Friday, November 25, 2011

Ampatuans tried to secure amnesty for cache of guns

Maguindanao Massacre, Year 2

Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism
Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011 

First of Two Parts

JUST A few weeks after the Nov. 23, 2009 Maguindanao Massacre, where 58 people including 32 journalists were executed in a remote barangay in Ampatuan town, officials of the Firearms and Explosives Division (FED) of the Philippine National Police (PNP) were surprised to receive a deluge of applications for gun amnesty from one particular province in Mindanao.

Every once in a while, the national government offers a gun amnesty to the general public. These amnesty offers are a general pardon of sorts, where people with loose or unlicensed firearms are allowed to have illegal guns licensed and registered in their names.

But this batch of applications raised a red flag among officials of the PNP-FED, the agency tasked with regulating gun ownership and use in the country.

First of all, almost all the new applications originated from Maguindanao province, where the massacre occurred.

Second, the applicants were mostly members of the local civilian volunteer organizations, or CVOs, the local militia. Interestingly, members of Maguindanao’s CVOs who owed loyalty to the Ampatuan clan, had been implicated in the massacre.

Third, many of the firearms were the highly-priced Bushmaster M4A3, a variant of the M4 carbine used by many special forces units. Just a few years earlier, the Ampatuan clan, through the Maguindanao provincial government, had purchased 50 Bushmasters through gun trader Crisostomo Aquino, allegedly to fight the terrorist threat in the province. The end users of the Bushmasters, priced at P120,000 each, were supposed to be members of the Maguindanao PNP.

Sr. Superintendent Danilo Maligalig, then operations chief of the PNP-FED, recalls that this batch of amnesty applications, “numbering around a hundred,” immediately caught the attention of firearms regulators.

The gun amnesty, provided for through Executive Order 817 signed by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in June 2009 as part of the National Firearms Control Program (NFCP), had expired on Nov. 30, 2009, or a few days before this batch of amnesty applications swamped the FED.

From cops to CVOs

“Sinubukan nilang ipahabol ang mga ito (They tried to get this past us),” Maligalig recalls.

Maligalig says investigation by the FED later showed that these firearms were the same guns issued to the Maguindanao PNP to fight the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and other armed groups in the region.

But police officials were puzzled how these firearms found their way to the CVOs, who then tried to acquire legal possession of them through the firearms amnesty program. What made the applications all the more unusual was the fact that the guns had never even been declared lost by the local PNP in the first place.

To Maligalig and other FED officials, this much was clear: firearms meant for the government arsenals had found their way to armed groups loyal to the Ampatuans.

Too, the clan appeared to be scrambling to save its arsenal and retain its armed might in the wake of the government crackdown against the firepower of the Ampatuans.

But more importantly, it was an sign of how the Ampatuan clan, like other well-armed political families, may have mastered the art of finding and taking advantage of apparent loopholes in firearms laws and amnesty programs in order to build, arm, and maintain a parallel arsenal that rivals even that of the national government’s.

At the same time, it put into question the entire firearms regulation system, including the fact that some state agencies such as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) deem themselves exempt from such rules.

Alarming findings

Maligalig says that FED officials immediately suspended that batch of firearms amnesty applications while a probe was underway.

The results of the probe were alarming.

Maligalig, who acted as vice chairman of the investigating committee formed by the FED, said they found that many of the firearms bought with government funds supposedly for the local PNP were really meant to be used by the Ampatuan militia.

Under PNP rules, local governments may purchase firearms for the use of the local police force. These purchases are, however, covered by an end-user certificate, which specifies who is the firearm’s real user. In the case of the Bushmaster carbines, the guns were supposed to go straight to police officers assigned in Maguindanao.

“The guns were meant for the local police of Maguindanao, in fact the memorandum receipts (MR) were in the name of the policemen assigned,” says Maligalig. “Pero pirma lang ‘yun (But these were just signatures on paper.) The actual distribution of the guns was made to the militia members.”

He says that a closer scrutiny of the firearms applications showed that some of the CVO members applying for gun amnesty were in fact implicated in the Maguindanao Massacre itself.

Wanted-list pics

“If you look at the pictures on the wanted list,” says Maligalig, “these were the same pictures in the amnesty applications application.”

A number of these CVO members were later arrested and have been included in the Maguindanao Massacre case now pending before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court.

Maligalig says it appeared that the clan had ordered militia members to have these high-powered firearms placed under the amnesty program, in order to spare them from confiscation by the government.

“When things got hairy, they (the Ampatuans) attempted to have their firearms placed under the amnesty program,” Maligalig tells the PCIJ. “Pinangalan lang ang mga baril sa mga militia (They just tried to have the guns registered in the name of their milita members).”

In all, some 1,200 firearms were reported by the AFP to have been unearthed, confiscated, or recovered in Maguindanao province following the Maguindanao Massacre, according to AFP spokesmen in 2010.

Most of these firearms were old and obsolete firearms usually issued to members of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGUs) and CVOs, the so-called force multipliers authorized through Executive Order 546 signed by then President Gloria Arroyo in July 2006.

High-powered metal

A number of these recovered firearms, however, are clearly high-powered and high-end. Among the firearms recovered, as listed by the Mindanao-based news cooperative Mindanews, were:

Four 60-mm mortars with ammunition;

Two 81mm mortars;

A 90mm recoilless rifle (actually a misnomer. The recoilless rifle fires a shaped charge that can punch a hole through armored vehicles);

A 57-mm recoilless rifle;

One Barrett sniper rifle (a specialized sniper weapon that delivers a half-inch slug with an effective range of 1.8 kilometers. The model recovered was a civilian version, although Barrett sniper rifles are normally not sold to private individuals but only to governments);

Three M60 light machine guns (the standard machine gun of the AFP and the PNP);

One .50 caliber heavy machine gun, also capable of punching holes in armored vehicles; and

Various high-powered rifles and hand guns

Of these firearms, some 300 guns were turned over to the PNP Region 12 crime laboratory in General Santos City on suspicion that they were directly involved in the Maguindanao Massacre. So far, four of these confiscated guns have already been matched with slugs recovered from the victims and the site, according to Task Force Maguindanao head Chief Superintendent Benito Estipona. It is not clear if any of these firearms were part of the batch that CVOs tried to have registered under the amnesty program.

One long, one short

As a general rule, the country’s laws regulating firearms ownership limits the number of firearms owned by private citizens to “one long, one short,” or one rifle and one pistol.

In addition, private citizens are only allowed to own bolt-action or semi-automatic rifles with caliber no larger than .22 of an inch. The usual exemption is for gun club members, who are allowed a maximum of 10 rifles, but only “for sporting use.”

Yet according to the findings of the lifestyle check conducted by Deputy Ombudsman Humphrey Monteroso on the Ampatuan assets and submitted by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to the Court of Appeals, the Ampatuan clan has at least 157 firearms of various calibers registered in the PNP-FED’s Firearms Identification Management System (FIMS) masterfile.

Of these 157 registered firearms, 23 are listed under the name of Andal Salibo Ampatuan Sr., and 26 under the name of Zaldy Uy Ampatuan. Eighteen guns are registered under the name of Andal Uy Ampatuan Jr., while another 15 are registered in the name of his brother Anwar.

(An earlier report by the PCIJ, quoting PNP-FED officials, pegged the number of firearms registered to members of the Ampatuan clan at 271, distributed among 103 persons with the surname Ampatuan.)

How then were the Ampatuans able to register so many firearms under their names?

Big cache of guns

Current officials of the PNP-FED refused repeated requests by the PCIJ for an interview. But Police Chief Superintendent Ricardo Marquez, executive officer of the Directorate for Investigation and Detective Management, says “the only way I can think of” how the clan was able to pull off such a feat is through the numerous amnesty programs offered over the years. This is because under the amnesty program, an applicant can register any number of firearms.

Marquez says even long firearms are included in the amnesty program. “The (limit) of only one-long, one-short is effectively overruled (by the amnesty),” he adds.

Since 1992, the government has offered at least 12 amnesty programs that would enable holders of loose firearms to have them registered and legalized for a fee.

But there is yet one more apparent loophole in the amnesty program that allows gun owners to collect and legally own high-powered firearms. Under the country’s gun laws, private citizens are not allowed to own high-powered rifles of 5.56 mm or 7.62 mm. These are the calibers of the standard M-16 rifle and the M1 Garand or the M14 rifle used by the police and the military.

The various amnesty programs, though, allow applicants to own high-powered rifles so long as they do not exceed 7.62mm. This means an applicant for amnesty can, once approved, legally own his own arsenal of high-powered firearms that are not available to ordinary citizens.

‘Designer guns’

A quick inspection of the list of firearms registered under the names of the Ampatuans, meantime, also reveals a proclivity, not just for high-powered firearms, but for “designer guns,” as described by one security consultant, as well.

Of the 23 firearms listed under his name, Andal Sr. owns an Israeli-made 5.56 Negev light machine gun, a belt-fed or drum-fed machine gun that is hardly for sporting use. The Israel Weapon Industries website describes the Negev as “a small, light weight advanced machine gun” that allows “accurate and fast controlled fire for close quarter battle or an automatic mode that allows maximum firepower.”

In addition, Andal Sr. owns a Heckler and Koch MP7 submachine gun, a new generation of submachine guns whose 4.6mm bullets can punch holes through bulletproof vests. Manufacturer Heckler and Koch’s official website describes the MP7’s ammunition as capable of penetrating a bulletproof vest “comprised of 1.6mm titanium plates and 20 layers of Kevlar, out to 200 meters and beyond.”

Andal Sr. also owns 18 pistols and three other high-powered rifles.

Not to be outdone, Zaldy Ampatuan owns a Negev light machinegun, two HK MP7 submachine guns, an HK UMP40 submachine gun, and two Israeli-made Tavor assault rifles, the same rifle now being issued to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). This is aside from the 11 pistols and one shotgun that he owns.

Andal Jr., for his part, has 18 registered firearms, according to PNP records. These range from an OAR 556 rifle to a 5.7 caliber Fabrique Nationale submachine gun.

Expensive buys

A gun expert consulted by the PCIJ calls these “designer guns” that are very expensive, and hard to come by. An MP7 can be purchased in the Philippines for P 700,000 to P900,000 each because it is so rare, the expert says. The Tavor, with its bullpup design and built-in illuminated sights, can fetch anywhere from P600,000 to P700,000. A Negev light machinegun, because of its functionality, would be worth around P 1.2M in the Philippine market, he says.

In an email reply to PCIJ’s written queries, Andal Ampatuan Sr.’s lawyer, Sigfrid Fortun, dismisses suggestions that the Ampatuans had used the amnesty programs to build up their weapons arsenal.

“Whether they used the Amnesty Program to legitimize their possession of these weapons is arguable,” Fortun writes. “One thing is certain, though, when an unlicensed firearm is brought to the fold of the law and the PNP accepts it to license it, is this not far better than having loose firearms where the government does not even know exactly how many firearms one has in his possession? Now how can this submission to the fold of the law be immoral or illegal?”

Indeed, the argument is echoed by some police officials who see no problem with the liberal application of gun amnesty proclamations.

Marquez and Maligalig, for instance, both say it is better to encourage gun owners to have their loose firearms licensed, than to have these floating around unregistered.

Maligalig says the PNP-FED purposely made the amnesty proclamations more liberal “to ferret out” the loose firearms. He notes, “It was needed so that we could account all of those unrecorded.”

“The aim is to get the firearms registered, get their ballistic characteristics, and stencil them so that when they are used in a crime, they can be traced to their owners,” Marquez points out. “What’s the better situation, more guns that aren’t registered or have an amnesty program that has loose guns registered and stenciled?”

But he says there is an aspect of gun control that does need immediate attention. Over the years, he says, only civilians have been strictly following the letter of the law on firearms purchase and ownership. The likes of the AFP, effectively the biggest armed group in the country, apparently do not believe they have to follow such rules on firearms.

For example, Marquez says that firearms acquisitions made by AFP units outside of the regular arms dealers have largely been unregistered and unlicensed. Maligalig also says that AFP arms purchases go “undeclared.”

Floating around

For this reason, there are firearms floating around in the grey area between formal military units and the local government militias that the government has no records of. As such, it is much easier for high-powered firearms supposedly destined for the AFP to disappear into a black hole of sorts.

“When firearms are bought from a dealer, they are automatically registered,” says Marquez. “But when firearms are not acquired through that process, they are not registered. Some of the firearms of the AFP were through foreign military sales, so these were given directly to the AFP.”

“Our suggestion,” he says, “is for everybody’s firearms, especially government firearms, to be registered, and their records kept by the PNP, meaning ballistics records, stencils, etc.”

But the paperwork for such a process would probably have to compete with those from local officials who seem to believe they have to have a formidable arsenal in order to govern.

They fancied guns

Lawyer Fortun, for one, describes that the Ampatuans are “public officials who, during their incumbency, fancied guns (like most Alpha males). This was public knowledge.”

Yet he also defends the large number of firearms registered under the names of the Ampatuan family members by saying that the clan “was used by and had assisted the Government to fight the MILF.”

“Unsay (Andal Jr.) was in the forefront of these armed encounters,” Fortun says in his email reply to PCIJ’s queries. “They were the ‘stay-behind units’ after the army completed its assault on known MILF territories. They took over and held the ground after the army had returned to their secure camps, and they kept the area they held MILF-free.”

According to Fortun, though, many of exotic firearms listed under the names of the Ampatuans were actually “gifts from constituents and others.”

Curiously, a PCIJ report on the guns of the Ampatuan clan published in 2010 also mentioned the fondness of some Ampatuan family members to give guns as gifts as well. Former Maguindanao Martial Law administrator Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer had told the PCIJ that he had been offered one of the Tavor assault rifles of Zaldy Ampatuan as a gift a few weeks after the Maguindanao Massacre.

“Sir, kunin mo na lang, sa iyo na lang daw ang Tavor ni RG (Sir, just get it, RG’s Tavor is yours),” Ferrer recalls the aide of Zaldy as telling him over the phone.

 On another occasion before the massacre, Ferrer recalled having received a brand new M4 assault rifle as a gift after a meeting with Zaldy Ampatuan. Ferrer said the gun was thrust on him by an Ampatuan aide while he was leaving.

A basic M4 assault rifle, without accessories, costs from $2,000 to 2,800 when purchased in bulk. —PCIJ, November 2011

Justice and Rule of Law in the Philippines, Maguindanao Massacre, Zaldy Ampatuan

Thursday, November 24, 2011

SC orders distribution of Hacienda Luisita

A copy of the Supreme Court en banc resolution on the Hacienda Luisita case.

Posted at 11/23/2011 11:12 PM | Updated as of 11/24/2011 1:30 AM

MANILA, Philippines—Saying farmer-beneficiaries will not benefit from distribution of shares of stock, the Supreme Court has ordered the distribution of 4,915.7466 hectares (has.) of Hacienda Luisita, the sugar estate owned by the relatives of President Benigno Aquino III.

In a 56-page resolution promulgated Wednesday and penned by Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., the high court modified its decision in July that allowed 6,296 farmer-beneficiaries to choose between ownership of agricultural land or shares of stock representing the value of the sugar estate.

"In line with our finding that control over agricultural lands must always be in the hands of the farmers, we consider our ruling that the qualified FWBs [farmworker beneficiaries] should be given an option to remain as stockholders of (Hacienda Luisita Inc.), inasmuch as these qualified FWBs will never gain control given the present proportion of (the) shareholdings," the new decision says.

It was a unanimous decision, where 14 of 15 magistrates voted for the distribution of lands. Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio did not take part.

Some of the magistrates, however, gave separate concurring and dissenting opinions that tackled several provisions including the valuation of the lands.

The decision explained that the stock distribution plan put forward by the management will never provide the control sought by the FWBs. Control, in this case, means 50% plus at least one share of the common shares.

Taking into account the P590,554,220 total assets of HLI, the value of the land in question is P196,630,000 or 33.296%.

"There is even no assurance that 100% of the 118,391,976.85 shares issued to the FWBs will all be voted in favor of staying in HLI, taking into account the previous referendum among the farmers where said shares were not voted unanimously in favor of retaining the (stock plan)," the decision says.

The high court noted that if the farmers choose stocks, they will be treated as common shareholders not protected by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law.

HLI ordered to pay P1.33 billion to beneficiaries

The SC also reiterated its ruling in July ordering HLI to pay the 6,296 farmers a total of P1.33 billion broken down as follows:

 •P500 million HLI received from Luisita Realty Inc. for the sale of 200 hectares of land in 1996;

 •P750 million for the sale of the Luisita Industrial Park; and,

 •P80,511,500 for the sale of the 80.51-hectare lot for the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) road network.

The 3% of the proceeds of the transfers that were paid earlier to the farmers shall be deducted from the P1.33 billion.

The just compensation for the landowners, on the other hand, will be assessed by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and the Land Bank of the Philippines.

The valuation compensation will be reckoned from November 21, 1989, the date of the issuance of the original resolution that was questioned by HLI.

DAR was ordered to submit a compliance report after 6 months from finality of judgment. It was also ordered to submit quarterly reports on the execution of the judgment.

President Aquino divested his shares from Hacienda Luisita Inc. following his victory in the May 2010 presidential elections. It is now owned mainly by his uncles and aunts.

During the 2010 election campaign, he promised to find ways and means to transfer the assets of Hacienda Luisita to farmer beneficiaries. He also said he had asked his "extended family" to support his position.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A friendship with Pops across 34 years

GUNNED DOWN Fr. Fausto Tentorio, a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), parish priest of Arakan, North Cotabato, was gunned down this morning in his convent 8:30 a.m., Monday, October 17, 2011. File Photo courtesy of PIME Philipines.

A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: A friendship with Pops across 34 years
By Karl M. Gaspar C.Ss.R. Tuesday October 18, 2011 Filed under:

CEBU CITY (MindaNews/18 October) — The first text came just before 10 a.m. on the 17th of October, 2011 with these words—Fr. Fausto Tentorio, Italian priest basd in arakan, servng the lumads and farmers since the 80s was shot dead ds am. Lets pray 4 hs soul and demand justice 4 hs unjust death. Pls standby 4 advisory trip to arakan 4 hs wake. Because it was sent by good friend Norma Javellana from Davao City who is ever so reliable with accurate reporting, I had no reason to doubt that the news was true.

I was at our retreat house on Nivel Hills in Cebu City when the text reached me. Our community of Redemptorists was gathered on this hill for our day of recollection and I was contemplating on the life of St. Gerard Majella C.Ss.R., a Redemptorist saint who was a Brother. He was born in Moro Lucano in southern Italy in 1726, died on 16 October 1755, beatified in 1893 and canonized in 1904. He died at age 29 of tuberculosis, three years after the joined the Redemptorists. We celebrated his feast day on Sunday, which also happened to be the 20th anniversary of the martyrdom of Fr. Satur Neri of the Diocese of Malaybalay, gunned down because of his anti-logging advocacy.

The first thought that came to mind as I read the text that brought very sad news was this: the Mindanao Church has another martyr, another saint! The mind has a way of cushioning the impact of a news that brings tremendous shock! I recalled when I first heard the news that my late father was killed; I thought—what will happen to the wonderful gardens that he was tilling in our backyard!

My mind continued to assert itself so that my heart would not cave in. I immediately thought of those who should know immediately about what happened in Arakan. I thought of old friends from the Diocese of Kidapawan and colleagues of the Mindanao Church’s MSPC network, those in the circle of friends working in solidarity with the Lumad (Mindanao’s indigenous peoples), the Kaliwat Theatre Collective (who had worked for three years with Fr. Fausto who was fondly called Pops) and others who knew and cared for Pops. I also texted a friend at the Ateneo de Manila University Press as they just published my book—MANOBO DREAMS IN ARAKAN: A People’s Struggle to Keep Their Homeland—in which Fr. Fausto figures prominently.

In the next hour or so, texts flew all over the islands. After an hour, there was a lull. Then I surrendered to the desire of the heart to grieve and tears fell. Once there was a respite from the primordial need to let go of the deep sadness that so consumed my total being, I remembered snapshots of the past 34 years since I first met Pops.

Our paths first crossed at the Maryknoll Language School in Lanang, Davao City. It was sometime in 1978 (or 1979?). I was then the Executive Secretary of the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference Secretariat and that work brought me into close association with practically all the religious congregations with communities in Mindanao-Sulu. I had met the PIME missionaries and visited their communities in Ayala, Zamboanga City and Siocon, Zamboanga del Sur. As I was an occasional lecturer on Filipino culture and the Mindanao-Sulu church at the Maryknoll School, I met the PIMEs who went there to study Cebuano-Bisaya.

He wasn’t known as Pops then. We called him Fausto and he easily stood out in class. With his curly long hair, moustache and sharp eyes, he had the look of a prophet! Like a few other PIMEs and other foreign missionaries who preferred to go to the hinterlands of Mindanao, he didn’t worry about what people thought of his appearance. He wore whatever was simple and comfortable and that was always a T-shirt, rugged pants and rubber slippers. Many people would have joked that he looked like Jesus Christ the vagabond.

Fausto had a hunger to know as much as could be known about the Philippines and Mindanao, about the people and their culture, the problems of the country (this was at the height of martial rule) and what the people were doing to resist the Marcos dictatorship. He asked a lot of questions inside and outside the classroom. He sought to do good in learning the local language. He was an ideal student and one knew that he would do well as a missionary in Mindanao. As he was also gentle and soft-spoken, one intuited that even if he would take a militant stance as a progressive church worker he would not get into trouble with the military and their henchmen.

After his language studies, I would see him again and again and again. Our paths crossed a hundred times through the 34 years of our friendship owing to the convergences of our vocation and interests. Most of these were during PIME gatherings to which I would be invited, diocesan assemblies in the Diocese of Kidapawan including gatherings of those who work among Lumads and later in Arakan where Fausto would be assigned for close to three decades.

The Redemptorist Mission Team based in Iligan City was invited to conduct a mission in the Mother of Perpetual Help Parish in Arakan, Cotabato in 1986. I had joined the Redemptorists by then and spent time in Arakan. Fausto was already working there with lay associates engaged in various social development projects—that dealt with issues of land, health, education and livelihood—at the service of the Manobo communities. That provided a good chance to catch up with him.

In the next decade, two developments brought us together again. First was the initiative of a few church workers and those of the IP-NGOs to pick up on the ruins of LUMAD MINDANAO, the network of Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations that were set up and which thrived during the martial rule. In the years following February 1986, LUMAD MINDANAO faced organizational problems and collapsed. Fausto’s confrere, a well-known and well-respected figure in the IP circles, Fr. Peter Geremia, PIME, was one of the key people in this initiative to set up another network that would respond to the post-1986 realities of Lumad organizing. Thus was born PANAGTAGBO. In various activities launched by PANAGTAGBO, literally I would have panagtagbos (encounter) with Fausto and the Lumad leaders he was associated with in Arakan.

Then in the wake of the DENR’s Departamental Order No. 2 (DAO-2) that came out in 1993, there arose a possibility for the Lumad to have some level of control and ownership of their ancestral domain through the issuance of the Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT). Fausto—who was then becoming more known as Pops to those outside of Arakan—contacted the Kaliwat Theatre Collective, then headed by Nestor Horfilla, to assist their group in Arakan to apply for a CADT. Thus was born the cultural project of Kaliwat in collaboration with the Tribal Filipino Program under Pops and the Manobo’s IPO, the Manobo Lumadnong Panaghiusa (MALUPA). As I am an honorary member of Arakan, I got to tag along in some of the activities connected to this project.

Fast forward to my doctoral studies at the University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City which began in mid-1996. When I thought of topics for my dissertation, at the top of the list was to look into the collaborative effort of these three civil society agents in Arakan. Ultimately, when I began to do fieldwork in 1998, there was only one choice left, namely go to Arakan. One of the major reasons for this decision was that Pops was there to fully back me up.

By the late 1990s, I was already in my early-50s and Pops was in his late 40s. Both of us were growing older and we’ve had our ups and downs in our social and pastoral engagements. We were comparing about the remaining hair still standing on our heads and how it was getting more difficult to climb the steep mountain slopes. I made it a point to spend week-ends in the convento during the year of my fieldwork in Arakan. Through the night we had long chats.

He shared his heartaches about what was happening in Arakan, the frustrations he faced with the work. He felt so sad that the well-to-do Ilonggo settlers who have come to Arakan have grabbed the Manobos’ land. That the government continued to be in the hands of settlers and provided so little for the needs of the Manobos. That rich landowners and businessmen were continuing to find ways to set up plantations. That Ilonggo parishioners continued to ask him why he cared so little for them and that he only paid attention to the needs of the Lumad.

And he shared about his fear that despite what he and his colleagues—including highly committed Manobo leaders—were doing for and on behalf of the Manobo, there was no assurance that they could continue to encourage them to remain united in their struggle for self-determination for the sake of their children’s children.

By the beginning of this millennium I was out of Arakan. I finished my dissertation. went to Arakan to give Pops, his colleagues and the MALUPA leaders with a copy of the dissertation as I have promised, then quickly returned to our mission team and did missions across Mindanao including those in IP communities. The years quickly went by. My encounters with Pops became rare as it was not that easy anymore to just go off to Arakan. Even as I was still attending the meetings of the Episcopal Commission on Indigenous Peoples both the regional and national levels, he would rather not join such conferences. I didn’t blame him as he always preferred to be in the field rather than in ssembly halls or conference rooms. But I continued to hear about what he was oing as I bumped into his confreres and colleagues every now and then.

When the book Manobo Dreams in Arakan got published in middle of this year, I planned to have a book launch where he, the MALUPA leaders and the original members of Kaliwat would attend. As it was not possible to do it in Arakan or even Kidapawan (owing to time and financial constraints), the next best site would be in Digos City. My friends at Cor Jesu College including Donna Celebrado who used to be a member of Kaliwat, were going to organize it. I looked forward with a lot of excitement to that possibility, mainly to see Pops again and catch up with the recent developments as well as be updated with how things were in Arakan.

Alas, it wasn’t going to happen. And the reason was because it came to pass that Pops’ fears would come true. The unity among the Manobos in Arakan which was at one time one of the strongest among IP communities in Mindanao had earlier fragmented. MALUPA had split into two camps. They and Pops could not all come to attend the book launch.

If I knew then what I know now, I could have taken the four-hour trip to Arakan and sought Pops and give him a copy of the book. That would have pleased him, not so much because he cared for books but he would have welcomed a chat where he would explain to me why the split finally took place.

It would have been a sad story to listen to.

But the sadder part of this whole story is that Pops is gone.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl
Gaspar of Davao City, is author of several books, including “To be poor and
obscure,” “Mystic Wanderers in the Land of Perpetual Departures,” “The Masses
are Messiah: Contemplating the Filipino Soul,” and the recently-launched“Manobo
Dreams in Arakan.” He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English [A
Sojourner's Views] and the other in Binisaya [Panaw-Lantaw].)

Saturday, January 29, 2011


By Jose F. Lacaba
Reprinted from

A recent “Pinoy Kasi” column by Michael Tan, “Intsik” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, January 28, 2011), reminded me of a paper I wrote back in 2008 for a “literature forum for writers of Asia,” on the subject of “Asia, from Extinction to Formation.” That writers’ conference, held in the last week of May 2008 in Pohang POSCO, South Korea, was sponsored by the Seoul-based quarterly journal Asia: Magazine of Asian Literature, with the POSCO TJ Park Foundation as co-sponsor.

This is the paper I wrote for that conference. It was published in the Spring 2009 issue of Asia: Magazine of Asian Literature (Vol. 12), with the above-the-title kicker “What It Means to Live as a Writer in Asia.”

By Jose F. Lacaba

My country, the Philippines, is geographically situated in Asia. That makes me, not only a Filipino, but also an Asian—or, as we say in my native tongue, Asyano. I am both Filipino and Asyano.

My facial features and the color of my skin advertise my Asyano origins to the rest of the world. Although Mexicans in the telenovelas shown on Philippine television look like Filipinos to us, I don’t recall ever having been mistaken for Latino. In Europe and the United States, I am invariably seen as Asyano, even if the exact country of origin remains an unknown factor: I have often been asked if I am Chinese, or Indonesian, or Malaysian, or Thai.

In fact, I do have a bit of Chinese blood. My great-grandmother on my mother’s side was pure Chinese. Her family name was Quiogue—that’s spelled in the Spanish way, but it sounds unmistakably Chinese. Many Filipinos, like me, are of mixed race, mestizos of Spanish, or American, or Arab, or Chinese ancestry, and lately, of Japanese and Korean ancestry as well.

So my compatriots and I are, to repeat, both Filipino and Asyano. But I have a confession to make. Though I am Asyano by virtue of geography and bloodline, my country’s colonial history and the continuing economic, political, and sociocultural dominance of former colonizers in our daily lives, plus the educational system that shaped me, have all but cut me off from my Asian roots. And I am not alone in this predicament.

We have, in my country, a joke in the form of a riddle, which is at the same time sociopolitical commentary in disguise: “What’s brown on the outside and white on the inside?” The literal answer to the riddle is: coconut. But at the same time we see the native coconut as a self-criticial metaphor for ourselves, for what we have become: we may be brown-skinned Asians on the outside, but on the inside, in our minds and even in our hearts, we continue to carry the baggage of our colonial past. We have what we call a “colonial mentality.”

This means, in the concrete, that while we are nominally an independent republic, we remain in many ways a colony, a protectorate, an adjunct of our most influential former colonial master, the United States.

So our government continues to conduct its affairs in the language of the colonizer: executive orders, congressional laws, and court rulings are written in English, or what passes for English. As consumers, we often belittle the output of our native economy, referring to it as “local,” meaning, shoddy and inferior, compared with goods that we call “stateside,” that is, imported from the U.S.A., even if “imported from the U.S.A.” these days does not necessarily mean “made in U.S.A.” Our educational system is still debating the merits and demerits of bilingualism, and there are highly placed officials in government who want to revert to the exclusive use of English as medium of instruction. In the sociocultural arena, Hollywood movies are still seen as superior to the productions of our own film industry, whether mainstream or indie; bookstores are stocked with U.S. bestsellers and trade books, while books by Filipino authors are relegated to an exotic section called Filipiniana; and the prestigious print publications are still English-language newspapers and magazines.

I am, of course, being unduly harsh. I have put myself in the role of the pessimist who sees the glass as half-empty rather than half-full. In truth, times have changed.

Today, we no longer have U.S. military bases on Philippine soil, even if we still have U.S. troops operating in the field in the guise of “visiting forces.” Primetime newscasts on the top-rating free channels are now primarily conducted in Filipino and in other Philippine languages, although you can still catch English-language newscasts on cable channels. As a part-time professorial lecturer at the state-owned University of the Philippines, I can teach in a combination of Tagalog and English, that linguistic hybrid that we call Taglish, even if the textbooks and reference materials that my students use are in English.

I belong to a generation that was once required to observe an English-only rule on campus and in classrooms, and we were fined if we were caught speaking in a Philippine language. But it was this same generation, the generation that came of age in the Sixties, that eventually rebelled against the prevailing colonial mentality and took up the banner of nationalism. It is no exaggeration to say that this generation’s efforts contributed to the political climate that led to the pullout of U.S. bases and the institution of the still-controversial bilingual policy of education, among other notable achievements.

One of the side effects of the nationalist movement was my personal decision to stop writing poetry in English, to write poetry exclusively in Filipino. I also used Filipino when I went into occasional scriptwriting for cinema and television. But at the same time, to earn a decent regular income, I continued—and still continue—to use English in my writing and editing work as a journalist.

I struggle on a daily basis with these contradictions. I live uncomfortably with these contradictions.

This brings me back to the personal contradiction I mentioned earlier. In addition to being Filipino, I am, to repeat, Asyano by virtue of geography and bloodline. And yet, as a writer, I must shamefacedly admit that my knowledge of Asian traditions and cultures is minimal.

In the early Sixties, as a college student enrolled in the humanities, I was exposed to the Japanese haiku and the Malayan pantun in poetry, and to the ukiyo-e woodblock prints of Hokusai and Hiroshige. Then, in the mid-Sixties, when I was already working as a reporter, the international political situation led many of my generation—writers, artists, cultural workers, and journalists included—to turn to Vietnam and China for inspiration. Poets, myself included, worked on translations of the poetry of Ho Chi Minh and Mao Zedong, in the search for a new poetics, for different metaphors and rhythms that could adequately deal with the agonies and guilt feelings of those tumultuous times.

Yet these past efforts to recognize my Asian-ness were in the nature of wading in shallow waters, not an immersion. I remained, in effect, submerged in the Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian, Anglo-American tradition, the tradition I inherited as a result of my schooling and my own private reading.

We are meeting here today in a time of great devastation and unbearable torment in Asia. An earthquake in China, a cyclone in Burma, tsunamis in India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Sri Lanka, and supertyphoons in my own country, the Philippines—the atmospheric upheavals are matched by the turbulence in the political sphere, perpetually shaken by protest marches, coup attempts, suicide bombings, massacres, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, ruthless terrorist attacks, equally ruthless counter-terrorist attacks by invading armies, and never-ending charges and counter-charges of graft and corruption, of exploitation and oppression.

But I am a senior citizen now, old and gray and full of sleep, and coping with gout and skin allergies and bronchitis and adult-onset asthma, not to mention erectile dysfunction. While I keep reminding myself that I should not allow my sense of outrage to grow old along with me, I find myself unable to shake my sleeping muse out of her stupor, long enough to bring Asia and its discontents into my verse.

“Poetry makes nothing happen,” W.H. Auden once wrote. “It survives / In the valley of its saying where executives / Would never want to tamper; it flows south / From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs, / Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives, / A way of happening, a mouth.”

On the other hand, to paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, we may not be able to do much with literature as our weapon, but without it the rulers would sleep more soundly.

For poetry and literature to survive and to disturb the sleep of rulers, they need a place in which to grow. And for Asia to occupy a significant place in our poetry and literature, they need Asian fields on which to thrive.

The co-sponsor of our conference today, Asia: Magazine of Asian Literature, has been providing an outlet for the publication of Asian literary works. Writers’ conferences such as this one are also helpful because they provide a forum for us to share ideas and experiences, and perhaps even to air grievances, real or imagined.

But perhaps we also need a specifically Asian literary festival similar to the Osian’s-Cinefan Festival of Asian and Arab Cinema, a literary festival in which we can be exposed, not to academic disquisitions, but to poetry and fiction and drama.

Perhaps we need a literary contest similar to the Asian Games, a literary contest for Asian writers dealing with Asian themes.

And certainly we need programs of translation that will make sense of the Babel of tongues in which we speak and write, programs of translation that will make our books and our literature accessible not only to English-speaking elites, but also to readers in our native tongues. Soap operas and telenovelas from Korea and Taiwan, known in the Philippines as Koreanovelas and Chinovelas, along with anime from Japan, won a wide following among Filipino televiewers after they were dubbed in Tagalog. Could a similar translation process achieve similar results for our poetry and fiction and drama?

Well, we can dream, can’t we? And dreams can make things happen.

I hope I will still be around when they happen, so that I can tell my unborn grandchildren that, unlike me and my generation, they can become not only Asyano on the outside but also Asyano on the inside.