Saturday, December 22, 2007

Death of an intellectual

The Philippine Daily Inquirer news-eulogy on Adrian E. Cristobal Sr. didn’t mention that he kept friends.

By this, I mean Adrian, when he was alive, really remained steady with a coterie of friends that, like constellations gravitating around a planet, were drawn to Adrian’s light which shone like a sun’s.

I cannot claim to be one those, for the simple reason of age: his friends were his contemporaries and I knew him only when I was in my late twenties, (I was then an aide to the late Blas F. Ople, Adrian’s kumpadre, and one of his closest friends). Yet, I was drawn to him because I’m a fanatic of good writers, Ople and Adrian being two of the most serious writers I have ever encountered, walked with, and learned from.

Serious writers, much more, deep thinkers, are rare. And Adrian belonged to this rarefied race of artisans. This is not to be explained, for serious writers and deep thinkers prefer that their craft explain them. It is their work’s impact on society that serves as their badges, their identikit, and while alive, Adrian prominently wore his despite the difficulties of political labels that hounded him to the very end.

As a public intellectual, Adrian abhorred, despised, mediocrity and shallow thought, and thus spared no one from his acerbic tongue and the satiric tip of his pen. He was always quick on the draw when shooting down mundane ideas, but quicker in encouraging sincere discussion of issues affecting our common life. He was always engaged.

“O, buhay ka pa!” was his greeting when we last met at a birthday lunch of a writer, but I knew it was more of a compliment than a cynical jab at a willing apostle. There, I saw in his eyes his own sense of his mortality: he was already feeble in his steps.

I remember most vividly his exchanges with Ople about the burning issues of the day, exchanges which, to me, were on the highest level of serious thought that only public intellectuals were capable of. Adrian’s deep knowledge of public policy, foreign affairs, and history complemented Ople’s experience and learning as a writer and as a senator. His sagacity of mind and keen perception of historical currents would have made him an ideal public official, if there is such, but then again, he would have dismissed the idea, given at that time the degenerate culture of government.

As a member of the publications committee of the National Centennial Commission from 1997 to 1998, Adrian edited Siglo, the committee’s short-lived journal. Adrian himself predicted the journal’s “limited tenure” but he did not despair, saying Siglo would serve as a ‘vehicle’ for the most significant thinking on the themes and issues of the Philippine Revolution and Independence.

Revolution. Independence. These are two issues that Adrian took to heart in many of his writings. His favorite revolutionary persona was Andres Bonifacio, about whom he wrote a scholarly tome, “The Tragedy of the Revolution”, and an essay, “In Search of the Hero.”

In the latter, he tore to pieces the canon of some historians to “deconstruct” Bonifacio by saying their “historicizing” is a “mere elegant substitute for gossip.” He reserved his venom for the American historian who wrote that Bonifacio was an invention. He said the historian is a psychologist who has not gone to school. The poor American did not bother a reply. The wounds inflicted by Adrian’s pen must have incapacitated him.

Only 75 when he died yesterday, Adrian has joined his compatriot-writers and public intellectuals, like Ople, Salvador P. Lopez, Fred Mangahas, E. Aguilar Cruz, Nick Joaquin, I. P. Soliongco, and Guillermo de Vega in the great beyond. There, they could resume their debate and intellectual meditation, while we, the living, can remain reeling and stammering in our intellectual poverty because one by one, the few genius and really articulate public minds are slowly deserting us.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

An Education Agenda (Last Part)

The Need to Plan

During the past few years as a private citizen, we have been engaging the political leaders of our province, and even some of our national leaders, to incorporate this Education Agenda in our provincial and national programs. We are doing this with diligence and without fanfare because we know we are competing against many provincial and national priorities for limited provincial and state resources.

But for us to succeed in getting national attention, we must have first the intellectual honesty to understand the education needs of Sibalenhons. We need to scan the environment for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that are necessary elements in education planning.

How many teachers, for example, need to be trained and in what field? What are, for instance the most common causes that lead pupils and students to leave school? Why do some graduates find it difficult to get employed? What are the facilities we are most in need of? Is undernourishment a cause of underperformance in school? Do we have classroom, books, and desk shortages? Can our local government afford to pay incentives to our teachers? These are questions that we must have ready answers to be able to plan ahead.

It is therefore with a sense of optimism that I commend the leadership of the Concepcion National High School for organizing this event, and congratulate all of you for your happy participation.

By holding this Summit, the CNHS, as a public education institution, is playing its expected role of molding and shaping the young minds of Sibalenhons in preparation for the Knowledge Century. The CNHS, by its mandate, has been a visible presence in Sibale’s public affairs, even as it continues to make a mark through its graduates.

It can do more, however, to help in Sibale’s development efforts. For example, it should conceive training programs for out-of-school youths to enable them to acquire basic occupational skills, such as carpentry, welding, plumbing, masonry, practical electricity, and other blue-collar skills which today are in demand in the labor market. It can organize weekend literacy classes for women, story-telling for children, and even conduct livelihood programs, such as fish– and meat processing, for those who are interested in entrepreneurial activities.

These activities, while no longer confined in the four corners of the classroom, are education-related and will go a long way in empowering the Sibalenhon to prepare for the future. The CNHS can partner with the barangays, even with some private NGOs and civic organizations in carrying out such initiatives.

In my own, despite my very limited time, I can offer my expertise as a facilitator in communication training, value orientation, and institution building, which are all essential element of any education empowerment initiative. All I need to see is sincere commitment to pursue such a program.

The realization of our education goals needs a lot of investment in time and money. But more than the financial resources, we need communal unity, focus, and patience, with large doses of cooperation.

It can be done. To believe otherwise is defeatist and is not the Sibalenhon way.

If it will inspire you, a recent experience is instructive. Last week, Sibalenhons from all over Batangas, Cavite, Metro Manila, and Laguna celebrated our town fiesta in Lipa because we cannot come home on December 8. This has become a tradition and has been done the last few years. Naturally, we had a basketball tournament, in which my team, the Batlaw sa Lim-aw, fought for the Ragipon Cup. My team was underrated. It was a rag-tag team, composed of Sibalenhons whose egos are bigger in relation to their skills. No one has believed, except ourselves, that we will win the championship. We did it on sheer calm, focus, unity, and cooperation. Ranged against an unbeaten team with superior skills and over-confidence, we won on account of our organized, systematic, and single-minded effort to achieve our mission.

We, too, as leaders in education can achieve our mission. We can make a difference by making education an agenda and a priority.

The reward that we will reap, by investing in the education of all Sibalenhon citizens, would be enormously gratifying: it will ensure a brighter and more secure future than we could ever imagine. It will enable our children to get to where they want to be, in a position in life higher than where they had started. It will enable them to compete for the best jobs, to position themselves in business and society, and to realize their dreams of self-fulfillment and comfort.

I wish to end my remarks by quoting a paragraph from a poem I had written about a boy studying in Manila who wrote her mother for money. It goes this way:

Kada gani, Nanay, Tatay
Ako’y naghihingyo
Todohi pa baga ka inro pag-ampo
Kaling inro anak miskan asa mayado
Ako’y nag-aaray, nagpapaka-pakando

Finally, I hope we will have a productive Summit. I also hope that this Summit will be a uniting exercise, with the outcome becoming one more step forward toward a progressive Sibale.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

An Education Agenda (Part 3)

(Keynote address delivered at the Education Summit organized by and held at the Concepcion National High School on December 14, 2007. The Summit, the first in Sibale, drew over 80 participants.)

2. We must have decent and complete elementary education facilities.

We should start by having enough classrooms, desks,

books, and laboratory equipment. Our elementary schools must have toilets with running water. We should fence-in our campuses. We should have books at a ratio of one-is-to-one. We should have community libraries. And if we can, with enough political will and through the judicious use of scarce money resources, we should expand the pre-school feeding program to the elementary schools.

3. Our teachers should be well-trained and well-equipped.

The most important component of basic education is the teacher. We should attract the best and brightest elementary school teachers, whether Sibalenhon or not, to our schools. But it would be best if the teachers are Sibalenhons themselves. However, the important thing is that they should excel in their profession.

The municipal government, again, with enough political will and through the wise use of limited financial resources, should help implement a training program for our elementary teachers. It is not enough that our teachers graduate with teaching degrees and pass the teachers’ licensure examinations. They must continue to learn and imbibe the latest knowledge and techniques and acquire modern teaching skills. They must have their windows open to the global resource pool of knowledge and must breathe the winds of change.

The municipal government must reward our teachers. Incentives other than supplemental pay from municipal resources will not only motivate and inspire them but also lead them to excellence.

I propose that during this Summit, the operational mechanisms of activating and strengthening our local school board be thoroughly discussed and the modes of cooperation between the teachers, the parents, the students, and the local officials be finalized. The board should always meet in dialogue and act in a concerted fashion.

4. We should invest in ICT for our schools.

The power and wonder and efficacy of information and telecommunications technology are already here, in our midst, for us to use, benefit from, and harness. There is no excuse for our children in the elementary and high schools not to learn to use the computer, much less to have one which they can utilize. We must invest in computers. I realize that the Department of Education has limited resources, but we must ask for it. There is no harm in trying, but there is in failure to ask.

Every elementary school in our island must have at least one computer, complete with a printer, the basic computing software, and hooked to the World Wide Web via satellite. The municipal government should allocate the resources for this to materialize, and if it doesn’t have enough money, raise it from outside sources as soon as possible. It is a mortal omission and monumental neglect on the part of the municipal government not to have an Internet connection even for itself.

It is surprising that while almost everyone in Romblon is dreaming to be hooked to the grid of the global information highway, our municipal government has not exercised the will to acquire even decent PCs for its offices. Office computing is now a necessity, not a luxury. The municipal government must allocate money to train its employees on information technology. Training is an investment that has its own rewards.

5. We must have a trade or vocational school.

It is a fact that not all of Sibalenhon high school graduates have the intellectual capacity or the financial capability to go to college. There are many Sibalenhon school leavers or drop outs and out-of-school youth. It is time that we study the possibility of putting up a community technical-vocational school to accommodate the drop-outs and OSYs so they, too, can be prepared for the Knowledge Century. The financial and technical requirements of such a technical-vocational institution could be immense but it can be done, if we have the will to summon communal unity and cooperation toward this endeavor.

Monday, December 17, 2007

An Education Agenda (Part 2)

(Keynote address delivered at the Education Summit organized by and held at the Concepcion National High School on December 14, 2007. The Summit, the first in Sibale, drew over 80 participants.)

Battle for hearts and mind

It is in this context that education becomes relevant.

Education will define the future as it defines the present.

It is the single most-important key to a better life, the possession that assures one who has it to be able to get to a level or situation better than where he or she started out in life. Education is an equalizer, enabling a poor boy or girl to be at par with, if not better than, a rich peer.

We know whereof we speak. We are witness to education’s liberating—both intellectual and physical—values. Without education, we would have not been equipped to articulate the dreams and visions and aspirations of our fellow Romblomanons. Without education, it would not have been possible for us to engage the leaders of the province and the larger Philippine society on questions that impact on the Filipinos’ daily lives. Without education, we would have been forever imprisoned in the limiting environment of an island—our island.

It was education that made it possible for us to explore the universal apart from the particular, to consider the particular as an essential element of the universal, and to raise the curtain to view the global stage as another arena for competition, a venue for expressing ourselves and subjecting ideas to experiment for their utility and acceptance. In short, it was education that opened for us the doors to discovery and empowerment: to be able to compete.

And it is education that will be the key to winning the battle for the hearts and minds of our people in the 21st century. It is education that will redeem us from poverty; that will open us the doors to exciting opportunities, to a better life, to a status equal to those who have it or gained it ahead of us; to a level higher than where we started out in life.

It is education that will empower us to realize our highest potential. It is education that will enable us to compete with the rest of the world and excel and be the best that we can be. For Sibalenhons all have the equal opportunity under our democratic space to realize their God-given potential.

What do we do?

Having laid down the powers of the force that is education, I now pose the question to you, our leaders: what do we do now?

What do we do to empower ourselves to compete, to realize our highest potential, to enable ourselves to rise from the limiting environment of the island, to secure our position in the Knowledge Century, and to propel all Sibalenhons to a level of socio-economic and political existence higher than where we are now? What do we do to enable us to play a greater role in the provincial, national, and global stage?

We must invest in education. This is the answer to all the above questions. As leaders, we must devote our energies, resources, and efforts to giving every Sibalenhon the best education there is, from pre-school to intermediate to secondary to technical-vocational to tertiary up to where their capacity to learn and acquire knowledge will bring them.

We suggest that as leaders, wherever in the political spectrum we belong, we should pledge to work to make the education of every Sibalenhon our highest priority, and exercise our powers and devote the resources within our disposal to ensure that Sibalenhon education will be the best in Romblon, if not in the whole Philippines.

To realize this vision-mission-goal of providing every Sibalenhon the best education, we propose the adoption of an Education Agenda consisting of the elements spelt out below.

An Education Agenda

1. All of Sibale’s nine (9) barangays should have complete free pre-school facilities.

We should start the basic education of our people at a young age. There is no excuse why we should not give them pre-school education when everyone else is doing it. The formative years of a child are the years when his or her mind is like a sponge, absorbent and open to accepting all knowledge which he or she could use later in life.

By having a complete and free pre-school system, with well-equipped facilities, tools, and well-trained teachers, we could jumpstart the education of our children in a right note and ensure that when they enter the formal school system, they would have developed the self-confidence and right mental attitude toward formal education.

We should incorporate in the pre-school system a child feeding program and allocate financial resources for it. (To be continued)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

An Education Agenda (Part 1)

(Keynote address delivered at the Education Summit organized by and held at the Concepcion National High School on December 14, 2007. The Summit, the first in Sibale, drew over 80 participants.)


Shortly before the May 14, 2007 election, I wrote an open letter to all Sibalenhon leaders on the topic of education. I intended to distribute the letter during the campaign as my modest contribution, first, to helping raise the quality of the election campaign by bringing to the fore issues that really matter in our lives, and second, to encourage all candidates to espouse education as part of their respective platforms.

Third, I wrote the letter to help educate our voters so they will demand from the candidates meaningful and valuable action and performance rather than money and material favors. It was, many of you will agree, a quixotic task given the prevalent culture in our politics where votes are freely exchanged as a commodity rather than as a mandate from the governed.

Finally, I sought to put in perspective a theme which is very close to my heart. Education is always a hot-button issue in our country and bringing it to the consciousness of the Sibalenhon is to me a personal duty.

Unfortunately, that paper, “An Education Agenda”, never got into circulation, even when my daughter Lara, who is in Grade Six, had already laid it out for mass production. The untimely and sudden death of a sister, plus the fact that I was away in Bicol during the rest of the summer, precluded all plans to visit Sibale and distribute the paper.

The invitation by the Concepcion National High School to deliver a keynote address to this Education Summit was an opportunity to revisit my thoughts on the subject. It has to be revised, of course, to capture the essence of this occasion, but the main points I have raised and discussed in “An Education Agenda” remain valid and relevant.

Thus, I would like to express my gratitude for this opportunity. Now, the paper finally has an audience.

You will note that I chose “Education Agenda” as the title of this paper. This is deliberate and with a purpose. I want the subject of education to become an agenda—not only during this Summit, but beyond—to make it visible. I believe education is one of the most important concerns that you—our leaders and movers and shakers—must face, confront, and do something about if you take seriously your prominent status in Sibalenhon society. I will spell out shortly my reasons for saying so.

The Knowledge Century

Our present era is characterized by revolutionary changes and challenges in almost every aspect of human survival, notably in the fields of commerce, communications, science, and technology. The fast pace of societal transformation—including the transformation of island communities like Sibale—brought about by these changes have swept us off our feet, threatening those who cannot respond and adapt to be left behind in abject ignorance and grinding poverty. As a people, we cannot anymore afford this lot amid the world’s growing prosperity.

Our present era has resulted in new modes and ways of doing things. The old ways are passé. New trends are unfolding before our very eyes. The future is pointing to the same direction of continuing changes and challenges.

Whereas the present is a battle for economic clout—which means that those who have the wealth, those who possess material resources, get ahead in life—the 21st century (our century, as African Nobel Prize laureate in literature Nadine Gordimer has written) is no longer a drama between those who have material possessions and those who have none.

The not-so-distant tomorrow is a skills-and-knowledge-based future. It will be a Knowledge Century and the competition will be between ideas, knowledge, and skills, and between technical competence and capability. The Knowledge Century is unraveling now. It is here.

And as it comes, survival and progress are fought along the terms and conditions of those who have the agility to use and harness newfound ideas, knowledge, and skills. In very simple but graphic terms, it is a battle between those who still use the abacus and those who fiddle with computers; between those who still believe in using semaphore to communicate and those who use ‘text’ and voice-over-internet protocol (VOIP) to deliver messages; a battle between those who still hoist the “yadag” and wait for “tiral” and those who ride airplanes and hydrofoil ships to get to their destinations.

This is the face of the future that our municipality confronts now. Change and innovation stare us in the face and the question is: Shall we blink? (To be continued)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Ragipon and Sibalenhon migration

At any given time, there could be only about 5,000 people in Sibale, my island hometown in Romblon. This number has remained fixed, more or less, over the years and may even decline—in fact, has been declining—since the phenomenon of globalization had reached Sibale’s shores. My former math and music teacher in the elementary grades, Lorna Fesalbon, attest to this. Mrs. Fesalbon, who has since retired and now lives in Cavite, told me last week that enrolment in the lower grades in the island is treading on the single-digit level.

Sibale, which is the northernmost municipality of the island province of Romblon, is a politico-geographic anomaly. It is nearer to Mindoro than to the provincial capital, which is six hours away by motorized boat. Pinamalayan, one of Oriental Mindoro’s largest towns, is only one-and-a-half-hours away. Sibale does more trade with Pinamalayan than with Romblon, or even with Banton, Sibale’s mother town, or Corcuera, another island neighbor. Banton, Sibale, and Corcuera speak the same Asi language, and they form a triumvirate called the Maghali Islands, which literally means “brothers”. Most family surnames in the Maghali starts with the letter F.

Sibale’s small population came about not by design or what social scientists call family planning. It happened because of economic necessity and the desire of its people to survive and overcome the harshness and difficulties of island life. These force many Sibalenhon families to leave for places where the jobs are; where they could forage for better incomes and eke out a life of small comfort. Many Sibalenhons, as soon as they are able, leave, in pursuit of the Sibalenhon dream.

The Sibalenhon are migrants. They are everywhere: in the wadis of Al-Khobar, in the prairies of Minnesota, in the cold lands of Saskatchewan. He is in Chicago as he is in California. He serves on a ship calling on ports as faraway as Durban in South Africa. There is a Sibalenhon working in a kibutz in Israel, as well as a wife working as a hospital nurse in the boundary of Kuwait and Iraq. Counting the migrants and their families, Sibalenhons could number over ten thousand souls.

Like millions of Filipinos, Sibalenhons converge in foreign communities, seek each other out, and together share their stories and yearning to go back home once they are in each other’s company. In Batangas where my family and I have settled, we being migrants ourselves, the Sibalenhons are ragipon.

The English language, or even Tagalog, has no equivalent for ragipon. The nearest that Shakespeare can come out with for the adjective are the words “numerous” and “innumerable” which do not at all capture the color and essence of the native ragipon. Balagtas himself could use “napakarami” or “sanlaksa” but still these words are cold, flat and dead and do not convey the strength and vibrancy that ragipon does.

Ragipon is a gathering of numerous people or things of the same breed and kind. It means getting together really close to project warmth and camaraderie and unity. It is a communion without the convulsion of differences and the clash of varied political views; a purposeful coming together with deliberate intent to tighten the ties that bind, and to share. It is the habit of the porcupines inching toward each other until the seabed blackens with their sheer number. It means an association of an identified race.

“Ragipon ka Sibalenhon sa Disyembre 8 sa Lipa” thus means “Sibalenhons from all walks of life will come together in Lipa City on December 8.” This is a big event of Sibalenhon migrants from all over Luzon. Since September, my Sundays meant for the children have been devoted to my participation in the activities leading to the big day on December 8. On that date, Sibalenhons in Batangas, Cavite, Bulacan, and Metro Manila will converge for a celebration of the feast of the Immaculate Concepcion because they themselves, for one reason or another, could not go home to Sibale where the main celebration will be. You are invited. Please come and experience our warmth and camaraderie as itinerant islanders. This is an opportunity to experience ragipon.

Sibalenhons, and for that matter, the Asi tribe, are so unlike the Westerners who, once they have left hearth and home, prefer not to be disturbed in their new abode; who prefer to be left alone, isolated and lonely in the wilderness of their minds and of their environment.

The Sibalenhons are migrants, yes, but they bring with them wherever they go their love for company, not to assuage their loneliness but to assure them of their identity—their being islanders—which remains uniquely intact despite the distance from the mother lode of that identity. They welcome intrusion but of their kind. They find solace sa pagragipon, knowing that whatever globalization may bring and regardless of what globalists may think, Sibale, their home, will remain a standing citadel to protect them from the winds of modernity that seek to erode their centuries-old cultural moorings.

Ragipon is thus an emblem, a badge, a mark on the forehead that demonstrates the Sibalenhons desire to see the sunlight like a fern growing out of a mossy trunk.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The politics of pardon

You have been hiding from the law for 18 years, because you have been convicted by the Sandiganbayan on 14 counts of graft which called for a punishment of 112 years of imprisonment. At some point during this period, the Sandiganbayan also convicted you on 13 additional counts of graft, punishing you with seven years of imprisonment for each count or 91 years, bringing the total jail term you were supposed to suffer to 203 years.

Question: With this imminent prospect of becoming a lifer, will you suddenly surrender—without any reason—and tell the court you are now willing to serve two centuries and three years of incarceration?

This may be difficult to answer, but one Filipino, a Jaime Ponce de Leon, did not find so—and did just that—cocky sure as he was of what he did.

Found guilty by the Sandiganbayan on charges of conspiracy with officials of the then Ministry of Public Highways in committing massive graft in ghost road projects in Bais City in Negros Oriental, de Leon, who has been a fugitive since his conviction on July 7, 1989, filed a motion submitting himself to serve his sentence on March 5, 2007.

On April 12, he was escorted to the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa City, but he did enter the jail; he did not even serve a minute of his two-century-and-three-year-jail term, for waiting for him there was a conditional pardon signed by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her executive secretary Eduardo Ermita. The conditional pardon document was issued that same day.

This incredible account of de Leon’s pardon was reported by Peter Tabingo of the newspaper Malaya, but prior to the report, I already got a hint of this story through an e-mail from a Filipino who now resides in London. The whistleblower was encouraging Sen. Antonio F. Trillanes IV to initiate an investigation into the matter, because according to the tip, this will lead the public in finding out Gloria’s abuse of her presidential power to grant pardons to prisoners. I referred the tip to one of Trillanes’s lawyers, who did a quiet investigative work and confirmed the account.

Tabingo alleged in his report that his sources said Gloria’s pardon of de Leon was secured by a former member of the House of Representatives who has a relative in the Arroyo cabinet. The cabinet member was not named.

A few months after this unbelievable story came out, Gloria Arroyo wrote another unbelievable chapter in the history of presidential pardons: he pardoned Joseph Ejercito Estrada. This was, to many, the bigger, more controversial news.

It was not to me, because I knew of de Leon’s story. When Erap walked home free last week, I said to myself, “This is old hat. The lady in Malacanang is used to signing away forgiveness orders to common criminals, so she didn’t at all have any compunction in pardoning Erap.”

The anomaly, I said to myself, was not the pardon. The anomaly was that Erap didn’t require—deserve—a pardon because he did not deserve to be imprisoned at all.

On Tuesday, I had lunch with writer-activist Herman Tiu Laurel and civil society leader Linggoy Alcuaz and I told them of this view.

If we consider Gloria to be a bogus president, then all her activities as such are bogus, including her incarceration of and subsequent issuance of a pardon to Estrada.

This logic is hard to follow, and in fact, all these years that Gloria has been president, we Filipinos assume that the Arroyo regime foisted upon us is genuinely constituted.

It is not, regardless of what the justices of the Supreme Court has said in its decision on the Arroyo presidency; no, on the Erap ouster.

That’s why politicians on both sides of the fence have been calling for a so-called closure. That’s why administration officials and GMA apologists are calling on us, the people, to be united, and to “move on”.

Closure of what? Move on to where?

The issues dividing us will continue to divide us until the public’s perception of GMA’s lying, cheating, and stealing to get to and stay in power is quickly erased from our collective memory through an apology and restitution. We have been offended as a nation by GMA’s usurpation of governmental power.

The issues, which have grown to entangle the nation in a Gordian knot, will not be settled with Erap’s pardon. We cannot move on unless other pardons, such as that granted to de Leon—truly a convicted criminal because the Supreme Court of the pre-GMA period said so—are satisfactorily explained.

Pardon me for expressing such a strong view, but I cannot help it. History nags and tells us that the reason why GMA and her officials can still look at us straight in the eye despite of Oakwood, Garci, Hyatt 10, bogus impeachments, NBN-ZTE, Neri, Abalos, Maguindanao, Ador Mawanay, Zoce, Macapagal Boulevard, German bank accounts, IMPSA, Centennial terminal, billion-peso vote-counting-now-rusting machines, JPEPA, jueteng, bribery in the backyard of Malacanang, cyber education project, smuggled SUVs, deaths of the Marines in Basilan, extra-judicial killings of militant leaders, peasants, and journalists; the toilet explosion in Glorietta, and—the pardons of Erap and de Leon—is because we ourselves as a people pardon her in our own little, modest way.

She knew we are a pardoning people. She reciprocates. She pardons convicted criminals simply for political reasons.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A look at Honasan, the honasan

In the Asi language, the honasan is a seascape most Asi dislike because of the difficulty it imposes on their daily life. It hampers navigation.

Honasan is a noun, derived from the adjective honas, which means low tide. Honas is when the sea ebbs as a result of the moon’s gravitational pull of water in the oceans. A honasan is that part of the seabed which is exposed when the sea ebbs. Because it is drained of seawater, a honasan is an ugly sight, for it shows the carcass of the seabed—protruding rocks, corals, and the irregular terrain of sand and shoals—as well as the detritus of human activity, such as broken bottles, plastic wastes, and other slow-decaying trash trashed off by the current.

A low tide—honas—is, naturally, the opposite of high tide, the natural phenomena when ocean water rises, again, as a result of the moon’s gravitational pull. The Asi word for high tide is taob.

Every 12 hours, honas and taob occur simultaneously but in opposite coastal places on earth.

A life in an island, or in any coastal community, exposes one to the realities of these two tidal phenomena. When it is honas, it is difficult to float a launch or boat, for fishermen had to physically pull or lift their vessels and nets to where the water is. If the honasan, the exposed seabed, is wide and long, such as those of the coastal areas of Romblon, then it takes more effort to pull or lift the boats. It is difficult to walk barefoot in a honasan. Sharp objects could hurt or wound your feet.

In war, a honas and a honasan could spell victory or defeat. Magellan was defeated by Lapu-Lapu because the former didn’t heed the advice of the experienced natives to attack Lapu-Lapu’s lair in Mactan during high tide or taob. Thus the Portuguese navigator was forced to wade in shallow waters off Mactan, whose exposed seabed (it was honas when Magellan attacked) was expansive and very far off the range of the invaders’ guns.

Gen. McArthur was likewise compelled to wade in a honasan when he landed in Leyte upon his return to the Philippines in 1945 because his huge ships cannot go to shore without risking running aground.

In the political kingdom, there is a Honasan who got a first name, Gregorio, but whose moniker, Gringo, in the Spanish-speaking world is a disparaging term for a foreigner. In this piece, he will henceforth be called Honasan.

Now, Honasan before he did a Faustian barter of his patriotism immediately after the May 2007 election, was regarded as a hero by his peers and millions of other Filipinos who elected him senator not just once, but twice, for his role in the dismantling of the Marcos dictatorship. Well-known apostle of another EDSA icon, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, Honasan is some sort of a misunderstood myth because right after democracy was restored in 1986, he mounted a series of coup d’etat through his Reform the Armed Forces Movement, or RAM. All of RAM's revolutionary adventures were ground to heels by democracy's boot due to visible lack of popular support.

At various times in his checkered career, Honasan had been jailed, escaped, charged, hunted, and arrested for his rebellion activities. Tired perhaps of his failures at bloody reform, he ran as a senator and won, but when in the Senate, was never heard from, save from a few outbursts which only showed how far from reality he had detoured. His first term ended with the voters frustrated over his so-so performance. As chairman of the Senate’s peace and unification committee, he was so “peaceful” that the bills and resolutions referred to his committee miserably failed to “unite” him with the voters--and the nation.

Briefly before the May 2007 elections, Honasan once again spent his life on the run after he was implicated in another failed rebellion mounted by a group of zealous and idealistic junior officers now known as the Magdalo, which assembled at Oakwood and demanded that Gloria Arroyo resign as president because of graft and corruption and incompetence. Honasan, claimed the Magdalo members, were their teacher, their Kuya. No wonder their mutiny failed.

Honasan emerged a winner in the 2007 election. He campaigned as an independent after he was freed from jail on the orders of Arroyo’s justice secretary, Raul Gonzales, who himself is very much well-loved because his forte is to derail justice and inflict injustice depending on what side of the bed he wakes up in the morning. According to him, this is the rule of law.

That Honasan won was not a surprise. He has a mass base from which to draw votes. What was perplexing was that his fire as an oppositor to Gloria Arroyo turned to cold ash immediately after he ascended to his Senate throne. That was when people began wagging their tongues that Honasan allegedly sold everything he has to the highest bidder and thick-faced purse-liner in the center of power that is Malacanang.

How true this is, nobody is saying a word. But almost everyone knew. I knew that his loyalty is no longer with the people the moment he clammed up from criticizing Gloria Arroyo and started instead to sing her honasans, err, hosannas. See? The two words rhyme.

I knew that like the honasan in Romblon, the Honasan in the Senate has been drained of water that provides strength of conviction the moment he criticized his fellow senators, like the courageous Antonio F. Trillanes IV and the brave Panfilo Lacson, for calling for Senate investigations on matters of national interest.

Well, as they say, it is up for the people to judge him and his seeming betrayal of their cause. But before that people’s tribunal convenes on judgment day, let it not be said that Honasan was not forewarned nor told that he was elected an oppositionist, and that his role is to carry to the end the cause or causes that catapulted him to power. How can Honasan now look straight into the eyes of those who believed him and tell them that “No, I have not entered into a compromise with Gloria, neither have I betrayed the principles that all these years we have been fighting for”?

This question is relevant because a honasan, as I said, is an exposed sea bed. Honasan, like the literal honasan in Asi, is now an exposed political persona. His having been drained of courage, if that is the case, is a bad omen that people will now find it more difficult to navigate the political water with shoals scattered by GMA with leaders like Honasan betraying them on the bend.

As we say in Asi: Yaanay, mapanihi anay ako sa honasan. (Excuse me while I pick up shells in the honasan.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The bride, the bribe, the brave

Make no mistake about this.

The bride is Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The bribe is the P200 to P500 thousand cold cash that the bride allegedly gave the brave, Fr. Ed Panlilio, governor of Pampanga, the bride’s home province.

The story is flat and simple. The bride needed help. She summoned the brave and his company from all over the realm to her snake-infested nest and, as host, lectured them on the ways of staying in power. Then, the brave was allegedly bribed to enlist that help.

That was over breakfast last October 11. After the lecture, and perhaps, assessment of the guests’ inclination towards her and her general conduct in office, she bid them adieu, adieu, adieu.

On their way out, some nest functionaries with call cards bearing without no doubt the seal of official government, allegedly handed out the bribe—amounting from P200 thousand to P500,000 in crisp P1,000 bills still bundled (I saw it on TV) on narrow strips of paper customary of what the banks regularly do—to the brave and his colleagues.

The brave was not able to sleep. Being an honest man, his conscience pricked him. He announced he was given money by the nest’s occupants, for what reason he did not say. From where, he did not bother to know. By whom, he surely remembered: it did not come from the White House. It came from someone from Malacanang Palace who is widely believed is not supposed to be there in the first place. End of story.

End of story? No. A crime of monumental proportion has been committed inside the very bowels of what is supposed to be a bastion of the fight against crime—all crimes in their most despicable forms—and we are hoping for a good ending?

Nagkalagayan para magkapalagayan. Nasuhulan. Nanuhol. Bribery. Bribed. Greased. This was what the story was all about. It doesn’t matter now whether the money came from Barabas, or Judas, or from an archangel, or from jueteng, or from PAGCOR, or from Gloria’s intelligence fund, or from the people’s taxes. What should be of interest to students of government—and to the Filipino people in general who have been had and continue to be had by the Macapagal-Arroyo government—is the depths to where this administration will submerge itself headlong and head first to the gutter of corruption to get what it wants. Even mafia-style.

That’s what matters now. Never mind the sidebars, the tsismis through SMS, the arterial stories, which branched out from the main lode of the tale after the tale became public. (The Philippines is the gossip capital of the world, remember?) These are peripheral to the crime. They grew wilder as the main story took the winding alleys tothe coffee shops, the squatter colonies, the middle-class subdivisions, the corporate boardrooms, and the manicured lawns tended by uniformed, underpaid super-maids of the country’s rich and famous.

Just to demonstrate the impact of this crime, I’ll tell you a story. Yesterday, in one of the government offices where I transacted official business, I saw an official who came from a meeting in Malacanang. And what do you think his staff asked him the moment he arrived at his desk?

“Binigyan ka ba ng pera doon?” (Were you given money there?) The official, on the top of his voice, shouted, “Hindi, ‘no!” (No, I wasn’t given any money.) Then, somebody retorted, “Halika Sec, may two hundred ka dito.” (Come, Sec, you have two hundred here.) obviously in allusion to what resigned COMELEC Benjamin Abalos allegedly told former NEDA secretary-general Romulo Neri during one of those discussions on the infamous NBN-ZTE contract. The employees burst into laughter at this exchange.

See what this crime of bribery did to salaried government employees? It made them pityingly envious, but they translated this envy into making their government a laughing stock. How about the poor citizens who have nothing to eat? How do they react to this sorry episode? I am interested in what they would say.

So I rant. I seethe in murderous rage over how our top officials have sold themselves to the highest bidder, which is the devil. Do I rant because I was not a beneficiary of the bribe? No, thank you. I survive on one-dollar a day, that’s the official UNDP description of how Third World citizens like me live.

I fulminate against the bribery because the believed offeror of the bribe professes to be a staunch Christian. OK. I will re-cast the statement: I fulminate against the bribery because the alleged bribe offeror is a hypocrite Christian, who happens to be a consummate politician. Any quarrel with that? Manigas kayo.

Now, this hypocrite Christian regularly announces that she will wipe out graft and corruption during her watch. Owws! Talaga? Sige nga, Ma’am, at nang ang mga kababayan ko naman sa Romblon ay matuwa. Matagal na silang walang pinagtatawanan.

In Asi, my language, there are two words equivalent to one Tagalog word descriptive of the greedy who goes to the extent of offering bribes to get what he or she wants.

These are “hakog” and “kaguran”.

So, we say in a bilingual fashion, “The GMA administration is hakog ag kaguran.

Incidentally, a phrase and a word--one in English and one in Asi--of relevant meanings can also be derived from “hakog” and “kaguran”.

These are, “Ok, hag” and “naraguk”. The English word you can figure the meaning; the Asi word means nabatukan in Tagalog. In English, it means “hit on the nape.”

I can hit the bride on the nape, return the bribe, and hope that the tribe of the brave increases.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Death and disinformation

On Friday, Councilor Armin R. Marin, who was brutally gunned down after leading a protest of local anti-mining activists in San Fernando, Sibuyan Island, last October 3, will be brought to his final resting place on the very same ground hollowed by his blood; on the very same soil that the miners want to bleed dry of its gems.

It will be a sad day for all Sibuyanons and Romblomanons who care for their dear land.

Yet, on Friday, Armin shall not truly rest. Not yet.

His physical body may become one with the earth on which he walked tirelessly for 42 years, but his spirit, the engulfing, burning being of his person, will still roam the fastnesses of Sibuyan and demand just retribution.

As long as the loggers and the miners remain in Sibuyan, the ideals he had lived by and the causes he had advocated will remain burning in the hearts of the Sibuyanons. His crusading spirit will continue to envelope the whole beings of those he had touched and influenced and served while he was alive. This will fuel their resolve to continue the fight against the spoilers of Sibuyan, and harden their commitment never to give up an inch of their land to the enemies of the environment.

It will haunt his murderers and those who caused his untimely passing. Councilor Marin will not rest, not until the day when the last—final—screws of the machine threatening to hakar the bowels of Sibuyan have been pulled up and thrown out of the island.

The murder of Armin Marin had drawn the line between greed and self-preservation; between decency and deceit.

The loggers and miners now prowling on the island personify greed. Those who declared themselves on Armin’s side at the time of his numerous battles and up to the hour of his death have cultural and social preservation—apart from natural heritage protection—as their mantra.

Armin was decent to declare, from the very start of his short-lived socio-political crusade where he stood. He stood for his people.

Deceit was the undeclared weapon of those who snuffed out his life. It was the currency of the spoilers of the environment, who made sure they stopped at nothing, including perhaps blasting to kingdom come those who try to resist their malevolent scheme, like Armin.

Thus, when a mining company dishes out a press release blaming Armin’s murder on Armin’s army of unarmed protestors, and saying that his fatal shooting was accidental, and further saying that the mining company is gathering information for possible legal action against the protesters, then it is high time to serve notice that deceit—with disinformation as its tool—is slowly worming its way into the bowels of the Sibuyanon psyche.

It is now plausible that this disinformation will take root, particularly among those whose minds have been poisoned by the undeserved beneficence of the mining companies. The resources of the miners for such disinformation are as enormous as their appetite for profit.

“We’re already been crucified as the bad guys. Our people were not the aggressors. They were not the instigators either. Rather, they were the victims,” Jose Miguel Cabarrus, president of Sibuyan Nickel Properties Development Co., was quoted by the Manila Times to have told reporters.

Hello! Armin Marin was dead. He is clearly the victim here. What does Mr. Cabarrus expect the people of Sibuyan to do? Rush to the provincial capitol prison and fall in line for a chance to visit the alleged murderer and offer their sympathies that he was divorced from the jeep he drove on the day of the murder?

If only for this piece of garbage of a statement, then Armin shall not rest. Not yet.

Not until the day when the likes of Mr. Cabarrus learn how to respect the sensibilities of the Sibuyanons and remain silent for a while—as he should have been advised—until Marin’s body is interred and the outrage over the murder has dissipated a little. It’s a Romblomanon tradition never to desecrate the memory of the dead.

Until that day, Armin’s memory as a crusader will remain richly etched in the Sibuyanon soul. He can—and will—forgive his murderer/s, for the Sibuyanon has an infinite capacity for forgiveness.

But as Sibuyanons, Armin and the living he left behind will not forget. They have an infinite capacity for remembering, for we are certain that even if the miners like SNPDC have left fifteen years after they have exhausted Sibuyan’s treasures, the Sibuyanons will remain on the island, sharply aware that Armin’s decency and courage and heroism, which were abruptly ended by the deceit and disinformation of his enemies, are beyond forgetting.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Death of an environment activist

The .38-caliber revolver that cruelly, terribly snuffed out the life of Councilor Armin R. Marin last October 3 may have come from Danao in Cebu, making the murder a migrant.

It may have come from the Armscor shop at the export-processing zone in the Food Terminal in Bicutan, Taguig City, making the vile deed tax-free.

Wherever it originated, in the hands of a devil masquerading as a mining guard, it was a Sibuyan murder, plain and simple, and the murderer, wherever he came from, should be justly punished—in Sibuyan. If the punishment is to be death, although this is no longer feasible, then death should be meted to the criminal in Sibuyan.

The reason is logical. The stench of the crime should not be allowed to escape the pristine Sibuyan air, to prevent other prospective mining communities around the country from getting infected by the disease that the miners and loggers bring; and to forever remind the people of the island that blood had been shed to fertilize Sibuyan soil which—if the logging and mining activities are not stopped—will be barren soon.

Actually, Councilor Marin’s blood has stained not only the soil on which he proudly stood at the moment of his death. It is now in the foreheads of all Romblomanons and, like the mark of Cain, it will hound future Romblon generations. That mark can only be erased once the perpetrator of the crime is punished.

To be blunt about it, that mark can only be extinguished if all of those who played roles in the events that led to the crime are held accountable, starting with Secretary Angelo Reyes whose signature in the logging permits will be hard to deny, and down to the last local official who engaged in double-talk only to covet the material rewards they feel would accrue to them once the loggers and miners have turned up and sucked dry the very last piece of rock of Sibuyan.

By now, Romblomanons and many Filipinos knew the circumstances behind the councilor’s terrible death. Marin, 42, was a long-time environment activist of the Kabang Kalikasan ng Pilipinas, according to Dr. Arthur Tansiongco, who is one of the leaders of Sibuyan Aton Manggad, the non-government organization opposing mining in Sibuyan. Twice defeated while a candidate for councilor in San Fernando, Marin won in the last election because the voters saw in him the quality of a leader who does not blink when it was his principles that were at stake.

He died on his feet, preaching the gospel of environment protection, unlike some pseudo-environmentalists who stood on the campaign stage in the last election to publicly denounce mining and logging, only to chicken out after getting elected and to go to bed with the strangers with bulging pockets.

I mean to be literal about chickening out. Reports had it that some local officials in Sibuyan who are pro-mining (who were most-likely paid in advance by the miners and the loggers in exchange for their endorsement of the rape of the island) are now in hiding for fear of their lives.
They have fear? Ask Mayor Nanette Borda-Tansingco, who was reported to have accosted the hundreds of protestors shortly before Marin was murdered. She should resign, together with her pro-mining and pro-logging officials—if she has any decency or shame left—for Marin’s blood had stained her too.

They have fear? Ask the regional officials of the DENR who, according to my source in Magdiwang, used a helicopter of the miners and loggers a few weeks ago when they came to Sibuyan to attend a pseudo-hearing of the Protected Area Management Board. The hearing, I was told, was a one-eared exercise. Only the miners and the loggers were there to be heard, while the protestors were cordoned off. They should be sacked from their jobs.

“When we were planning the Cantingas Mini-Hydro project which will energize the whole of Sibuyan, the DENR took two months to issue a permit for us to cut just one tree. Now, it only took the DENR a few days to issue a permit to the loggers to cut over 63,000 trees. That’s more than a million board feet in lumber,” rued my source.

The irony is not lost. Even the provincial officials—past and present—have closed their eyes and shuttered their mouths on what’s happening on the island. They have gone on an expense-free tour courtesy of a mining company, supposedly to study best mining practices in Mindanao. Now, they should cringe as they realize there is no such thing as best mining practices if the murder of Councilor Marin would be the gauge.

The people opposing the rape and degradation of their homeland are left to fend for themselves. Not even a public word from Rep. Eleandro Madrona has been heard as of this writing to denounce the murder—and the logging and the mining that will soon strip the island naked. And where are the local officials of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples who should be there to protect the IPs? Still sitting comfortably in Odiongan? They should explain themselves sensibly, if they are capable of doing so.

In the discussion boards over the Internet, Romblomanons abroad who are active in social and other issues are worried—very worried—over what happened, but only few have expressed outrage. Most only issued peremptory words of condolences to the family of the slain activist. Save for RDL-CLEAR which issued a call to raise money to help, most of the exchanges in the Internet dwelt on whether the Sibuyan Naval Battle, which anniversary is fast approaching, is the greatest in the world: trivial and detached and far-off from the gripping reality that death, the kind that only miners and loggers are capable of contemplating, is now stalking the island’s inhabitants.

This seeming indifference, this cold detachment from reality, which is also one of the cultural attitudes that the slain Marin sought to change, is more lethal than the murder itself. It is so because our indifference to what’s happening in Sibuyan could and will be interpreted by the loggers and miners and their cohorts as a kind of capitulation, an admission, that we are unable to do anything outside of our silent protestation of their immoral business.

You want proof of this indifference? Go visit the website of Sibuyan Aton Manggad. Only about 30 have signed the online petition against mining in Sibuyan, many of whom, I can see from their surnames, are not themselves even from Sibuyan.

You want proof of this apathy? Read the papers. The most strident voices raised thus far against the murder of Councilor Marin came not from the local officials of Sibuyan. They came from environmental activists and groups outside of Sibuyan.

Still, I am convinced that the death of Armin Marin will be a catalyst. It will be pivotal in the lonely fight by the Sibuyanons against the intruders into their homeland. Marin left behind a wife and five children, who will now fend for themselves, with only the heroism of their father as their social capital. At least they have a proud and heroic legacy of a father, unlike the people of Sibuyan who have, apart from having none of a sympathetic government, are now even being threatened with death by strangers in their own land.

The death of Councilor Armin Marin was page-one news in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. This will raise the level of awareness of the Filipino people and highlight the fact that the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will not balk at another murder of an environmental activist in some distant island to satisfy its avarice for investment money. It has so many deaths already on its hands.

The cold-blooded killing might temporarily upset the momentum of the miners and the loggers, but that’s all it can do. Only temporarily. For when the outrage dies, they will continue their immoral foray into peaceful people’s territories because their greed is without limits. This greed intensifies as local officials serving as accomplices hitch on to their devouring machines.

Councilor Armin Marin was the 23rd victim of this administration’s mining policy. There will be more blood to be shed, that’s my most pessimistic view. On the hopeful side, I wish that with Marin’s murder, the local government finally gets a rap on the head and wakes up on its senses; that the national government recalls the logging and exploration permits it issued without the Sibuyanons’ permission. And on the hopeful side, I wish the mining and logging companies leave Sibuyan alone.

But that’s asking for the moon.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Pelican in Sibuyan

What is a pelican?

The pelican is a large water bird belonging to the genus Pelicanus. It has a stretchy pouch just under its long beak, where it deposits the food it catches, usually fish, before swallowing it whole, head first.

The pelican is known to always peck her breast so that it bleeds. Thus, the bird has come to be known as a symbol of piety. In fact, the pelican has become a heraldic symbol. It appears on flags and emblems.

The pelican is an inland and coastal water bird, but it is not found in the polar regions, the deep ocean, and oceanic islands.

“Occasionally, pelicans will consume animals other than fish. In one documented case, a pelican swallowed a live pigeon and reports of similar incidents have surfaced. In fact, pelicans are fairly opportunistic predators, and while fish forms the bulk of their diet due to being the most common food source where pelicans nest, they will quite readily eat any other food that is available to them,” says Wikepedia in its description of the bird.

Sibuyan being Pacifican, the pelican is not seen in this paradise, not until recently when a different breed of this bird of prey came to nest on its shores.

This ‘pelican’ is an Australian (the Australian variety is called Goolayyalibee) but it has no physical resemblance to the large aves. It does, however, sport its name but no one, until now, can tell with certainty if this ‘pelican’ is pious. I, myself, doubt this, for this ‘pelican’ is in Sibuyan to hunt, not to beat its breast in piety till it bleeds.

What is the Pelican?

On September 21, The Age newspaper in Australia carried a news item about a certain Pelican signing a Romblon agreement with BHP. The article was published by other newspapers and was picked up in Manila by the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

It was not long before the news circulated in the Internet and in Romblon, where a furious exchange took place between pro- and anti-mining advocates. It found its way in the blogsite of the advocacy group Sibuyan Aton Manggad, or SAM, an acronym which never fails to remind me of a politician with that name who excreted a promise not to run in the last election, only to swallow the pledge later, excrete and all, by, what else, running! Incidentally, this politician was rumored to have pocketed pro-mining money. O, di ba, masaya? But that topic is for another day.

“Junior explorer Pelican Resources Ltd has signed an agreement with mining giant BHP Billiton Ltd for off take from the emerging Romblon nickel laterite project in the Philippines,” the news went this way.

“The off take agreement is to supply 500,000 wet tonnes of product annually for an initial period of five years, with options to extend for a further eight years.
“The agreement is dependent on Pelican confirming a 2.5 million tonne nickel reserve at Romblon and BHP Billiton's satisfaction of the ore grade.
“The ore would be processed through BHP Billiton's Yabulu refinery in Queensland.
“Romblon has an inferred resource of 7.26 million tonnes, with an average grade of 1.56 per cent nickel.
“BHP Billiton has also committed to fund a $US250,000 ($A290,500) exploration program at Romblon.
“Pelican director John Hills said the off take agreement with BHP Billiton reflected the economic potential of the Romblon project.
"The company looks forward to the commencement of the exploration and evaluation program at the Romblon nickel project, and to working closely with BHP Billiton and its subsidiaries to develop a long-term, cooperative relationship into the future," Dr. Hills said.
“The company gave no details of first production and Pelican management was unavailable for further comment.
“Nickel laterite is low-grade and requires intensive processing or a low-cost heap-leaching process where crushed ore is put into mounds and irrigated with acid to extract the metal.
“The agreement was signed between BHP Billiton and Pelican's Philippines subsidiary, Sibuyan Nickel Properties Development Corporation Ltd (SNPDC).
“Pelican holds a 75 per cent stake of SNPDC while All-Acacia Resources Inc. holds the balance.
“Pelican shares dipped one cent to close at 29 cents,” The Age thus said.
So there, dear readers. As the debate in the yahoogroups said, “A mining giant now enters Romblon.”

But wait, this is misleading. Just what it is they are cooking up in Sibuyan? Who are the main and minor mining players there? And where does this news put SAM and the other anti-mining advocates on the struggle to STOP this "pelican" and company from poaching—and swallowing up—the island?

In the company of the Pelican

Pelican Resources Ltd is a publicly-listed company based in Leederville, Australia, with a market capitalization of AU$28.9 million. Its website does not list how many employees it has. It is not a giant mining company, contrary to speculation. It is an “extractor”. Its main business is oil, coal and gas exploration. It is only a “junior” miner, as the news said, for, indeed, exploration, drilling, and equipment provision services are only sub-industries on its plate. It has iron ore projects in Australia. In Mindanao, it has a gold exploration project in Surigao City and another one 200 kilometers down south. Its project in Sibuyan is its only nickel exploration venture thus far.

Pelican’s chairman of the board, John Palermo, receives a US$94,400 a year in salaries, while its managing director, John Henry Hills, gets as much as US$175,400 per year. Combined, this amount approximates its proposed investment in Sibuyan. Range this against Manong Nic Musico’s estimate of US$375 gross profit per year and you can figure the amount is nuts, peanuts.

Pelican’s mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA) application, AMA-IVB-025, is pending before the Minerals and Geosciences Bureau (MGB), an agency of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), although this is not reflected in the MGB list of pending MPSA applications. Perhaps, this must have been approved without our knowing?

It is Pelican’s partner, New York-based BHP Billiton, which is the mining giant—the one capable of processing the minerals that Pelican will dig up in Sibuyan. BHP Billiton is the world’s third largest nickel producer.

For its exploration and extraction operation, Pelican will not do it. These literally earth-shaking activities will be undertaken by its subsidiaries and affiliates—its fronts—the Sibuyan Nickel Properties Development Corporation Ltd. (SNPDC) and All-Acacia Resources Inc., a joint-venture partner. I have yet to find out if there is a Romblomanon in the SNPDC, but there is a Filipino industrialist there by the name of Jesus Miguel Cabarrus. As to All-Acacia Resources, Inc., this company has been de-listed in the stock exchanges for one reason or another, but Pelican still owns it up to 25 percent of its shares of stocks.
Pelican, in its quarterly report on March 31, 2006, said that the Environmental Management Bureau, another DENR agency, had issued it an environmental clearance certificate (ECC) for its two small-scale nickel ore mining projects in Sibuyan. It said it was “pursuing approval process” for its “open cut mining and shipping of ore.” It further said in its report that it consulted with representatives at the barangay, regional and provincial levels” as part of the approval process. To the Sibuyanons, were you consulted in 2006?
An ECC is required for a holder to be to issued a small-scale mining permit, which allows the holder to extract up to 100,000 tons of mineral per year. That is small-scale? In addition, a small-scale mining permit will allow the holder access to the area covered by its MPSA, so if a mining company has an appoved MPSA application, a small-scale mining permit could facilitate “intrusion” into a bigger area. One needs not be a rocket scientist to figure this out.
The ECC is then forwarded to the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board (if Romblon has such) which will endorse it to the governor (we have one, I suppose) who will issue the permit. This process, I assume, had been completed already, and the usual “tong” already demanded, paid, received, and spent?
There are other predators now salivating over the rich mineral resources of Sibuyan, and they ought to be mentioned in the anti-mining advocates’ hate list: JKL Brothers Mineral Ore Quarrying Resources, Ore Asia Mining Development Corporation, Altai Resources, Sunshine Gold Pty. Ltd and Sun Pacific Resources Philippines, Inc.
A search yielded very scant information about JKL Brothers and Ore Asia Mining. Probably, these are small-scale miners granted permits. Sunshine Gold Pty. Ltd and Sun Pacific Resources are subsidiaries of Pelican Resources, too, which owned 40 percent and 35 percent of the stocks of the two, respectively. With its joint-venture partner, SNPDC, Pelican has so far drilled 300 holes in the eastern coast of Sibuyan. More holes will be drilled, more pits will be opened, I am sure, in the next few months.

Altai Resources: Another miner
Altai Resources is very interesting. A Canadian mining company, it has a Philippine subsidiary, Altai Philippines Mining Corporation, whose shares of stock it owns up to 40 percent. From my understanding, Altai Philippines has also a pending MPSA application, but again, this does not show on the MGB list. Nevertheless, the company’s MPSA application lists up to 1,822 hectares of nickel-cobalt-rich lands in Sibuyan as its “property.” Wow, that’s neat.

Pacific Metals Company and Mitsui Mining of Japan, which have cast moist eyes over Sibuyan many years before, had drilled 431 holes and pits in the island. These holes and pits may have been used as basis by Altai Philippines to inform the MGB that Sibuyan has an “excellent exploration potential for discovery of a much larger deposit.”

On November 24, 2004, Altai Philippines had signed an option agreement with an unnamed Australian mining company (could this be Pelican Resources?) and another company named Sunshine Mining Pty. Ltd for the sale of its Sibuyan “property”. Is Sunshine Mining Pty Ltd different from Sunshine Gold Pty Ltd, which is a Pelican subsidiary? I don’t know.

The option was “C$1.3 million payable within six months of the Philippines signing an MPSA.” In effect, Sibuyan had been sold even before a pound of nickel could be extracted from its bowels.

Altai at present has also a sulfur exploration project in Amlan, Tanjay, Pamplona, and Sibulan, all in Negros Oriental, a permit for which was granted by the DENR in 2004.

Thus far, this is the complete cast of major characters in the on-going drama. There is a local cast, you know, the politicians, the hangers-on, the treasure hunters, the miron, but they are minor, and this blogger will write about them in due time. The important thing is that we now know who are out to spoil Sibuyan, so we must be ready for a fight.

To be so, let me end this brief with a famous limerick about the pelican, written by Dixon Lanier Merrit in 1910. It says:

"A wonderful bird is the pelican. His bill will hold more than his belican. He can take in his beak, Food enough for a week, But I'm damned if I can see how the helican."

Sunday, September 9, 2007

This mine is mine: A ballad for the idiots of Sibuyan

There is a threat to Romblon today far more dangerous than the Ebola or avian flu viruses stalking the globe. The threat is far more lethal, more immediate, than that posed by terrorism which Washington and other western capitals are so pre-occupied with and paranoid about.

This threat comes not from just one bin Laden, but from many bin Ladens masquerading as elected politicians, some as businessmen, from my home province of Romblon. They possess enormous clout, have insatiable greed, and have no sympathy or sense of history at all. They are scheming Romblomanons, idiots and all, but they are humans—and alive.

I said this because they stake their credibility on money (and many poor Romblomanons need it!) which these Romblon-brand of bin Ladens have plenty of. Their language is business and their business is mining:

“This mine is mine.”

Reports circulating in the chat rooms of the Internet say that one-half to almost three-fourths of Sibuyan is now exposed to mining. Mining, the source of the country’s seven percent GNP growth in the first quarter of 2007 which Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was so boastful of, is now in Sibuyan. It is here to stay, regardless of what you or this blogger will say.

Most of the news that circulate border on gossip, but I am sure that somewhere out there in the chat room exchanges lie the truth, but which has to be mined (pun intended) for one to be able to make a complete sense of what’s happening.

And what is it that’s happening in Sibuyan?

The latest act of idiocy that transpired was the approval of the application of a certain Rommel Ibuna (is he from Dos Hermanas?) for a permit to explore minerals in 1,620 hectares of Sibuyan land.

In the Asi language, the nearest word I can think of as the equivalent of “explore” is hakar and it means to rend asunder.

In Sibale, when a butcher slaughters a boar or pig and he has cleaned up its skin, the next that he does is make a large knife incision across the belly of the animal and, with the use of his bare and bloodied hands, hakar the stomach and feel what’s inside, turning it out.


The mining companies, in conspiracy with the above-described environment butchers, will now hakar the intestines of Sibuyan without so much word as to what lies inside the belly of our beautiful island. Do you know?

The intestines of a slaughtered boar or pig, once out, nahakar, can no longer be restored, or returned, to its original state. When Sibuyan is finally laid to waste, stripped of its forests, and its land sucked dry, the miners will most likely be gone salivating with their hoard, while we are left to deal with our own sorrows and, I am sure, with our unchanged dire and pitiful economic condition.

I am not a seer, but I read books. I know what happened in the ore mines of Russia, the gold and coal mines of US, the coal mines of China, and the diamond mines of Africa. Mining communities in these countries were boom towns when the belly of the earth still gurgled out plenty of minerals but once exhausted, the boom towns became dead and arid lands; their people looking like empty-handed ghosts.

In mining, prosperity and plenty come first, but following, not far behind the skirt of those who benefit, is depravation and death. This is logical. Nature is not unlimited; its resources not infinite.

Are we going to let that happen? Shall we be another Diwalwal, where small miners throw grenades at each other inside the tunnels for the survival of the fittest? Shall we be another Baguio where, because of the gold mines’ operations, the earth’s foundation has become soft that the water sources of the pine city had dried up?

No amount of pontification and political rationalization will wash in the face of the numerous documented stories about the ill-effects of mining to almost all facets of humanity—to the environment, to people’s health and well-being, to the global climate, to economic and political stability. Shall I go on?

Iraq has been cannibalized for its oil. In Northeast and Central Asia, Iran, as well as the former USSR satellite states in the coat of the Caspian and Black Seas, are being lined up for the West’s next diplomatic and military adventures, not for democracy’s sake, but for natural gas.

Here in the Philippines, Sibuyan is being singled out for its rich flora and fauna, apart from the alleged rich mineral deposits that abound in the island. The illiterates among the politicians and businessmen who are moving heaven and earth—as well as bulldozers and other heavy machines—to hakar the belly of Sibuyan, fell for the picturesque brochures of the mining companies that life would be better if our ore, silver, and gold are churned into trinkets and cash. They don’t speak about dry riverbeds, or treeless swamps, or eroded watersheds. They don’t care about the miners’ starvation wage (which is what they pay). They don’t worry even about the air and water pollution that makes asthmatic children of otherwise vigorous constitution. Well, they will not also speak of the moral pollution to which some of our politicians were the very first to succumb to due to their narrow and distorted sense of right and wrong.

Their greed, of course, is sugar-coated and blunted by sleek public relations—and wads of cash in the pockets of the corrupt. In their brochures, they speak only of the good life that mining will bestow to Sibuyan, the roads and bridges, basketball courts and roadside sheds, retail malls, social mobility, and all that chuvah-eklaboosh, as my eldest daughter Lara, in the language of her generation, describes anything unbelievable and undeliverable.

Long ago, I wrote that if you cut a tree, a fish will die. In Sibuyan, the expropriation language of the moneyed, the influential, and the political classes that now sponsor mining and the rape of Sibuyan, rules out anything that has to do with this environmental equation. Theirs is the language of profit, of unmitigated greed, and of corruption that stinks to high heavens, suffocating even the gods and the spirits of our ancestors.

This is their ballad: “This mine is mine.”

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Salvaging Sibale

It keeps coming back.

I mean, the ghost of the ship that has been lying on its side in the depths of Sibale Sea for 34 years has returned—with a vengeance—and in the form of a tragedy that threatens to upset the very equilibrium of a peaceful, peaceful place.

From afar, I have been observing the seething exchanges of concerned Sibalenhons in the Sibale Web Forum (yes, Virginia, there is such and if you haven’t visited it, do it now). The exchanges range from the sublime to the sympathetic; to the outrageous to the inane. One has even got the nerve to personally insult the local officials, as if throwing ridicule around will bring back M/V Mactan to where it was a week ago—in the bosom of the sea where it was having a well-deserved rest.

Of course, nothing can be done now, if the wish is to restore M/V Mactan to its original decaying, rusting state. Joey Fradejas’s and Felix Famarin’s photos of the salvaged vessel show it all: M/V Mactan has been cannibalized, after it was rigged with explosives. In the process, Sibale was also salvaged, jarring the Sibalenhon soul, and endangering the Sibalenhon future.

My observations of the exchanges have produced a poem in the Asi, my native language, herein reproduced for the reader to appreciate the depths of what I felt about the violation of the island’s marine environment:

Sibaleng Waya Sibalenhon

Imaw kali it ako ging kakahadlukan:
Nak ka islang palangga ay masalikupan

it estranyong tungang gab-i ka ruyom
it binuhatan—nak waya gi-isipa kung ni-o
ka maisipan.

Miskan bato ay napapayuha
Sa rapyas it bayor nak nagyupa,
sa hapyas it lanang nagsasaya
sa silak it adlaw nak indi iy katugkar
sa dutang palangga.

Imaw kali it delubyong klaro:
Nak nagkikisiw sa pananamgo't tawo--
nak miskan kalag nak nagpapahuway ay pinayupkan—
kabi’y mababanhaw
waya konsiyensya, kung sa bagay!
dahil ka kuwarta'y talagang

Sa kamera yangiy ni Joey
ag ni Felix magrarana
ka dating de kolor nak ragat—
kada muyati habang inggwa pa

it matang Sibalenhong waya
nasusukyat it tentasyon.

Dahil nupay maabot ka panahon
Nak ka Sibale'y waya iy Sibalenhon
dahil ultimo ampas sa pasil, pati tagawtaw
ag libo-o, miskan waya titulo
ay obheto't komersyo
sa mga namumuluyong
de-hudot nak libro.

For over a year thirty-four years ago, Sibalenhons refused to eat fish and other seafood due to an oil spill and the numerous deaths that resulted from the sinking of M/V Mactan. Fish multiplied, because no one caught them. The sinking floated the ship’s varied cargo, most of them the plyboard called lawanit. People salvaged a lot of lawanit from the sunken ship and repaired their houses using the material, but at the end of the day, they cannot eat lawanit, so the hunger for fish became evident. Livelihood, anchored on the bounty and generosity of the sea, terribly perished.

Today, it is M/V Mactan itself and the ghosts of the passengers who drowned with it, that were salvaged. There is also an oil spill because the idiots who did the salvaging rigged the ship with explosives, blowing up without mercy the living marine life around it. If there is such a thing as double-dead, well, the salvaging operation (what a graphic term! what double-meaning!) must have also killed twice the 34-year dead inside the ship. Their ghosts could not have escaped and must have been annihilated.

For sheer idiocy, I give the local officials a grade of excellent. Come on, don’t tell me that you did not foresee the dire implications of blowing up a sunken vessel that marine animals have developed and nurtured as a haven? If you have just consulted a simple dictionary and looked for the meaning of the word explosive, you would have found out that it means destruction. By sheer omission, you have, indeed, allowed Sibale to be salvaged in the criminal meaning of the word.

Test questions to those who allowed this to happen: Will this demon Calixto Enterprises, a bankrupt company in Manila, be able to restore the pristine beauty and order of the coral reefs that they have blown to pieces? What gimmickry will they perform to attract marine life back to the place? The one who can answer correctly will be awarded a guided tour where M/V Mactan had sunk, without protective googgles and oxygen tank.

For the Sibalenhons who were accomplices to, and who abetted, the crime of salvaging M/V Mactan, live with your conscience, if you have one. No one will disturb you, but inner guilt has its own way of exacting just punishment. But for once, please be honest with your own god, whoever and wherever he is. The tragedy which your action or inaction have wrought upon Sibale will someday be in the history books. History, as a judge, is kinder to heroes, but could be harsher to villains than any oil spill.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The Mactan Saga: Voices of the Living and the Dead

On the continuing saga of M/V Mactan, I would like the voices of concerned Sibalenhons to take over, for their insights and comments will illuminate us further on the storm whipped up by the intention of the previous Sibale administration to conduct a fire sale of the sunken vessel.

“Perhaps, if there's one person who would vehemently object to the salvaging of M/V Mactan, it would be my brother-in-law, Capt. Jerry Cedeno,” Geoffrey Fabroa writes. “He was a young deck apprentice mate when the tragedy occurred off Maisoting Baybay in July 1973. The cause was overloading and the rough seas, but some said it was not so because the area was located at the northern part of Sibale where strong winds from the south is blocked by the island.

“The management of Compania Maritima (the ship’s owner) stationed him to watch the sunken vessel for a year before he went back to Manila to pursue his merchant marine career on board a foreign vessel.“Although re-floatation is now impossible, salvaging is very much viable because the ship’s metal structure could be still intact even after thirty years of it being under the sea. Proof to that was during the late 60's and early 70's, prospectors were still able to recover scrap materials from the sunken Japanese battle ship bombed by the Americans during World War II inside Concepcion Bay.

“What really bothers me is that salvaging uses a lot of dynamite. This would cause severe damage to our coral reefs and other marine species. I just hope that the incoming administration under Mayor Lemuel Cipriano will refuse to grant a permit to this salvage company and eventually douse off the silly ambition of people for the promotion of self-interest at the expense of other Sibalenhons.”

Geoffrey is interested to know the proponents’ motivation in selling a junk. “If ever the sale has been perfected already, we must be very watchful if the proceeds go to the general fund of the municipality,” he added.

Here's Merwin’s take: “I wish that this sunken vessel (will) be preserved to be one of our diving sites. (The) salvaging of Mactan will cause significant damage, not just to the coral reefs of Sibale, but also to the bright future of Sibalenhons who could benefit from ecotourism which we’re trying to promote and develop.”

Writes Charito: “I'm not a legal expert, but I suppose there were omissions committed in the hastily crafted resolution. For example, some proponents might have wanted to declare the sunken vessel a sanctuary. Was this considered?”

Rogel Fornal, another oppositionist to the sale, is very vocal—and technical. He writes: “For transparency, public bidding is necessary. Thus, a general public announcement, or a newspaper advertisement of an "Invitation to Bid" is a must. The local government should prepare a "Tender or Bid & Contract" document highlighting the salvaging methodology, scope of work, minimum appraisal bid, duration of execution, and abandonment plan, including the conditions for environmental clearance certificate compliance. A bidding committee should be established to handle the tedious process of approvals and recommendations and to monitor sound and safe implementation of the undertaking. This is in addition to the requirement for the contractor to assume all risks and guarantees and to secure all government mandatory clearances, permits, and licenses.”

Harold Feudo, who seemed to know the informant who uncovered the covert plan, writes:

“If government requirements have to be complied with, it seems the process will take time before the sale could be perfected. But again, the latest information from the island tells us that a speedy arrangement is being handled by an agent. Nupay ing yayagor sa last trip.”

But there is a little complication, Harold added.

“There is also a claimant of the sunken vessel. Compania Maritima, who owns M/V Mactan, had apparently sold the vessel to a salvage company in 1979, but it is only after the May 14 elections that a representative from the salvage company had gone to Sibale to secure the approval of the local government for the salvaging of the vessel. The informant said, however, that upon knowing that Mayor Merenciano Fabregas had lost his last term bid, the representative aborted his plan. He might have thought that it would be easier to transact business with the new set of incoming officials.”

“Now, my point here is that there would be a conflict of ownership of M/V Mactan between the local government and the salvage company. Assuming that the claim of the salvage company is legal, what would be the status of SB Resolution 2007-17? Medyo pay naging kumplikado ka sitwasyon. Let's wait and see.”

No, Harold. You don’t have to wait. You just have to ask questions, because Merwin’s informant had said that the salvage company had apparently already laid down the explosives to blast the ship out of the water. If the salvage company receives the go signal (I don’t know really from whom), then be very afraid that all the coral reefs in that part of Sibale will also be blasted to kingdom come.

My first two questions are: Who is in-charge of stopping this salvage animal from doing harm to our marine environment, and whose is the crazed mind that engineered the sale?

“Until we get to the bottom line or final details of this story from the local government, we cannot act,” Rogel said.

No, Rogel. There is something you and your group, the Sibale Def, can do. You can write a stinging rebuke to whoever it was who manipulated this whole transaction and ask that he or she use a little brainpower to realize the horrendous implication of dynamiting a sunken vessel.
Nayum-udan niy gani kag mga kalag ruto, a-payupkan pa! Can you imagine if, heaven forbid, it were Sibalenhon passengers who perished in the ship? Can anybody standup and say, “Yes, you can blast M/V Mactan to hell?” I am just asking.

As a postscript, there is an amount of money which the salvage operation will endow to the island, if—and this “if” is a big possibility—money is the bottom line of l’affaire Mactan. And it is, if Rogel, who says scrap costs P72,000 a ton, is to be believed.

But there are many things money can’t buy. It can’t buy, for example, an unsullied reputation and honor of being true to one’s calling as a public servant. Money can’t buy peace of mind and a guilt-free conscience.

Blast explosives can’t be selective, too. One cannot tell dynamites to explode only when there are no fishes around. Neither can you instruct explosives not to pulverize a coral reef. How about the bones of the dead, if there are still any, inside M/V Mactan’s bowels? Can they complain to the salvage company? Can they petition Mayor Cipriano to use all his powers to banish the people behind the project because if they continue their vile deed, it will be a monumental disrespect for the dead and a destruction of the future of the living?

M/V Mactan is already at rest. Let her rest forever.

Salvaging a Sunken Ship: The Mactan Saga

“I am alarmed . . . regarding the plan of salvaging M/V Mactan, using explosives, by (a certain) Calixto Enterprises Salvaging Team. This team is already at the site as of August 29, and is believed to have already planted explosive devices in the sunken vessel, waiting for the go signal to (fire). However, due to the quick response of our local government and concerned citizens of Sibale, the retrieval using explosives was temporarily halted. But for how long and who will win in this tug-of-war between the people of Sibale and Calixto Enterprises, to which the sunken vessel was already sold to?”

This was the frantic message Merwin Mosquera sent from far away Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia in an e-mail last week.

In his message, Merwin, a classmate who had made good in life as an expat, directed me to a site called Sibalenhon Web Forum which, when I accessed, was exploding with denunciation of the outrageous salvaging act.

But why would Merwin and others equally concerned, mostly so far away from an island, grind their teeth over a sunken vessel? Why should hackles be raised about a resting, rusting ship, which had already been eaten by the depths and therefore no longer recognizable as such? Indeed, why the sudden interest over a piece of junk in the belly of the sea?

For the interested—and they are mostly the Sibalenhons, who are so few that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo might not care about them a whit—the furor over M/V Mactan is about memory. It’s all about history. It’s all about government insensitivity. And it’s all about destroying Sibale’s pristine marine environment.

It all began on June 18 this year, when the Sangguniang Bayan passed S. B. Resolution No. 2007-17 entitled, “Resolution Authorizing the Chief Executive to Offer for Sale the Sunken Ship M/V Mactan in Barangay Masadya within the Territorial Jurisdiction of the Island Municipality of Concepcion, Romblon”.
The subject of the resolution was, well, M/V Mactan, the passenger vessel of shipping company Compania Maritima, which sunk off the waters of Masursor—not Masadya, as the resolution falsely claimed—34 years ago, or on July 16, 1973.

For all intents and purposes, M/V Mactan is no longer a ship. It is already a relic, a coral dot in the vast deep of the sea that imprisons in isolation the islands, including Sibale, on that passage to the Visayas called the Tablas Strait.

The length of time since M/V last breathed air on the surface of the Sibalenhon sea has undoubtedly blurred not only the ship physically, but also the memory of its sinking. The resolution authorizing its sale brings back the painful tragedy on that chilly morning of July 1973 when over a thousand souls drowned into their watery graves.
Reading S. B. Resolution No. 2007-17 is one of the keys to discovering the mystery of l’affaire Mactan. My comments immediately following the quoted resolution, are bracketed.

“Whereas, there is one interisland ship M/V Mactan sunk and abandoned by its owner for several years in Barangay Masadya, this municipality.” (The author/s of the resolution meant that the ship sank on itself, not sunk by the owner, and later abandoned.)“Whereas, this ship is now hazardous to navigation and environment considering (the) oil spill that would destroy marine life within the area.” (Thirty-four years after M/V Mactan went down, the author/s of the resolution realized, like they were oil engineers, a potential oil spill from the ship and said it is now hazardous both to navigation and the environment. How did they know it?)“WHEREAS, considering the length of time the ship lie (sic) beneath the sea, it is but proper and fitting that the municipality be declared owner of all sunken and abandoned ships within the territorial water of this municipality . . .” (Well, 34 years is quite a long time. What took the municipality so long to claim ownership of the ship? Why not five, ten, or fifteen years earlier?)

The resolution went on to authorize the Chief Executive (the mayor) to offer for sale M/V Mactan. It was approved unanimously, meaning, all members—except one who was absent—expressed agreement that M/V Mactan, now declared to be owned by the municipality, shall be sold.

The names of the SB members who signed the municipal edict will be etched in the glorious annals of Sibalenhon history. These are those of Vice Mayor Raul F. Luistro, the presiding officer, and members Joeffrey F. Ferranco, Samuel F. Famarin, Jasmin F. Familaran, Luzviminda F. Fabunan, Bob F. Fornal, Lenneth L. Fabroa, Ramiro M. Senorin, Job F. Ferrancullo, and Wilson Ferras. The absent member was John Bob Ferranco. He must have been fishing near where M/V Mactan sank when the SB was deliberating on the resolution.

If not for the fact that some nosy Sibalenhons smelt a rat, the resolution would have gone unnoticed. Come on, what’s so earth-shaking about selling a sunken ship? Inggwa gani it nabaligya it tagawtaw o pasil. Barko pang yugrang ngiy?

That’s not the point, however. The issue, as Charito Fornal, who now resides in Canada, said in a rejoinder, is the resolution was rushed. It was a midnight resolution.

“I am trying to disabuse my mind (of the) thinking that this was a midnight resolution, but it seems to me the ingredients of being one is there. I don't think it will only take (a few) days for the SB to come up with such (a) decision given the nature and legal implications of their decision,” he said.

No, Bong. It was not only a midnight resolution. It was a half-baked one. Let me tell you why. Every SB member in that room who deliberated on the resolution knew that their term of office was to end June 30, 2007. They knew that on July 1, they would no longer be “honorables” and chances are that the newly-elected members would pore over the proposal for sale once they get their hands on it. So what they did is to cook it up in haste to consume a fire sale. Somebody in the SB will profit from it, no doubt. The question is who?

The concerned citizen who posted the information in the Sibalenhon Web Forum must be erected a monument. If one will go back to previous posts, one will see that this fellow revealed there was a salvage permit for M/V Mactan, Salvage Permit NR 2006-02, applied for with the Philippine Coast Guard in August 2006 and was approved on September 1, 2006. The identity and address of the applicant was withheld, but let me assure you, he or she will be unmasked in due time. P1,700 pesos was all that was paid for the permit. Vice Admiral Arthur Gosingan, commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard, signed the document.

What was interesting was that the salvage permit has a one-year expiry date. It was to expire—and should have expired—the other day, August 31. Now, if the salvage operation was botched because of the whistle blown by Merwin and company, will the shadowy characters behind the salvaging pursue it still?

There is more to it than meets the eye, I tell you.

(First of two parts. Next: Voices of the Living and the Dead)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

“Hello, Garci?” Hali ako sa Salinraban!

Salinraban (from the Asi word “salinrab”, a delicious sea shell believed by the Sibale islanders to be helpful in restoring virility, and which when cooked in lemon juice has a sweet and tangy soup) faces the twin islets of Dos Hermanas in the treacherous Tablas Strait.

Salinraban means a place where there are plenty of “salinrab”. That was ages ago. Now, the place, always buffeted by strong waves, no longer has that abundant supply of the seafood.

A sitio of Barangay Rayahikan (the barangay itself is now commonly known as Dalajican), Salinraban is perhaps the only place in the island of Sibale that has no sandy coast. It is rocky, mostly, and fishermen and motor boats usually avoid docking in the place, as a precaution for not getting beached in the shallow shoals of its coast.

On the north side of Salinraban is Barangay Mahaba (meaning long), now Barangay Masadya (meaning happy), so that that as a sitio, Salinraban is the filling in the geographical sandwhich of two barangays which have only a few things in common: one is the dearth of water, for the terrains of both are ruggedly mountainous and, you bet, rocky.

Because of the terrain, Sibalenhons who chose to build houses and live in Salinraban can be counted in one’s fingers. There is no school, no church, no plaza, no barangay hall in Salinraban. In today’s global village, defined by television, computers, and the Internet, Salinraban could be just a remote and inaccessible plot, a negligible spot that deserves no marker in the map. And so it seems there is no justification whatsoever for dignifying the place by a few paragraphs in a blogsite.

The truth is this blogger felt that way, too, even as I tried, while scribbling this piece, to dig deep in my memory for something significant I could say about the place. I failed.

I failed because what I remember of Salinraban are its deep, rocky caves covered by thick vegetation where bats and monkeys live in harmony; and where large birds that no longer visit the other barangays in the island because their vegetation has disappeared sing a cacophony of enchanting music at dawn and at dusk and blending this with the waves that slap the jagged rocks on the coast. I, too, remember that the waters of Salinraban teem with fish, mollusks, and seashells. And if you want a taste of the island’s produce, Salinraban is the place to go. There are plenty of fruit trees around.

When I was still living in the island, I used to think that if there is a place where one can safely hide, it’s in Salinraban, inside its caves. In fact, I recommend this to former COMELEC commissioner Virgilio Garcillano who, because Sen. Panfilo Lacson had called for the reinvestigation of the “Hello, Garci?” tapes scandal, could again be thrust into the public consciousness and the limelight of political conflict.

It can be recalled that two years ago, almost every Filipino was looking for Garcillano to ask him what other things Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said to him apart from saying, “Hello, Garci?” I, too, am interested in seeking Garcillano out, but for an entirely different reason: I would like to ask him his secret in hiding successfully. Remember, everyone then was saying he had gone abroad when all the while, he was just planting corn in Bukidnon?!

But you will ask: Will a man as notoriously famous and with a suspect reputation as Garci be welcome in Salinraban?

Of course, he will be, as the Salinrabanons are a hospitable folks. Also, Salinraban is a place not known for bigotry. It’s a free port, an open city, requiring no passport from fugitives from the law. Besides, its under-the-cave inhabitants—the monkeys, the fruit bats, the snakes, including the multi-colored butterflies and other winged creatures that knew nothing about the intricacies of cheating—will only be too happy for the rare opportunity to have as company a human being like Garcillano who, ironically, is considered by many Filipinos to belong to a lower specie in the animal kingdom.

Salinraban could also offer Garcillano a most irresistible amenity. The place is not bugged. There are no telephone cables and no high-tech eavesdropping devices in the place, so he can make and receive as many telephone calls as he wishes inside, via satellite, of course. Or, failing that, he can just send out smoke or semaphore signals. Better yet, he can scribble on the cave walls, and wait until a wayward soul discovers his writings, which I suspect would be mostly "tara", as what prisoners inside Muntinlupa do while counting the years. In Garcillano's case, he could "tara" the votes Gloria had stolen.

“Hello, Ma’m. Asa Salinraban ako (I am in Salinraban). Ayos na ang isang milyon. Some of the birds and the bats and the monkeys here voted for you. Bye.” Click.