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May 18: Linking Incheon and Kwangju

May 19, 2015

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.

From Criminal to Doctor of Criminal Justice

May 10, 2012

Today is May 10, the anniversary of the death of Andres Bonifacio. Activist-friends have chosen this as a symbolic date for their campaign to seek truth and justice for activists who have been victims at the hands of their comrades.

While mulling over this, I read an e-mail from Fr. Tony Ranada SVD, who is into prison ministry, forwarding the testimony of Raymund Narag. I found it inspiring,and want to share it with you:

Last May 4, 2012, I marched in the graduation ceremonies of Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.  Pending the successful defense of my dissertation, I will receive a doctoral degree in criminal justice.  From a maligned ex-detainee in one of the most crowded jails in the Philippines, I will be called “Dr. Narag,” with specialization in prison administration.  I wish to share my story as testimony to the triumph of the human spirit.  It is a testimony of God’s love.

I was once accused of a crime I did not commit.  I was accused of murder for the death of an equally promising young man few months prior to my bachelors’ graduation in the University of the Philippines.  From May 24, 1995 until February 28, 2002, I was arrested by the police, prosecuted in the courts and put behind bars in Quezon City Jail.  Then only 20 years old, I was naïve to the harsh realities of this world.  Released at age 27 and losing the seven best years of my youthful life, I was a changed man.

Like any emotionally devastated human being, I was initially bitter about my incarceration.  I could not fathom why a person as idealistic and as innocent as I was should undergo such travails.  I cannot comprehend why I had to live in a cell which accommodated 30 inmates instead of the 5 that was humanely prescribed.  I cannot understand why I was forced to live with a food subsistence of tuyo (dried fish) that barely sustained my flesh.  I cannot grasp why I had to go out of jail with handcuffs and the media too willing to proclaim: “I was the person to be hanged.”  In my myopic mind and shortsighted understanding, I questioned God: “do I deserve this suffering?”

But God works in mysterious ways.  He sent people who could serve as floater when I was about to sink in the sea of despair.  He sent sister Auxi, a religious nun, who made me her assistant in her prison ministry.  He sent Bobby and other brothers in the Christ Youth Action, who introduced me to the Bible. He sent the UP Pahinungod which provided me with the opportunity to be “fulltime” volunteer in the jail. He kept my parents and sisters who steadfastly supported me without questioning my involvement in the crime.  He kept my girlfriend whose advice: “be a good boy” continued to ring when the corrupting influences of the jail tempted me.  And He gave Dan, my fellow accused and who served time with me, whose character was a pillar of strength when we were emotionally drained.

Responding to the hook God gave me, I volunteered my services to the Jail Bureau.  I taught in the literacy program where we introduced the basics of writing and reading to our fellow inmates.  I worked as a paralegal coordinator where we monitored the cases of inmates who had long been overdue for release.  I organized a bible study group called Kristo Okay sa Amin (KOSA) to generate brotherly love among the warring gangs.  Eventually, on my fourth year of imprisonment, I became the Mayor the Mayores, the top position in the inmate political hierarchy, where I helped the warden in managing the affairs of the prison: of how to keep the jail surroundings clean, of how to prevent conflicts among the inmate gangs, of how to generate funds to keep the reformation programs going.  Indeed, I saw firsthand the intricacies of managing a crowded, underfunded, undermanned prison institution.

Therefore, instead of being bitter about my prison experience, as Father Tony Ranada, the QC Jail chaplain would say, “I was embettered by it!” I learned that there was a reason why God sent me there: to tame my wild and insatiable soul.  Prior to my incarceration, I was headed to the worldly and Machiavellian life of the legal profession where I envisioned myself to be a shrewd lawyer.  “Nah!” God said, “I had better plans!”

I realized I was in jail to discover His undying love for me.  I realized His immense plan to prosper me. Having found the reason: I claimed my freedom and clung on to His promise: I may be the maligned inmate, but I was spiritually free.  I shall use my academic and intellectual skills for His greater glory.

In the process, I was invigorated to document furiously what ailed the jail administration and to understand why and how my fellow inmates ended up in jail. I also endeavored to understand why gangs engaged in violence and drug distribution and how prison officers maintained their professional integrity despite the deficiency in salaries and personnel.  I wrote letters to the media and to concerned politicians and administrators to provide a realistic analysis of why jail escapes happen, of why inmates engage in riots, and anything that will portray a true understanding of jail life.  Indeed, right in the confines of Quezon City Jail, I was introduced to the academic field of Criminal Justice.

Eventually, after 6 years, 9 months and 4 days, I was proclaimed a free man.  Of course, I was wrongly accused!  Immediately, I wrote a book entitled “Freedom and Death Inside the City Jail” about my jail experience which was supported by the United Nations Development Program and published by the Philippine Supreme Court.  In his message, then Chief Justice Hilario Davide described my book as an “eye opener.” He then used it as one of the bases for the wide-ranging Action Program for Judicial Reforms.  In one unforgettable moment, I delivered a speech in-front of the 15 justices of the Supreme Court sharing them my story of incarceration and redemption.  Almost in tears, one of the female justices approached me and whispered, “our courts could only express our apology.”

Apologies accepted! But more than apology, I wanted our leaders to act more in behalf of the inmates and other downtrodden people.  I wanted them to develop a passion for the people they are serving.  Using my extensive experience on how the inefficacy of the prison records lengthen the stay of inmates in jail, and inspiring a group of computer programmers, we came up with a Simplified Inmates Records System (SIRS) that computerized the inmates’ carpeta.  We also developed a Detainees Notebook, where inmates can self-monitor their own cases.  These efforts to de-clog the jail were eventually noticed by the Quezon City government; which awarded me the Outstanding Citizen Award in 2005. Three years after treated a lowly inmate in Quezon City Jail, I was honored as Quezon City’s model citizen.  God be the glory.

But when it rains, it pours.  My representation about the penal situation brought me everywhere. Eventually, I was chosen as one of the 10 Fulbright Scholars in August 2005. I was sent to Michigan State University for a Masters Degree in Criminal Justice.  For my masters’ thesis, I studied the correlates of victimization among Filipino respondents.  Impressed by my performance, the Department offered me another scholarship, this time for the Doctor in Philosophy.

The road to the PhD degree was a long and rigorous one.  I had to burn the candles to read theories about crime; I had to stay in the library for long periods to master the methods of collecting data; and I had to refresh my old mathematical skills in order to understand statistical analyses.  There were times that I almost gave up, asking God if I had made the right decision to pursue a PhD.  I had two kids by then and they were growing right in my eyes.

But once again, I clung to God’s promise. I remembered: He sent me to prison, and He plucked me out. Then, there must be a reason why He sent me to a foreign shore just to be the “Filipino expert” in Criminal Justice.  Indeed, He introduced me to a church family that nourished and deepened my understanding of His Word.  In my spiritual growth, I realized that any efforts to improve a justice or social system must be based on the foundation of truth and love.  And I used this biblical concept to guide my future efforts to improve my country’s justice system.  Indeed, after seven years, the same length of time I spent in jail, I am done with my masters and PhD degrees.

I marched tall and proud.  I marched to say thank you for all those who kept and continue to keep the faith.  I will reiterate: Hang on and never give up.  I marched to declare that everybody commits a mistake and it is important to learn and grow from it.  I marched to be a testimony to the triumph of the human spirit in the face of seemingly unending odds.  But most importantly, I marched as a proclamation of God’s love.

Raymund E. Narag. School of Criminal Justice, Michigan State University. 26 Baker Hall, East Lansing, Michigan 48823. Tel. No: 517-355-9537

Seth Godin: Problems and Constraints

November 9, 2010

One of my favorite bloggers is Seth Godin. I marvel at how he can post something every day, sometimes more than one post a day, and keep coming up with insights that stimulate and entertain.

Today, after coming from a workshop which I facilitated for a newly created unit of the Department of Agrarian Reform, I read his blog on Problems and Constraints. I wish I had read it before the workshop. It would have been a useful input during our discussions.

Here’s a sample of Seth:

Gravity is a constraint. If you’re a designing an airplane, it would be a lot easier without gravity as a concern, but hey, it’s not going away.

A problem is solvable. A constraint must be lived with.

For years, Apple viewed retail distribution as a constraint. They had to live with cranky independent computer stores, or big box mass merchants that didn’t display or sell their products well.

Using the internet and then their own stores, they eventually realized that this was actually a problem that could be solved, and it changed everything for them.

On the other hand, there are countless entrepreneurs who believe they can solve problems relating to funding or technology that are out of reach given their scale or background. They’d be better off if they accepted them as constraints and designed around them.

The art is in telling them apart.

Memories of Repression and Resistance: 2

September 22, 2009

This afternoon, I got a text message from a staff of Bandila, the nightly news program of ABS-CBN: “Today po air yun Sa Wari Ko segment namin.” A few days ago, a TV crew came to our rented place to shoot my contribution to “Sa Wari Ko.” I was asked to  give a three-minute reflection on what I think about martial law.

I said that I can’t help but look back at martial law from the point of view of a political detainee, since I spent nine of the 14 years from 1972 to 1986 in various detention centers and prisons. There are two lessons, I added, that we can draw from the experience of martial law. The first is that our ruling elite are capable of adopting a repressive form of rule. The second is that there are enough Filipinos who will rise in resistance.

I ended by quoting Ka Pepe Diokno who sent these comforting words to us in prison: “No matter how long the night, dawn will surely come.” We used that in the greeting cards we produced to give friends: “Manalig kang gaano mang kahaba ng gabi, darating rin ang liwanag.”

But dawn will surely come, even if we do not do anything about it. Freedom will not come unless we struggle for it.

While waiting for the Bandila segment, I think back to Friday the 13th in December 1974. I should have been superstitious.

I had picked up a note the day before, at a drop point in an office of a religious congregation. The message was from my contact in the underground resistance. He asked to meet me “in the first place where we met” which only the two of us knew. He had failed to show up for a previous appointment. His explanation in the note was that there had been arrests, “may sunog” in the language of the UG movement, and we should meet to plan how to regroup.

What he wrote was the truth, but not the whole truth. Later, in prison, we pieced together the story. A few days earlier, there were military raids on a network of UG houses in Baguio City, and a number of activists were arrested. During tactical interrogation which involved torture, most stood firm and refused to give any information. But one or two eventually yielded information that led to another series of raids and arrests in MetroManila.

One military raiding team caught a labor organizer while he was ironing his pants. The soldiers pressed him for information about his contacts, and when he refused, they pressed the hot iron against the soles of his feet. But they couldn’t get him to talk.

My contact was also arrested, and also refused to give any information, even under duress. But at night, his interrogators put him on a military jeep, and while it was speeding on a deserted highway, they pushed him out of the vehicle. He managed to hold on to the jeep, but the rest of his body was strung out of the speeding jeep. He told me later that at that moment, he thought of his wife who had just given birth to their child. That broke him, and he agreed to cooperate with his captors.

They asked him to write the note and deliver it to our usual drop point.

That afternoon of Friday the 13th of December 1974, I set out to our meeting place, Luisa and Sons restaurant on Claro M. Recto street. On the way there, I felt some unease, but dismissed it. The note I received seemed authentic. Only the two of us knew where we first met, and there was an urgent need to regroup after the arrests.

I spotted him sitting at a table. I took a seat across him, and ordered a glass of pineapple juice. He seemed worried and despondent, so I tapped his cheeks and asked how he was. Suddenly someone grabbed my left arm. I managed to shake it off, and ran toward the entrance of the restaurant. A couple of  men in civilian clothes were waiting there, pointing their guns at me. I ran back toward the band stage of the restaurant, intending to grab the mike and tell people who I was.

I followed the standard movement advice to create public commotion during arrest, and shouted “Call the police!” I still remember one of the arresting unit muttering to me: “We are the police!” Eventually they managed to push me down on the floor and handcuff me. I was quickly loaded into a military vehicle and brought to the headquarters of the Metropolitan Command, for a brief interview. 

I gathered that I was arrested by a composite unit. I had to wait while they argued over who should have custody over me. The eventual winner was the intelligence unit Z-2, whose area of operations covered the whole of Northern Luzon and Central Luzon. Since its headquarters were in Camp Olivas in Pampanga, I was brought there, and placed in a small room, my left arm handcuffed to a metal cot, to await tactical interrogation.

That was the first day of my first detention, which lasted five years, four months, and five days.

I did not spend all those years in the same detention cell. From Camp Olivas, I was transferred for a month to the YRC in Fort Bonifacio, then ordered to be brought back to a newly built detention place in Camp Olivas. After a few months, I was transferred to Camp Crame, and from there, to three different sections of the newly opened Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan.

There are many stories to tell about those different prisons, for another time.

For now, I entertain the thought that those first five years (and the four years of my second detention) give me grounds to claim a special expertise in “comparative prison architecture.”

Memories of Repression and Resistance: 1

September 21, 2009

It’s an hour before midnight of September 21, 2009.

I think back to this morning and the  memorial service at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani to honor the martyrs and heroes of the resistance to martial law. The recurring slogans for September 21 are “We will remember!” and “Never Again!” But this year, we decided to emphasize another: “Itayo ang bantayog ng mga bayani sa bawa’t puso!”

It’s an hour before midnight, and I can’t help but think of September 21 many years ago.

On Thursday, September 21, 1972, President Marcos signed Proclamation 1081, imposing martial rule in the Philippines. But he didn’t promulgate it until Saturday, September 23.

Rumors were rife, of course, about possible martial law, but most people I talked to were predicting a much later date, probably October. So I still joined a protest march to Plaza Miranda, sponsored by the Concerned Christians for Civil Liberties, that Thursday afternoon. 

I remember being asked to address the rally, and saying, “We who can still speak openly, should use our voice for the sake of the voiceless.” The Manila Times issue on Friday, September 22, carried a photo of that last rally. That turned out to be its last issue.

That same Friday, I spoke at a forum of college students, somewhere in Quezon City. When asked what I thought about Marcos possibly declaring martial law, I said that he may think that is not how best to repress us. “If he strips us of our rights in one dramatic act, that will provoke resistance. If he strips us gradually, we may not resist until it is too late..” I think I even cited the story of the frog who would leap  out of a pot of boiling water, but would stay in the pot if the water were slowly heated, until it was too late to jump out.

Later, I cited this “analysis” as evidence that no one should trust the logic of my political judgment, at least not about the “capability and intentions” of the elite.

It’s a good thing I didn’t sleep that Friday night in the seminary. I think I had another meeting in an urban poor community, before spending the night at an activist HQ. When I went to Christ the King Seminary on Saturday morning, the seminarians were out on the front lawn. “The military were here early morning. They knocked on your door and wanted to take you to Camp Crame. They showed us your photo and asked where you were.”

My immediate thoughts were about Julius Fortuna and other activists of the Movement for a Democratic Philippines. They had asked me for a safe place to stay, and I had brought them to the house of my relatives. I took a taxi to fetch them. They had heard about martial law being declared, though there was still no official announcement; just radio silence. 

Where to hide? I called some nuns who were friends and activists. They agreed to receive us in their convent. Was it there that we watched the TV proclamation? My memory is fuzzy. What I recall is that we asked for reading materials, and the nuns gave Julius (May he rest in peace) a set of the Selected Writings of Mao Tse Tung. For me, they found a hard bound edition of the Jerusalem Bible

The next days were tense. It was hard to figure out what was news or rumor. We managed to establish skeletal communications with other activist groups, but most were in hiding, and moving from place to place, to avoid being fixed targets.

Our religious hosts contacted some elite families they knew, and whom they trusted would take the risk of offering us shelter in their homes. Julius and I must have spent a few days with three or four different families.

We were introduced with pseudonyms, to protect our hosts and us. But one morning, at breakfast, the children of our host family greeted me with a somewhat mischievous smile. “We know who you really are,” one of them said.

They didn’t wait for me to ask how they knew. One of them showed me the last issue of Manila Times, Friday, September 22. There on the back page, was a photo of our Thursday rally. On top of the makeshift stage, holding a microphone, there I was, addressing the rally.

Next day, we were informed that a proper “UG house” had been set up. We thanked our hosts, and moved to the next mode of  existence.

9/11 and a Phone Call: part 3

July 24, 2009

Even the best will have to struggle to survive

The policies of EPIRA are not quite like the jumbo jets targeting the electric cooperatives. In fact EPIRA’s main target are the generation and transmission part of the electric power industry. Former secretary Viray even admitted in a public speech that in crafting EPIRA, they did not take into account the specific situation and needs of the electric cooperatives. But there is a lot of potential “collateral damage.”

The open access regime of EPIRA means that big loads can have direct connections to the generation companies. Of course this is their right and will probably result in lower rates for them, especially if the generation company is a sister company. But it will deprive the ECs of the scale of load that allows them to take care of the numerous smaller loads, including the lifeline raters.

It is not clear in EPIRA if the existing policy of total electrification of the Philippines especially in rural areas and remote areas is affirmed. Or has it been downplayed, or worse, dropped? Will those barangays, sitios, and households without access have to wait till their incomes go up and till their population density increases before the electric lines are extended to them? 

EPIRA gives the ECs the option to become stock for-profit coops or corporations. Although this is optional, the fact that these options have been introduced means that it is the new intent of the law. Otherwise it would have focused on giving incentives to the ECs to be efficient and competitive while remaining non-stock non-profit.

From his vantage point as a national official, Fr. Silva has warned the ECs about what EPIRA will bring about.  He has assembled the GMs of the best performing cooperatives for what he called “survival sessions.”

For some GMs, it seemed like hyperbole. But after considering the various challenges, the realization sank in. There was also a sinking feeling that so many factors are beyond the direct control of the electric coops or even NEA.

The way to start is with what is within the control of the ECs and NEA. It is clear that the ECs cannot respond only individually. They need to act in solidarity. Hence the need to strengthen their leadership and their culture. But they also need to influence the general public and policy makers.

Be pure as doves, but prudent as serpents

The biblical advice for trying to live our faith in a world that is a mix of good and bad, opportunities and threats, is not often explicitly preached by Fr, Paking. But he practices it.

Many years later, Fr. Silva shared the story behind his 9/11 decision to accept the position of NEA Administrator.  He had refused it when President Ramos first offered. He refused again when President GMA offered the same position a few days after she took office in 2001.

But nine months later, DOE Secretary Perez asked him again. He explained that there were 23 applicants, all with political patrons, vying for the position of NEA Administrator. Whomever they choose to appoint, the patrons of the losers will be offended. But if Fr. Paking Silva accepts, the applicants will all withdraw because of his credentials.

The offer was to serve for a limited time, just four months till the end of 2001, enough time to insure a smooth transition. After that, he was told that he could step down and the deputy administrator Edita Bueno could take over his place as NEA Administrator .

“But why did I stay on much longer?” He answered his own question. “Because as soon as I took office, I was not only attacked from various quarters, but some even issued threats against my life.” That was the mistake of his enemies who thought they could pressure him to leave.

If there is one thing his friends know about Fr. Silva, it is that he cannot be intimidated. One of the stories he tells is about his first assignment to a town where the parish priest couldn’t keep his door open because the town bullies threw stones at his convent. When he was assigned, he issued a warning against the most notorious toughie, challenging him to a duel on the town plaza. When the gang leader didn’t show up, he went to his house and shouted at him to come out. Later they became good friends, as well as with the other gangs in the town.

Fr. Paking had done his investigations into NEA and the networks of those attacking him. Maybe that is where Rolly helped him, since he had done the same for me in TESDA. He would announce publicly at NEA meetings “There are there are only 11 corrupt people in NEA. I will declare first a 100 day ‘amnesia.’ But after that, if you persist, I will not only file cases against you to jail you. I will personally punch you.”

After a year of service, he wrote a letter to GMA asking to step down, but she set up an event where she publicly said: “Stand by me.”

He said he could not refuse that call. But after reorganizing NEA and setting up the new NEA, he irrevocably resigned and offered to serve as consultant to the new NEA Administrator. Instead, GMA decided to create a special cabinet position for him, the Presidential Adviser on Rural Electrification.

Preparing for transitions.  Fr. Paking Silva is committed to the cause of rural electrification, which he considers the greatest revolution for progress, and also the most effective anti-poverty program. He seeks out people whom he think can also commit themselves.

But he is also realistic in his assessment of the role of politics in the program. When the 2004 elections were drawing near, he suggested that I pursue my inclination to work with the opposition and break my open ties with him. That way, in case the opposition wins, I can guard the interest of the program, or at least prevent someone from being appointed who would have no sympathy for or understanding of the program.


The same concern looms as 2010 approaches. He is identified with the GMA presidency and while he can argue forcibly with her, once the decision is made, he says “I am a team player.” But what happens then, when another president is in power, with another set of government officials in charge of the power sector?

Some years ago, I traveled from Dumaguete via the southern route to Toledo City where the People Development Academy is located. It was another September 11, and when I got in, I was greeted with smiles. It wondered why there was some mischief in their smiles. It turned out that while I was away, Fr. Paking discussed the idea of an organization of rural electrification advocates which he wanted to call the September 11 Movement, and he had told them that I would be its president.

That initiative did not continue in its original form. What we are now organizing is the Electric Consumers Advocacy of the Philippines, or ECAP. This is where Fr. Paking Silva and I expect to be working together, in solidarity with the ECs so we can help the rural electrification movement weather the storms of EPIRA.

Senior Citizen Moments

June 15, 2009

This afternoon, after a hurried lunch, I rushed to the Department of Foreign Affairs to renew my passport, and experienced some pleasant “senior moments.”

I had gone to Makati to apply for a visa to South Africa to attend the board meeting of GCE, the Global Campaign for Education. But the consular staff asked me to get a new passport: “Your passport is somewhat damaged,” she said, “and I can’t promise that immigration will accept it even if you have a visa.”

The taxi ride from Makati to Pasay City  took much longer than I wanted. I was worried that I wouldn’t make it to my 3 p.m. appointment in Quezon City . I was scheduled to meet the staff of the Foundation for Philippine Environment who asked me as chair of the FPE Board of Trustees to give them some directions for their assessment and planning workshop.

I breathed a bit easier after I got my passport photo taken, xeroxed my old passport, and filled up the application form in less than 15 minutes.

The security guard directed me to the covered basketball court to have my papers validated. As soon as I got in, my heart sank. There must have been hundreds patiently seated in long rows, waiting for their appointed hour. The sign at the last row read “3 to 4 p.m.”

I was told to go to a small table to get my appointment time. I calculated that I would be at the tail end of the last row..

“Are you a senior citizen?” the person at the table asked without checking my papers. Must be my graying hair. I should tell Ayen, my daughter, who has been urging me to dye it. He instructed me: “Go directly to Window A, then Window B.”

That took less than five minutes. I was starting to feel good about being a senior citizen.

Where do I go next? Another guard pointed to Gate 3. I dutifully lined up at the end of a double loop. At the rate the line was moving, it would take at least an hour. There was no sign of a separate line for senior citizens. I thought I might as well leave for Quezon City.

Two young women, escorted by a guard,  joined the line behind me. The guard noticed me, probably my hair again, and asked: “Are you a senior citizen?” When I nodded, he told me I need not wait in line. Feeling good again.

Inside the room processing applications for passport renewal, there were around 50 applicants waiting in their seats. Again, my heart sank. I may have to wait for a while.

Then the guard at the door called my attention, and pointed to a separate window. The sign said it was reserved for senior citizens. The clerk checked my papers, asked me to sign my name and place my thumb marks. I paid at the cashier’s window (the line was a short one). I returned to the senior citizens window to get a slip of paper asking me to pick up my new passport after  seven working days.

Unfortunately, there is no way they could process it faster. I immediately texted Thea, the national coordinator of E-Net Philippines to take my place in the GCE board meeting, since the release of my new passport does not give me enough time to apply for a visa.

On the way back to Quezon City, I silently gave thanks for the laws that benefit senior citizens and which have also set the tone for other policies and government processes.

Actually my first pleasant “senior moment” was some years back when I waited for over 30 minutes, unable to get into the crowded cars of the MRT. Then I was told that the first car is reserved for women, those traveling with children, and senior citizens. Since then, though the first car is usually crowded, I have managed to squeeze myself into whatever space is available.

Return of Murderous Thoughts

June 3, 2009

How many times have you murdered people in your mind before falling asleep?

I must have done this more than a dozen times when I was very young.

My murderous thoughts were triggered by petty reasons – some personal slight, some unresolved quarrel. But I wouldn’t sleep unless I replayed the offense and the sense of being aggrieved, and imagined ways I could exact revenge, including “terminating with extreme prejudice” to borrow a CIA phrase I learned much later in life.

When I talk about this at seminars, I joke that there was a peculiar feature of my imagining that was an early sign of my calling to be a priest.

When I thought of killing someone I hated, I didn’t think of simply killing him (it was always another boy). I wanted to kill him only after I was sure that he had committed a “mortal sin.” That way, I was sure that he would not only depart from this life, but would suffer forever in hell.

Of course I have outgrown such childish quirks, or so I thought.

But last night, after following the proceedings in Congress that brazenly railroaded the resolution on con-ass, I couldn’t sleep until I yielded to my childhood ritual.

The images and sequences were straight from the movie “V.”  

An outraged group barge into the main hall of Congress. They escort the opposition and the gallery  out to safety, and bolt the doors. Then they turn hoses on the triumphant majority. But instead of water, the hoses spout gasoline. They throw their torches and watch the majority flail and burn. They post the slow-motion clips on You Tube.

Then I slept a dreamless sleep.

The morning after, my conscience reminded me of Christ’s words that we are already responsible for acts that we only think about, even if we don’t actually do them.

Mea culpa.

Pinoy Love Songs

December 19, 2008

This morning, I attended a quick meeting at the office of ARC to discuss updates and possible next moves on agrarian reform. Bel Formanes of PARRDS told us that Bishop Pabillo and other church leaders told farmer leaders and AR advocates: “Rest a bit, and recover your energies after the hunger strike. We move again after the Christmas season.”

From there I went to NEA to get updates on  OMECO, the electric coop in Occidental Mindoro, whose consumer-members and employees are up in arms over anomalous acts of the general manager. It was not the only problem on the full plate of NEA Administrator Edith Bueno. “Anyway,” she said, ” as soon as this Christmas season is over, we will move decisively.”

Back home, Girlie played the CDs we bought, of Patatag and Jess Santiago. Together with our daughter Ayen, she has been pressing me to learn new songs other than my favorites from prison and the struggle years. “When will you sing me some love songs?” she asks.

We both liked Laging Ikaw, the love song Jess Santiago sang at the Ganito Kami Noon reunion, especially the untranslatable quirky Pinoy humor of lines like Sa ginaw ko/ Ikaw ang kumot/ Sa kati ko/ ikaw ang kamot.

Even more Pinoy is the merging of food and eros:  Ikaw ang niyog/ sa puto-bumbong/ Sa kare-kare/ Ikaw ang bagoong.

And these contemporary Pinoy lines for the texting capital of the world: Sa isip ko/ Ikaw ang SIM card/ Ikaw ang charger/ Pag puso’y low-batt.

Listening to the song brought back the smiles and good feelings we shared in Antipolo. And as added bonus, Girlie sang along. One of her fantasies is to be reincarnated as a chanteuse. “Memorize this song,” she said. “That’s my Christmas order!”

As I typed the lyrics, I thought I might as well share them with others. Here are the lyrics that span traditional and contemporary images, unmistakably Pinoy:

Laging ikaw sa aking puso/ Laging ikaw sa aking isip

Dahil ikaw, tanging ikaw ang pag-ibig

Ikaw ang pook ng aking saan

Ikaw ang petsa sa aking kailan

Ikaw ang bilang ng aking ilan

Sa bawat paano, ikaw ang paraan

Sa bawat bakit, ikaw ang dahilan

Dahil ikaw/ Tanging ikaw/ Laging ikaw ang pag-ibig

Sa ginaw ko, ikaw ang kumot

Sa kati ko, ikaw ang kamot

Sa pilay ko, ikaw ang hilot

Sa bawat sugat, ikaw ang gamot

Ikaw ang idlip sa aking antok

Sa aking hilik, ikaw ang yugyog

Ikaw ang ginhawa sa aking pagod

Ang ligaya sa aking lungkot

Dahil ikaw, tanging ikaw, ang pag-ibig

Ikaw ang talas ng aking purol

Ikaw ang tatas ng aking bulol

Ikaw ang niyog ng puto-bumbong

Sa kare-kare, ikaw ang bagoong

Ikaw ang sagot sa bawat bugtong

Dahil ikaw, tanging ikaw, ang pag-ibig

Sa turing ko, ikaw ang tawad

Sa dagdag ko, ikaw ang bawas

Sa kulam ko, ikaw ang tawas

Sa kahinaan ko, ikaw ang lakas

Ikaw ang abante ng aking atras

Ikaw ang preno sa aking paspas

Ikaw ang hinahon sa aking dahas

Ikaw ang simula at ikaw ang wakes

Dahil ikaw, tanging ikaw, ang pag-ibig

Ikaw ang larawan sa aking locket

Ikaw ang pera sa aking wallet

Ikaw ang susi sa bawat silid

ng pag-ibig

Sa isip ko ikaw ang SIM card

Ikaw ang charger pag puso’y low-batt

Ikaw ang text, ikaw ang tawag

ng pagliyag

Dahil ikaw, tanging ikaw, laging ikaw

In Antipolo, as I laughed at Jess Santiago’s sly humor, I told Girlie that I was reminded of a Gary Granada song, bitter-sweet with Gary’s elfish images. I checked his website, and found this kindred song:

Mabuti pa ang mga surot, laging mayrong masisiksikan
Mabuti pa ang bubble gum, laging mayrong didikitan
Mabuti pa ang salamin, laging mayrong tumitingin
Di tulad kong laging walang pumapansin

Mabuti pa ang mga lapis, sinusulatan ang papel
At mas mapalad ang kamatis, maya’t maya napipisil
Napakaswerte ng bayong, hawak ng aleng maganda
Di tulad kong lagi na lang nag-iisa

Ano ba’ng wala ako na mayron sila
Di man lang makaisa habang iba’y dala-dalwa
Pigilan n’yo akong magpatiwakal
Mabuti pa ang galunggong nasasabihan ng “mahal”

Kahit ang suka ay may toyo at ang asin may paminta
Mabuti pa ang lumang dyaryo at yakap-yakap ang isda
Mabuti pa sila, mabuti pa sila
Di tulad kong lagi na lang nag-iisa

Mabuti pa ang simpleng tissue at laging nahahalikan
Mabuti pa ang mga bisyo, umaasang babalikan
Mabuti pa sila, mabuti pa sila
Di tulad kong lagi na lang nag-iisa

Pigilan n’yo akong magpatiwakal
Bakit si Gabby Concepcion lagi na lang kinakasal

Mabuti pa ang mga isnatser, palaging may naghahabol
Ang aking luma na computer, mayron pa ring compatible
Mabuti pa sila, mabuti pa sila
Di tulad kong lagi na lang nag-iisa


November 26, 2008

For three days at the SEAMEO Innotech, November 25 to 27, an international conference is pursuing a series of conversations on “Transitions for Youth Success: Creating Pathways for Work and Life.”

For tomorrow’s closing session, I have been asked to summarize the conversations. But of course there is no way to do justice to the rich and diverse voices that have been heard. All I can do is to highlight the main recurring themes and threads.

This afternoon, the Innotech staff showed a short video of youth voices from the Philippines, talking about what success means to them, what makes them happy, and what future they hope for. It was well edited, the music and the images catching the spirit of the young voices.

That gave me an idea which I broached to Linda Pefiangco, director of Innotech. “Can I ask your communications group to help me shoot interviews with the youth delegates from the different ASEAN countries? I want them to contribute to my summary.”

She readily agreed and Carol, head of the unit, worked out arrangements with me. We would shoot a rep from each country at the end of the afternoon session.

The good idea felt even better when many of the rapporteurs from the workshop groups spoke. Most of them were youth delegates, and they were confident and articulate.

But just before the session ended, I got bad news. The young delegates informed the staff that they had already planned to have a break from the conference, to do some shopping before dinner.

It would be a downer to ask them to stay for an hour for the interviews.

Still, I want them to be part of the summary report, so I requested for a quick 10-minute meeting with them. “Remain standing,” I told them, “so this meeting will really be quick.” I explained my idea, and they liked it. But since we can’t shoot them tonight, I told them we will just go “live” tomorrow, and I will ask them for their views during my presentation.

All I asked from them is to choose one rep from each country whom I can call for a live interview tomorrow. And whenever they find time to do so, I asked them to help their rep prepare answers to three questions about the conference conversations.

The questions follow the three “As” which I use for evaluation: A-1, A-2, and A-3.

A-1 is for “Affirm.” What did you know and believe in before the conference that have been confirmed and reinforced by the conversations?

A-2 is for “Add.” What new knowledge has been added through the conversations – facts, ideas, proposals?

A-3 is for “Alter.” This is usually the more difficult question. What ideas did you have that have been challenged during the conversations? You may not have immediately changed them, but you felt the need to reconsider.

By noon tomorrow, I look forward to checking with the young delegates what they have chosen to say.

Picking up the concept of the conference as “conversations” I thought back to the conversations I had when I was in the underground resistance. It may have been due to a combination of intense conviction and the feeling that at any time I would be arrested (or even killed, though I hardly ever thought about this), but there was a tendency to want “every conversation to end in a conversion.”

The intensity and urgency of such conversations may have led to faster conversions, but may also have turned off others from pursuing further conversations.

But in a restored democracy and the market of open debates, it is not easy to adjust to the notion that a conversation need not end in any immediate conversion. After the exchange of ideas, each one may leave with the same original convictions, but hopefully with a better understanding of one’s own and the other person’s positions.