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.