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.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Biazon’s change of tune and the “invisible hands” in Mindanao

This much I can concede to Sen. Rodolfo Biazon: His committee, the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, cannot conduct a probe yet on Senator Antonio Trillanes’s P. S. Resolution No. 72, or on any resolution referred to it for that matter, for the simple reason that the Senate as a whole has not constituted all of its committees.

This is fact. The Senate should have completed its work of naming all the committee chairpersons and members last Wednesday, but the Catholic Church, by way of its answered prayers for rain, had had its way. Floods submerged the many parts of Metro Manila and not even the senators’ luxurious SUVs can transport them to the Senate for a session, so they disappeared for a while. Never mind if wagging tongues said the cancellation of the session was due not to the floods, but to an impending Senate coup. Go ask Senate President Manny Villar. Anyway, I expect the organization of the committees to be completed by Tuesday next week.

Last Monday, Trillanes filed a resolution asking Biazon’s committee to investigate, in aid of legislation, alleged information that high ranking officials of the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had direct knowledge of, and were involved, in the July 10 ambush of some 50 soldiers of the Philippine Marines Corps in Albarka, Basilan. The daylight ambush, owned later by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, resulted in the death of 14 Marines and the beheading of 10 of them.

“I have received very serious insider information that ranking officials of the government, specifically of the executive department, had a direct hand in feeding our own military to the enemies of the State that led to the tragic death of the fourteen members of the Philippine Marine Corps,” Trillanes said in filing the resolution.

The resolution was a bombshell, and the reactions of some, including senators, were immediate.

“Mere gossip”, that’s how Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile reacted to Trillanes’s resolution. He added “talkative” to his other, past description of the jailed senator.

Biazon had initially balked at conducting a probe, saying that only Trillanes alone can answer the questions on the matter raised in his resolution. However, after a meeting with Trillanes last Friday at the latter’s detention cell, he had a change of mind. Describing the Albarka carnage to have some parallels with the Lamitan siege in June 2001 where a score of Abu Sayyaf extremists, although surrounded, were able to escape with their hostages, leaving behind several soldiers dead, the former chief of staff said the information Trillanes provided him during the meeting could serve as basis for a probe.

What is this information? The public deserves to know.

In the meantime, the rabid but shallow partisans in the establishment, described by Trillanes as “lawyering” for PGMA, delight in lambasting Trillanes. Norberto Gonzalez, the security adviser who eats bananas when appearing before the Senate, said the young senator should offer proof “beyond reasonable doubt” for his accusation.

Accusation? Trillanes had not accused anyone. He said he had insider information and promptly asked the Senate to investigate its veracity. Proof beyond reasonable doubt? A Senate probe is not a court of law. Trillanes may be a neophyte senator, but he knew an investigation should start first before one presents proof or parades witnesses. It’s not the other way around.

And why should Trillanes be burdened with revealing his witnesses now, BEFORE any investigation starts, when every Filipino from Batanes to Jolo knows the capability of the administration in circumventing the rules and tampering with evidences, even kidnapping witnesses just to prevent the truth from unraveling? Ask Mike Defensor when he kidnapped Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s witness from his hideout in Tagaytay not a few years ago.

Armed Forces chief of staff Hermogenes Esperon, who is mentioned in the “Hello, Garci?” tapes, sneered at Trillanes: “How can he speak of tactical matters when he has no field experience?”

Sen. Gordon, who has declared himself available as presidential candidate in 2010, said of the resolution over a radio station last Saturday: “Nakakababa ng morale.” The anchors who were interviewing the senator laughed—because they don’t know anything—and proceeded to berate Trillanes.

Nowadays, tormenting Trillanes has become a pastime, but this only diverts attention from the valid issues he had raised.

What really happened on July 10 in Albarka, Basilan? Whose invisible hands led our soldiers to the slaughterhouse? And why? Is Trillanes naive to raise the issue of a government allegedly with bloodied hands with regard the war on terror in Mindanao?

Most importantly, what is the government’s policy with regard extremism and terrorism, apart from those policies already laid down in the Human Security Act of 2007 and the knee-jerk instructions of the commander-in-chief which his pawning generals, tripping on each other, quickly obey?

These are some of the questions (many more will crop up when the probe begins) that the Senate investigation seeks to answer. Averting an inquiry, as what most Trillanes’s opponents are now trying to frantically do, will only deepen public suspicion that, indeed, invisible, bloodied hands, were responsible for the carnage—still continuing as of this time—that threatens to engulf many parts of the South and waste the lives of many more unsuspecting, innocent soldiers.

If Biazon will only re-read the resolution and contemplate it again, he will feel that the ghosts of the soldiers who have died—and continue to die—in a war not of their own liking, are enough to move his committee to proceed with the inquiry.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Pungko sa Bunsuran

Welcome to the Bunsuran Caravan.

In what I hope could be a sustainable engagement, I begin this affair with a brief education tour on the Asi language, from which bunsuran comes from.

When I was a scrawny kid in a mountainous island called Sibale off the cost of Mindoro, I used to spend the first break of daylight sitting on the bunsuran, watching the birds welcome and celebrate a new day up the branches of the mayugango tree right in front of our yard. Bunsuran is the first of five to seven steps of the movable bamboo stair leading to our house. Our house--of bamboo, apitong, and cogon grass--had two such stairs, one in front facing east and one in the abuhan--the kitchen--at the back, facing west.

The bunsuran is the repository of my childhood dreams. It is where I munched over-ripe atis for breakfast, watched airplanes pass by to distant destinations, and contemplated my unknown future. It is at the bunsuran where I learned to read scraps of Taliba which my father used to wrap goodies whenever he came from a trip to Mindoro.

The bunsuran is a comfortable nook to make gossip. I still remember the occasion when my mother came down from the house to meet a neighbor bringing the happy news of a relative giving birth to a bouncy baby boy. Right there in the bunsuran, I knew from hearing adult talk about the unmarried relative becoming pregnant and how she tried hiding it from the barrio folks. My father fixed tools, talked and blew cigarette smoke to his fighting cocks while sitting on the bunsuran.

In the Asi language, the bunsuran is the Alpha and Omega of the house. One entered the abode passing through it. It is the last part of the house that the pallbearers step on for the final journey of the dead. In our superstitious island, the stair is removed when one leaves and no house caretaker is left, allegedly to prevent the spirits from going inside. The bunsuran takes the brunt of the weight of humans and the material goods they carried inside the house. Even animals, like our backyard sow, knew its use in removing body itchiness, by passing through the stair's hard post and rubbing her body to it back and forth.

The bunsuran is unknown in a world whose buzzword is globalization; in an era of high-speed elevators and push-button conveyor systems. But an island where there is no 24/7 electricity, no Internet, and no stock exchanges that keeps track of capital movement--not even a COMELEC that deliberately miscounts votes and no President who orders luxury cars smashed to win pogi points--the bunsuran is there to stay: a movable fixture of the house that bears witness to the coming and going of an age and culture that is still strongly anchored in beauty, simplicity, and utility. It remains a repository of dreams and articulator of beliefs; a bridge to the window of the Asi soul.

This blogger is a torch bearer of the Asi tribe's Bunsuran Caravan.