center

Lea and her neighbors’ troubles began when the DAR has exempted their farms from the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) in 1997. Government said parts of the area have over 18-degree slopes that supposedly render these “non-viable for agricultural use.” The land’s regular yield of produce, however, proves the reasoning faulty. The farmers of Tungkong Mangga have in fact regularly participated in agricultural fairs in Metro Manila over the years that showcase their organically-raised fruit and vegetables.

Since CARP’s exemption of the productive farms, Greggy had started claiming ownership of the area. There is no online source proving the Araneta clan’s previous ownership of the land it says it owns. They clan were descendants of a Basque family who participated and obviously benefited from Spanish conquest of the archipelago.

The earliest citation available of the family’s presence in the area was the establishment of the Araneta Institute of Agriculture in 1946 that has since transferred to Malabon City and is now known as the De La Salle Araneta University (also formerly known as the Gregorio Araneta University Foundation before its integration into the De La Salle system in 1987). In 2017 newspaper interviews, Greggy claimed that about 2,000 hectares in the area were owned by his grandfather and Malolos Convention participant Gregorio. “Most of the land is owned by my family,” Greggy told the Inquirer, adding that this was where his grandfather used to enjoy horseback riding.

There were stories of a certain Hacienda Araneta near the area but was known to be mainly located in adjacent Rodriguez (Montalban), Rizal. Incidentally, long-time residents of Barangay Mascap in Rodriguez also complain of similar violent eviction tactics by the Aranetas.

With the government approval of the MRT-7 project in 2012 (when Greggy’s cousin Manuel “Mar” Araneta Roxas was transportation and communications and, immediately after, interior and local government secretary) Greggy was reported to have intensified his claims over 140 hectares in the area. The place happens to be where the ongoing MRT-7 rail project shall have its first station and train depot. This is where Greggy said he will build “the best township” beside the La Mesa Dam Reservoir, much bigger and potentially much more lucrative for his clan than their famed Araneta Center in Cubao, Quezon City.

But the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) pointed out that Greggy’s API was only incorporated as a legal entity, long after many of the farmers have settled and developed the area. The peasant group also accused the DAR of exempting Tungkong Mangga from CARP coverage to accommodate Greggy’s takeover.

“The peasant families of San Jose Del Monte had been tilling the farmlands of Tungkong Mangga even before [API] would be incorporated in 1988,” explained UMA chairperson Antonio Flores. “DAR’s facilitation of Araneta’s landgrab is unconscionable, and nothing short of criminal,” he added.

UMA said that since August last year, Greggy and API have been sending personnel from SECURICOR to threaten and intimidate the residents. Security personnel had even set up control gates along farm-to-market roads in the area to make the passage of agricultural produce difficult. In 2020, a unit of the Philippine Army has even encamped right in the midst of a residential area to intimidate the farmers. A month prior to the latest onset of the latest round of harassment, UMA reported than an API legal representative told residents of Tungkong Mangga’s Sitio Dalandanan to vacate their farms and let Greggy take over the disputed land.

Who should own the land?

UMA said yesterday’s incident was to prevent the fact-finding mission from looking into the ongoing demolition of houses in the area to make way for another private subdivision that would be part of Greggy’s future township. The group opposes the conversion of productive farm lands into more commercial projects.

“It is one thing for a company to grab land from the farmers who have been making it productive for decades,” said Flores. “But to steal land with the intention of converting its use to non-agricultural purposes? This is the height of criminality. On top of displacing peasants, this landgrab curtails the country ability to produce food,” Flores added.

Some of the armed security guards employed by Greggy Araneta who fired their guns and terrorized the participants of yesterday’s fact-finding mission. (UMA photo)

In Kodao’s November interview with Lea, she made clear that they settled and tilled the land in the full belief it was public. She also said that they are willing to pay for the land they now occupy at just prices and friendly schemes. “Dito na kami lumaki. Dito na ako nagka-asawa at nagka-anak. Ito ang aming buhay. Ito ang pinili naming buhay,” she added. (This is where we grew up, married and had children. This is our life. This is the life we choose.)

UMA urges electoral candidates to look into the ongoing violence in Tungkong Mangga and consider it a symptom of the larger problem of peasant landlessness. “Until a program for genuine agrarian reform could be put in place, companies like API would continue to grab land, seize sovereignty over food production away from peasants, and endanger not only peasant lives but the entire country’s food security,” the group said. #

2021 in review: Countdown to ending Duterte’s tyranny

By Renato Reyes, Jr.

The year 2021 was the year we started our one-year countdown to end Duterte’s tyranny and failed pandemic response. It has been a year of great resistance and important victories especially for human rights. It is also the year Duterte was thoroughly exposed for being unable to govern and lead during the worst health and economic crisis in decades.

The year 2021 will be remembered for the people’s courageous resistance to fascism, the regime’s corruption-riddled pandemic response, violations of our sovereignty and the grand scheme to effect a Marcos restoration and Duterte extenstion. 2021 was us making a stand at Helm’s Deep, a prelude to the more decisive Battle of Pelennor Fields.

#DefendUP – The start of the year saw the unilateral termination by the DND of the historic UP-DND accord. The move was met with widespread condemnation as it was seen as an attack on academic freedom. The termination was followed by a red-tagging spree so arbitrary and baseless that it caused the relief of top generals of the AFP. The UP community would bring the fight to insitutionalize the accord to Congress. UP would also take a stand against the purging of so-called subversive books from its libraries.

#JunkTerrorLaw – The people waged a long battle against the terror law, as oral arguments commenced early in the year and as the SC issued a resolution at the end of the year. While a portion of the overbroad definition was voided by the high court, most of the dangerous provisions of the terror law remain. Mass protests followed the SC decision on the terorr law, culiminating in the broad protest action on December 10, Human Rights Day. #DutertePalpak – The people marked the first year of Duterte’s lockdown and failed pandemic response with a stinging rebuke expressed through the hashtag

#DutertePalpak — The Philippines had one of the longest lockdowns in the world, the longest school closure, the biggest economic drop in the region and the last to acquire vaccines in Southeast Asia. The country went through to lockdowns this year, one in March-April and another in August-September. Milions lost their jobs and poverty increased in the second half of the year. It didn’t help that during the worst periods of the health crisis, the President was missing in action. Those who were truly fed up joined the call #DuterteResign and #OustDuterte as expressions of outrage — Health workers staged repeated protests to demand the release of long-delayed benfits. Those affected by economic displacement organized the Ayuda Network. People also demanded that Health Secretary Duque resign for his incompetence.

What was really appalling was that corruption was on full-blast during the pandemic. This year we learned of the Pharmally modus where an undercapitalized company with no track-record got billions in procurement deals because they had connections with the President and the President’s friends. Another company, Starpay, followed a similar modus and ended up failing to distribute as much as P8 billion in pandemic ayuda.

The people demanded form the regime a scientific and pro-people pandemic response. Students and teachers sought the safe return to physical classes. Poor people demanded a P10,000 aid for those displaced by the pandemic.

#CommunityPantryPH, #AyudangSapat para sa lahat – The severe economic downturn gave rise to the community pantry phenomenon which started in Maginhawa, Quezon City and soon spread to different parts of the country. Because it sought to address government neglect, the community pantry movement soon became the target of red-tagging. Organizers and supporters pushed back against the NTF-ELCAC and the PNP. The movement not only provided for the needs of the people, it also highlighted the urgent need for government to act and redirect its resources to helping the poor. It was during this time that workers returned to the streets for the first physical mobilization for May 1 since the pandemic began.

#BloodySunday – Not even the pandemic would stop the fascist attacks on the people. March 7 will forever be remebered as the Bloody Sunday Massacre in Southern Tagalog as 7 activists were killed and several others arrested during a series of police operations. The incident drew sharp condmenation here and abroad, with international human rights bodies and even the European Commission expressing alarm. Human rights groups pressed the DOJ to investigate the kilings. As of today, a criminal complaint for murder of Bayan Cavite’s Manny Asuncion has been filed against 17 policemen and this will undergo preliminary investigation. We are still waiting for the results of the other investigations.

In Central Luzon, Joseph Canlas of AMGL and KMP and Pol Viuya were arrested on trumped-up charges. In Bicol, Bayan Bicol’s Pastor Dan Balucio and Anakbayan’s Sasah Sta.Rosa were among those arrested based on questionable search warrants. Ka Joseph would die from COVID-19 while under detention. Pastor Dan and Sasah would later be released after their search warrants were quashed. Two of the HRD7, Lady Ann Salem and Rodrigo Esparago would also be released this year after the court found problems with the search warrants issued by QC executive judge Cecil Villavert. Activsits would also score legal victories in the dismissal of several trumped-up cases filed in Mindanao.

The series of arrests and the Bloody Sunday Massacre and Tumandok Massacre pushed activists and lawyers to call on the Supreme Court to stop the search warrant factories and put in place safeguards against human rights violations. The Supreme Court would come out with guidelines on the use of body cameras in implementing search and arrest warrants while clipping the powers of the Executive Judges in Manila and Quezon City.

Before the year ended, a Manila court junked a multiple murder case against several peace consultants and peasant activists that was filed in 2006-2007. The case stemmed from so-called mass graves in Leyte, where the evidence used were recycled from a previous “mass grave”. Three peasant activists were released as a result.

In New York, activists hounded Presidential spokesman Harry Roque as various lawyers groups opposed his nomination to the International Law Commission on account of the human rights situation in the Philippines.

#AtinAngPinas – Sovereignty was a key issue for 2021, earning the ire of Duterte and making him challenge fromer SC Justice Antonio Carpio to a debate on the West Philippine Sea. Duterte would eventually back down after Carpio accepted the challenge. Activsts held several protests in front of the Chinese consulate, including a June 12 caravan with protest floats. The year also saw the restoration of the VFA after the Philippine visit of US Defense Secrertary Lloyd Austin. The US continues to pour miltiary aid to the Philippines despite the horrible human rights record of the regime.

Larawan ng Altermidya.

#DuterteWakasan – As we said above, 2021 marked the start of the one-year countdown to end the Duterte regime. Calls to make Duterte accountable before the ICC grew louder as the complaint moved forward. Various groups came together and marched along Commonwealth Avenue and other parts of the country during SONA, as they called for an end to the Duterte regime. By September 21, the anniversary of Martial Law, groups were raising the call #NoToDuterteMarcos 2022. The police attempted to disrupt the protest in Manila but the people asserted their right to peaceably assemble.

By October, it was election season and progressives held protests against Bongbong Marcos’ bid to seek the presidency in 2022. The dictator’s son would team up with the Duterte’s daughter in what was seen as a Marcos restoration and Duterte extension. This tandem was supported by political factions associated with plunder and bad governance.

Leni Robredo and Kiko Pangilinan emerged as opposition candidates while Isko Moreno and Manny Pacquiao expressed their openess to getting Duterte’s endorsement after Bong Go backed out of the presidential race. Bayan called for all-out struggle against the Marcos-Duterte tandem and to prepare for possible widespread election fraud. Several groups also filed disqualification cases against Marcos before the Comelec. A caravan to mark the 5th year of the Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani was also held on November 18.

#OdettePH – Just before Christmas, the Philippines was hit by a super-typhoon that devastated huge parts of Visayas, Mindanao and Palawan. Progressive groups mobilized to provide relief for the the victims while pressing the national government to speed up its response to this year’s worst calamity. The aftermath of Odette will be an important issue well into 2022. We lost many friends and comrades in 2021. Some died due to sickness, others died in detention or in the battlefield. We honor their memory by continuing their noble deeds. They will continue to inspire us as we face the huge challenges of 2022. It appears to be an uphill battle once more, but we do not face it with hopelessness and despair. We have learned from the past two years that collective action is such a powerful force, and that trust in the people, especially the most oppressed, will see us through the most difficult times. Let 2022 usher in a new period of hope for our people. #

= = = =

Nato Reyes is secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.

One last question I wanted to ask Jorge ‘Ka Oris’ Madlos

By Raymund B. Villanueva

(The author has been covering the peace process between the NDFP and the GRP and has interviewed Jorge ‘Ka Oris’ Madlos on several occasions. Here is the journalist’s look-back on one of his most respected sources.)

He was inside a swidden hut that Christmas night I first laid eyes on Mindanao’s legendary rebel leader. An electric bulb was casting a wan glow on a makeshift porch and Jorge Madlos was wearing a stubby flashlight on his forehead as he furiously tapped on his laptop, seemingly unaware of the frenzied atmosphere around him. It was the eve of the Communist Party of the Philippines’s (CPP) 42nd founding anniversary and the then National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP)-Mindanao spokesperson was busy polishing the statement he was to issue the next day.

His comrades directed us to a nearby creek to wash up, noticing our pants and shoes were caked with drying mud, victims of several spills on rice paddies and mud puddles on the way to the New People’s Army (NPA) encampment on Mt. Diwata’s foothills. Finding our way back to his hut, Madlos, more famous as Ka Oris, was done typing, beaming a toothy smile and waiting to finally welcome the new arrivals from the city.

“Maligayang pagdating. Salamat sa pagpunta. Kumusta ang biyahe?” Oris asked, eager to hear what we had to say in return. (Welcome. Thank you for coming. How was your trip?) His interest was understandable; we have been told he had a direct hand in organizing the trips. He had done so in the many decades that he welcomed to NPA camps journalists and many other kinds of visitors.

He invited us to dinner, a surprisingly sumptuous fare of adobo and lechon on heaps of piping hot fragrant mountain rice. “Are these the ones being cooked in the barrios we passed by?” we asked. “No. What the masses are cooking tonight will be brought to the celebrations tomorrow. December 26 is their real holiday,” he said. “These adobo and lechon are gifts from local politicians,” he added, laughing. Oris however had fish stew, a healthier meal to manage his urination problems brought about by a spine infection.

It was getting late and Oris held back on asking the many questions he was also known for. Journalists from all over trooped to where they could get hold of him, but he was equally famous for quizzing them in turn. “Baka pagod na kayo. Maaga tayo bukas. Doon sa may mangga ang pwesto niyo,” he said, pointing to where our tents were being put up. (You may already be tired. We have an early day tomorrow. Your tents are being put up under that mango tree.)

We almost never got the chance to have Oris to ourselves again the next day. Along with the thousands of attendees who descended on an open field were Mindanaoan reporters and national and international journalists there to cover the biggest story of the day and interview one of the country’s media darlings. Even journalists who were known to be critical of the communists were invited and welcomed.

During the celebrations, we witnessed firsthand how Oris was one of the journalists’ most beloved sources, especially by Mindanaoan reporters. He had ordered special spots for us to be able to take good photos of the NPA parade. He issued us press passes and badges that were proudly worn the entire day. He made the press conference part of the day long celebrations, fielding the seemingly never-ending stream of questions with dashes of wry humor. He repeatedly thanked the journalists who came, easily identifying which parts of Mindanao or elsewhere in the world they were from or writing for. He handed out “certificates of attendance,” accepted with much jollity and, I suspect, are being kept to this day. A “class picture” with the journalists capped our day, with Oris at the center, looking much like a grandfatherly school principal among wards. I very much doubt any Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) general went as famously with the journalists as the diminutive guerilla did.

Hard-nosed journalists emerge satisfied with every interview session with Oris. He was obviously naturally intelligent, conversant in at least four languages. Questions designed to trap him were deftly turned around, such as, “You have been waging this war for decades, yet you have failed to win,” to which Oris replied, “The much stronger government and imperialists could not defeat us either.” A correspondent of an international news wire agency asked, “Will it not be more difficult for the movement at this time, given that President Aquino is popular?” “He is not popular in our areas of control,” was Oris’ riposte.

The AFP was furious at the brazenness of the CPP celebrations that day that, despite the existence of ceasefire declarations, it put up checkpoints on the roads leading out of the area to harass attendees on their way home. The local Philippine Army (PA) battalion commander was in a towering rage, sources said, especially when a politician’s mindless aide delivered his donation of lechon to the PA camp, instead of the intended NPA camp. “Mabuhi ang CPP! Mabuhi ang NPA!” the mayor’s written message on the lechon carton reportedly read.

At about three in the afternoon and while the celebrations were still on full blast, Oris granted us some time to ask him about the NDFP’s peace negotiations with the Benigno Aquino government. With the 15-minute interview over, he suggested we hitch a ride with other civilian attendees out of the area later that afternoon. “There will be other opportunities for us to talk. It is more important that you get home safe. Thank you for spending today with your friendly NPA,” he jestingly said. There, tired and preoccupied with everyone’s safety, Oris’ famous brand of humor sent us on our way home.

It took us another four years to get another chance to cover Ka Oris in a CPP anniversary celebration. This time, the AFP was more vociferous in preventing the thousands from attending CPP’s 46th anniversary celebrations. Even with local politicians and a congressman telling government soldiers that the mutual rebel and government-declared ceasefires allowed for another open CPP celebration, they delayed the attendees by hours. Revelations that the occasion would even be attended by a Malacanan Palace emissary for peace negotiations consultations were ignored. Many other journalists were also delayed.

As in 2011, I and some colleagues arrived at the venue on Christmas night precisely to avoid the hassle of passing through AFP checkpoints in broad daylight when they are known to be braver. We also hoped to spend more time with Oris alone before the frenzy sets in. When we arrived however, he was already busy welcoming the throng arriving with us, including a group of Catholic nuns. What he did not fail in doing was to ask how our trip was, insisting that we grab a bite and ensuring we have a place to sleep.

The rumpus the government soldiers caused prevented Oris from giving us time for an exclusive interview in the morning. What he did was to give a presser for the many journalists who arrived and answer all our questions as per usual. He also gave copies of the statement he read in the delayed program. Later, he managed to give Kodao an on-cam interview. When it was time for goodbyes, he made sure we would be safe in our travels, as was his wont.

Sometime in between those two coverage, we received a letter from Oris, saying it is time for that exclusive no-time-limit interview. I thought it would be in the same type of area and I packed lightly. It turned out that the venue was at a major NPA camp up high in the mountains. From one of the island’s major cities, it took me and my guide the entire day to travel by bus to a fairly large central Mindanao town and by motorcycle up more and taller mountains. When we ran out of roads and began seeing NPA fighters by the roadside, I thought we’ve reached our destination. I was then told we were just halfway up. What followed was a night-time climb up steep and narrow mountain trails, slogging through swamps and crossing burbling creeks, aided only by small flashlights. We reached camp at near two o’clock in the morning and there was Oris, waiting for us while boiling water to disinfect his urinary drainage bags (urobags).

“You made it!” he beamed, offering us the unique Mindanao NPA handshake. “How was your trip?” he asked, this time with a guffaw, seeing I was near collapse, tethering on my walking stick. Again, beside him, also beaming, was Alvin Luque, alias Ka Joaquin Jacinto, the activist who succeeded Oris as NDFP-Mindanao spokesperson. (Oris and Luque, both ill at the time of their respective deaths, were killed by government soldiers less than a year apart.)

The next morning, Oris gave us a tour of the camp where huge tents housed activists on week-long educational discussions. Other tents served as offices, kitchens and dining halls. All around were individual huts for camp regulars. No, there were no huts or tents that served as armory. He then invited us to conduct the interview, “Before the noisy insects start their concert.”

But the ever-curious Oris wanted something from us in return. He asked young-looking NPA fighters to observe as we set up our equipment. After the interview came his string of questions on which cameras, tripod, microphones, lights and other equipment would best survive their environment. He encouraged his comrades to ask questions on camera panning, tilting and tracking as well as visual composition he obviously already read up on. Months later, the rebels would be uploading videos of Oris issuing statements online.

It was brutally cold on our second night in the mountaintop NPA camp and I began shivering as soon as I tried to go to sleep. I wore all my shirts underneath my thin jacket to no avail. It did not help that my sleeping station was a hammock fashioned from rice sacks under a plastic sheet (tarapal). Past midnight, I felt hands lifting my malong and putting a soda bottle filled with warm water between my legs. It was Oris. Noticing I was woken, he whispered; “I can hear you shivering. This will warm you up.” It indeed did and I slept restfully until morning.

It was time for us to go back home the next day and we left with another special Oris quip: “You are welcome for the honor of visiting another NPA camp,” he said, his eyes twinkling.

It turned out that those were my only chances to personally interview Jorge Madlos. There have been two other CPP anniversaries I covered in Mindanao since. One was in Surigao del Norte 2015 and the biggest yet in Davao City in 2016 when even several Rodrigo Duterte government Cabinet members were in attendance. We were informed that Oris may attend both occasions, but the AFP was even more determined to get him, ongoing peace negotiations notwithstanding. He stayed out.

On October 29, 2021, the AFP killed the 73-year old icon of the revolution in the Philippines. His wife Maria Malaya said Oris was unarmed and was on his way to a medical treatment with an aide when waylaid by the soldiers. Possibly in spite, government soldiers cremated his remains a few days later without giving his family the chance to view his remains one last time. In a twisted way, this could be understood as their way of getting back at Oris even more for eluding them for more than five decades.

Jorge Madlos, Mindanao’s most successful rebel leader and one the Philippines’ most legendary communist cadres, is physically gone. But it would have been nice for me to meet him one last time and field the one question I had long wanted to ask: Did the warm water bottle come from his urobag disinfection ritual? #

A visit to Ka Oris’ guerilla camp

A former radio broadcaster recalls her visit to a New People’s Army camp and interview with Jorge Madlos who cultivated warm relations with many journalists for several decades.

By Katniss

It was in June 2004.  I was invited to climb the mountains and trek the forests of Surigao to see Ka Oris.  I was told farmers in Surigao communities as well as the “nice people” there are avid listeners of the radio program I anchored.   The radio station on which my radio program aired, though based in Cebu City, could reach as far as Mindanao, particularly in the provinces of Surigao.  Ka Oris wanted me to share ideas about how our radio programs were produced and he also wanted me to share my experiences and help them in setting up programs in certain regions in Mindanao. 

From the highway, it was two to three hours ride on a habal-habal (a motorcycle kitted with wood planks that take in more passengers and cargo). Then it was more than an hour of walk into the forests and patches of farms before I finally reached a huge guerilla camp. There was a huge stage made of hard wood where cultural activities were being held; a kitchen area; and several makeshift huts and barracks where visitors like me are accommodated serving as our sleeping area. It was still daylight when I reached the place. Everyone was wearing boots because, even if it wasn’t raining, one cannot avoid walking on muddy grounds. I was also told that, since it’s a forest, there were also leeches. At that time and at that age I was not so worried about the leeches then but more so about the difficulty of walking and moving around in those heavy rubber boots. I saw several young guerrilla fighters and was told that they were on military training. There were two other foreign visitors in the camp. They told me they were from BBC, documenting the training and interviewing about the guerilla war in the Philippines. 

After dinner, I overheard one Red Fighter who whispered to one woman in charge of the camp that there is a report of suspicious movements in the peripheries of the camp. The woman instructed the fighter to send a squad to check. 

On my first night, I was not able to sleep while lying in a hammock in the barracks.  I was so bothered with what I’ve heard. What if are attacked? What will I do?  I could not run in those boots.  What if I am hit or arrested? Sleep would not come despite the exhaustion. My mind was preoccupied with “what ifs” I felt paranoid.  At 9 pm, I started having chills. It was either due to the coldness of the night inside the forest or because of the anxiety that I felt. I decided to rise and go to the hut of Ka Oris and his wife.  I told him what I felt and how worried and scared I was. Calmly, he explained something which to this day I can still vividly recall.

He told me: “In this camp, which is in a deep forest, there are more than 100 red fighters. In our surrounding peripheries there are squads on guard while doing their mass work. Beyond the peripheries are mass bases.  All this means that those supposedly unknown movements detected may just be some farmers who are on their way to their farms. If they are really soldiers or enemies, they must be a handful who may have just wandered around. The squads can take care of them. Otherwise, if the enemy has targeted our camp, they could not just send a few troops, knowing our strength. Usually, feeling insecure in battles, their ratio is one NPA red fighter to 10 of their soldiers. With the number of troops that we have here in this camp, they need to send a battalion of soldiers. If they do so, such huge troop movement can already be detected several tens of kilometers away from us.”

So I asked him, “What if they send troops by helicopter?” 

He answered, “Well, in one helicopter there are only less than 10 who can be carried. They could also not land in this forest itself but perhaps in the peripheries where there are patches of farmlands.  And we have the capacity to shoot at helicopters.” Ka Oris went on to tell me about an incident in the 80’s incident when the very camp we were at suffered aerial bombing by government forces.  He said they were able to fight back then and the enemy failed to penetrate the forest.  

Oris calm explanations relaxed me and I was able to finally sleep in my hammock.

I again visited him in his hut the following morning. I started my interview with him regarding the series of press conferences he conducted with journalists from all over, as well as politicians in the guerilla areas. I had long been curious about how were they able to do that despite the risks of being attacked. He again explained their application of strategies and tactics taught by Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War.’ That interview made up for an entire episode of my radio show.

I was star-struck by him, I admit.  He was gentle, calm and witty.  He also looked like Ho Chi Min. Ka Oris invited me to quiz me on radio production, but it was I who learned so much from them. Their life was difficult, something I could not imagine myself doing nor enduring. City slickers like me who are easily afflicted with fear may find living their life impossible. But Oris and his guerilla army looked like it was a life worth living. How profound, noble, and self-fulfilling it seemed.

I wanted another visit and another opportunity to interview Ka Oris. But I got pregnant in the last quarter of 2005 and got married soon after. 

As a radio personality, I have had my share of death threats in 2005.  I was accused as “a communist masquerading as a journalist.” I was advised to stop being a radio anchor for my safety.

I still keep on monitoring media interviews of Ka Oris by local, national and even international media.  I am still be amazed by his brilliance and commitment to their revolution as well as his persistence in pursuing the humaneness of his communist ideals.  But there remains in me a tinge of guilt for failing in a simple request he asked of me.  When I was leaving their camp in 2004, he gave me a specialty notebook and a nice pen to hand over to his daughter.  I tried but I never get the chance of meeting his daughter. 

I left Cebu in 2015 and I remember that I brought that notebook and pen with me to where I relocated.  After hearing of Ka Oris’ death at the hands of his enemies, I must commit to finding where I placed the notebook and pen. Who knows, one day, I will be able to meet his daughter in the future. 

To Ka Oris, my highest salute.  To his daughter, I still owe you the notebook and pen from your father.   Like the many journalists who admire him, he will always be to me the kind, gentle, heroic icon of the Filipino people’s struggle for social justice and liberation. #

(“Katniss” is a pseudonym.)

Lessons from the underground press of the martial law era

The author first wrote this in September 2011 and is being republished here on the occasion of the 49th anniversary of the imposition of martial law by President Ferdinand Marcos.

By Jun Verzola

“Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”

That quote might be a startling, almost cynical take on the meaning of press freedom. But it was a respected American journalist, A.J. Liebling, who coined the now-famous aphorism. The terse statement was supposed to emphasize the harsh realities of capitalist ownership behind the noble expectation that journalists freely exercise their right, nay, fulfill their duty, to always provide the public with honest information and informed opinion.

In any case, little did Filipinos realize just how painfully that saying would apply to them on September 23, 1972. On that fateful Saturday morning, we all woke up to find no newspapers delivered to our doorsteps or sold on the sidewalks. We twiddled our radio sets (in my case, set just right beside my pillow, the better to hear the early morning news), asking with great puzzlement why they only emitted static noise on that morning.

Later in the day, we would know the reason for the total news blackout. Throughout the previous night, the big media presses and major radio-TV stations had been locked up, put under heavy armed guard, and later placed under new management controlled by Marcos and his martial law coterie.

Government-controlled print and broadcast outlets, such as the infamous Daily Express broadsheet and RPN-9 were allowed to continue. These Marcos mouthpieces enjoyed near-absolute media monopoly, spewing out the official propaganda line of the dictatorship while censoring the rest of the news. For most Filipinos, that was the first taste of martial law on its very first day: the lack of a free press.

A tale of mimeo machines

But I did say near-absolute, not absolute, media monopoly. That’s because outlawed national-democratic organizations, blacklisted journalists, and political dissidents of all kinds, including the growing forces of the Communist Party, were obliged to take the press into their own hands—quite literally. Once Proclamation 1081 was announced, and despite Marcos’ threats to arrest anyone caught with “subversive documents,” people from all walks of life everywhere throughout the country followed Liebling’s rule and quickly got hold of printing equipment of all kinds.

Mimeograph machines were the activists’ favorite since they were light enough to be carried by one or two people, loaded into the trunk of a car, operated quietly inside a room or garage, and quickly relocated as the need arose. But heavier presses were also valued—from hand-operated Minervas to baby offsets. In the hands of people who actively resisted martial law, these presses turned into powerful weapons.

At this point, I have a disclosure to make: Back then, I was a member of the radical youth group Kabataang Makabayan, a college freshman working as volunteer staff in its regional office for Metro Manila.

Some days before martial law was declared and amid rumors of an AFP-led Oplan Sagittarius, we already knew a big nationwide crackdown was imminent since the military was already raiding a few community headquarters and seizing boxfuls of books, documents and equipment. We had to pull out from our offices as much valuable stuff as we could. A mimeo machine was placed in my care and was quickly spirited out of the KM regional office, together with reams of paper and tubes of mimeo ink, and relocated into the underground network of houses and contacts that we had been secretly setting up in the previous months precisely for this kind of situation.

Thus, when government troops raided the various national and regional offices of mass organizations on September 22, we were ready to operate our underground press from the invisible nooks and crannies of the metropolis, and thus more effectively call on the people to resist the US-backed Marcos dictatorship by all means necessary.

During the first day of martial law itself, I recall, I was operating the mimeo machine from the “relative safety” of our family garage. (“Relative safety”—what an unintended but funny double-meaning!) Later, when things got hot, we moved the machine elsewhere. Still later, we would operate another mimeo machine secretly ensconced inside the stockroom of a gasoline station along Quezon Avenue, which my mother was then managing.

Underground newspapers as channels of resistance

Pretty much the same pattern of organized retreat to underground channels of resistance was conducted throughout the country during those early days (and nights) of martial law by most mass organizations and opposition groups. And one of the most important focuses of anti-dictatorship resistance was in putting up underground publications.

For leaders of mass organizations outlawed by martial law, one very effective way to keep in touch with their mass membership and sympathizer base was through underground publications—one-page leaflets, four-page or eight-page newsletters, all mimeographed.

Small editorial and productions staffs worked in tightly-knit teams to write and edit articles, prepare layout dummies by hand (and even right-justify the columns of text by hand), use typewriters and stylus pens to cut stencils, and take turns running the mimeo machines and collating and binding the finished copies. When no mimeo machine was available, production teams rigged up portable silkscreen devices (the famous “V-type”) and manually squeegee’d mimeo ink through stenciled screen straight to paper.

The results of this virtually handicraft-level press industry operating underground through the early martial law years were impressive. Taliba ng Bayan persisted for many years as a national (later Metro Manila-wide) underground newspaper, which came out in Tagalog-Pilipino every two weeks. Liberation came out as the newspaper of the National Democratic Front, in addition to the CPP’s Ang Bayan that was already secretly circulating among activists even before martial law. A cultural magazine named Ulos even boasted of multi-colored covers using silkscreen techniques. There was Balita ng Malayang Pilipinas, the underground movement’s news service.

Then there were regional newsletters, coming out monthly, or less frequently when their underground networks were disrupted. Dangadang was a regional paper for Ilocos-Cordillera-Pangasinan, Himagsik for Central Luzon, Kalatas for Southern Tagalog, and many others for the Visayan and Mindanao regions and for different sectors.

Thus, throughout those first few critical years, the forces that resisted martial law, in Metro Manila and in other regions from Cagayan Valley to Davao, kept a high morale and clear direction of work greatly assisted by these underground publications.

Taliba ng Bayan was an underground newspaper in Pilipino published by the National Democratic Front from late 1972 until the early 1980s. (From the Dante L. Ambrosio collection, http://bit.ly/oFZktI)

Heroic role of underground media remains mostly untold

The underground press was so important to the anti-dictatorship resistance, that activist supporters took great pains and risked great dangers to smuggle out boxes of freshly-printed copies from the various “production houses” and to transport and deliver them to “drop houses.” Here other activist networks picked them up, carefully divided them into smaller allotments, wrapped and camouflaged in various creative ways, and smuggled them into schools, factories, offices, and communities for distribution to people hungry for real news.

There were many cases of activists being arrested simply for “possession of subversive materials”—usually copies of underground publications—and then tortured to force them to divulge the network through which the publication was published and distributed, and ultimately to dismantle that network and capture its leaders. Some of these activists disappeared soon after arrest, never to be seen again and presumed “salvaged” (secretly executed) by the fascist intelligence agents of Marcos.

The first wave of legal alternative media (or “mosquito press” as the journalists affectionately called them) that came later, from 1975 onwards, enjoyed better print quality and wider circulation, and persisted despite facing fascist harassment because the public hungered for them. Many of these legal media owed much to the pioneering efforts of the earlier underground publications. Indeed, numerous stalwarts of the anti-dictatorship media that proliferated after 1981, when martial law was formally lifted, could trace their roots to these early and now barely-recalled resistance publications.

Many of those underground media practitioners who survived the Marcos era have gone on to play other roles for the CPP-NPA-NDF, while others have returned to the legal arena, or reinvented themselves into other professions, or are now retired; some have passed away.

It is somewhat odd, if not ironic, that they who pioneered the anti-dictatorship media from the very first days of martial law could not, even now, for various reasons, tell their full stories.

We continue to await their half-divulged accounts about that watershed period in our country’s history. Their experiences could serve as a precious legacy to younger generations of Filipino journalists, by showing how it was to lay your life down on the line, in perhaps one of the fullest possible examples of exercising media rights.

Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one, Liebling said. That may be true in a sense. In the case of the martial-law generation of activists and progressive journalists, however, we exercised that freedom by building up our own press from scratch when there was none—even if it meant using only a portable typewriter, mimeo stencil, V-type printing rig, and an unquenchable thirst for press freedom, people’s rights and social justice. #

A tribute to the best father

For Leonilo “Neil” Doloricon

By Victoria Doloricon-Roque

Earlier this year, I asked Pa if he wanted to do, as a teacher, an online course about linocut prints (since I myself loved learning from online courses especially during this pandemic). I thought this as a nice platform to not only showcase to people his art but to learn and understand the process and to know what goes through the creative mind of Leonilo Doloricon as an artist. I was so into the thought of really coming up with an online course and proposed to my Pa, that my sister, Kat would be the person to film it. As I was discussing this, he looked at me and gave me his usual smirk and jokingly said, “Baka naman bumaba reputasyon ko niyan ah.” He then with the calmest voice but with the biggest smile said, “Na-nominate kasi akong Professor Emeritus (UP).” I was already extremely proud of him for who he was at University of the Philippines but for him to be nominated with this high of a recognition is beyond words.

For those unfamiliar with this recognition, the UP Faculty Manual defines professor emeritus as a title for life and is conferred upon retired faculty members in recognition of their exceptional achievements and exemplary service to the university.

My father and I would always have this back and forth inside jokes about our personal achievements. I would brag about my simple achievements, while he would again give that same smirk and just simply share with me his achievements and accomplishments (that for me would seem impossible to achieve) and we would laugh. He would always win of course. That was who he was to me.

My father loved sharing stories of himself to us. He would forward to me art critique articles of him, videos of him being interviewed, and smile at how many people appreciated and shared his editorial cartoons. The last video I watched was the “Ep4 mARTy TALKS: Neil Doloricon”. I remember telling him after watching the video that I didn’t know he did comics before. But then again, I remembered being the one assisting him to fax his editorial works to Kabayan and to call them to make sure if they received my papa’s drawings. He smiled and said, “Those were the days.” I would share with him my insights on everything he would share with me, but many of those he said in the videos/articles were too profound for me to understand. (LOL)

When I was little, I watched my father do his oil paintings at the living room. I would sit beside him excitedly and he knew, gusto kong makisawsaw. He would always worry that I might damage his masterpiece. His technique to keep me busy was to tape a piece of paper beside his canvass for me to scribble on instead. I remembered he once told me, “Anak, wag mo sanang gawin ito. Gutom dito.” I didn’t understand what he meant at that time but I always happily did my scribbles, which I considered masterpieces as well. Looking back on his statement, it not only made me understand the struggle it is to be an artist but how passionate my father was in his craft as he persisted in doing it considering all the hardships along the way. We are not a rich family but we really never felt the struggle that he mentioned. He was our bread winner and did all of his work while juggling his graduate studies, taking care of his mom, our relatives who stayed with us and, of course, us.

With all that was going on in his life, I never actually heard him complain. He, being the big brother among his cousins, would be the person they would go to when they needed help. It was like he would always leave the house door open to those in need.

One time at his office, when he was still working at The Manila Times, he ushered me and kuya to an empty table and gave us bond paper and pencil to get ourselves busy while he finished his work. One of his co-workers passed by and he saw my drawing and he said to my father, “Aba, mana sa tatay.” I looked at Papa and he looked at me back with the biggest smile. This memory remains with me to this day. In fact I carry it with pride and I felt the inner artist in me when I was to select the course I would take in college. He suggested Architecture because he knew I could draw. But he was frank enough to tell me my skill set then were not Fine Arts standards.

To prepare me for the college entrance exam, he taught me to draw objects in isometric and I practiced for days prior to my exam. During the exam, I remembered handing my drawing and I was proud of myself for having followed my father’s advise of an isometric made out of a combination of shapes. Until I saw my seatmate handing his work as well of a perspective of a building, complete with tonal values and shadows, that is. Luckily, I passed.

My father is my hero, the person that I looked up to very highly in just about all aspects of life. He would be that person I seek advise from. I would get easily hooked at a wide range of things to do. Whatever catches my interest at that given time, I would zoom in on it and share it with him to seek for his approval. From reading books / articles, playing the piano, playing the guitar, doing watercolor / painting and even cooking. Him, being good with both music and arts, would be that person I talk to regarding these. I would forward him recordings of me playing the piano of a simple musical piece, hoping he would be able to distinguish what music I played. It would be the same type of conversation with painting. He would always give me tips on how I could improve. He used to criticize me strongly when I was in high school. Recently, he would patiently tell me, “Mangopya ka ng artist. Tingnan mo paano nila gawin. Doon ka matututo.” He kept reminding me to not aim for prizes but to find my own belief and it would guide me along the way.

My Papa’s studio was this big space upstairs next to my bedroom. I would always be reminded that it would be morning already whenever I hear Carlos Santana and Norah Jones’ songs blasting on the radio and Papa playing the drums along. After a song or two, he will go back to painting.

My Papa was emotionally attached to his pieces. When I was in college, I saw one of his prints being displayed for sale in one of the computer shops in UP Shopping Center and I told him about it when I got home. He got so upset and he kept asking me to describe in detail the exact art piece that I saw and he wondered who would do that to his artwork. Honestly, I regretted telling him about it because of how bothered he was with the whole incident. He put so much passion in his work and treats each work of art as a treasure. In fact, he was hesitant to give an artwork of his to my then boyfriend, now husband, Mikko’s family because he was afraid of what may happen to the artwork if we were to break up. This stems from a bad experience way back when an art piece made by him was given by my Lola to a close friend. The two later had a falling out and, to get even with my Lola, the close friend burned the art piece. Papa put so much time and love into his craft and to see someone else destroy it hits him to his core.

Another interesting story about one of his artwork was when I handed my father’s sketch of Macario Sakay to my professor, to the latter’s great delight. When my professor requested for discounts on Papa’s prints, my father gladly agreed.

I will miss his cooking. He is our personal master chef at home. He always used to make me cold cut sandwiches he called gourmet sandwiches in high school for my baon. Our Sundays would always be a feast. Mornings, he would cook halaan and shrimp, which he himself would finish off as he was the only seafood lover at home. In the afternoon, I would be in charge of the barbecues while he would make his favorite red sauce spaghetti.

Kat and I would always prefer white sauce instead, but he would quickly brush our comments off and say, “Eh, gusto ng Kuya niyo ay red.”

Papa would willingly sacrifice himself for us. He would literally offer everything that he had just for us to be happy. Kahit yata paa niya, ibibigay niya para lang hindi niya kami makitang magdusa. I never felt the burden because he was always there for me when I needed help. When I had a growing cyst in my neck earlier this year, I was so afraid as to what it was and how I would be able to pay the bills if my situation worsens. He told me that part of one’s income from will eventually be spent for our health. That’s life. He actually offered money, which I declined. I was so ashamed of myself for complaining about everything while he never hesitated in offering help.

It’s hard to be away from my family and my father would always that person who I would call initially for comfort almost daily. Whenever I feel anything or whenever there’s some news I would love to share, I would call him immediately. He would almost always pick up and be glad to hear my stories even though he would be busy doing some other things. My father and I would have long conversations together about everything going on in life. No matter how bizarre, outrageous, insensitive the topic is, he listens and he gives his views. Pero, minsan, tatawanan ka muna niya, especially when you are serious. Lahat ng seryosong bagay, to lighten the mood, gagawin niya munang biro. I always run to him whenever I doubt myself and he would always be there to comfort me with his wisdom, hoping it will put me in a right path. I also remember, in high school, I asked him why he didn’t go abroad to work. He told me he didn’t want to be away from me and the whole family. I always felt safe because I knew he would always be around for me and the family.

The intense pain I am feeling right now as I’m writing this is immeasurable. I desperately want to call him now to tell him I’m feeling extremely sad. But I realize he was the reason for this sadness.

Reality is hitting me hard, because I know from this day onward, the person on the other side of the line of this phone call will never pick up.

Pa, Mama, Kuya and Kat are so grateful that you are our father. I hope you will have eternal peace. Don’t worry about us Pa. We will take care of each other. Nagawa mo na at nabigay mo na lahat!

Hanggang sa muli, Pa. Mahal na mahal ka namin. #