Friday, September 19, 2008

Blood in Her Hands

Yesterday morning I took part in a media forum on how journalists can better report on Mindanao. The forum, or media dialogue, zeroed in on the aborted Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (AD) which triggered the ongoing shooting war, albeit limited at present to certain areas of Mindanao, between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the government.

The dialogue also examined the media’s reporting on the conflict and how this exacerbated the distrust and misunderstanding between the different peoples of Mindanao regarding the MOA-AD. Among the speakers of the dialogue was Professor Rudy Rodil, the vice chairman of the dissolved government peace panel.

In the forum, Professor Rodil said the job of disseminating information on the MOA-AD was not theirs alone and in fact they conducted continuous consultations at the local level in the course of the peace talks with the MILF. Talks with the MILF, in fact, started in 1997, one year after the government concluded a peace deal with the Moro National Liberation Front(MNLF) so local consultations have been going on and off for the past eleven years.

On this the Professor is right. Any settlement with the MILF is political in nature and while the panel may have been tasked to negotiate on the government’s behalf, in the end any agreement would have to bear the imprimatur of the President. It must therefore follow that, in explaining the MOA-AD to the various shareholders, media included, the Executive should have taken the lead.

It can be argued, and in fact the point has already been made countless times by various personalities, that the President lacks the political capital to push for the acceptance of such a momentous document, especially since a final peace agreement would necessitate changing certain provisions of the Constitution. There is simply so much distrust on the part of the political opposition, civil society groups and even among members of the media for the President.

Nevertheless a concerted effort should have been made as the issue of a just peace with the Bangsamoro people is more important than the intramurals of the political elite. The problem was, there never was any coherent message coming from the President regarding the context of the MOA-AD and how this may pave the way for an end to the conflict with the MILF. Instead, what emanated from the Executive was a garbled message, a fact that was immediately exploited by politicians with their own selfish vested interests.

What is even worse is, with the dissolution of the government peace panel, there is an impression that the President is leaving the panel members to take all the heat, or out in the cold as the case may be, as if she was clueless to what the panel was doing all these years.

Then, too, the Executive allowed itself to be boxed into a corner by the national media when it could have seized the initiative and explained the nuances of the document to the same. It has always been an admitted shortcoming on the part of the national media to indulge in stereotyping Mindanao stories. That is a sad fact—the national media tends to, at best, sensationalize the periodic violence, or threats of violence, in Mindanao.

I also remember reading about how the peace process is being supposedly used to propel the ChaCha Train days before the President even announced the breakthrough in the peace negotiations with the MILF during her State of the Nation Address last July. Why the President never bothered to explain herself in clear, unequivocal language is beyond me. Instead what we got was often conflicting explanations from various high officials of government.

In the end the inevitable happened—media hyped the many incendiary statements from politicians, there was confusion with regard to just what the MOA-AD is all about, and rogue commanders of the MILF attacked civilian communities. And even now, we are still picking up the pieces; we are still bearing the consequences of a peace deal gone sour.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Now Pacquiao Must Fight Marquez

Juan Manuel Marquez’s annihilation of Joel Casamayor Saturday sends a strongly worded challenge to Manny Pacquiao, a challenge Pacquiao must accept if the Pacman intends to truly carve out a place for himself among the greatest fighters in the history of boxing.

In bulking up to lightweight, Pacquiao chose to fight David Diaz, considered as the weakest of the lightweight champions. Marquez, on the other hand, fought Casamayor, considered the linear champion of the division.

And as everybody knows, too, Marquez bulked up to lightweight to chase after Pacquiao who abandoned the 130-pound division after squeezing past Marquez last March.

Pacquiao-Marquez II, billed “Unfinished Business,” was a fight that could have gone either way with neither fighter dominating the other. And, if anything, boxing is a sport that is in essence about beating the other guy into submission.
It is a sport about pitting one man’s skill, one man’s courage and heart, against the other. But sadly, boxing is also undeniably a business.

Pacquiao has a date with the Golden Boy in December. But the fight with Oscar de la Hoya is more about the money, the mega money, than anything else. It is an anomaly. Entertaining for sure but the disparity in size and weight between Pacquiao, who started his professional boxing career two pounds below the junior flyweight limit of 108 pounds, and de la Hoya is such that the fight can only be called a circus of some sort.

Whether Pacquiao can fight effectively at 147 pounds, after putting on an additional 12 pounds above his fighting weight, is doubtful. The same can be said for de la Hoya who will have to fight at 147 pounds after competing as a junior middleweight and above since 2001.

Neither Pacquiao nor de la Hoya will therefore be at his fighting best for the December 6 fight which is now being dubbed as the “Dream Match.”

In contrast, a third fight with Marquez is the only logical fight left for Pacquiao after de la Hoya. Pacquiao has said that his fight with the Golden Boy is the first of his last three fights as he intends to retire from boxing in time for the 2010 elections.

Aside from the de la Hoya fight, Pacquiao is also eying another mega-buck fight with Ricky Hatton in an attempt, perhaps, to shore up his campaign kitty. Whether there is any wisdom in squandering his hard earned money to win a political seat is not for us to say. What Pacquiao does with his money is his own business. But there is little doubt that money is becoming a big factor in Pacquiao’s choice of who to fight.

Then, too, Marquez is not getting any younger. Marquez is only six months younger than de la Hoya who, at 35, is now considered way past his prime. If Pacquiao dilly-dallies further in fighting Marquez, he may lose his chance in validating his crown as the best pound for pound fighter.

After winning his fight with Casamayor, Marquez once again issued the oft-repeated challenge for a third do-or-die battle. Marquez has certainly gone to a lot of trouble to bait Pacquiao to a third outing, even going as far as to come to the Philippines just to press for a third fight.

But will Marquez’s decisive win over the previously undefeated Casamayor finally make the fighter in Pacquiao listen? Or will Pacquiao become another de la Hoya who is first and foremost a businessman?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Martial Law Baby

Like many others born between the years 1972 to 1986, I am what they call a Martial Law Baby. I do not really know what that means except, perhaps, that my generation is nearing middle age.

It is just a tag, a means of identifying the generation I belong to. It does not hold any meaning other than to differentiate my generation from, say, Generation X.

When Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in September 21, 1972, he ushered in one of the darkest chapters of Philippine history. Curiously, courtesy perhaps of my relatively sheltered provincial middle class upbringing, I have no traumatic recollection of the Martial Law years. But I do remember feeling Marcos’ omnipresence in my childhood.

I remember studying the origins of the Filipino in history books and such and seeing a likeness of Marcos as Makisig, the mythical first Filipino, and Imelda Marcos as Maganda, the first Filipina. I remember the earliest books on reading and writing always featured Pepe and Pilar and of course Bantay, the loyal mongrel. It was always Pepe this, Pilar that and “run, Bantay, run.”

I remember having to line up for nutribun. In the school that I went to it was not given for free. I remember having to buy my ration of the so called nutrient-filled, rock-hard bun for twenty five centavos. It was brownish and sweet and sometimes you’d find little insects mixed with the flour but once you dunked it in Lem-o-Lime it was not so bad.

I remember we were all agog with Voltes Five, Daimos, Mazinger-Z. Like kids of today, we were crazy over video games. There were no Play Station nor X Box back in the day so you’d have to go to Ororama in Cogon where the video machines were and line up for tokens. That or if you were a little older you’d go straight to the section where they sell Lord Wally, swipe a little into your palm, style your hair and then wait for the girls from Lourdes.

Marcos eventually outlawed video games as it was becoming too popular among school children. We felt this a terrible injustice then. We could never understand how playing speed racer could corrupt our minds.

I was in grade five when Ninoy was shot in the Manila International Airport. The assassination apparently triggered mass protests in Manila. There were only two channels on TV then, Channel 9 and Channel 12. The late Harry Gasser was the guy who read the news for Channel 9 but I do not remember watching all the bad news from Manila. The news was of course sanitized by the censors but as far as we were concerned the murder of Ninoy never upstaged our interest in the space adventures of Buck Rogers or of the Starship Enterprise.

Maybe our generation got tagged with the wrong label. We were born during Martial Law but the tag always sounded a little wrong, as wrong as a jar of sandwich spread labeled as peanut butter. None of us ever marched in the First Quarter Storm, nor in the many other marches and public demonstrations against Marcos. None of us ever died fighting the dictatorship, none of us even knew something was terribly wrong with the country. At best we were post Martial Law, the generation that marched post-Marcos, if at all.

But there is no getting away. People, when seeing our birthdates, will always conclude,”Ah so you’re a Martial Law baby.” And that’s just it—we were still babies during Martial Law, dead to the affairs of the world, carefree and preoccupied only with the silly games of children.

And always, at least on my part, there is that nagging feeling that our generation missed it’s turn manning the front. Our grandfathers fought the great war, our fathers and brothers fought Marcos. As for us, there is that silly little voice at the back of our heads that says we really have fought no one.

We are Martial Law babies. Perhaps now is our time to finally start fighting for causes greater than ourselves.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I recently stumbled upon an article in Newsweek about United States Republican candidate for President John McCain. Among the many revelations about the man is McCain’s curious choice of his personal hero, Robert Jordan, a fictional character and the protagonist of Ernest Hemingway’s famous novel For Whom The Bell Tolls.

I do not particularly care for McCain. Nor for Obama for that matter. Like the rest of the world, I view the upcoming US elections from a spectator’s point of view although, like the rest of the world, I am keenly aware that the results of the coming US elections affects all of us, regardless of where we live.

I say McCain’s personal hero is curious because the fictional Robert Jordan is, above all, an idealist. Hemingway’s protagonist is a fictional American volunteer in the International Brigades which fought the fascist forces under Generalisimo Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Robert Jordan is a believer in great causes, so much so that he is willing to die for them. And Robert Jordan in fact does die at the end of the novel.

Personal heroes speak greatly of the mettle of the men that hold them. Heroes, unlike the passing interest on the idols of our youth, help define the lives we try to live. If for example we hold the Christians’ Jesus or the Muslims’ Muhammad as heroes, then it must follow that we would try to live our lives as closely to those that we hold in high regard. Thus it is always interesting to know just who our leaders look up to.

But I can not remember the subject of personal heroes of our candidates ever generating the same amount of interest during our own elections. We do not seem to particularly care who they look up to just as long as they project an agreeable image. Here it is not so much the man, or the woman as the case may be, but the image. It is not so much the stuff they are made of but how they are perceived in public.

Take the example of Joseph Erap Estrada. He became President chiefly because of his having played hero roles in movies. Erap passed himself off as the real deal, the uncompromising good guy, the man who always fought on the side of ordinary folks. Never mind if it was all make believe.

This is rather unfortunate because, if anything, we are again being set up. Our own national elections are still a good year and eight months away but already politicians coveting the juiciest posts are mounting their respective campaigns, albeit unofficially.

“Mr. Palengke”, “Sipag at Tiyaga”, “Mr. Clean,” etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Radio, TV, and print ads are all buzzing with catch phrases, words designed purposefully to paint a certain image; in advertising lingo—packaging.

And candidates are spending good money, too, buying airtime, paying for outsized posters publicizing their advocacies, purchasing ad space detailing their opinion on pressing issues.

Of course it is still too early in the game to say this is as good as it gets. We can always demand more; we can always say we deserve better than this.

Or is it now too late to trade form for substance? Especially since, from the looks of things, the pickings for quality candidates are getting slimmer and slimmer?
For all our sakes, I certainly hope not.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Funny Songs

I was driving my daughter to school the other day when my daughter said something that made me pause. A song I particularly liked was playing on the stereo and she asked, ever so sweetly,”Do you like listening to funny songs Papa?”

I have never really found the songs I listen to amusing. I am a child of the 80s and 90s. But as far as I can tell, none of the songs of that “era” were funny.

I mean, does anybody find Sting “funny”? Or Peter Gabriel? Does anybody crack up when listening to the Eraserheads, the penultimate Pinoy band of my generation?

I have never thought myself old, even when I started sleeping with a pillow tucked under my thighs. I have chronic back pain, you see. Not too long ago I discovered I slept better this way. But old? No way.

Instead of seeing it as an unmistakable sign that the old engine is breaking down, I thought of it more as the natural effects of perhaps a nasty spill, even when I hadn’t ridden my bike for weeks.

I’ve given up jogging. My knees can’t take the constant pounding. And I have a collapsed arch from my days playing soccer so I have pretty much given up on running as exercise. Besides, why jog when one can cycle?

As I write these my ankles are throbbing. Like Hell. Several months ago my knees acted up. It got so bad that I had to use a golf club to get around. I can’t walk decent but not once did I thought of using a cane. Canes are for patsies. Golf clubs, well, that’s another story. And good thinking , don’t you agree?

The doctor said I must have gout. I can’t have gout. Only old people have them. Not me. There is wisdom to second opinions afterall.

But I bought the painkillers and the Colchicine tablets just the same. No need limping around when access to years and years of medical research is on hand, you understand.

They say the only way to age gracefully is to embrace it and to sort of roll with the punches. But how can one, to use a cliché, age like wine when one can’t even walk decent? I’m not even sure I can use the golf club trick again as my daughter seems to have gotten wiser.


The secret to aging gracefully? Colchicine. And that’s with the second opinion.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Politics As Usual

Now that Malacanang has said that it is setting aside the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front(MILF), the sound of war drums in Manila seems to have suddenly fallen silent. Now that there is no more serious talk of amending the Constitution from the Palace, Manila politicians seem to have calmed down, like shrieking boys appeased with candy.

Gone are the hysterics. Gone are the high-pitched cries of treason and dismemberment of the Republic. Gone, too, is the urgency.

President Arroyo has agreed to give the Senate a direct hand in drafting a new peace accord with the MILF. So now we are back to zero. Now we can all say goodbye to the prospect of peace with the MILF, at least till the elections in 2010 are over. It is now politics as usual in Manila, war as usual in Mindanao.

Meanwhile, civilian militias are rising up in Mindanao, thanks to Secretary Puno. The Ilaga, a ghoulish outfit with a litany of atrocities to its name, has slithered its way from the dark past and into the light of the present.

Internal refugees are flocking to evacuation centers; casualties, combatants as well as civilians, are rising. We are, after all, now shooting instead of talking. But beyond the usual, feeble rhetoric calling for restraint, the silence from Manila is deafening.

The headlines have moved on; the war is now yesterday’s story. Mindanao is now yesterday’s story. Now, our politicians can again focus their energies to the coming political intramurals. Never mind the dead and the dying.

What else is new?