Nestor Pestelos and the Poetry of Development

Posted June 27, 2015 by edicio
Categories: Leadership, Lifelong Learning, Popular education

NMP Book cover

Yesterday, I was invited to introduce the book of Nestor M. Pestelos at its launch in the Quezon National High School.

While waiting for him to arrive, some students of QNHS interviewed me. One question which I sought to answer is how poetry relates to development work. Nestor is better know as a development worker, with international agencies, the province of Bohol, and now with his NGO. But listening to yesterday’s stories about him, his schoolmates and teachers knew him as a poet, with a “magical realist” style and sensibility.

Listening to him tell the story of his move from Quezon to Bohol, I realise better why he calls himself an “old warrior.” He was part of our Dekada 70 generation. He was hunted, eventually captured and detained, many of his closest friends tortured and killed.

Yesterday, I reflected aloud on how poetry is important for development work. But after knowing more about Nestor’s life, I want to rewrite what I said.

In the meantime, let me post the short essay I contributed to his book:

Nestor Pestelos and the Poetry of Development

Prose is the default language of development.

His lifetime commitment has given Nestor Pestelos a rich development vocabulary, including key words like logical frameworks and SWOT analysis, performance indicators and means of verification, benchmarks and baselines, milestones and timelines, impacts, assumptions and risks.

Nestor is also familiar with the math and algorithms of development. He even spent his retirement funds developing software for mapping and measuring poverty, the Poverty Database Monitoring System.

Now, late in his life, he has published 33 poems.

Are these poems his escape from the prose of development? A way to set his spirit free from the limits of development discourse?

Nestor explains: “I was writing these poems as therapy. As I approached and turned 70 I became increasingly self-critical of the road I had taken. I felt that all my hard work in development, which claimed most of a lifetime, had not amounted to anything significant at all…

“I needed again to believe in something – to gain optimism despite moral setbacks everywhere. In writing the poems, snatching time in- between meetings or worrying about them, I gained emotional distance from events or personalities which frustrated me.”

Two successive events jolted Nestor and his wife Jojie. His father in-law died a day before the magnitude 7.2 earthquake hit Bohol in October 2013: “We realized much more how fragile life was. Images of corpses on the streets in the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in Samar and Leyte reinforced this feeling.”

He stopped writing poems.

Nestor and Jojie plunged into distributing relief goods, raising funds and soliciting construction materials to build transition core houses so that families could move from their tents and makeshift shelter.

There was overwhelming response from within and outside Bohol. The earthquake victims and communities moved as one to help build their houses.

Nestor writes: “The disaster galvanized whole communities again towards a common goal. Indeed, the earthquake restored our waning faith in local communities. We were surprised by their capacity to fight off dependency and hopelessness.”

Did Nestor give up poetry when he decided to focus on relief, reconstruction, and development? Not really, if we believe Juan Galman, an Argentinian poet:

Poetry is a way of living.
Look at the people at your side. Do they eat? Suffer? Sing? Cry?

Help them fight for their hands, their eyes, their mouth, for the kiss to kiss and the kiss to give away, for their table, their bread, their letter a and their letter h, for their past — were they not children? — for their present, for the piece of peace, of history and happiness that belongs to them, for the piece of love, big, small, sad, joy, that belongs to them and is taken away in the name of what, of what?

Your life will then be an innumerable river to be called pedro, juan, ana, maria, bird, lung, the air, my shirt, violin, sunset, stone, that handkerchief, old waltz, wooden horse.

Poetry is this. Afterward, write it.

In his introduction, Nestor links his initial “dimly-perceived need to publish a collection of poems” to his advocacy to build more core houses for those rendered homeless by the earthquake: “We will then go beyond therapy if we again venture to write and publish another set of poems.”

As he pours his energy into reconstruction and development work, Nestor is doing poetry.

We hope he will write it, soon.

May 18: Linking Incheon and Kwangju

Posted May 19, 2015 by edicio
Categories: Uncategorized

Incheon Kofid

Yesterday, May 18, 2015 was the opening of the NGO Forum on World Education.

It was also the 35th anniversary of the Kwangju democratic uprising and massacre. Thanks to Mr. Tae Joo Lee, the speaker from KoFID for reminding us.

For us in the human rights movement in the Philippines and Korea, the struggle in the 1980s focused on democratization against authoritarian and repressive regimes. We did take up education issues, but not as sharply as now.

If there is one key message I take from the Incheon World Education Forum, it is this – to combine our passion for human rights and our passion for education.

Unfinished business and ambitious aspirations

“Education for All” has been our rallying cry from Jomtien, Thailand in 1990, and reiterated in Dakar, Senegal in 2000.

Will we simply repeat that call here in Incheon, Korea?

There are enough reasons to repeat the call, since we face what speakers call “unfinished business” – children not yet in school, adults without basic literacy, youth and adults without needed skills and learning opportunities.

And there are the continuing gaps and exclusions, based on gender, ethnicity, geography, disability, discrimination, disasters and armed conflicts, and more.

At Incheon 2015, we acknowledge and address these unfinished business. But we address them within a larger framework, that is described in some draft documents as more “ambitious and aspirational.”

Instead of “education for all,” the draft framework for action calls for “inclusive and equitable quality education for all.” And adds “lifelong learning for all.”

New goals inspire and energize. They are stretch targets that force us to do more than “business as usual.”

But 25 years after Jomtien and Dakar, we can’t help but ask ourselves: Is it realistic to hope that these goals will be achieved by 2030?

“Be realistic. Demand the impossible!” I can relate to the youthful bravado of this slogan. The challenge is to work out “real world strategies” that we can pursue.

My next blog will examine some of these proposed strategies.

Coco Hubs

Posted February 22, 2015 by edicio
Categories: Leadership, Rebuilding our Nation, Sustainable Agriculture

Coco Hubs is the “nickname” for Integrated Coconut Agro-Industrial Hubs.

It is a program of government that seeks to address the problem of small coconut farmers whose only income from coconuts are from their sale of copra or nuts to traders who aggregate them and in turn sell them to large mills that are far from the farms.

By supporting the setting up of small and medium size processing plants, the Coco Hubs program seeks to make the small coconut farmers go beyond being raw material producers to being participants in the higher value-adding part of the coconut value chain.

Last Friday, I was asked to speak on the Coco Hubs at a forum sponsored by SOAP, the group whose mission is to Spread Organic Agriculture in the Philippines.

Am posting the slides I prepared.

Slide01Slide02Slide03Slide04 Slide05Slide06Slide07Slide08Slide09Slide10Slide11Slide12Slide13Slide14Slide15Slide16Slide17

As raw as it can get. Tears in my eyes drown me.

Posted January 31, 2015 by edicio
Categories: Rebuilding our Nation, Renewing our spirit

Aida Poem

The words are from a friend activist-poet, Aida Santos.

On the way to Tacloban airport, she saw people awaiting the bodies of some SAF (Special Action Forces) who were killed in Mamapasano.

The words introduce three short poems she wrote.

The week-long national conversation about the killings in Mamapasano have been cacophonous. My work schedule did not allow me to join in, but also because I couldn’t find words that are superior to silence.

Cautionary words in prison

When I was in prison during the martial law years, fellow activist-prisoners from Mindanao expressed to me their criticism about “Imperial Manila.”

They said that Manila-based people, whether elite or ordinary citizens, including activists, tend to think we have the solutions to Mindanao issues, and that our intervention is always helpful and welcome.

Since then, I have followed this rule. I don’t go to Mindanao unless invited. And in judging events and issues in Mindanao, I give greater weight to Mindanao-based friends and kindred spirits.

Silence. Tears. Words.

When the news broke about the death of 44 SAF fighters (with little mention of MILF fighters killed, nor of civilians), there was understandable outrage, expressed publicly, targeting not just what happened but directed to those in authority.

At the same time, there were fears, also publicly expressed, that he emotions of the moment would be exploited by those who do not agree with the peace process and initial peace agreements that the government has signed with the MILF.

I wondered what public comment my friends from Balay Mindanaw would post.

Kaloy Manlupig chose the response we learned and liked from the recent visit of Pope Francis. How fast things change. The deaths in Mamapasano happened only 10 days after the Pope left..

Silence. Because realities are greater than our ideas.

Tears. Because eyes washed by tears see more clearly. But only after tears have dried. Tears cloud our eyes and hearts.

And difficult it may be, words. To help each other understand what is in our hearts and minds.

Prose and Poetry

The national public conversations are mainly in prose, so with the conversations inside us and among us.

We need prose, for analysis and for perspectives, historical and structural, that help temper the immediate and existential.

But we also need poetry. Not as an evasion, but as a way to join the conversation even when we haven’t fully sorted out our stand.

Aida Poem 2

Justice and Peace 

There are calls for justice. There are calls for peace.

Last year, I was invited by Balay Mindanaw to facilitate a synthesis session of a peace building conference in Myanmar.

I shared with them my difficulty in framing the link between justice and peace.

My activist history and sensibility have been focused on justice, and its associated call to take sides in a struggle. From this perspective, “peace is the fruit of justice.”

Peace builders who acknowledge the link between un-peace and injustice pursue “peace as the path to justice.”

Are these simply different starting points in the same direction? Or are they contradictory?

Is this an example of a reality that is greater than our ideas, and words?

Rest in peace. Thank you.

Fallen 44



The Silences of Pope Francis

Posted January 25, 2015 by edicio
Categories: Community Organizing, Renewing our spirit

Pope Francis in the rain

A week after Pope Francis left the Philippines, the “struggle for interpretation” of the papal visit continues.

I am reminded of Anais Nin’s “We see the world not as it is, but as we are.” We remember Pope Francis not as he is but as we are. We choose what to remember about his visit, and with whom to remember.

Our remembering is not just about his words – what he said publicly and the texts of his prepared speeches, though undelivered. Our remembering is even more about his actions, especially about his symbolic “gestures” – the word he used to describe what impressed him about us Filipinos: “The gestures moved me. They are not protocol gestures. They are good gestures, felt gestures, gestures of the heart. Some almost make one weep.”

I want to add my remembrance about his silences.

1. The silence of not giving easy or simple answers

This first silence is the most eloquent.

In Tacloban, faced with the prayerful attentive silence of the people in the rain, the Pope acknowledged their unspoken questions, and said: “All I can do is keep silence and walk with you all with my silent heart.”

In UST, his silent answer to the tearful question of Glyzelle was a hug.

A refreshing change from the usual reaction of a facile reply, or even a rant against those responsible. Instead, a respectful acceptance of the gravity of the questions, including the unspoken.

There are answers to the questions, of course, but they are neither simple nor easy.The time and circumstances were not right for expounding answers, for words that are superior to silence.

2.  The silence about the rural poor and rural issues

Unlike the first, this second silence bothers me.

Pope Francis talked a lot about the poor, but mainly urban, especially street children.

He had specific messages about women and youth. In his message in Malacanang, he mentioned indigenous people and indirectly Muslims by supporting the peace process.

But he said nothing about farmers, and agrarian reform or rural development. In his closing response, Cardinal Tagle did mention farmers and fishers, but not the Pope.

One explanation for the silence is that there was no activity, no context that called for a message about farmers and land reform, unlike the visit of Pope John Paul II that included a trip to Negros,

Instead of blaming the Pope about this silence, I pose questions in self-criticism to ourselves and fellow advocates for rural development. Why was there no space negotiated for rural issues? I asked NASSA’s Fr. Edu Gariguez about this, and he also wondered why.

3.  The silence about organising the poor for their empowerment

Another silence that disappoints me is about organising the poor.

The Pope had clear forceful messages about the dignity of the poor and their centrality. But his messages came across as mainly addressed to the government and the church and to the elite to care for the poor and to help them.

I wish that he also addressed the poor to tell them, as in Mater et Magistra, that it is their right and also responsibility to organise themselves to press for their rights to uplift their lives. In the Latin American social vocabulary, to be “protagonists” – subjects and not just objects of history.

Again, one explanation is that there was no context for the Pope to deliver such a message.

If Denis Murphy’s dream proposal happened and the Pope visited the no-build zone in Tacloban, he could have talked about it, since the site is the organising area of the Urban Poor Associates. It would be like Paul VI’s visit to Tondo to the area organised by ZOTO.

Another occasion could have been in Palo, if there was time to present the REACH program of NASSA which includes a component on community organising.

Given such contexts, I trust that Pope Francis would have said something about organising the poor for empowerment. In his address to the World Social Movements, he included the idea of the poor as protagonists. He encouraged the social movements to pursue their struggles,”with courage, but also with intelligence, with tenacity but without fanaticism, with passion but without violence.”

What about our silences?

After the visit of Pope Francis, it is fair to ask questions about the actions and words of Philippine church leaders, and also about their silences.

Community organisers can draw inspiration and support from the papal visit for our efforts to break the “culture of silence” among the poor members of the churches.

There is a useful silence for those of us who trace the roots of our activism for social justice to the social teachings of the Church. Having learned the language of structures, strategies, and ideologies, I find it fruitful to reflect in the silence of our hearts on the Pope’s words and gestures as a way to revisit and deepen the ground for our preferential option for the poor.


Pope Francis: “Don’t focus on me. Focus on Jesus.” Which Jesus?

Posted January 15, 2015 by edicio
Categories: Community Organizing, Renewing our spirit, Theology of struggle

The welcome has been described as “rapturous.”

The MMDA estimates that 800,000 to one million Filipinos waited for hours to catch a brief glimpse of Pope Francis along the route from the Villamor airbase to the nunciature. Millions more watched the Pope’s arrival on their TV screens.

Even for a while, I can understand if Pope Francis, and Cardinal Tagle who sat behind him on the Popemobile, forgot their pre-arrival message: “Don’t focus on the Pope. Focus on Jesus.”

The Vatican’s instruction to replace the image of the Pope with the image of Jesus came too late. But even if it was issued much earlier, I doubt if many would comply.

Focus on Jesus, rather than the Pope?

When I first read the call to focus on Jesus instead of the Pope, I felt ambivalent.

Barely a week before the Pope’s scheduled arrival, there were millions who did focus on Jesus, on the feast of the Black Nazarene. What message was delivered by that expression of popular devotion?

Given the prophetic pronouncements of Pope Francis on justice and the poor, and his compassionate words and actions, wouldn’t focusing on the Pope offer better inspiration and instruction?

To avoid the dichotomy of focusing either on Jesus or on the Pope, I used Matthew 25 to interpret the call to focus on Jesus: “I was hungry and you gave me food…Whatever you do to the least of your brothers and sisters, you do it to me.”

I visualised this through this hurriedly done e-poster.

Pope Francis message

The three faces of Jesus among the poor

Thinking further about this identification of Jesus with the “least of our brothers and sisters,” I reflected on the three faces of Jesus which represent three different ways we look at the poor.

The first is the Santo Nino. This is the Jesus we see among the poor who are victims, without their fault. Innocents, needing our mercy and compassion. This is especially easy to imagine when we see street children.

The second is the Black Nazarene. This is not just the Jesus whose suffering gives meaning to the suffering of the poor who identify with him, as Rey Ileto essays in his Pasyon and Revolution. It is both the suffering of the poor who do not yet struggle, and also the further suffering of those who are struggling, but still frustrated and unable to achieve their goals. They call for our solidarity.

The third is the Risen Jesus, so transformed that Mary Magdalene could not recognise him, nor Thomas until they saw his scars. We see the Risen Jesus among the empowered poor who have managed to break out of the “culture of poverty” and whose struggles have achieved some visible transformation of their lives and communities, that we can celebrate.

Which Jesus do we focus on?

These three faces of Jesus are present in different degrees among the poor. The official theme of the Pope’s visit, “Mercy and Compassion,” tends to emphasise the Santo Nino and the suffering part of the Nazarene. Among the images of Jesus available in our churches and religious posters, we rarely see one of the Risen Jesus.

Shall we interpret this as a reflection of the state of the poor in the Philippines? Or does it reflect how most leaders of Church and State look at the poor, focusing mainly on their needs, without believing and investing in their possibilities?





Human Rights Day 2014

Posted December 10, 2014 by edicio
Categories: Renewing our spirit, Theology of struggle

In biblical numerology, the number 40 means ” ä very long time.”

That’s what I feel, thinking back to 40 years ago when I was first arrested on Friday the 13th of December 1974. (I should have been superstitious).

Ironically, three days earlier, on Human Rights day,I watched President Marcos on TV speaking to foreign journalists asserting that “no one has been tortured” under martial law.

Three days later, in a series of raids, over 30 of us were arrested. Most were tortured, some very heavily. I recall asking why one of us, Samby, had to be carried because he couldn’t walk. I was told that he was arrested while he was ironing his pants. During interrogation, his captors pressed the hot iron against the soles of his feet.

My memories of those days in December 1974 are spotty and fading. I will have a chance to refresh them when our group of political detainees gather for a simple reunion at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani this Saturday afternoon. Maraming salamat to May Rodriguez for taking the initiative. Her partner, Butch Rodriguez (a former student of mine in the seminary) wore a sleeveless T-shirt while playing the guitar at the Christmas midnight mass I requested the camp commander to authorize. I was shocked to see his upper arm – black, blue and purple from being beaten by a 2 x 2 wooden club.

Reflecting on the struggle for human rights in 2014, I can only fall back to my framework – Between Honesty and Hope. There are signs of hope, not just in the persistence of the human rights advocates, but also in measurable gains. But honesty makes us acknowledge how much more need to be done, and how fragile some of the gains are.

Surfing the web, I found art works posted on Facebook for Human Rights Day. Pablo Baens Santos, one of the social realist artists during martial law posted an old mural ” Tumba” on extra-judicial killings, and a recent work “Teargassed” which is part of an exhibit which opens tomorrow at Galerie Anna in Megamall. Boy Dominguez refers to the killing of Gomburza in his piece “Garute.”

I was inspired to do an e-collage, and included an old pen and ink sketch I did in prison “Tulos Kandila.” The protest rallies outside prison reminded me of processions. When processions passed by our homes, we would place lit candles on our window sills, in solidarity,

It is good to light our candles, even as we rail against the darkness.

HR 2014 between honesty and hope

3 Lessons about Popular Education from Johnny Flavier

Posted November 1, 2014 by edicio
Categories: Leadership, Lifelong Learning, Popular education, Sikolohiyang Pinoy


Juan Flavier RIPIn death, as in his life, Juan Flavier, or Johnny, as he preferred to be called, is deservedly hailed for his many achievements in public service,  as Secretary of Health and as a two-term Senator.

Let me add to the tributes, and give special thanks to him for these lessons about popular education.

The Power of Parables

The two volumes of his Parables of the Barrio continue to be best sellers.

According to Jimmy Tan, when Secretary Flavier had to give a speech without time to prepare, all he needed was a list of the main points. Then he would develop them by telling stories, usually spiced with humour.

I first got to know about Johnny Flavier through his use of metaphors from agriculture to explain issues of reproductive health. A parable is like a metaphor, expanded as a story.

We can apply to his parables the description of UP historians about history – sanaysay na may saysay. In more contemporary Pilipino – kwentong may kwenta.

Laugh and Learn

His sense of humor is legendary. And it was never malicious. At most, it was mischievous. Given his size, it can be described as “elfin.”

The absence of malice reflects his persona. Boy Morales once told me that Johnny Flavier’s advantage is that he comes across as non-threatening.

His humour combined with his use of metaphors and parables, enabled him to explain difficult and sensitive topics.

Although his quips and jokes came across as spontaneous and effortless, he said that he would repeatedly rehearse any fresh material before a full length mirror.

You can’t please everyone

Despite his efforts and skill at communication, he did not persuade or convince everyone. This was particularly true of his advocacy on reproductive health. Many conservative church and lay leaders mounted a negative campaign against him during the elections.

Did they refuse his explanations and advocacy because they did not understand him? They did understand him only too well.

Their hostile reaction is not due to Johnny Flavier’s lack of skill and persistence. It is proof of the aphorism of Aristotle adopted by Thomas Aquinas: “Quidquid recipitur, recipitur secundum modum recipients.” 

Kailash and the Global Campaign for Education

Posted October 12, 2014 by edicio
Categories: Alternative Learning Systems, Education for All, Global Solidarity, Leadership, Popular education

The Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Malala and to Kailash is welcomed by education campaigners as a recognition of our campaigning work. I am reposting my reflections in 2007 after listening to Kailash in Phnom Penh.

Campaigning Inside and Outside

At the Asia-Pacific conference of GCE members in Phnom Penh, the speeches of Kailash Satyarthi the president of GCE offered useful perspectives on advocacy work by civil society organizations or CSOs.

In 1990 at Jomtien, Thailand, where the first Declaration on Education for All, or EFA, was signed by governments, he said that there was no civil society participation; though Aloysius, the Education International representative said EI was there. But in the run up to the 2000 conference in Dakar, Senegal, the two international organizations, Global March against Child labor and Education International, decided to actively get engaged, together with other INGOs who are both funding and campaigning agencies.

The first GCE included national campaign coalitions notably CAMPE, the Campaign for Popular Education in Bangladesh which had been set up in response to Jomtien. According to Kailash, it was through CSO advocacy that “education as a fundamental human right” was included in the preamble in the Dakar declaration, unlike in Jomtien. They also insisted on establishing an international monitoring group that would insure that governments fulfilled the commitments they signed; this is now called the High Level Group which is meeting tomorrow in Dakar.Later, GCE also played a crucial role in establishing the Fast Track Initiative (FTI), a funding facility specific for EFA.

From service delivery to policy advocacy

Kailash emphasized that GCE represents a successful example of the changing role of NGOs and civil society from service delivery to policy advocacy. For CSOs this means going beyond previous roles of delivering services to the people, either autonomously (usually funded from abroad) or subcontracted by governments, though this continues to be needed and valid. To create impact on a wider scale, CSOs need to engage in advocacy campaigns to hold governments accountable and fulfill their responsibilities to their citizens.

Development jargon has picked this up as a “rights-based approach” to development. The “3 Rs” campaign of Enet Philippines is in the same spirit – Rights, Responsibilities, Resources.

Since I am posting this on December 10, Human Rights Day, I recall the additional perspective that Kailash presented. He said that the right to education was included in the Universal Declaration for Human Rights, but until Jomtien or 40 years later, the United national did not hold any high level conference, much less a summit, on education.

Without an organized campaign and constituency, declarations will not be followed up by action and funding. The lesson is that rights, like freedom, will not be given motu proprio, even by those who have pledged to deliver them.

But we cannot simply take care of ourselves in the name of self-reliance, and let governments go scot free of their responsibility. CSOs have arrived at the same conclusion in their respective national contexts. What is more difficult and which makes GCE’s achievement remarkable, is doing this globally.

The level of frustration that we experience in dealing with individual governments is multiplied when dealing with intergovernmental institutions. And the level of resources needed – not just funds, but time and skills – is much greater. No wonder international NGOs who are both funders and campaigners play a more dominant role, even if most members of the global network are based in individual countries.

Acknowledging the limits of campaigning

Despite the specific successes that Kailash asked us to celebrate, he also acknowledged the sobering limits of CSO campaigning.

At the High Level Group meetings, few “high level’ heads of agencies and states attend. The funds committed to the FTI are less than what is needed. The role of UNESCO as convenor leaves much to be desired. But compared to where we started, and would surely have much less achievement, there is more hope than frustration.

There is of course the problem of attribution. How much of the results can we claim is due to CSO campaigning? Would governments have done them anyway even if we didn’t pressure them? Proving causality is a tricky challenge. Perhaps we can borrow from an unlikely source – Mao Zedong’s aphorism that the reason for change is internal, but for it to operate it may need external conditions, like the egg that won’t hatch unless there is enough heat from outside. Sol Alinsky has a different and slightly more cynical comment: “People in high places can be made to do the right thing, usually for the wrong reason.”

The mid-term external evaluation of GCE adds another caution. Its effective engagement with the global institutions may eventually brand it as just another “insider,” the latest in international power players who meet and debate and issue declarations. This is an important agenda in the run up to the GCE World Assembly in Sao Paolo. How does GCE insure that its “outside” campaigning is given its due emphasis?

Claiming space inside, maintaining pressure outside

Enet Philippines is facing similar challenges. We have been designated as the CSO co-chair of the National EFA Committee. From a comparative international perspective, this is quite an achievement, and the Philippine government has used this and other forms of CSO engagement to claim “pogi points.”

When this happened, I wondered aloud if we should claim it as a success or worry that it is a way of being coopted. Does being co-chair mean that we are co-responsible for the poor performance of the education system? After all the mid-decade Philippine EFA report (2000-2005) admits that we have fallen short of almost all targets.

What about our role as citizens demanding government to fufill its responsibilities? There is need to put pressure from the outside. After all the “partnership” of CSOs with government does not make us co-equal or co-responsible. It is still government that has the main responsibility to deliver on its EFA commitments. It is our responsibility as citizens to claim our rights and call on government to fulfill its obligations.

Those who have managed to claim space for inside campaigning need the voices and numbers of outside campaigners. This is not easy. The annual GCE global action week has mobilized over 5 million in hundreds of countries this April 2007. But what about the rest of the year? The same challenge faces Enet within the Philippines. In addition to taking part in the annual April global action week, we have a second campaign in September on adult learning and lifelong learning. They take a lot of time and energy, and we have limited funds.

And there is always the nagging question – to what extent have our activities not only created public awareness, but have brought about policy or program changes?


Paris 2011


Lav Diaz and Our Remembering Self

Posted September 22, 2014 by edicio
Categories: Lifelong Learning, Popular education, Renewing our spirit, Theology of struggle

Sine ni Lav Diaz

Daniel Kahneman writes in Thinking, Fast and Slow, that we have two mental operating systems – our experiencing self and our remembering self.

The first is voiceless and immersed in the moment. The other is occupied with keeping score and learning from experience. His proposition is that it is our remembering self that is more dominant.

Remembering Mula sa Kung Ano Noon

Yesterday at the MOA Centerstage, for over five hours, my experiencing self was immersed in the flow and life-rhythm of Lav Diaz’ Mula Sa Kung Ano Noon.

Girlie and I had traveled across town to experience the movie together, as our September 21 act of remembrance. Thanks again to Joel Saracho (Father Guido in the movie) who kindly reserved tickets for us.

The day after, before I sleep, I want to write my initial remembrance of what we experienced.

Had it been our first Lav Diaz movie, it would be its length that would be most memorable. But Girlie and I had already watched his four-hour Norte: Hangganan ng Kasaysayan.

Thanks to different reviews, and especially the interview done by his fellow film maker Pepe Diokno, I had even acquired basic literacy (and appreciation) about the film vocabulary of Lav Diaz.

Some critics’ describe the black and white film as “luminous.” It is.

As I write my remembrance of Mula Sa Kung Ano Noon, I can’t help but relate it to the remembrance by fellow activists of martial law and resistance, which are posted on our Facebook timelines and group pages.

Both teach us that remembering is selective. There are memories that are sheer survivors from the inevitable process of forgetting. There are memories that we consciously choose to remember, even with painful effort.

The remembrance of a community

Mula Sa Kung Ano Noon is the remembrance of a community and its stories – specific, personal, in their complex simplicity.

Although the stories are about people, nature is more than a backdrop or a stage. The images and sounds of fields and mountains, river and sea, rocks and mud, rain and wind are an integral part of the stories. In sequence after sequence, Lav shows people first as barely perceptible figures at a distance, and after they leave the frame at the foreground, the camera lingers for a while on the scene.

With this approach, indigenous beliefs and rites do not come across as esoteric. They make sense, even though unfamiliar.

The pace of the movie is slow and lingering. It reminds me of a note Grilie wrote to me in prison, which cited a line from a poem about the “slow furious passion of a snail.”

At some point, my mind strayed to the young people in the audience, used to a faster-pace in movies and life. Would they be thinking “Let’s move on”?  Stop dwelling longer on more details. We get the basic picture. Get going with the action. But Lav Diaz asks us to look longer than we are used to. He offers no quick relief, no easy resolution.

No wonder the audience laughed extra loud at the comic relief provided by the Batanguena vendor. But later, toward the end and her revelation, her persistent laughter was met with silence.

The remembrance of a movement

On the way back to Quezon City, I texted Joel what Girlie said, that we found Mula sa Kung Ano Noon a different but  effective way of remembering martial law.

As movement activists, we tend to remember martial law as part of the larger national narrative. We tend to start with the general theme of political repression and resistance, and from there, consider the impact on specific sectors and communities.

Mula sa King Ano Noon tells the stories of a community in its own terms. But it is also a metaphor of the national community, neither forced nor comprehensive. Lav leaves it to us to make the comparisons.

Our history and location in Metro Manila make us part of the national discourse, but the movie spoke to my preferential interest in the discourse of the local community – komunidad, pamayanan, katilingban.

But local communities, no matter how remote, are not insulated from outside forces and processes. Between neglect and intrusion, what is preferable?

The movie’s critique of the national government is clear and compelling. Its comment on the revolutionary movement is implied and open ended. I hope there is a movie about that in Lav’s combined memory and imagination.