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. #

Ang araw, ang gabi ni JV

Ni Nadja de Vera

Alas-sais ng umaga nag-umpisa ang araw ni Jerry Boy “JV” Boller noong Hunyo 30. Kumuha siya ng saging sa kapitbahay para ilako sa mga dumadaang sasakyan sa Rd-10. Ito ang “hustlin” ng maraming kabataan sa Rd-10, maglako ng saging o ng kung ano mang maaring matinda para makatulong sa kanilang pamilya.

Si JV ay 17 anyos lamang. Miyembro siya ng Kabataang Anakpawis sa R-10 Tondo. Masipag na anak at mabait na kapatid at kaibigan. Isa siya sa ang mga nanguna sa pagset-up ng mga community pantry at production work namin. Nasagasaan siya ng isa sa mga naglipanang truck sa malapit sa pier ng Maynila alas otso ng umaga noong Miyerkules at binawian ng buhay ng gabi ring iyon.

Si JV. (Larawan ni Nadja de Vera)

“May pinulot siyang barya, tapos, ayon, nahagip na siya ng truck,” ang sabi ng nagbalita sa akin. Dahil sa barya, dahil sa hirap ng buhay.

Napakarami kong gustong ikwento tungkol kay JV at sa nangyari sa kanya, pero ito pa lamang ang nakayanan ko.

Maralita ang pamilya ni JV. Si Nanay Vingie ay buntis at si Tatay naman ay tricycle driver. Kahit ang pang araw-araw ay kinakapos sila. Silang pamilya ang pangunahing volunteer ng ating community pantry sa Tondo.

Noong nag-orientation kami sa Kabataang Anakpawis, tinanong ko sila kung sila ba ang papipiliin, magtatrabaho ba sila o mag-aaral. Ang sagot ni JV, gusto niyang mag-aral pero gusto din niyang magtrabaho. Sabi niya, sobrang sipag ng Nanay at Tatay nila, pero kahit anong sipag nila hindi pa rin kasya ang kinikita para sa pamilya.

Tuwing darating kami sa Rd-10, isa si JV sa mga unang sumasalubong sa amin. Sa liit ng katawan ay kaya niyang magbuhat ng mga kaban ng bigas o mga gulay para sa community pantry. Laging nakasilip tuwing mag-uumpisa na ang pila. Nakangiti sa mga kapitbahay na tila proud din siya na nakatulong sa kapwa. Masipag din siya sa mga aktibidad ng Kabataang Anakpawis. Kahit hindi raw siya ang tagaluto ay siya naman ang tagabili.

May isang beses na kinausap ko siya ng masinsinan. Muntik kasi siyang madamay sa gulo. Nangako siya na hindi na uulit para sa Mama niya. Kinagabihan, naabutan ko siyang nasa labas pa ng bahay. Agad na lumapit at malambing na nag-sorry. Sabi ko, hindi naman ako galit, basta iakyat niya na ang itlog na ulam namin kinabukasan para sa pagkilos.

Alas otso ng umaga noong Hunyo 30, habang naghahanda ang mga Nanay sa Rd-10 para sumama sa pagkilos, ibinalita na nasagasaan daw si JV ng truck. Habang nagbebenta ng saging sa Rd-10 may nalalaglag daw siyang limang piso, kasabay sa pagpulot ng barya ay ang pag-andar ng truck.

Ang burol ni JV na may tumpok ng saging na kanyang paninda. (Larawan ni Nadja de Vera)

Buhay pa si JV noong dinala sa ospital. Ipinaalala niya pa kay Nanay Vingie na may Php300 siyang naipon at ipang-gastos muna. Tuwing umiiyak daw si Nanay ay nasasaktan daw siya. Hindi siya umiyak kahit sobrang sakit ng maliit na katawang nagulungan ng gulong. Pabirong sabi niya kay Nanay na kung magbabayad daw ng danyos ang nakabangga sa kanya ay ipangpagawa na lang ng tricycle ni Tatay. Okay lang daw na di siya makalakad basta may panghanap-buhay sila.

Alas-siete ng gabi, natapos ang araw ni JV. Hindi naubos ang saging na paninda, hindi rin maubos ang luha ng mga nagmamahal sa kanya. #

*Nadamitan na namin ang bangkay ni JV. Sinalubong siya ng ulan at iyakan mga kapwa Kabataang Anakpawis. Nakaburol siya ngayon sa maliit na chapel dito sa Tondo. Sa mga nais magpaabot ng tulong sa pamilya maaring ipadala ang in-kind donation sa Brgy Hall ng Brgy 123, Tondo. Sa abuloy ay maari sa Gcash 09162436843 o sa (0999) 667 0648.

Putting Back the “Community” in Community Pantry

By L. S. Mendizabal

On the seventh day since the first community pantry on Maginhawa St., Quezon City was erected, one of its initiators, Ana Patricia Non, took a break but did not rest. The 26-year-old small entrepreneur, “Patreng” to many, gave a press conference via Facebook Live, explaining why she and her fellow organizers ceased operations temporarily: They did not feel safe after the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict accused her of being a “communist,” a brand the Duterte administration has proclaimed to be synonymous with “criminal,” “terrorist,” “a menace to society.”

“People are grateful because the community pantry revived their spirits to help one another in times of crisis . . . But even that had to stop. It hurts that we were forced to close even for just a day. Think of how many families, how many meals the community pantry would have provided,” Patreng said in Filipino, her voice cracking, barely able to hold back tears. “We had to stop for the time being to ensure our safety and to clear the allegations.”

On the same day, Metro Manila Eastern Police District set up its own community pantry with rice, canned goods, face masks and face shields. Also stacked are copies of the Gideon Bible and the police journal magazine replete with red-tagging propaganda because, y’know, “Communism is bad.” Throughout the Duterte regime alone, PNP is notorious for tens of thousands of extrajudicial killings in the war against drugs and anti-terror campaign. From accessorizing dead bodies with pieces of cardboard that said, “Pusher ako, huwag tularan (I am a drug pusher, do not emulate)” to giving away food and bibles under cardboard signs stating a rather interesting iteration of the Maginhawa Community Pantry slogan,

“Magbigay nang naaayon sa kakayahan, dumampot ayon sa inyong pangangailangan (Give what you can, seize what you need)”—their altruism is of the violent kind.

Ana Patricia Non (Photo from Altermidya)

Death, hunger, gloom and doom

Since the novel coronavirus claimed its first victim in the Philippines when the government failed to promptly close our borders, there’s been no mass testing or contact tracing. Hospitals are full. Frontliners are grossly underpaid, overworked and dying. COVID funds amounting to a trillion pesos have yet to be felt by 18 million beneficiaries still waiting for a second cash dole-out.

Unemployment is at an all-time record high. According to IBON Foundation, the total number of unemployed and underemployed soared to a staggering 12 million in February 2021. With the absence of food subsidy and the disruption of food systems, the poor are the hardest hit by draconian lockdowns, or this administration’s single palpable response to the pandemic. Minimum wage earners must go out to work or find work every day, risking COVID exposure. Staying home is a luxury the poor simply can’t afford. To them, dying from hunger is a more immediate concern than dying from the virus.

Academics of the Philippine Sociological Society in a study on the community pantry initiative claim that Filipinos have also been experiencing feelings of “gloom and doom.” WHO says that isolation, bereavement, fear and loss of income during the pandemic have been detrimental to individual mental health. Constant news of human rights violations may cause gloom and doom as well, for how can you sleep soundly at night knowing a 12-year-old boy just died after barangay tanods chased him when he was “caught playing outside?”

Omega Avenue community pantry. (Photo by Roberto de Castro)

A social phenomenon bred by state abandonment

On April 14, Patreng and her little bamboo trolley of free vegetables with a signboard bearing the words, “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha batay sa pangangailangan (Give what you can, take what you need),” first stood on a street corner in the city with the most COVID cases and deaths in the country. Small vendors and tricycle drivers nearby have since helped Patreng repack and distribute goods as well as facilitate the daily queue of neighbors they’ve invited themselves. And just like that, a movement was born.

Within three days, PSS identified 44 community pantries nationwide with majority in NCR. As of this writing, there are 500 from as far up north as Cagayan all the way south to “DDS Country,” Davao City. PSS in its initial analysis of the community pantry calls it an “emergent agency”—an independent initiative taken by stakeholders to effect changes on their situation. Emergent collective behaviors rise when preexisting structures fail to meet people’s demands. Notably, a good chunk of the community pantries that swiftly followed Maginhawa’s example are of organized masses from marginalized sectors who initiated community kitchens and collective gardening since the first enhanced community quarantine. PSS notes that these earlier emergent agencies didn’t quite capture the people’s imagination the way community pantries have.

Although they’re not the cure to end food insecurity, the viral spread of community pantries is but a symptom of the true state of the nation: Like Patreng, Filipinos are “tired of complaining and fed up with government inaction.”

Fish on their way from Laguna de Bai to community pantries in Quezon City. (Pamalakaya photo)

Half a piece of ginger, cups of taho and a tale of two oranges

Community pantries have been practiced in the US and other parts of the world. When COVID hit Thailand, locals installed cupboards filled with food, medicines and other necessities in public spaces in Bangkok to help one another. Called “happiness-sharing pantries,” they spread all over the country, reaching a total of 1 400 by the end of 2020. As lockdown restrictions were lifted in Thailand and stores reopened, the pantries were later abandoned.

In the Philippines, community pantries show no signs of slowing down as Duterte stays in power, hoarding public funds for his election war chest. (The original Maginhawa Community Pantry announced Monday night it will cease to be a distribution center starting today, Tuesday, April 27. It will instead be a donation center from which nearby community pantries shall be replesnished.—Ed. ) A viral element of the phenomenon is its slogan which people have adopted and translated into many different languages and dialects, my favorite being LGBTQ+ organization Bahaghari’s “Gumib luv offering ayern sa kerichinabels, gumeching vatai sa needine lustre.” More than just a catchphrase, Filipinos from all walks of life have been unified by the idea and practice of a mutual aid grounded on giving what they can and taking only what they need.

In contrast to donation drives where the same prepacked goods are given to households without taking into account household size, you have the freedom to get what your family specifically needs from a community pantry regardless of what you donate. How much one takes / gives is a non-issue. In a Bulatlat article, University of the Philippines Professor Sarah Raymundo says that community pantries defy the capitalist market because they highlight products’ utility (use value) over their monetary worth (exchange value).

This encourages people to prioritize the needs of others over their own. For instance, a resident in a resettlement area in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan only needed a small slice of ginger, so she broke one into two pieces “para makakuha rin ang iba (so others may have as well).” In Kawit, Cavite, a taho vendor gave out free cups of his own product by a small roadside table. Inspiring passersby, they bought more cups of taho for his little pantry. Patreng also shared in the press conference how an old beggar picked up two oranges. When he was told to get more, he said two were enough to get him by for the day.

The community pantry is a utopian space where the destitute and benevolent converge, often one and the same. More than bayanihan and volunteerism, it advocates collectivism. This boggles the minds of the rich because they only understand an individualist way of life, not unlike that of a barangay captain in Los Baños, Laguna who threw a fit, accusing organizers of profiting off their pantry. His angry constituents later exposed him on social media for using personal connections to get vaccinated ahead of frontliners.

The Maginhawa Community Pantry. (Photo by Roberto de Castro)

“Communist Pantry,” “just bayanihan” and other anti-people takes

Once the community pantry became a phenomenon, anyone who knows this administration damn well would’ve seen red-tagging from a mile away. Historically, emergent agencies or relief efforts that expose government incompetence are met with hostility. Last year alone, cops destroyed Sitio San Roque’s community kitchen and apprehended youth volunteers distributing food packs to impoverished communities in QC, Malate, Marikina, Bulacan, etc. Armed men killed activist Jory Porquia while conducting relief operations in Iloilo City.

According to UP Prof. Danilo Arao in an online forum on journalism ethics and community pantries, red-baiting is the “highest form of fake news” because it endangers lives. It is the state’s go-to tactic in discrediting and demonizing personalities and organizations so that hurting them is justified. Another objective of red-tagging, Arao explained, is to challenge its target/s to denounce Communist links. Sounds familiar? Mainstream media, GMA Network being the biggest offender of late, has become nothing more than a mouthpiece of a regime that persecutes people like Patreng whose only fault is facilitating change.

Neoliberalism has so deprived us of basic social services and turned everything into a capitalist commodity that Filipinos sharing goods among themselves has become quite the spectacle. That said, what really frightens the state is not its “phenomenal” or “bayanihan” aspect, or Patreng’s political affiliations. The community pantry is not just a place of sharing and caring but sharing and caring between the middle and lower social classes with similar traumas caused by the pandemic and exacerbated by state inutility and terrorism. Some might’ve lost jobs, others loved ones, most of them hope. Now, they find solace and strength in being able to not only take but give, whether it’s 50 kilos of fish from small fisherfolk alliance PAMALAKAYA; sacks of sweet potatoes from a farmer in Paniqui, Tarlac; or three packs of noodles from the kind balut vendor at Maginhawa. The community pantry feeds people for a day but empowers them for much longer as they continue to struggle in a society that takes jobs, loved ones and children’s lives, and thrives on widespread hunger, doom and gloom.

Community pantries as a collective refusal to not starve are a protest whether you like it or not. And it’s disturbing how Malacañang, NTF-ELCAC, some journalists and centrist liberals all sound the same: “It’s just bayanihan and should be free of any politics.” Keep calm and share gulay, they say. A bishop went as far as declaring that these pantries with their signboards will “forever erase the shame” of cardboard justice in the drug war. Great. When they’re not red-baiting whole movements, they’re whitewashing or romanticizing them. Why do we celebrate bayanihan yet balk at the idea of hopeful, empowered masses who feed one another and understand why they starve in the first place?

“Everything is political,” says PAMALAKAYA – Southern Tagalog Spokesperson Ronnel Arambulo. “Widespread hunger is a result of government inadequacy in responding to the health crisis. The national situation should not be seen as a separate picture from community pantries.”

Meanwhile, mayors have expressed support and assured organizers of their safety. A resignation was tendered. Gag orders were issued. These are little victories, indeed, but we must not be complacent. Patreng is right: She may be safe for now but entire communities are not. Believing that community pantries are red-tagged because some have given political meaning to them is only blaming the victim. It says outright, “They deserve to be red-tagged for not submitting to the status quo.” This fascist thinking is harmful to the people.

The Iloilo City mobile community pantry by a local LGBTQIA+ group. (Photo by Irish Granada)

From the masses, to the masses

An organizer posted on FB about buying vegetables from a peasant in Nueva Ecija. Upon knowing they were for a community pantry, she said, “Napanood ko sa TV kanina. Nagugutom ang tao, pinapasara pa nila! Komunista raw. E ano naman? Namimigay lang naman! (I learned about it on TV. People are starving yet the government wants to close them! They call them communists. What about it? They’re only giving out food!)” After donating 200 pesos, she added, “Maganda ‘yang ginagawa ninyo. Pipila kami mamaya pero hindi na gulay ‘yung kukunin namin. Bigas sana (What you’re doing is noble. We’re going to line up at the pantry later but we won’t be getting vegetables. I hope there’s rice).”

It isn’t hard for the poor to understand and embrace the community pantry as their own because they struggle the most and have been quite vocal about their grievances. Instead of calling them “komunista,” “reklamador” or “pasaway,” Patreng listened. If the masses are not afraid to voice out their demands and work towards social change, why should we be? Let’s stop telling them what to do and as them instead what must be done. Let communities lead the way for community pantries. #

References:

Altermidya (2021, April 23). To ask or not to ask: Lessons on red-tagging & community pantry [Video]. Facebook. https://fb.watch/56UyZvIOhF/

Bolledo, J. (2021). “12-year-old boy chased by Pasay tanods loses consciousness, dies”. Rappler. Retrieved from https://www.rappler.com/nation/minor-chased-by-pasay-tanods-loses-consciousness-dies-april-2021

Chatinakrob. T. (2020). “Happiness-sharing Pantries: an effective weapon to ease hunger for the needy during the pandemic in Thailand”. Retrieved from https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/seac/2020/09/16/happiness-sharing-pantries/

Dionisio, J. et al (2021). “Contagion of Mutual Aid in the Philippines: An Initial Analysis of the Viral Community Pantry Initiative as Emergent Agency in Times of Covid-19”. Retrieved from https://philippinesociology.com/contagion-of-mutual-aid-in-the-philippines/

IBON Foundation (2021). “Joblessness worsens in February and will get worse with ECQ”. Retrieved from https://www.ibon.org/joblessness-worsens-in-february-and-will-get-worse-with-ecq-ibon/

Raymundo, S. (2021). “Community Pantry Ph: Hugpungan ng ginhawa at pag-iral ng use value”. Bulatlat. Retrieved from https://www.bulatlat.com/2021/04/22/community-pantry-ph-hugpungan-ng-ginhawa-at-pag-iral-ng-use-value/

‘Hindi pwedeng ganito’

Gusto ko sanang abutin ang maraming pamilyang namatayan dahil sa COVID o mga pasyenteng nagka-COVID na nakaranas ng palpak na responde mula sa sistemang pangkalusugan ng bansa. Hindi dapat sila nagdusa, hindi sana tayo nagluluksa kung naging episyente lamang ang tugon sa atin.

Ni Man Hernando

Walang nag-akala na ang kuha sa litrato na ito ang magiging isa sa huling masasayang sandali natin bilang pamilya. Sana nilubos na natin. Sana nayakap ka namin.

Ang problema lang naman natin sa kalusugan mo ay ang pagiging makakalimutin mo. Minsan bibigyan ka ni nanay ng listahan ng mga dapat bilhin o dapat gawin para siguradong pagbalik mo ay gawa mo ang lahat ng ipinagagawa sa ‘yo. Pero babalik kang nagkakamot ng ulo dahil isa o ilan lang sa mga nakalista ang nagawa o nabili mo dahil nakalimutan mo kung saan mo nailagay ang listahan. May mga biyahe kayo ni nanay na nakakarating ka na sa malayong lugar bago mapagtanto na naiwan mo siya sa bahay dahil humarurot ka na sa pagpapatakbo ng motor nang hindi mo pa siya nai-aangkas. Ang ikinakatakot lang namin noon ay magka-Alzheimer’s ka.

Ang teorya namin, kaakibat na iyon ng iyong pagtanda at iniindang sakit na diabetes at mahinang baga. Pero bukod sa problemang iyan, kaya naman nating i-manage ang blood sugar at baga mo. Dahil na rin sa pandemic, tiniyak nating paborable ang nutrisyon at kaayusan sa bahay para sa inyo ni nanay. Regular ang pagdi-disinfect lalo na sa kwarto niyo. No Smoking Area ang buong bahay. At natuwa ako nang todo nang makumbinse ko kayong lahat na at least maging vegetarian. At pinakamahalaga, nakakakuha kayo ni nanay ng maraming energy kay Aully, Armee at iba niyong apo para manatiling malakas.

Unti-unting binalot ng kakaibang atmospera ang bahay nang nagsimula kang ubuhin. Napag-alaman natin kasunod na may nakatagpo kang isang kaibigang kalauna’y nagpositibo sa COVID. Sinikap natin kaagad noon na mapa-swab at mapatignan kayo pareho ni nanay sa isang klinika. Pero lahat ng subukan natin, mapa-publiko o pribadong pasilidad na malapit sa atin, ay ‘di kayo tinatanggap dahil mahaba ang pila at hindi tumatanggap ng walk-in. Kaya sinikap na lang namin, lalo ni nanay, na alagaan at pagalingin ka sa bahay.

Pero iba na ang pakiramdam mo nitong Martes. Lumala ang pag-ubo at nahirapan ka nang huminga. Hindi na rin kinakaya ni nanay kaya’t kahit walang appointment, nangahas na tayo na dalhin ka sa Bernardino General Hospital sa QC. Bandang alas-otso ito ng umaga. Doon, naigiit natin na i-x-ray at ma-test ka ng rapid antigen test. Agad na lumabas ang resulta. Positibo ka sa COVID at may pneumonia. Pero walang paglapat ng lunas na ginawa sayo o pagbibigay-gabay man lamang sa kasama mo kung paano ka magagamot. Ni hindi itinuro kung ano ang gagawin o paano ba ikino-koordina sa ibang pasilidad ang pang-gagamot sayo. Pinauwi ka ng ospital pagtapos magbayad ng limang libo.

Pag-uwi sa bahay, bandang alas-diyes, lalo ka nang nanghina. Kaya, sa payo ng kaibigang doktor, kumontak kami sa One Hospital Command Center (OHCC) at hotline ng Caloocan City Health Office (CCHO) para masundo at madala ka sa isang COVID facility. Wala tayong napala. Ni hindi makapasok ang tawag namin sa hotline ng OHCC. Palaging busy o cannot be reached ang kabilang linya.

Nakailang-tawag rin kami sa CCHO, naitatala ang ating request pero lagi lang sinasabi na maghintay. Naghintay tayo maghapon, pero walang dumating na tulong. Mabuti na lang at napakiusapan natin ang isang kakilala sa Barangay Hall ng Barangay 176 para magamit ang ambulansiya nila. Dumating sila alas kwatro ng hapon at kinuha ka, kasama si nanay. Pero hindi nila alam ang gagawin. Hindi pala naka-koordina iyon sa barangay at hindi rin naka-koordina ang barangay sa ospital na pagdadalhan.

Pagdating sa QC General Hospital, doon niyo nakita ang aktwal na kalagayan ng pandemya sa bansa: mahabang pila sa ER; hindi sapat na pasilidad; at over-burdened na mga medical frontliner. Nang lumapit kayo para humingi ng tulong, agaran ang tugon nila na hindi nila kayo magagamot sa mga oras na iyon. Una ay sinisi pa nila kayo kung bakit hindi kayo naka-coordinate. Ano nga bang malay natin na hindi pala tayo ikinordina ng barangay, hindi ba? Sinabi natin na huwag naman tayong pabayaan dahil lang sa hindi sila kinausap ng barangay. Nang maggiit tayo na huwag nila kayong tanggihan, saka lang nila sinabi na dapat kang mabigyan ng oxygen pero wala silang available. Mahaba raw ang pila at kailangang maghintay.

Pero tuloy-tuloy kang nagpapakita ng panghihina. Lumalalim na lalo ang paghinga mo at hindi na humihinto ang pag-ubo. Sa yugtong iyon, may isang kaibigang nagmagandang-loob na kumontak sa East Avenue Medical Center (EAMC) at nang malamang tumatanggap ng pasyente doon ay nagpasya tayong lumipat. Nagpaalam tayo sa QC Gen. Humingi sana ng kung anong coordination o endorsement pero wala silang ibinigay.

East Avenue Medical Center (larawan mula sa Wikipedia)

Pagdating sa EAMC, bandang alas nuwebe, ganoon rin ang sitwasyon. Walang tigil ang pagdating ng pasyente. Hirap na hirap ang mga frontliner. Walang sapat na pasilidad.

Gaya sa QC Gen, sinabi ulit sa atin na hindi tayo matatanggap dahil hindi tayo na-coordinate. Napaisip na ako nito. Bakit ganoon? Yung coordination, yung One Hospital Command Center ng DOH, imbes na makapagpadali sa proseso ng panggagamot sa mga pasyente ay nagiging burukratikong sagka pa para hindi nila gamutin ang tulad mo.

Sabi ng kausap natin sa triage, Lung Center of the Philippines(LCP) lang daw ang tumatanggap ng hindi naka-coordinate na pasyente. Dahil malapit lang, dali-dali kaming nag-inquire sa LCP. Pagdating doon bandang alas diyes ng gabi, sinabi sa information tent na hindi rin nila masasabi kung magagamot ka nila. Nagmamakaawa na kami sa kausap namin. Pero wala raw silang magagawa. Punuan ang pasilidad kaya’t wala silang maipangako.

Mabuti na lang sa oras ding iyon, naawa na sa kalagayan mo ang mga staff ng ER sa EAMC. Sa wakas, pinayagan ka na nilang pumasok sa loob ng ER. Habang tulak-tulak ko ang wheelchair mo paakyat sa ER kinakausap kita. Sabi ko sa yo: “Tatay, ito na, magagamot ka na. May mga doktor nang titingin sayo. Kaya tibayan mo lang loob mo, pagtutulungan nating lahat ang pagpapagaling mo.”

Pagdating sa pintuan, tinanong ko kung kumusta ka. Sumagot ka,” OK lang.” May kasamang thumbs up pa. Iyon na pala ang huli nating pag-uusap.

Bago pa man nila tingnan ang kalagayan mo, pinagsulat nila ako ng waiver na nagsasabing walang magiging pananagutan ang ospital sa kung ano man ang mangyari sa’yo. Desperado na kami. Hindi ka makakapasok hangga’t ‘di ako sumasang-ayon. Kaya kahit mabigat sa loob, isinulat ko ang idinikta nila.

Inakala naming malulunasan ka na kaagad. Pero hindi pa rin pala.

Pagpasok sa iyo, natanaw ka namin sa malayo. Ipinwesto lang ang wheelchair mo sa isang gilid kasama ng hindi ko mabilang na kritikal na pasyente. Aligaga ang mga frontliner. Hirap na hirap sila sa sitwasyon. Kami, alam kong ikaw rin noon, umaasa ka na mapapansin at makakatanggap na ng oxygen. Pero wala raw available. Hindi nila masabi kung kailan ka mabibigyan. Anong gagawin namin? May waiver kaming pinirmahan.

Gumawa kami ng paraan. Nanawagan kami kung sino sa kakilala ang pwedeng magpahiram ng aparato para sa oxygen. Nakakuha tayo, ala-una ng madaling araw. Pero sa hindi namin maintindihang kadahilanan: hindi nila pinayagang magamit mo iyon.

Lumipas pa ang ilang oras bago ka unang makatikim ng hangin mula sa oxygen. Sabi ng (nurse na) bantay mo, nangingitim ka na noon. Sa pag-alala namin, kumilos kami para mailipat ka sa isang pasilidad kung saan ka matututukan. Lumapit kami sa lahat ng kaya naming lapitan. May tumugon na ilang kaibigan sa loob ng ospital. Dahil sa paggigiit natin sa ER at sa tulong nila, naiakyat ka sa ward, madaling araw ng Abril 1.

Pag-akyat doon, siguro dahil sa paga-alala mo kung nasaan ka at nasaan kami o marahil dala na rin ng pagdidiliryo dulot ng kakapusan ng oxygen sa katawan mo, naging agitated ka raw. May oxygen ka na ulit. Pero hindi na pala sasapat iyon.

Ilang oras lang, bumagsak sa 60% ang oxygen level sa katawan mo. Lubhang napakababa kaya dinesisyunan na nilang gamitan ka ng ventilator. Last resort na raw iyon. At mula sa puntong iyon ay wala na raw kasiguruhan ang susunod na mangyayari.

Kung anuman ang ibig sabihin noon, hindi namin lubos na gagap. Basta huling kita namin sa iyo malakas ka. Naga-alala, pero buo ang pag-asa namin noon na para iyon sa mabilis mong recovery.

Lumipas ang mga oras na intubated ka. Kahit ang (nurse na) bantay mo ay nagimbal sa mga nasasaksihan niya sa mga oras na iyon. Wala kang malay. May mga oras na may sobrang lalim at bagal ang paghinga mo. May panahong para kang nalulunod. Pero sa mas mahabang panahon, payapa ka. Kaya sabi namin, kaya mo ‘yan.

Google search. Batay sa mga medical articles na nabasa ko, naglalaro sa 30-40% ang global death rate ng mga ginamitan ng ventilator. Inisip ko, malakas ka eh. Siguradong pasok ka doon sa 60-70% na magsu-survive. Hawak namin ang pag-asa na iyon hanggang alas-onse y medya.

Sinagot ko ang tawag ng kapatid ko. Hinatid ng iyong (nurse na) bantay sa kaniya ang balita na wala ka na. Idineklara kang patay 11:10 pm. Sabi ng bantay mo, ilang minuto lang daw iyon pagkatapos mong marinig ang boses ni nanay sa cellphone na sinasabing hinihintay ka niya na gumaling agad. Na mahal na mahal ka niya. Pinipilit mo raw dumilat ng mga panahon na iyon. Gumalaw pa nga raw ang isa mong daliri. Pero pagkatapos noon ay naghabol ka na ng hininga hanggang sa malagot ito.

Si G. Joseph Rumbaua, ang namayapa at ama ng awtor.

Hindi na namin alam kung ano talaga ang pahiwatig mo noon. Pero naniniwala ako na yun yung panahon na lubhang tumaas ang kagustuhan mong bumangon at makauwi pero nasa rurok na rin ng dominasyon sa katawan mo ang COVID. Lumaban ka hanggang huling hininga. Sana naramdaman mong nakipaglaban rin kami. Sadya lang talagang napakalupit ng kalaban natin at pinalalakas siya ng palpak na sistemang pangkalusugan sa bansa.

Sa pagpanaw mo, tatay, lalo kong naunawaan kung bakit natin iginigiit ang episyente at komprehensibong sistemang pangkalusugan. Kung sana naging masinsin ang sistema ng contact tracing at quarantine, pwedeng hindi ka na-expose sa COVID. Kung may accessible at maagap na testing, laboratoryo, at check up sa iyo, higit sana kaming mulat sa paga-alaga sa iyo. Kung malakas, nadaragdagan at napangangalagaan ang mga medical frontliner natin, may nakakatugon sana kaagad sa mga pangangailangan ng mga tulad mo. Kung may sapat na pasilidad lamang sana, hindi mo kailangang pumila ng matagal para madugtungan ang iyong hininga. Kung may episyente sanang polisiya at koordinasyon ang DOH at buong gobyerno para tuluyang wakasan ang pandemyang ito, siguro kasama ka pa namin ngayon.

Pero ayaw kong dito tapusin ang istorya mo. Hindi pwedeng ganito. Para sa iyo at iba pang tatay at nanay, lolo, lola at kapamilya, ipatigil na natin ito. Gusto ko sanang abutin ang maraming pamilyang namatayan dahil sa COVID o mga pasyenteng nagka-COVID na nakaranas ng palpak na responde mula sa sistemang pangkalusugan ng bansa. Hindi dapat sila nagdusa, hindi sana tayo nagluluksa kung naging episyente lamang ang tugon sa atin. Maaari tayong manghingi ng indemnipikasyon dahil sa kapalpakan nila. Higit doon, maaari nating ipanawagang palitan sila at ang nakamamatay nilang sistema. #

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Si Man Hernando ay kasapi ng Migrante.

Lessons from the attack on the U.S. Capitol

By Phil Wilayto

What happened last January 6 at the U.S. Capitol was a violent takeover of Congress by a fascist mob, not a “protest by Trump supporters.” And, although five people died and there were more than 50 arrests, it’s obvious to the wide public that these overwhelmingly white lawbreakers were handled much differently than they would have been had they been Black or other people of color.

You can call it an attempted coup d’etat. But it was not a sign of imminent fascism. It was a mob egged on by a deranged egomaniac enraged that he has become the only incumbent president in nearly 30 years to be defeated in an election.

The pro-Trump mob clashes with the police at the steps of the US Capitol building. (Supplied photo)

Why is this important to point out? Because we need to know what we’re up against so we can be prepared to deal with it.

Fascism came to power in the 1930s in Spain, Italy and Germany because significant sections of those countries’ wealthy elites were afraid that militant workers’ movements in their own countries could lead to the overthrow of their capitalist rule. Remember, this was just a few years after the Russian Revolution.

We are not in the same situation today in the United States. In the midst of a dangerous pandemic that has led to an economic crisis for millions, and a spring and summer of sustained protests against police murders and systemic racism, the widespread anger against the system was successfully diverted into an electoral struggle between the two parties of capitalist rule. And because the ruling elite had decided it was time for Trump to go.

The attacking pro-Trump mob scale the walls of the US Capitol building. (Supplied photo)

Donald Trump was allowed to become President and stay in power for four years because he was able to cut taxes for the rich, deregulate business, roll back social gains and oversee a skyrocketing stock market, all of which resulted in the very rich becoming very much richer.

Not all the elite were happy with everything Trump did, but the very wealthy can live with immigrant children left alone in cages, the steady deterioration of the environment, accelerating climate change and worsening racial oppression. They have lived with far worse since the founding of the Virginia colony in 1607.

What they could not tolerate was the steady erosion of the dominance of the United States on a world scale. The growing hostility to China by all sections of the ruling class is because that country, which still has significant state control over important sections of the economy, is making a serious bid for world economic dominance, and Trump has been letting it happen. The U.S. is no longer seen as the leader in technology, finance, even health care. Its only remaining serious claim to “leadership” is as a military power, albeit one that is now abandoning the longest war in its history because it couldn’t defeat a reactionary but determined enemy in Afghanistan, the 16th poorest country in the world.

The Washington DC police are accused of treating the pro-Trump mob that assaulted the US Capitol building different as when people of color are holding protest actions. (Supplied photo)

So the ruling class came up with a safe alternative, an establishment figure who has long proven his commitment to defending and expanding the American Empire – Joe Biden. In the long run, this is more important to the one percent than tax cuts and short-term profits. The transition has been threatened because of the deep divisions in the country, but even Trump has now committed to a “peaceful transition of power” on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day.

So how does all this relate to the mob action of Jan. 6. in Washington, D.C.?

What we need to look for is any support for an actual or even symbolic coup by some section of the ruling class, as would be evidenced by involvement of any significant section of law enforcement or the military. If that involvement existed, it wasn’t evident.

Members of the US Congress scramble for safety as the pro-Trump mob threatens to breach the session hall. (Supplied photo)

Yes, the Capitol police proved woefully unprepared for the attack most likely because they didn’t view overt fascists as threatening as they had earlier Black Lives Matter protests. Yes, there were reports of individual police officers taking selfies with members of the mob and opening barriers to allow them into the Capitol. But when the D.C. National Guard was activated and joined by hundreds of state troopers from Virginia, Maryland and even New Jersey to assist Capitol and D.C. police in removing the mob, they responded. Officers fought with mob members, one of whom was fatally shot. Three other people died from what have been described as medical conditions. One police officer died from injuries sustained in the confrontation.

This is important to note because cops and the military take their orders from higher-ups, and evidently there was no high-level support for the attack on Congress.

Members of US Congress cower as the pro-Trump mob threaten to breach session hall. (Supplied photo)

And since these events there have been condemnations of the attack from across the political spectrum. Seven of the 13 senators who earlier had said they would challenge electoral votes from a handful of states withdrew their support for that effort. Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Josh Hawley (R-MO), leaders of the senate rebels, both tweeted condemnations of the mob action.

Among business leaders, the National Association of Manufacturers, representing leading Fortune 500 companies like Exxon and Toyota, called for ousting President Trump under the 25th Amendment, which allows for removing a sitting president deemed incapable of executing the duties of the office. No significant section of the ruling class supported the violent invasion of the Capitol.

But none of this means the mob action wasn’t an extremely serious, dangerous and unprecedented development. In Washington, D.C., and at state capitols around the country, thousands of right-wingers came out to oppose what is called the democratic process. In D.C., hundreds showed they were willing to physically confront police officers, openly breaking the law – and windows – and risk arrest and even death to push their agenda.

The pro-Trump mob breaches the hallowed US Capitol building. (Supplied photo)

And it’s important to note that, while seven of the 13 U.S. Senators abandoned their challenge to the electoral votes of some states, six maintained their opposition. This doesn’t only mean they were pandering to a reactionary voter base. It also means they weren’t worried about losing financial support from the corporate interests who largely fund them, which means there are sections of the ruling class who, while not necessarily supporting the mob actions, still continued to support what essentially was the legal version of the mob attempt to overthrow the presidential election.

This time, the police, national guard and military opposed the action. We can’t assume this will always be the case.

US Capitol building guards draw guns against the pro-Trump mob outside the door of the session hall. (Supplied photo)

What should concern us more is that we now know – if we needed any more proof after Charlottesville – that there is a growing fascist movement in this country violently opposed to everything a progressive movement stands for. That fascist movement attempted to congeal at the “Unite the Right” rally of August 2017, but suffered a major setback when anti-racists, primarily youth, came out to oppose it. That counter-mobilization was critical, since the local, county and state police and Virginia National Guard were all under orders to stand down. (Thank you, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe.) And, unlike during the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, it was correct for white youth to take the lead in engaging the fascists. (The Defenders are proud to have been in the thick of those confrontations.)

But that right-wing movement has since recovered, grown, and has broadened beyond the overtly fascist organizations to include thousands of largely unaffiliated individuals euphemistically referred to as “Trump supporters.” These overwhelmingly white men may have some legitimate grievances against the anti-working-class neoliberalism policies of the Democratic Party, but they are moved to violence primarily by their own white-supremacist hostility to the Black community, immigrants, LGBTQ people, women and the Left. They are here, they are growing in numbers and the police will not always be willing – or inclined – to stop them from attacking their targets.

US Capitol building staff barricade themselves as the pro-Trump mob breached the inner chambers. (Supplied photo)

In response to yesterday’s events, there have been a lot of comments on social media suggesting that this was a confrontation between reactionary civilians and reactionary cops and of no great concern to the Black community. This is a dangerous conclusion to draw.

The rise of the Nazis to power in Germany is most closely associated with the Holocaust, which took the lives of six million Jews – one-third of European Jewry. But Jews were not the only people targeted by the Nazis, nor were they the first. The first target was the German Communist Party, which at the time was the largest communist party in the world outside of the Soviet Union, a fact which terrified the ruling class.

This fact was driven home to me in very graphic ways a few years ago when my wife, Ana Edwards, and I visited the government-run Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Poland. Even under the reactionary populist rule of the federal Law and Justice Party, the plaques and signage made it clear that communists were the first to be arrested, imprisoned in concentration camps like Auschwitz and tortured, worked to death or simply murdered. Jews who thought the repression would stay merely political would be tragically corrected.

In a similar way, the fascists who gathered in Charlottesville in 2017 claimed they were defending “Southern Heritage” and opposing Antifa (a left-wing anti-fascist and anti-racist political movement). But when their rally was finally shut down by the cops (McAuliffe’s plan evidently was to let things get out of control so the rally could be suppressed without the city or state being sued on First Amendment grounds), they regrouped to march on a nearby Black housing development. Hearing the reports of those plans, anti-racists, including the Defenders, mobilized to block them. That’s what Heather Heyer was doing at that intersection when she was fatally struck by a car driven by one of the fascists. She died defending the Black community, a fact that has never received its proper recognition.

In short, while their stated enemy may be Antifa, anarchists and communists, today’s fascists are fundamentally white supremacists deeply afraid of being “replaced” by the changing demographics that are projected to make the United States a country of majority people of color as soon as 2040.

A participant in the assault of the US Capitol building at the Speaker’s chair. (Supplied photo)

Conclusions

So what conclusions can we draw from all this? What are the practical consequences? Because it’s not enough merely to analyse the situation – we need to decide what to do.

These times are crying out for an independent, multi-issue, anti-imperialist organised Left that can develop and promote a program to unite all working people and communities of color, a program that emphasizes class solidarity while promoting the right to self-determination of all oppressed peoples. And that movement must have the capability of physically defending itself from threats from the fascists. To date, our side has been woefully inadequate on that score.

Our people aren’t lacking in courage, we are lacking in numbers, organization, resources and a unified program. Decades of raising the tactic of nonviolence to the level of a moral principle has effectively disarmed large sections of the progressive movement to the point where some activists believe that defending themselves and their communities means “sinking to the level” of the right wing. Years of promoting the idea that the Democrats could be a bulwark against the Right has weakened the understanding that real defense can only come from an independent movement. And the rise of the non-profit complex, with its dependence on liberal funders tied to the Democrats, has contributed to the demise of the anti-war, anti-imperialist consciousness that was a hallmark of the independent, multi-issue, multi-racial militant movements that led the historic struggles of the 1930s and 1960s.

A pro-Trump assault participant occupies a Congressman’s chair. (Supplied photo)

So as we look over the events of Jan. 6, we shouldn’t draw the conclusion that we are on the edge of a fascist takeover. But neither should we ignore the very real and growing threat of a genuine fascist movement.

Much will depend on the emergence of a charismatic leader who can really unite the right. That could be Trump, if he decides to go that route instead of just going back to being a corrupt, venal businessman. Personally, I think the fear-of-prosecution-fueled speech he gave Jan. 7 condemning his loyal mob for “infiltrating” the Capitol probably ended his chances of becoming the American Fuhrer.

Chaos inside the US Capitol building. (Supplied photo)

At any rate, more will depend on a significant section of the ruling class deciding that an extra-legal paramilitary force is needed to suppress a threatening Black or general working-class rebellion. Some will depend on those sections willing to finance such a movement. This is how fascist organizations emerged in Ukraine before, during and after the right-wing, U.S.-supported coup of 2014 that supposedly supported democracy but resulted in an even more authoritarian government. (https://odessasolidaritycampaign.org)

But whether or not any of that develops, what is clear is that the Left needs to greatly broaden its influence as well as its practical ability to defend itself, its events, its organizations and the community at large from the determined right-wing streetfighters that we now cannot deny exist.

To ignore that threat is to contribute to our own defeat. #

Police officers and guards inside the US Capitol building. (Supplied photo)

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This opinion piece, earlier published by US-based Red Vis Lamp, was submitted for republication by Kodao.

Phil Wilayto is a co-founder of the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality, editor of The Virginia Defender newspaper and coordinator of the anti-fascist Odessa Solidarity Campaign. He can be reached at [email protected].