Here is a very powerful rendition of the song One Tin Soldier by Cher and Sonny Bono. It beautifully opens and closes with "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear." Fittingly, it closes the Christmas season and leaves lots for us to reflect on in the coming year.

Although written in the 1960's by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter in protest of the Vietnam War, the song may be interpreted to refer to the situation of the indigenous peoples who sit
on the bulk of the earth’s last frontiers- the remaining genetic diversity, minerals, forests, among others. With their indigenous resource management systems, they were able to conserve the natural resources in their territories. Unfortunately, these resources are magnets of their oppression and abuse .

The global economic force that controls the means of production and their errand boys and girls in states with indigenous populations forged dominant conspiracies to render the IPs defenseless, and their subjugation a foregone conclusion. The preachers of globalization insist that the resources in IP territories are needed for corporate growth and industrial development for the advancement of humanity. IPs are generally marginalized and are afforded neither adequate, if at all, voice nor protection by the states which they have been forced to assimilate into. Exposed to the ferocious greed of profiteers, they are easily swept aside like falling dead leaves. Their situation could be likened to the people in the Mountain Kingdom in the song One Tin Soldier.

The lyrics of One Tin Soldier are reproduced below.

One Tin Solder

Listen, children, to a story
That was written long ago
'Bout a kingdom on a mountain
And the valley folk below
On the mountain was a treasure
Buried deep beneath a stone
And the valley people swore
They'd have it for their very own

Go ahead and hate your neighbor
Go ahead and cheat a friend
Do it in the name of Heaven
You can justify it in the end
There won't be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgment day
On the bloody morning after who...
One tin soldier rides away

So, the people of the valley
Sent a message up the hill
Asking for the buried treasure,
Tons of gold for which they'd kill
Came an answer from the kingdom,
"With our brothers, we will share
All the secrets of our mountain,
All the riches buried there"

Now, the valley cried with anger,
"Mount your horses, draw your sword!"
And they killed the mountain people
So, they won their just reward
Now, they stood beside the treasure
On the mountain dark and red
Turn the stone and looks beneath it...
"Peace on Earth" was all it said

Go ahead and hate your neighbor
Go ahead and cheat a friend
Do it in the name of Heaven
You can justify it in the end
There won't be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgment day
On the bloody morning after who...
One tin soldier rides away

Go ahead and hate your neighbor
Go ahead and cheat a friend
Do it in the name of Heaven
You can justify it in the end
There won't be any trumpets blowing
Come the judgment day
On the bloody morning after
One tin soldier rides away.




“Jesus is the reason for the Christmas season,” says a message circulating in cyberspace.

December 25 is the presumed birthday of Jesus Christ. This is debatable because when he was born, shepherds were out watching their flocks at night. In those days, flock-watching in the fields was possible from spring to autumn. During winter, the sheep were sheltered in the shepherds’ homes. Israel’s temperature can drop to really low levels in winter. It must have been lower in the old days when global warming was unimaginable. The biting cold posed an insurmountable obstacle to shepherds attending to their flocks at night.

Moreover, when Jesus’ birth was drawing nigh, Augustus Caesar ordered a census in the Roman Empire and everyone was mandated to be counted. In Jesus’ place and time, you did not wait for census officers to knock on your door. You had to register in the town of your lineage. Which was why the young couple, Joseph and the very pregnant Mary, hit the road to Bethlehem, the town of King David who was Joseph’s ancestor. An important undertaking like a census could not have been scheduled in winter when the weather was harsh for travel.

Historians say that December 25 was deliberately chosen as it was also the day Pagans honored the sun god Mithras. The celebrations were synchronized to accelerate the acquiescence by pagans to Christianity when it was declared as the Roman Empire’s official religion. In other words, choosing December 25 was a calculated political move.

That aside, it remains that Christmas has always been traditionally about Jesus Christ. And yet, it is not about him at all. The crass commercialism characterizing the season goes against everything he advocated.

Jesus is one of the leading figures in human history. Christians believe that he came as God. There are not a few skeptics who doubt this. But no one can deny that he came as a man. In a world of misery and greed such as the one we have today, it is worth looking into his life, at least as a man. He had more than a mouthful to say against greed and oppression.

He lived a life of purpose. “I came,” he said, “that they might have life, and that they might have it abundantly.” By they, he was referring to the poor and the oppressed. To propagate his ideology, he chose members of the working class as assistants. He and his disciples walked the streets and went to all corners their sandaled feet could take them to preach about loving one’s neighbors as loving oneself and doing unto others what one wanted done unto oneself. He exhorted everyone to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, help the sick, share resources. He put the welfare of others above his personal comfort. The issues of the poor and the powerless found a champion in him.

A recurring theme in his speeches was socialism or something akin to it. He said that one cannot serve both God and wealth. Once, he delivered a sermon and, at midday, commanded that the loaves and fishes in a boy’s lunch basket be shared by everyone. At another time, a rich man asked him what he needed to do to have eternal life. Jesus recited the Ten Commandments. The young man said, “I have done all of that. What do I need to do further?” Jesus told him, “Sell your possessions, give to the poor.” The man of immense wealth left with a heavy heart for he could not do as Jesus asked. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven,” Jesus remarked sadly.

The booty capitalists of our days are worse than the rich man Jesus encountered. Not only do they refuse to share their wealth (unless sharing means tax deductions for them), they also exploit the working class’ labor to expand their capital. They have resorted to all schemes imaginable to steal the actual pecuniary cost of the proletariat’s sweat. Mining companies are raking in billions of pesos from the muckers’ labor. Everyday, the workers risk their lives as they descend into the bowels of the earth to look for gold. And the mining companies boast, “We pay the miners more than the minimum wage.” Hah! The minimum wage is not necessarily decent wage. What is legal is not necessarily moral. I bet my life that the Philippine minimum wage law would not impress Jesus especially as it was crafted by an institution protective of booty capitalism’s interest.

Jesus disdained profiteers. When he went to a temple, there were so many merchants - money changers and people selling doves. In those days, doves were sacrificed in the temple by the poor who could not afford sheep and goats. Enraged, Jesus turned the tables upside down, cracked a whip he made and drove out the merchants while denouncing them for converting the temple into a den of thieves. The merchants must have been reaping more profit than what reason permitted. Why else did the reasonable Jesus call them thieves?

The profiteering in those days is nothing compared to today’s. For instance, the oil companies keep raising prices to intolerable levels using the fluctuation in the world market as excuse. Then they reduce the price but do not go back to the previous level. And consumers feel grateful for the reduction, not realizing they had been had.

The Philippine landlords just sit around waiting for profit from the peasants’ harvests. The latter have become prisoners of the earth owned by the former. In spite of its deficiencies, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) could have helped break, by a little stretch, the chains of the peasants’ bondage were it not for lackadaisical if not insincere implementation. Worse, it was to end this month. Farmers, with bishops and priests, went on hunger strike to pressure Congress to extend the CARP and reform the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law. But the “Honorables” were bent on ignoring the call, giving a token extension of only six months. Many of them are landowners themselves who are too greedy to even consider parting with a square meter of their hundreds of hectares of land. They are more interested in concocting ways to extend the Arroyo Regime which fiercely protects their interests. This regime does not serve the masses made up of workers and peasants. It serves the profiteering oligarchy and their wealth.

Christmas is no longer an occasion to celebrate the life of a man who turned the tables of profiteers upside down. It is the Feast of Capitalism as we are pressured to do a lot of spending, even beyond our means. The real winners of the season are the booty capitalists who, through multimillion advertisements make us feel guilty when we do not hit their malls to shop until we drop. Christmas insults Jesus’ teachings.

Che Guevara, a man born to privilege, chose to spend his life promoting socialism and dismantling structures of capitalism. The profiteers hated him. After his death, they raked in enormous revenues selling his image.

Like Che Guevara, Jesus Christ, the man who disdained flagrant commercialism, is its biggest victim on his birthday.



At this time, we need charter change like we need a hole in the head.

Whether the change is to be proposed by a constitutional convention or a constituent assembly, the result is the same: it will provide an opening for Gloria Arroyo to mess with the Constitution and consign the Filipinos to more years in the economic and political desert called the Arroyo Regime.

On the occasion of the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines Alumni Association reunion last week, I had the privilege to chat with RFM Food Corporation President Jose "Joe Con" S. Concepcion, Jr. He said that if it is unavoidable to change the constitution, he prefers a Constitutional Convention to Congress acting as a constituent assembly. According to him, proposed constitutional amendments will be reflective of the people's will when coming from a constitutional convention because the members are elected by the people.

But so are the members of Congress. Theoretically, they are representatives of the people. Perhaps, JoeCon did not tell me that he believes, as I do, that Congress, particularly the House of Representatives has long ceased to articulate the people's issues. It chose to be Arroyo's sycophant, her weapon against the Filipino forces out to dislodge her, her asylum from political doom. It is nauseating how its members can cavalierly throw out an impeachment complaint like it were some piece of trash. In 2005, some of the Representatives even had the gall to say they were voting against impeachment for the sake of their children and grandchildren.

Even a Constitutional Convention may turn out to be Arroyo's lapdog. What guarantee is there that elections for Concon members will float up the people's will? In this country, elections are sham proceedings. Were they free, clean and honest, Arroyo would not be calling the shots in Malacanang. With the desperation with which she wants charter change, she can field candidates as she fielded party lists of her political mold. Then she can just make a call to COMELEC Commissioners. And many of the COMELEC commissioners are not exactly above question. But again, that is precisely why they were appointed. The Arroyo Regime can survive when the moral fiber of the institutions in this country are weakened. And it has so far flourished because the courts, the House of Representatives, the COMELEC among others have been morally debilitated by electoral fraud and political appointments.

Charter change is neither about solving the Mindanao crisis, nor about boosting the economy as House Speaker Prospero Nograles claims. Didn't his boss boast not more than once that the Philippine economy has never been better? Stripped naked, the "cha- cha" moves are about Arroyo's obsession to cleave to power. And she has reasons to extend her term, not the least her desperation for impunity. Her crimes against the Filipino people are myriad and power is her only shield from prosecution. She believes that while President, she is immune from suits even if the Constitution, unlike the previous ones, has no provision to this effect. There is a Supreme Court all too willing to sustain this illusion of hers. The surest buffer from old age in prison is a lifelong claim to the presidency. That requires charter change, unless she declares martial law as some fear.

I have another reason to believe that "cha-cha" is about impunity. The Philippines already signed the Rome Statute which established the International Criminal Court. All that is left to make the Philippines a party to the treaty is for Arroyo to indorse it to the Senate for ratification. Deliberately, she is sitting on it. Why? She is succumbing to US pressure, some quarters suspect. George Bush, to dodge liability for the terror acts he committed in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, unsigned the treaty. But I suspect that the US pressure is not nearly as important as Arroyo's selfish reasons. Under the treaty, she may be held liable for the extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances committed under her watch, even while she is sitting President. Before the ICC, the Arroyo Supreme Court cannot come to her rescue to cloister her from criminal suits. She cannot invoke immunity. The thick shield of impunity with which her government is committing human rights violations will be smashed once the Philippines becomes a party to the Rome Statute.

Desperately, Arroyo has contrived every situation possible to justify charter change. The worst is the failed memorandum of agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. She dangled some promises that not only she could not keep but also she would not keep. The MILF, driven to extreme anger, ran amok and massacred people.

The mass slaughter fitted well into Arroyo's plans. At last, an excuse for charter change was delivered to her in a silver platter, never mind if it was drenched in the blood of the innocent. And she said, "The problem in Mindanao justifies the need to shift to federalism."

You do not just shift to federalism at the snap of Arroyo's finger. The country's fundamental law which provides for a unitary government has to be amended. When Arroyo preached on the merits of federalism as the solution to the Mindanao question, she was campaigning for charter change. She wants it so much, and when she wants it so much, it must be bad for the nation.

I heard the arguments for charter change and I must admit that some are worth pondering. But before we talk about charter change, let us first clear the discussion table.

While the clutter called Gloria Arroyo is all over the table, the discourse cannot begin.

(This article also appears in the Northern Dispatch Weekly.)


Charles de Gaulle said, “The grave is full of indispensable people.” Last Sunday, Marky Cielo joined them.

He was at the height of his popularity. As I write this, the nation grieves over his unexpected demise. It will take a long time for the Cordillera to come to terms with the death of this young man who will always be a model to peoples struggling with their indigenous identities and against racial and ethnic  prejudice.

Mark Angelo Cadaweng Cielo was an ordinary person with extraordinary achievements the least being that he reshaped the Igorot consciousness of that strange planet called show business. Igorots are not fascinated by the world of celebrities – a world scourged with scandals and intrigues alien to our cultures. Showbiz is like oxygen to us –we know it exists but we hardly notice it. In Baguio City, celebrities come and go but no one mobs them.

To a certain degree, Marky eroded this nonchalance when he joined Starstruck, a national talent search show. On Day One, the boy, all too cognizant that there is an overwhelming ethnic bias against Igorots, declared, “I am an Igorot,” like it was a badge of honor. Articulating on national television the bigotry against indigenous peoples, another contestant revealed dislike for Marky on account of the latter’s “Igorotness.”

The eyes of a people that used to ignore show business got glued to the television screen. The Igorots’ collective heart was touched by Marky’s proud acknowledgment of his indigenous roots while their collective pride was seriously wounded by ethnic discrimination. As their ancestors congregated around their love for liberty to resist Spanish colonization, they united around their ethnic identity to rise against chauvinism. History was repeating itself.

In the 1950s, Carlos Romulo’s effigy was burned in Baguio’s Malcolm Square, now People’s Park. What did Romulo do to whip up impassioned ire? In his book Mother America, he wrote: “The fact remains that the Igorot is not Filipino and we are not related, and it hurts our feelings to see him pictured in American newspapers under such captions as ‘Typical Filipino Tribesman.’” Igorot students, now our parents and grandparents, mobilized one of the biggest mass actions in Baguio City. Aside from Romulo’s effigy, several copies of the book were reduced to ashes. The former UN President, UN Security Council Chairman and Pulitzer prize winner, was forced to apologize. That was a moment for the Igorots.

The opportunity to again rally around our besieged ethnic identity came in 1988. Ramon Labo, then Baguo City Mayor was quoted by Manila Chronicle to have said: “We will not lose (the elections) to those Igorots. They urinate anywhere . . . that is why we club them. . . . The Igorots are traitors. They are civil in front of you, but once you turn your back they stab you.” Like a blitzkrieg, a massive rally confronted him. I was among the incensed young people in that momentous gathering.

With the same outrage that spurred the burning of Romulo’s effigy and book and the protest against Labo in his own kingdom, Igorots, here and abroad, tremendously supported Marky with text and internet votes. The candid, talented boy topped the competition. Right after his victory, Harry Basingat, moderator of Bibaknets, the biggest online Igorot forum, predicted that Marky’s victory, which he helped propel by spearheading an international text brigade, would make Igorots – even those “in the closet” - proud of their ethnic heritage. And it did.

As Marky reawakened the Igorots’ consciousness of their identity, he also helped reshape the outsiders’ awareness of Igorots.

Igorot history has long been a victim of suppression. Historian William Henry Scott wrote: “It is a strange thing that history textbooks commonly in use in…the Philippines never mention the fact that the Igorot peoples of Northern Luzon fought for their liberty against foreign aggression during the 350 years that their lowland brethren were being ruled over by Spanish invaders.”

Because of our ancestors’ record of resistance to foreign colonization, the colonizers cast Igorots as uncivilized people. The word “igolot” which means “from the mountains” was bastardized. It became synonymous to inferiority, backwardness or ignorance. The bigotry became ingrained in the national consciousness, thanks in large part to the educational system and the media that perpetuated it.

When I was a university student, people would express their awe that I, a relatively good student, was an Igorot. My experience is not isolated. Our parents and grandparents talk about how the unenlightened country would goad them about their tails!

The stigma was and remains strong that some feel the need to capitulate to prejudice by denying their Igorot identity. There is a story about a girl who grew up among the Igorot Community in St. Lukes Hospital Compound, Quezon City. Asked if she is an Igorot, she replied, “No. It is my parents who are Igorots.” To this day, many Ifugaos and Kalingas, perhaps to insulate themselves from ethnic bias, refuse to be called Igorots. But since Marky’s victory, many also soared above prejudice and are now proud to claim Igorot roots.

Marky’s success did not totally surface our suppressed history, but it contributed to the rectification of outsiders’ misconceptions and the emergence of many Igorots from their cocoon of cultural inferiority. In media events which are powerful purveyors of consciousness, he would claim his Igorot roots when the opportunity presented itself. And since he lived an unblemished life, the cultural majority’s group psyche long soaked in stereotypes and bigotry against Igorots, underwent restructuring. Marky was the specimen of the Igorots. On the part of the cultural majority, disdain slowly took the form of admiration. On the part of closet Igorots, shame slowly metamorphosed into pride.

In the world of show business where scandals are so generic, Marky was a cut above the rest. There was no smear on his reputation and not a whisper was breathed implicating him in anything disgraceful. He lived his life beyond reproach, and this was itself a war against the prejudices suffered by his people, a war where he had the upper hand. He showed the world that the Igorot is not uncivilized, the Igorot is courteous, the Igorot is humble, the Igorot has talents. And yes, there are Igorots who are evil, but aren’t there such scum in every ethnolinguistic group? The Arroyo administration’s record on human rights violation is a telltale sign of civilization’s erosion, and Arroyo and her henchmen responsible for it are not Igorots.

In death as in life, Marky continues to shatter stereotypes against Igorots. I surfed the net and read hundreds of entries about him. Every article that spoke of the boy’s remarkable character mentioned that he was an Igorot.

Manang Mildred, Marky’s mother said that she hopes that people will remember him for the good he has done. Her son’s life will be fossilized in our memory, if not in future history books for many reasons. He has left footprints that future generations of Igorots can always follow and this is a lasting legacy. But for me, his biggest contribution to our struggle as indigenous peoples is that he united Igorots from all the nook and cranny of the earth around their beleaguered ethnic identity, a reassurance that the Igorots are not a vanishing species, a guarantee that Igorots will not succumb to ethnic discrimination, a ray of hope that the ethnic prejudice will one day be conquered.

Albert Einsten said, “Our death is not an end if we can live on in our children and the younger generation. For they are us, our bodies are only wilted leaves on the tree of life. “

A young star burst but its light will shine eternal in the hearts of a people proud of him for being proud of them in spite of the formidable odds.

Rest in peace, Marky. Thank you for your life.

(This article also appears in The Northern Dispatch.)


I am able to write this piece not because of democracy but in spite of its absence.

The past weeks, thousands of protesters took over Thailand’s main airport to force the resignation of Prime Minister Somchai, brother-in-law of former Prime Minister Thaksin who was ousted on charges of corruption. They did not destroy a single airport equipment. A Thai court dissolved the ruling party and banned Somchai from exercising powers as Prime Minister after a party executive was convicted of electoral fraud.

Asked to comment on the events in Thailand, presidential mouthpiece Anthony Golez declared that the Thai experience will not happen in the Philippines "because our people have reached a high degree of political maturity whereby our people respect due process and the rule of law."

What gumption! Kulkumut Sinharana Ayudhaya, Thai Ambassador to the Philippines, was quick to demand an apology from Golez. He said, “The protest is only an indication that the Thai people are free to exercise their political right based on democracy.”

Golez should be red in the face until now. Kulkumut’s retort is a veiled rebuke on the state of the Philippine political climate. Philippine democracy is an illusion. Our human rights record states it in the plainest language. The Thai envoy knew he was standing on a moral high ground when he demanded an apology from Golez.

Contrary to Golez’s claim, there is no rule of law in this country. His boss who mastered sinister Machiavellian tactics placed herself way above it. We have a Rule of Arroyo characterized by repression. The Constitution which says that the Philippines is a republican and democratic state, that sovereignty resides in the people and that all governmental authority emanates from them, is just a scrap of paper. How can authority emanate from people who shiver in fear of their government? In a democracy, people can dethrone officials who seriously violate their trust even if they have to seize control of airports to do it. If officials betray the public trust by stealing votes, by bargaining away part of Philippine territory for political expediency, or by ordering the murder or abduction of political dissidents, the people may oust them. It is not only an act of political maturity, it is also an act of sovereignty. In fact, when people revolt against a despotic regime, they do not violate the Constitution. To assert sovereignty is to uphold the Constitution.

The Philippine political climate hinders political discourse which thrives in democracy. A friend serving as a Philippine Consul-General in Europe said to me: “You cannot say that the Philippines is not democratic. You are still free to speak out.” In a democracy, you say the truth without fear of the whip or the gun. In this country, you do so conscious that you invite great peril unto yourself. You condemn corruption in the military, you are court-martialed. You protect the rights of indigenous peoples, you are forcibly disappeared. You fight for the rights of peasants and laborers, you are indicted for rebellion. You expose the involvement of the First Family in corrupt acts of unparalleled magnitude, your father gets booted out as Speaker of the House of Representatives. You defend human rights, you are targeted as a terrorist. This is democracy? This is totalitarianism. And it is flourishing in a country that ratified most core human rights instruments enshrining political participation and which was one of the first 48 UN members to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 1948. The rule of law means nothing to Golez’ boss. Philippine democracy has been purged of spirit.

Close to a thousand activists and journalists have fallen victims to extrajudicial killings and hundreds became desaparecidos during the eight-year Rule of Arroyo. This shames the record of the Marcos dictatorship which lasted for over two decades. The Philippines remains unbeaten in its record as the most dangerous place in the world for journalists. According to the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines, Areteo Padrigao is the 62nd (not 52nd as I earlier wrote) journalist killed since 2001.

Journalists and scribes in Manipur, India went on protracted strike over the murder of their colleague, Konsam Rishikanta on 17 November 2008, the same day Padrigao was killed. Publications suspended operations to demonstrate their righteous indignation. Lawyer Babloo Loitongbam of the Manipur-based Human Rights Alert furnished me a record showing that Rishikanta is the fifth journalist to be killed in that state since 1993. Padrigao is the sixth this year!

And yet, how is the Filipino nation responding? Not with political maturity because unlike the Thais, we are not “free to exercise (our) political right based on democracy.” Except for the privilege speech of Senator Richard Gordon, the murder of Padrigao did not stir up a hornet's nest. Has the spate of killings desensitized us that one more name added to statistics on the murdered no longer shocks us?

Prof Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions said: "(N)umbers are not what count. The impact of even a limited number of killings of the type alleged is corrosive in many ways. It intimidates vast numbers of civil society actors, it sends a message of vulnerability to all but the most well connected, and it severely undermines the political discourse which is central to a resolution of the problems confronting this country."

The political atmosphere is ripe for protests if not a popular uprising or a revolution. But the Filipino people have been rendered politically immature. If one death is enough to send a chilling message, consider that there are more than 900 deaths and hundreds of disappearances under the Rule of Arroyo.

Mr. Golez, the Filipino national apathy is not sign of political maturity; it is symptomatic of alienation, of resignation, of hopelessness, of many other things, not least of all the death of democracy.

Your boss has been presiding over its wake and you are a pallbearer.

(This article also appears in The Northern Dispatch under my weekly column Smorgasbord.)


The Wind That Shakes The Barley is a very moving ballad written by Robert Dwyer Joyce, an Irish poet and professor of English literature. It is about an Irish revolutionary saying his final farewell to his beloved, as he was joining the resistance movement against British colonization. Caught between his love for the woman and his love for the Motherland, he chose the latter. After all, as the Filipino revolutionary Andres Bonifacio said, what love could be greater than love for one's Motherland? This young man must have been all too aware that by choosing to join a revolution, he was also choosing to die. And he had to say goodbye to his sweetheart for the last time. Now I am being too sentimental here. The song is both distressing and rousing. Read the lyrics while you listen.

The ballad was inspired by the Irish Rebellion of 1798 which was the climax, at that time, of the Irish struggle for independence from British rule. Many patriots joined the resistance movement. The revolutionaries would carry barley oats in their pockets for sustenance while engaged in the battlefields. According to Wikipedia, "this gave rise to the post-rebellion phenomenon of barley growing and marking the "croppy-holes," mass unmarked graves which slain rebels were thrown into, symbolizing the regenerative nature of Irish resistance to British rule."

The rebellion was quashed. Many revolutionaries were massacred, civilians were slaughtered, women were raped, villages were burned. The failure of the rebellion was one thing, but the heroism of the men who gave up their lives for freedom from "foreign chains" was another. It continues to inspire all freedom-loving peoples everywhere and the Irish in their unwavering quest for independence.

My friend Butch Espere (aka Alex Munoz, the poet) called my attention to the ballad saying that it could be an inspiration for a poem. I played it over and over again. I was not kindled to write a poem (Butch caught me at a very "un-artistic" time), but I was impelled to surf the net for more information about the Irish struggle for independence of which I knew little. I came out of the experience richer in knowledge and more driven to advocate freedom.

Says Butch: "The wind that shakes the barley is an idiomatic phrase that has become part of the Irish language as early as right after the failed Sein Finn rebellion, the one led by Guy Fawkes...before the Irish rose against the British in the Gunpowder Plot. The phrase was more about the barley that grows almost anywhere in Ireland...but after the failed Gunpowder Plot, it was more about the wind that kept shaking the barley, symbolizing ...the regenerative element of Irish rebellion. It is more about the wind that kept fanning the flames of the Irish revolutionary spirit...as to nurse a rebellion that might have been quelled many times over but, nonetheless, refuses to die."

A 2006 film by Ken Loach borrowed the title. The film is set during the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921) and the Irish Civil War (1922–1923) and explores the story of two brothers who joined the Irish Republican Army to fight for Irish independence from the United Kingdom.

I did not watch the film but I promised myself I would. Maybe I can do it this Christmas break in between work and work. The film, said to be Loach's most successful, is internationally acclaimed having bagged the Palme d'Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.

Listening to the ballad, I reflected on the life of Bonifacio, the renowned Filipino revolutionary who consecrated his life for the liberation of his people from foreign bondage. We celebrated his birth anniversary last November 30. His was a spirit no different than that of the Irish who was ready to give up the love of a woman, however painful it was, to embrace the cause of freedom.


Under a regime anchored on falsehood, all it takes to be a hero is to tell the truth.

During the National Union of Peoples Lawyers first anniversary, Jun Lozada, the whistleblower who linked the First Family to the multi-billion ZTE bribery said, "They say I am a hero because I came forward to tell the truth. I did not know that just by telling the truth, one becomes a hero.”

Heroes do not rise in times of comfort. While ideal, telling the truth at such a time is not heroic. But in times when to tell the truth is to invite a tyrant to train her gun on your head, it is heroic. The Arroyo administration has invested most of the resources at its disposal to kill truth. It dreads truth, as the Spanish colonizers feared a mass revolution. At that time, you rose up in arms, you were marked for death. In our time, you tell the truth, you are marked for death or enforced disappearance. Yes, Jun Lozada, you are a hero.

To the Arroyo administration, Lozada is no hero. He is a termite threatening falsehood, the foundation of its tyranny. Her heroes are abroad. Annually, she presides over the Bagong Bayani Award and lauds them- Filipinos pushed to seek greener pastures from the desert that is the Philippine economy where employment is a miracle. Why, their dollar remittances are saving the Philippines from certain economic doom resulting from economic mismanagement. Indeed, no one can deny the contributions of our OFWs. But far from being heroes, they are victims.

One does not rise to heroism from being a victim as what Arroyo made of Angelo dela Cruz, a truck driver abducted in Iraq by Islamic militants with threats to behead him unless the Philippines pulled out its troops from Iraq. He was released after 17 days. The accidental hero is no hero. Heroes are conscious of the risks they assume for the common weal. Andres Bonifacio whose birthday we celebrate today knew that by leading the Philippine revolution against Spain, he could lose his life. Yet the ferment of his spirit urged him to resist colonization. Our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) took plane rides out of the country not to keep Arroyo’s economy afloat but to silence grumbling stomachs.

Arroyo’s definition of heroism removes the element of struggle against an oppressive structure. It removes the issue of truth. Which present day Philippine heroism must push to the fore. Which she wants to shove into a shredder. The human rights defenders, political dissidents waging a principled struggle, and journalists in the forefront of resistance to lies are the heroes in these times, but Arroyo tagged them Abu Sayyaf lovers, communists and terrorists. One by one, they are being killed or are made to disappear. The perpetrators obviously believe that they do not only abduct and kill bodies; they also abduct and kill truth.

From its early days, Arroyo and her minions have been telling lies after lies to the Filipino people, suppressing truth when it slackened her grip on power. Her decision to run for President in 2004 after she made an announcement not to a few months earlier was a portent of more lies to spew out of her mouth. When the Senate, through its congressional investigations, was piecing truths about her regimes’ lies, she issued E.O. No. 464 preventing cabinet members, police and military generals, senior national security officials, and "such other officers as may be determined by the President" to attend congressional hearings without her permission. With that EO she had power over truth and lies. The wimp Romulo Neri appeared before the Senate but refused to tell the truth. He got the top Social Security System post as a prize!

The House of Representatives has always been a willing instrument to promote the Arroyo regime’s falsehood. In 2005, the House of Representatives schemed to kill the truth about fraud in the 2004 presidential elections. Last Wednesday, in behalf of Arroyo who is quaking in fear over the possibility of the truth about her role in the ZTE scandal being exposed, it put the impeachment complaint into a train bound for eternal damnation. Even the most hallowed vanguard of truth became a tool to perpetuate an environment of falsehood and promote a national consciousness pervaded by lies. In the Neri case, the Supreme Court ruled that to hide the truth is protected by executive privilege. So what if the truth will set the Filipino nation free?

And it has been oft-repeated that truth sets us free. Truth presided over the ouster of the Marcos and the end of the Estrada regime. Unfortunately, the truth that quashed the Estrada regime saw the rise of the Arroyo principality of falsehood.

Every move of the Arroyo regime is calculated to ensure her stay in power, not to increase the purchasing power of the poor family’s peso. By that, it has to promote lies, using money from the public coffers. Even before former House Speaker Jose de Venecia announced last week that legislators were bought in 2005 to vote against the impeachment complaint, the fact was already well-known. Equally well-known is that many local government officials are given money and legislators are taken to junkets abroad at the public’s expense to buy their loyalty to her lies.

With a huge chunk of the Philippine budget allotted for the promotion of falsehood, it is no wonder the national consciousness is a false consciousness. In an atmosphere of lies, the casualty is freedom: freedom from repression, even freedom from hunger. The streets are begging for mass actions like the ones staged during previous regimes. But as long as Arroyo keeps feeding the falsehood machines and neglects restructuring the economy, the masses will continue to be weighed down by worries over the next meal. The crowds in the mass protests will continue to thin, while queues in offices issuing passports and foreign visas grow day by day.

Hunger, which is worse now than it has ever been in the country, has driven the people to a state of lethargy if not apathy. Enforced on the nation, hunger is a form of repression. It silences protest and resistance to falsehood with as much force as the barrel of a gun.

Enforce hunger among the masses, enforce disappearance of activists and freedom fighters, slay the heroes, slay the truth, keep giving chocolates to the legislators and officials. A combination of all these has given teeth to a tyranny of unparalleled magnitude in the Philippines.

These are the times of living most dangerously. But these are the times that call on us to emulate Andres Bonifacio and be heroes.

These are the times to speak the truth and reject lies.

(This article also appears in The Northern Dispatch.)


The article Rage sent shivers down my spine. I read it midnight of last night. And I was unable to sleep. I have heard people recount torture ordeals. I read about the Martial Law torture chambers. I was incensed. But last night I wept. Maybe it is because I finally received news -however heartbreaking- about Sherlyn and Karen, the two students who were abducted two years ago. I never met these two women, but I sometimes seriously wondered about them. At the time of their abduction, one was in an advanced stage of pregnancy. What happened to the baby? No one answered this yet.

Today, I was too depressed to do anything productive other than lecture in school. It was a good thing I had an online chat at past 8 tonight with another human rights lawyer and we processed our grief and comforted each other. The article affected her, too, in the most elemental way.

When there was a discussion on my poem His House Was Raided By The Army, a lawyer shared the experience of her client who was tortured but escaped. I commented that the client was lucky they kept him alive. The lawyer said, "I am not sure if lucky is the right word. He will be scarred for life.

After reading Rage I regret my statement. I am caught between hoping the Unelected President Arroyo's Terrorism Agents will kill the victims and praying they are kept alive. To kill them is appallingly cruel. To keep them alive is equally so.

I am reproducing Rage here.

By Patricia Evangelista
"Rebel Without A Clue"
Philippine Daily Inquirer

THIS is the story of one Raymond Manalo, farmer, who disappeared on Feb. 14, 2006 with his older brother from their farm in San Ildefonso, Bulacan. Manalo was neither activist nor rebel when he disappeared. He escaped more than two years later. He says there are many, many more like him.

* * *

They put you in a cage four feet by one foot small, the height of an average man. There are hollow blocks to the side and iron grills in front. You sit with three other men, crouched in a line. There is no other way to fit.

Your brother is in the same cell. The door opens, more of them come in. More of them like you—beaten, bruised, helpless. They are put inside the next cell. This time there are two men and a married couple. The woman has burns all over her body. She was raped, they tell you. She was raped and beaten until she soiled herself. They say she has gone mad. They take her away.

This is where you shit, where you piss, where you wash if you still care. You do not feel the wind; you do not see the sun. Your food comes rarely, and what comes is rotten, leftover pig feed. Three men arrive, from Nueva Ecija. They are tortured. One of them has both arms broken. Bleeding.

Sometimes, when the soldiers are drinking, they take you out of your cage and play with you. The game varies, but it is usually the same. Two by fours, chains, an open gardening hose shoved down your nose. You crawl back to your cage, on your hands and knees. You wake up to screaming, to the sound of grown men begging, and you wonder which one it is this time. Sometimes, one of your cellmates will disappear. Sometimes, they don’t come back.

Then they take you away, and there is a doctor, pills, antibiotics, a bed. They tell you they are taking you home to see your parents. You meet the man they call The Butcher, and he tells you to tell your parents not to join the rallies, to stay away from human rights groups, that they would ruin your life and your brother’s. He tells you, this small man in shorts, that if you can only prove you’re on his side now, he would let you and your brother live. He gives you a box of vitamins, and tells you that they are expensive: P35 per pill.

They put a chain around your waist. The military surround your farm. Your mother opens the front door crying, and hugs you. You tell them what you were told to say. You hand them the money Palparan told you to give. Then you are told you must go.

Always, you keep thinking of escape. You make yourself useful, to make them trust you. You cook. You wash cars. You clean. You shop. No task is too menial. And one day, while you sweep the floor, you see a young woman, chained to the foot of a bed. Her name is Sherlyn Cadapan, she tells you, Sports Science, University of the Philippines Diliman, the same Sherlyn who disappeared from Hagonoy, Bulacan on June 26, 2006. She says she has been raped.

Later, you meet Karen EmpeƱo, also from UP, and Manuel Merino, the farmer who rushed to save the two girls when they were abducted. Karen and Sherlyn are in charge of washing the soldiers’ clothes, you and Manuel and your brother Reynaldo wash the car and carry water and cook.

The five of you are taken from camp to camp. You see the soldiers stealing from villagers. You see them bringing in blindfolded captives. You see them digging graves. You see them burning bodies, pouring gasoline as the fire rose. You see them shoot old men sitting on carabaos and see them push bodies into ravines. And in April 2007, you hear a woman begging, and when you are ordered to fix dinner, you see Sherlyn, lying naked on a chair that had fallen on the floor, both wrists and one tied leg propped up.

You see them hit her with wooden planks, see her electrocuted, beaten, half-drowned. You see them amuse themselves with her body, poke sticks into her vagina, shove a water hose into her nose and mouth. And you see the soldiers wives’ watch. You hear the soldiers forcing Sherlyn to admit who it was with plans to “write a letter.” You hear her admit, after intense torture, that it was Karen’s idea. And you see Karen, dragged out of her cell, tied at the wrists and ankles, stripped of her clothing, then beaten, water-tortured, and burned with cigarettes and raped with pieces of wood. And it is you who are ordered to wash their clothes the next day, and who finds blood in their panties.

And you are there, on the night they take away Manuel Merino, when you hear an old man moaning, a gunshot and the red light of a sudden fire.

* * *

The day Raymond Manalo and his brother Reynaldo escaped was the day he promised himself they would pay, all of them who tortured Karen and Sherlyn, who killed so many, who tortured him and his brother until they begged and pleaded. They were pigs, he says, those men were pigs. If he escaped, they told him, and if they couldn’t find him, they would massacre his family. And if they do not answer to the courts here, they will answer to God.

They can still kill him, he says. But even if they do, it is too late. He’s told his story.


On Facebook which is virtually the only (with rare exceptions) place - if it is that- where my very hectic schedule permits me to socialize, I posted my poem His House Was Raided By The Army. I wrote this after listening to a Northeast Indian (who must remain unnamed for security reasons) relate his 1990's experience as a human rights defender and the depressing (Sorry, folks, but I really use this word often.) situation in his homeland Manipur which, I think, mirrors the depressing situation in our own. If we have our Oplan Bantay Laya, his people have the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The poem was written before the murder on 17 November of Manipur journalist Rishikanta seemingly by state security personnel. The murder serves to justify and exacerbate the anger in my poem.

Poet Alex Munoz (real name: Butch Espere), who is definitely a "brother in the faith" responded with a moving poem which he called Resolution No. 1 (Reply to HIS HOUSE WAS RAIDED BY THE ARMY). After reading it, I felt my soul soften like I was a cloud floating in the atmosphere. Apparently, Alex found my poem depressing (There is that word again!) and it may have driven him to anger. And as he said to me in Facebook, "After reading your poem last night, I wished I could talk to those people and tell them, FIGHT BACK. RECLAIM YOUR LIVES! I guess that was all to it. Because I can't, I tried writing the poem." Whew! Here is a guy who carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. In his poem he says, "This war is not about razing or dying. It's about seizing the higher ground." These lines make my hair stand on end.

The two poems together elicited an impassioned discussion on rights abuse. Fifty (50) comments were generated in less than 48 hours. I uploaded the comments in the Comments Section here and urge readers to pay attention to them as well. I forwarded the poems to the (Northeast) Indian and to other Indian friends because I know they could share our thoughts with their people. Besides, as Alex/Butch said, the poems were written with them in mind.

I posted the poems on my Multiply site, and they were published by Bulatlat but they also deserve a space in this blogsite. It opened in May 2007 as a poetry site until my opinionated self could not resist writing a line or two- OK, long paragraphs at times- about issues. So once again, let us shift to poetry.

His House Was Raided By The Army

Firm he stood on the quaking ground of justice
And obliged the cracked lips of mendacity
To declare the truth grappling to surface
From the prison of hollow, specious rhetoric

Then his house was raided by the army

He halted the arms of death before they fired
At his hapless people who could no longer tell
The face of Life from Death, Hope from Trepidation
A flash of light from his nerve unsettled Darkness

Then his house was raided by the army

He marshaled the strength of weeping women
Their virtues slain in the altar of madness and terror
Carefully, he covered their painful nakedness
With promises of hope he sometimes disbelieved

Then his house was raided by the army

Will his tired people adjourn from digging graves,
Or waiting in vain for the ghosts of the disappeared?
When will the torrent of fresh blood dry on the roads
Paved by courage, blasted by terror, entrenching doom?

While he meanders between despair and hope

Another house will be raided by the army. (12 Nov 08)

Resolution No. 1

The winged wind had just whispered
to the trees the invaders are here.
But do not scamper, my dear Melinda.
Hush, the owl would soon sound
the clarion call. See the sky turn pitch
ebony to blind our foes, the vines sway

to seal the glades. This is our forest,
their trap; their Styx, our Ellysian Fields;
the "masa" our gods to keep us immortal.
So be damned no more by false analogies.
Worry not about death or kindred cares.
For this war is not about razing or dying.

It's about seizing the higher ground.
Take these arms as your pillow
when you lay-spread on the rathole.
Hold them close to your bosom
to banish the demons lurking beyond
our trenches. Recast them into harpsichord

for new lays for old minstrels, to make
lovers of us all. Kiss the gasera flames
goodbye, tiger roll to the wooded knoll.
Now, there beneath the evening star
let us discard our right to remain
silent as we, doomed to take the prize,
squeeze the stone in their hearts. (20 Nov 2008)



"The pen," wrote the playwright/poet Edward Bulwer-Lytton, "is mightier than the sword."
No one grasps the full import of this statement more than a tyrant desperate to stay in power and afraid of the groundswell of dissension to state terrorism.

On 17 November 2008, two men were killed in different parts of the world. They had some things in common aside from their date of death: both were journalists, and their murders are being imputed to state security forces.

It was supposed to be an ordinary day for
Areteo Padrigao, hard-hitting commentator of the Radyo Natin and a writer for the Mindanao Monitor Today. He dropped off his children to school in Gingoog City, Misamis Oriental in southern Mindanao. Then two men on board a motorcycle shot him in front of the school gate. He sustained several gunshot wounds, enough to cause several deaths in one human being if that were possible.

At the time of his death, Konsam Rishikanta Singh, 22, was the junior sub-editor of the
Imphal Free Press (IFP) in Manipur, India. He failed to report at 5.00 p.m. on 17 November as he was wont to do, being in charge of night desk work. Instead, Mr. Pradeep Phanjaobam, IFP editor, received a phone call. It was an unsettling one because it was made to the confidential phone line, known only to the IFP staff. After asking if Rishikanta reported to duty, the caller announced that he was shot dead.

Police officers stopped reporters of the newspaper Huiyen Lanpao when they rushed to the scene. According to human rights lawyer Babloo Loitongbam, Executive Director of the Manipur-based
Human Rights Alert, it is inconceivable for a person to perpetrate the murder and escape the attention of law enforcers. All the points of ingress and egress are heavily guarded by state security personnel. It is easy to do the math here.

Padrigao's murder is reminiscent of the 2005
ambush of activists Chandu and Alyce Claver in Kalinga, Philippines that claimed the life of Alyce and left Chandu seriously wounded. The activists were to deliver their child to school. Parenthood, among many others, is also a casualty of state terrorism.

Rishikanta's murder, too, draws a parallelism with the Claver case. In the latter, the perpetrators were not supposed to escape scot-free because all possible exits were guarded by law enforcers. Up to this time, however, none has been indicted for the dastardly crime. Rishikanta's case might suffer the same fate. Sadly, state terrorism opens doors for criminals and closes them for victims.

The two journalists' deaths happened under similar atmospheres albeit in different worlds. These two worlds are dominated by governments that have something in common: they detest truth. Truth, after all, sets people free- free from the shackles of oppression, free from the bondage of tyranny. They have allowed and are in fact nurturing a culture of impunity in human rights violations.

The Philippines holds the record of being the
most dangerous place in the world for journalists. Since 2001 when the unelected President started to sit in the most powerful swivel chair in the country, fifty-two journalists have been summarily executed. Padrigao is the fourth victim this year. This is not to mention the more than 800 activists and lawyers who were either summarily executed or forcibly disappeared, the latest victim being James Balao
. This is not also to mention the arbitrary arrest of and filing of trumped-up charges against hundreds of activists, human rights workers and other political dissidents, the latest victim being lawyer Remigio Saladero.

The reign of terror is being operationalized under Arroyo's
Oplan Bantay Laya (Operation Plan: Freedom Watch), brandished as a counter-insurgency measure, aligned with US President George W. Bush's global war on terror. In truth however, Oplan Bantay Laya is waging an inhumane war which makes no distinction between insurgents and civilians, and underground and legal organizations. It has targeted activists, journalists and lawyers known to openly criticize and/ or struggle against a corrupt, repressive regime. In a public speech in 2002, Arroyo called activists and civil society groups opposed to the joint US-military exercises for their implications on sovereignty and human rights, communists, terrorist and "lovers" of Abu Sayyaf.

Giving more muscle to
Oplan Bantay Laya is the Human Security Act of 2007 which defines terrorism as an act that creates “widespread and extraordinary fear and panic” among people. The possibilities are broad and even legitimate acts may be construed as acts of terrorism. Journalists and activists are easily susceptible of being brought under the label terrorists. Certainly, the law is very dangerous and entrenches a climate of Martial Law.

Northeast India where Manipur is located is plagued by the
Armed Forces Special Powers Act. This is an upsetting piece of document. It vests security forces with unhampered power over an area declared disturbed, which in the mind of the national government means that the people in the area are harboring designs of seceding. And it is up to the national government to say whether an area is disturbed or not. The security forces have a wide berth of discretion to search, arrest and shoot anyone. Even a non-commissioned officer has license to kill if he/she deems that it is justified by the need to maintain public order. Virtually, this shocking law creates gods who have absolute power over life and death even from among humans with faulty judgments. Under it, the rape of women and torture have been legitimized as necessary in military operations, what with the impunity with which the crimes are committed!

The law applies only to the seven Northeast Indian states to arrest secessionist or revolutionary struggles. These territories are dominated by indigenous peoples and have a history of marginalization and neglect suffered in the hands of the national government.

It is therefore no wonder that Padrigao and Rishikanta, two vanguards of truth, were killed. Truth is the most dangerous weapon against the states they called home. As the New York-based
Committee for the Protection of Journalists, an independent, non-profit organization founded in 1981 for the promotion of press freedom, asserts: "Murder is the ultimate form of censorship. One reporter is killed, and hundreds are sent a message that certain topics are too dangerous to be discussed."

Douglas MacArthur, speaking on the reality of war said, "Whoever thinks that the pen is mightier than the sword has never encountered automatic weapons." The killers of Padrigao and Rishikanta may believe this. But they fail to realize that the blood of martyrs nourishes the heroism of resistance.

In our struggle against tyranny, in our struggle against oppression, in our struggle against injustice, let us hoist high the torch of truth. In the strongest possible terms, we denounce the killings of Padrigao and Rishikanta and call on truth lovers all over the world to do the same!

(This article was also published by The Northern Dispatch.)


(In November 2008, indigenous lawyers from Asia came together in a human rights training organized by Tebtebba headed by Victoria Tauli Corpuz, UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Chairperson. Noting that indigenous peoples all over the world are exposed to the same perils and problems brought about by globalization and its development paradigms that are essentially oppressive of indigenous peoples, they decided to form a network of indigenous lawyers. Calling themselves the Asian Network of Indigenous Lawyers, they declared their solidarity to work for the promotion of IP human rights. One of the first things the group did was to issue an official statement on the enforced disappearance of James Balao, a staunch IP rights activist. An article on this statement was published by Bulatlat.)

It is brought to the notice of the Asian Network of Indigenous Lawyers (ANIL) that Mr. James M. Balao, founding member of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) has been abducted by a group of armed men in civilian clothes claiming to be policemen on 17 September 2008 in La Trinidad, Benguet and that his whereabouts are still unknown to date.

A petition for a writ of amparo filed by Mr. Balao's family with the assistance of the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance (CHRA) is pending before the Regional Trial Court in La Trinidad, Benguet. ANIL is concerned that on the behest of CHRA and CPA, the Commission on Human Rights issued an order for the inspection of state detention facilities. But the military denied entry to Camp Aguinaldo.

There is reasonable ground to believe that the enforced disappearance of Mr. Balao is linked to his non-violent resistance to the Arroyo administration’s program of aggressive harnessing of natural resources in the indigenous cultural communities/indigenous peoples' ancestral domains under the Mining Revitalization Program, among others.

In this connection ANIL:

• Expresses its solidarity with the Balao family, the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, the Cordillera Human Rights Alliance and other organizations and individuals involved in the campaign to bring out James Balao;

• Reminds the Philippine Government of its international human rights obligations to ascertain the whereabouts of Mr. Balao and to ensure his safety and security:

• Strongly urges the Philippine Government to make public his present legal status, if he is in the custody of the state security forces, as indicated by some reliable sources; and

• Calls on the Philippine Government to become a state party to the UN Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance

*The above statement was signed for the Asian Network of Indigenous Lawyers (ANIL) by SHANKAR LIMBU of the Lawyers’ Association for the Human Rights of Nepalese Peoples (Nepal), BABLOO LOITONGBAM of Human Rights Alert (India) and CHERYL L. DAYTEC of the Cordillera Indigenous Peoples Legal Center (Philippines). For further information, please contact JENNIFER T. CORPUZ of Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples International Centre for Policy Research and Education)- Philippines. Her mobile number is +639175081678.