Sunday, July 27, 2014

FILIPINO | Paano natin nakalimutan si Marcos?


Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” ang sabi ng Espanyol na manunulat at pilosopo na si George Santayana.

Ang kasabihang ito ay tila nagbabadya ng katuparan sa ating lipunan ngayon. Sa dami ng mga taong tila nakalimot na sa ating pinagdaanan mahigit 40 taon na ang nakakaraan, malamang ay makakakita na naman tayo ng isang Ferdinand Marcos sa MalacaƱang.

Sa mga dumanas ng kaliputan sa ilalim ng Batas Militar, para bang kahapon lamang nang maganap ang mga karumal-dumal na pagpatay, ang walang habas na paniniil, at ang mala-kamay na bakal na pagpigil sa ating kalayaan matapos ang ika-23 ng Setyembre, 1972 (Nilagdaan ni Marcos ang Proklamasyon Blg. 1081 noong ika-21 ng Setyembre).

Subalit sa tinaguriang Facebook Generation—mga Pilipinong ipinanganak matapos ang rehimen at rebolusyon—ang mga pighati, sakripisyo, at pag-aalay ng buhay na ito ay tila wala nang saysay sa kanila.

Bakit nga ba tayo humantong sa ganito? Paanong nakalimutan ng bagong henerasyon ang ating mga ipinaglaban sa kabila ng taunang paggunita dito? Ano ang maaari nating gawin upang di tuluyang magkatotoo ang mga salita ni George Santayana sa ating panahon?

Ang pagkalimot ay nakasulat na sa kasaysayan

Ang kasaysayan ay puno ng mga pangyayari na kung saan tila ba nakalimot ang isang bansa o lipunan sa kanilang ipinaglaban ilang taon o dekada ang lumipas matapos ang pangyayari.

Isang halimbawa ay ang Rebolusyong Pranses mula 1789 hanggang 1799. Sa loob ng sampung taong panahon na ito, pinatalsik ng lipunang Pranses ang kanilang hari na si Louis XVI at nagtatag ng isang malayang republika na kumikilala sa karapatang pantao.

Subalit, ang kaguluhang dala ng tinaguriang Reign of Terror mula 1793 hanggang 1794 ay nagdulot ng pagkakawatak-watak ng republika at ang pagluklok ng mga Pranses sa isang panibagong hari, si Napoleon Bonaparte.

Isa pang magandang halimbawa ay ang Una at Ikalawang Digmaang Pandaigdig (1914-1918 at 1939-1945). Matapos matalo ang Imperyong Aleman at mga alyado nito laban sa pinagsamang pwersa ng Amerika, Britanya, Italya, at Pransya noong 1918, tila nakalimot ang mga Aleman sa mga aral ng digmaan.

Sa loob lamang ng 15 taon ay nailuklok naman sa pinakamataas na pwesto ng Alemanya ang diktador na si Adolf Hitler na nagdala sa daigdig sa isang panibagong digmaan.

Tila ba di makakalimutan ng mundo ang malagim na Final Solution ni Hitler, isang sistematikong programa ng paglipol sa milyun-milyong Hudyo, Gypsies, at mga Komunista, at hanggang ngayon ay isa sa pinakamalagim na bahagi ng kasaysayan ng daigdig.

Ngunit matapos ang Ikalawang Digmaang pandaigdig, sumulpot sa Alemanya noong dekada 50 at 60 ang mga Nachgeborenen o mga Alemang ipinanganak matapos ang digmaan.

Sa kabila ng masalimuot na kasaysayan ng kanilang bansa, nahirapan ang bagong henerasyong ito na makamit ang VergangenheitsbewƤltigung o ang proseso ng pagtanggap sa kanilang nakaraan. Maraming kabataang Aleman ang tila di batid ang mga ginawa ng rehimeng Nazi, habang ang iba pa’y pinuri at binigyang pugay ito (ipinakita sa atin ito ng aklat ni Bernhard Schlink na The Reader).

Ang lipunang Pilipino sa ilalim ng makabagong henerasyon ay nakararanas din ng kabiguang matanggap ang kanilang nakaraan. Kaya di nakapagtatakang marami sa kanila ang hindi alam ang saysay ng Batas Militar at ng Rebolusyon sa EDSA.

Marami sa kanila ang aktibo pa nga sa pagpuri at pag-idolo kay Marcos at sa mga ginawa niya sa kabila ng malagim na resulta nito.

Paano tayo humantong sa ganito?

Ang mundo ay higit nang nababalot sa impormasyon. Ang Information Age ay nagdulot ng pag-usbong ng mga makabagong midyum kung saan ang impormasyon ay madaling likhain at palaganapin.

Sa halip na mga aklat at pahayagan, ang tangan ng mga kabataan ngayon ay ang Internet: isang alkansya ng kaalaman sa dulo ng ating mga daliri.

At dahil sa dali ng paglikha at pagpapalaganap ng impormasyon sa Internet, naging pagkakataon ito sa mga loyalista ni Marcos upang magpakalat ng mga kasinungalingan at iretoke ang imahe ni Marcos.

Isang Marcos na taga-pagligtas ng demokrasya laban sa komunismo. Isang Marcos na nagpaangat sa Pilipinas upang maging pinakamatatag na ekonomiya noong panahon niya.

Sa kasamaang palad, madaling maniwala ang bagong henerasyon, nang walang pagsusuri sa pinagmulan ng impormasyon at sa katotohanan sa likod nito.

Ang sitwasyong ito ay lalo pang pinalala ng ating masalimuot na sistema ng edukasyon sa bansa. Dahil sa pagbibigay-diin sa mga paksang gaya ng Matematika, Ingles, at Siyensya, napabayaan at di nabigyan ng sapat na pansin ang pagtuturo ng kasaysayan.

Ang mga pangunahing subject na ito ay may mas mahabang oras ng pagtuturo at mas malaking unit sa pagmamarka. Kadalasan pa nga’y nabibigyang diin din ito ng mga kaakibat na elective subjects.

Ang kasaysayan ng Pilipino ay naibaba bilang isang minor subject at itinuturo na lamang ng tatlong beses (minsang pa nga’y isang beses) sa isang linggo, sa loob lamang ng 40 minuto hanggang isang oras.

Dahil kulang ang oras, sa pagtatapos ng taong pampaaralan, ang pagtalakay sa kasaysayan ay kadalasang umaabot lamang sa panahon ng mga Amerikano o ng mga Hapon. Ang panahon ng Ikatlong Republika, Martial Law, at Rebolusyong EDSA ay mga pahina sa mga aklat na di man lang nabubuklat.

Hindi rin itinuturo ang kasaysayan batay sa mga pangunahing batis o primary sources. Hindi tuloy nalalaman ng mga mag-aaral kung paano magsuri ng mga batayan ng impormasyon, kung totoo ba ito o may kinikilingan. Walang matinong pagsasanay ang mga mag-aaral sa historyograpiya.

Kaya naman paniniwalaan ng mga kabataan ngayon ang anumang maganda tungkol kay Marcos, basta't nasa Internet ito.

Malaking balakid din ang pagkakaroon ng mga gurong walang tamang pagkakaunawa sa kasaysayan. Sa Ilocos Region at sa lalawigan ng Leyte, may mga gurong itinuturo ang Martial Law at Rebolusyong EDSA ng taliwas sa sinasabi ng kasaysayan.

Paano maaalala ng bagong henerasyon ang malagim na bahagi ng ating kasaysayan kung heto’t ang mga natuturo sa kanila ay mga loyalista ni Marcos na handang baluktitin ang mga pangyayari sa nakaraan?

Ang pag-aaral ng kasaysayan ay tungkol na lamang sa pagmemorya ng mga pangalan, pangyayari, mga pook, at petsa. Hindi na ito tungkol sa pagsusuri ng mga dahilan, ng pagtitimbang sa mga pagkilos ng mga grupo at indibidwal.

Sa kasalukuyang K to 12 Curriculum, higit na naibaba ang estado ng pagtuturo ng kasaysayan. Ang pagtuturo ng kasaysayan ng Pilipinas ay ibinaba na lamang sa Grade 5 at 6: mga baitang ng mga mag-aaral na wala pang kakayahan na malalimang suriin ang mga pangyayari sa nakaraan.

Sa madaling sabi, sa K to 12 Curriculum, tila ang kasaysayan ay nawalan ng saysay.

Nakalimutan nating magbantay

Subalit, kung may pinakamalaking dahilan upang makalimot ang bagong henerasyon tungkol kay Marcos, ito ay ang kalagayan ng bansa natin ngayon.

Apatnapung taon mula nang ideklara ang Batas Militar at halos tatlumpung taon mula nang maibalik ang demokrasya noong Rebolusyong EDSA, nananatili ang mga suliranin na kinaharap natin noon at siyang rason ng bagong henerasyon ngayon upang ikarangal ang palalong si Marcos.

Kahirapan. Kawalan ng oportunidad. Tatsulok na lipunan. Kriminalidad. Katiwalian. Political Dynasties. Padrino System. Ang maruming pulitikang ipinakilala sa atin ni Marcos ay nagpapatuloy sa kabila ng panunumbalik ng demokrasya.

Ito ay sumasalamin sa kabiguan ng ating lipunan na matutunan ang mga aral ng Batas Militar at EDSA. Inakala natin na sa pagpapalit ng administrasyon nagtatapos ang laban.

Nagkamali tayo ng akala. Hindi natin pinanatili ang pagbabago. Bagkus, hinayaan natin na ang halimbawang ipinakita ni Marcos ay magpunla sa puso ng ating mga lider at higit pang lumaganap hanggang sa ang buong sistema ay maging halos permanente na.


Hindi natin tinuruan ang bagong henerasyon na maging mapanuri, magmatyag, at magbantay. Hinayaan natin silang lumaki sa layaw, gawin ang mga walang kapararakang bagay, at maging bulag sa kanilang nakaraan.

Nabigo tayong magbantay. Nanumbalik tayo sa ating mga trabaho, sa ating tahimik na buhay.

Pagpapanatili ng pagbabago

Hindi pa naman huli ang lahat upang labanan ang mawalakang amnesia na ito sa ating bansa. Kung talagang gusto ay may paraan at may mga grupo at indibidwal na sumasabay sa nagbabagong panahon upang patuloy na ituro ang mga aral ng nakaraan.

Suportahan natin sila. Makibahagi tayo sa pagpapaalala at pagpapalaganap ng katotohanan. Palaganapin ninyo ang pahayag na ito, sa inyong mga kaibigan, kakilala, lalong lalo na sa kabataan. 

At higit sa lahat, kumilos tayo upang makamit ng ating bansa ang pangarap nito na maalis ang kahirapan at kawalan ng oportunidad, sa pamamagitan ng patuloy paglaban sa katiwalian at maling gawain, nang naaayon sa katotohanan, katwiran, at katibayan.

Pagkat habang nananatili ang mga suliraning nagmula pa sa rehimeng Marcos, mananatiling siyang buhay bilang isang bayani sa mga mang-mang at walang muwang. Huwag ninyong hayaan na magpunla at mabuhay si Marcos sa puso nating lahat.

Sabi nga ni George Santayana: 

“Ang pag-unlad ay di lamang pagbabago; ito ay nakasalalay sa pagpapanatili ng pagbabago. Kung ang pagbabago ay tiyak, walang daan o sinuman na kailangan pang baguhin; at kung hindi mananatili sa atin ang alaala, gaya sa malulupit na tao, ang kawalan ng muwang ay habambuhay.”

Mga batayang batis:
Kennedy, Emmet (1989). A Cultural History of the French Revolution. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Evans, Richard J. (2003). The Coming of the Third Reich. New York; Toronto: Penguin.
Herf, Jeffrey. (1997) Divided Memory: The Nazi Past in the Two Germanys. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Bonner, Raymond (1987). Waltzing with a Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American PolicyNew York: Times Books.
Seagrave, Sterling (1988): The Marcos Dynasty, Harper Collins

Monday, July 21, 2014

FEATURE | Life Without Water #28StoriesofGiving

By EPI FABONAN III
Yay Ortega, 41, is the typical outdoor junkie.
As a certified mountaineer, she has climbed the Philippines’ tallest peaks, as well as mountains abroad. When she’s not climbing, she tends to her mountaineering equipment shop in Cartimar, Pasay City, and is also fond of biking, jogging and other fitness activities.
She also serves as incumbent president of the Mountaineering Federation of the Philippines Inc. (MFPI), the largest umbrella organization of mountaineering groups in the country. Officially incorporated in 1979, it is composed of over 60 member-organizations representing 15,000 mountaineers and outdoor enthusiasts from all over the country.
The federation, Ortega shares, is slated to hold its Mountaineering Congress this year in Sagada, Mountain Province.
But aside from being passionate about mountaineering and life in the outdoors in general, she is even more passionate about environmental conservation – a necessary offshoot of responsible mountaineering that the federation espouses.
Part of this is the protection of mountain ecosystems, thus MFPI actively leads efforts to combat forest degradation and conserve a vital natural resource: water.
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“I cannot live without water; I’d rather live without electricity, and I don’t like the idea of paying a lot for it,” Ortega says.
One couldn’t agree more. Water – being a basic human need – is perhaps more important than electricity and is as important as food, shelter, clothing and air.
It’s a fact we realize even more in the aftermath of a strong typhoon that has managed to topple power lines and disrupt our water supply, throwing our convenient routines into disarray.
Preserving the watershed
Every day, we open our faucets to accomplish a variety of activities and tasks.
We only twist the faucet open; little do we know where the water comes from and the danger the precious resource faces.
Ninety-seven percent of Metro Manila’s water supply comes from the Angat-Ipo-La Mesa water system. Every day, a total of 4,000 million liters of fresh water flow through this system and is filtered in treatment plants in La Mesa and Balara to serve 15 million residents of this ever-expanding megacity and its suburbs.
We owe the fresh, clean water this system provides to its watersheds – acres of untouched forest cover that serve as the system’s natural barrier against human activities that threaten to pollute it.
One particular watershed within this system is the 6,600-hectare Ipo Watershed located in Norzagaray, Bulacan, which has thinned in recent years due to various human activities in the area.
MFPI is one of several civil society organizations involved in the protection and reforestation of this important watershed.
“Our biggest challenge right now is the continued presence of small-scale illegal loggers. Unlike large-scale loggers whose operations are easy to detect, small-scale loggers are harder to monitor and catch. They could cut and haul one or two trees in a day, but if they do it on a daily basis, they’re just as destructive as large-scale operations,” Ortega explains.
She estimates that about 30 percent of the watershed has been cut down in recent years by informal settlers from the lowlands scouring the area for livelihood. The settlers cut down trees to make way for farming and use the timber to build their houses or to make charcoal or furniture.
The Dumagats, the indigenous people living in these foothills of the Sierra Madre, have reported seeing lowlanders with weapons operating in the watershed.
Ortega describes possible scenarios if these activities in the watershed continue unabated.
“If our watersheds become contaminated by human activities, water prices in Metro Manila could go up. To fill the demand, governments or private companies will have to build more dams and reservoirs in the future, which is bad, because it will forever change the natural landscape of the place where these dams will be built.”
To address the issue of deforestation throughout the Philippines, including the Angat-Ipo-La Mesa watershed, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources launched the National Greening Program, a reforestation initiative that aims to plant 1.5 billion trees in 1.5 million hectares of land from 2011 to 2016. Since 2011, almost P11 billion has been released to fund this initiative, the NGP website states.
Under the program, the DENR and other related agencies coordinate with local government units, civil society organizations and private companies to plant endemic and non-endemic trees in deforested areas in the country. Locals living in these deforested areas are paid to plant and nurture these trees to maturity, providing them an alternative livelihood.
Despite the initiative, the Ipo Watershed continues to thin out. Recent forest fires – one in March and another in April this year – destroyed some 250 hectares of reforested land. Authorities and civil society organizations suspect that locals may be burning reforested land to allow the continuous release of reforestation funds from which they get their livelihood.
Ortega is alarmed that the very people involved in the reforestation of the watershed may be involved in its destruction.
This is why MFPI is determined to continue replanting the forest and calls on the government to do more to protect the area from destructive human activities.
“When you’re a nature and outdoor lover, conservation becomes innate, out of your need to continuously enjoy your playground. If you want to be able to do it again and be able to take a nice picture of the surroundings with your friends, you wouldn’t want to see garbage there. You want the experience to be the same each time,” Ortega says.
The Ipo Watershed needs your help. On July 26, Ortega and MFPI will return to replant a deforested part of the watershed with the help of The Philippine STAR.
To learn more about how you can volunteer for MFPI’s reforestation activities, contact Yay Ortega at (0908) 8940691 or visit their Facebook page.
This post was originally published in the front page July 18, 2014 issue of The Philippines STAR as part of its "28 Stories of Giving" anniversary special.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

FEATURE | A state of grace for the elderly #28StoriesofGiving


By EPI FABONAN III. To grow old with dignity is the ultimate geriatric dream all of us have. We want our bodies to turn wrinkly, fragile, and senile under the best care of our loved ones. The worst nightmare would be a state of utter deprivation and isolation from the very people we reared and loved our entire lives. This is why, for a country that takes pride in close family ties and respect for the elderly, it is common for families to keep on living with and caring for grandparents until their last breath.

But behind the Philippines’ largest shopping mall—hidden from the hustle and bustle of our daily lives—lies a place where some of the country’s elderly go to wait for absolution. No, they are not sinners; these senior citizens were once lost in the streets of megapolitan Manila in search of missing loved ones or of a dignity they wish to regain; some of them, imprisoned by their very minds or frail bodies.

The place they live inwas once called Golden Acres or Ginintuang Paligid, a facility for the elderly established in 1969 as part of the Marcos administration’s social welfare program. Now, it is called GRACES or Golden Reception and Action Center for the Elderly and Other Special Cases. The original Golden Acres has been transferred to Tanay, Rizal, and is now named Haven for the Elderly.

Every day, the facility receives a number of senior citizens rescued from the streets by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) or by different LGUs. But sometimes, families themselves turn over their elderly to the facility as they could no longer bear the responsibility of taking care of them. A total of 175 older persons are housed in the facility with a capacity of only 150.

Johnny Reyes, 82, is one of the elderly recently admitted at the facility. He was found sleeping in the area of Quiapo Church on May 17.

Nagpunta ako dito sa Manila kasi hinahanap ko yung anak kong lalake. Sabi sa akin nasa Meycauayan (Bulacan) daw siya. Pero nung nagpunta ako doon, di ko naman siya nakita. Nakitira ako sa pinsan ko sa may Quiapo pero di rin ako nagtagal dun kasi nahiya din ako,” Reyes says.

Reyes once worked as a furniture maker in Canada for a large office and home furniture company before returning to his hometown of Aloguinsan, Cebu, where he continued his craft until retirement. He says he has not seen his son for 25 years after the latter left Cebu. He also left a daughter in Canada who he hasn’t seen in 32 years. His relatives in the province are not aware that he has been staying at GRACES.

Handling Reyes’ case is Abi Nur Haqq Alonto, 26, one of five social workersin GRACES working to bring the elderly backto a state of grace. He has been with the facility for two years now. Aside from Lolo Johnny, he also handles 43 other senior citizen cases. He explains that since GRACES is only a diagnostic/assessment and processing center, admitted older persons cannot stay long in the facility and that part of his job is to trace the relatives of older persons so that s/he may be reunited with them and reintegrated to society.

“Our biggest challenge right now is locating the relatives of senior citizens turned over to us. While we coordinate this with the DSWD and different LGUs, more often than not, we don’t get results from our inquiries. Sometimes, we get disheartening results, such as when a relative refuses to take back an older person,” says Alonto. He adds that they have already coordinated with the Aloguinsan LGU who has located Lolo Johnny’s brothers-in-law.

When asked what inspired him to become a social worker, Alonto says, “I come from a family used to serving, being around people. Both my mother and sister are social workers while my father is a police colonel. I guess their experiences are what inspired me to take up social work in the first place. The dynamics of working with different people in various communities enlivens me.”

Some of GRACES’ buildings are already dilapidated and abandoned. The elderly and the paraplegic sleep in cottages with leaking roofs that bring cold nights and sweltering days. More often, the lack of decent beds forces them to sleep in makeshift cots, woven mats, or even pieces of cardboard. One can count with their fingers the number of working electric fans, fluorescent light bulbs, and wheelchairs. In a facility where the quarreling scents of sterility and old age can dampen one’s spirits, it is a wonder how Alonto remains steadfast.

“Sometimes it’s painful when some of the elderly would approach me, saying they want to go home. But because of our tracing limitations or their failing state of mind, we cannot let them go. There is only so much I can do. If only I have the power to bring them back to their families with just one click,” Alonto laments.

“Luckily, I have a family that is always understanding of what I do. Aside from the Lord God, they are my source of strength and inspiration not to give up.”

Such is Alonto’s passion in caring for the elderly that even as he supports the studies of a younger sibling and a nephew with his meager salary, he still puts a premium on his continuing mission with GRACES. Once, he was offered a clinical social worker job in New Zealand, but he immediately refused it out of love for the facility’s senior citizens. He even professes big dreams for the facility and the people it houses.

“Hopefully, in five or 10 years time, GRACES would be recognized in the Philippines as a diagnostic/assessment and processing facility and as an instrument for the empowerment of older persons (OPs) and persons-with-disabilities (PWDs),” Alonto says.

However, to realize Alonto’s dream for GRACES, entails restoring the facility to a state of grace. With their government funding depleted just for maintenance and operating expenses (such as food, medicines, utilities, and salaries), the facility needs additional financial support from private donors in order to improve the quality of life of older persons in the facility.

“It’s really hard for us when an older person gets sick or has an accident because we don’t have enough resources to pay for their hospitalization. We only make do with discounts we can tap from the social service units of every hospital, such as PCSO and PhilHealth, to save or revive our older persons and lessen their hospital expenses,” say Maria Cielo Agotilla, supervising social worker at GRACES.

“Aside from additional funding, the facility and its people can benefit from additional hospital beds, fans, PWD equipment (like stretchers, wheelchairs, canes, walkers, and crutches), tools for productive activities for the elderly (like sewing machines and gardening tools), as well as basic needs like food and toiletries. We are also looking for kind-hearted individuals who can sponsor the repair and rehabilitation of our dilapidated cottages, or even the donation of an ambulance to transport older persons to hospitals,” Agotilla adds.

But the social workers at GRACES know that more than material needs, the best gift donors can give to the facility’s elderly is time. Right now, only a few volunteers and some seminarians visit the facility on a non-regular basis.

“We encourage competent individuals with a background on elderly care to volunteer their time and services with us. Hopefully, we could also get volunteer doctors to visit twice or thrice a week to check-up on our patients,” a hopeful Agotilla expresses.

In a country that takes pride in having close family ties, it is disappointing to see how the elderly and the impaired have been neglected, even refused by the very peoplesupposed totake care of them. To praise and admire the devotion of the social workerskeeping the facility running is an understatement. The collective action of a just and concerned society is the only way we could dignify these heroes and bring GRACES back to a state of grace.

To learn more how you can help GRACES, you may call (02) 929-1187 or (0949) 361-0731. You can also email your inquiries at graces_ncr@yahoo.com or graces.ncr@gmail.com. More information is available in their Facebook account, GRACES DSWD-NCR.

Postscript: This is the unabridged edition of The Social Scientist's article in the Philippine STAR dated July 9, 2014. You may read the edited version here.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

FEATURE | A question of independence

By EPI FABONAN III. In the film The Dark Knight Rises, there is a scene wherein the masked mercenary, Bane asks the greedy industrialist, John Daggett just before he kills him, “Do you feel in charge?” Now, 116 years since our independence from Spain, and almost 70 years since the United States recognized our independence, there should be no harm in asking these questions: “Are we really a sovereign, independent nation? Do we feel in charge of our country?”

Freedom at a price
At noon of July 4, 1946, American High Commissioner to the Philippines Paul V. McNutt proclaimed the independence of our country. In front of thousands gathered in the purposely-built Independence Grandstand (designed by architect Juan Arellano), the American flag was slowly lowered from a flagpole while the Filipino tricolor was simultaneously hoisted up. Immediately after, Manuel A. Roxas was inaugurated as the president of the Third Philippine Republic. He and McNutt would sign the Treaty of Manila, a treaty recognizing complete independence of the Philippines and general relations between the new republic and the US. This is in compliance with the terms and conditions of the Tydings-McDuffie Law passed in 1934 wherein the US would grant the Philippines independence after 10 years of transitional Commonwealth rule.

However, our independence came with strings attached. With the new republic born from the ashes of war, it was in much need of financial assistance from the US for its rehabilitation efforts. Noticeably, after July 4, 1946, several treaties were signed between the Philippines and the US, which provided for trade concessions favoring the US and the continued presence of American military bases. These include the Philippine Rehabilitation Act (1946), Bell Trade Act (1946), Military Bases Agreement (1947), Mutual Defense Treaty (1951), and the Laurel-Langley Agreement (1955). The Bell Trade Act is particularly controversial because of its parity clause that allowed America to have equal access to our natural resources. The Military Bases Agreement, meanwhile, extended the stay of American military bases in the country for a period of 99 years (shortened to 25 years in a 1966 amendment).

From July 4 to June 12
Sixteen years later, on May 12, 1962, then President Diosdado Macapagal would sign Proclamation No. 28, declaring a return of the date of independence to June 12, 1898, when Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista read the declaration of independence from Spain at the balcony of President Emilio Aguinaldo’s house in Kawit, Cavite. The Acta de la Proclamacion de Independencia del Pueblo Filipino states that the Philippines would become an independent sovereign nation under the “protection” of the US—an irony some nationalist historians have argued. Why would an independent and sovereign nation be under the protection of a far more powerful state? With this change, our date of independence became tainted with the blood of the Father of the Revolution, Andres Bonifacio, who was executed by Aguinaldo’s men.

It is worth noting that prior to Macapagal’s proclamation, there was already an on-going lobby to reestablish June 12 as the original date of independence, led by the Philippine Historical Association (PHA). The association’s first president, Gabriel F. Fabella, filed a resolution in Congress in 1959, which was sponsored by Palawan Rep. Ramon Mitra, Sr. In the resolution, the following reasons were cited as to why June 12, 1898 should be the date of Philippine independence:

First. The United States does not celebrate its independence on the day its independence was recognized by England, but rather on the day the Americans declared their independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776. American independence was only recognized on September 3, 1783. Following American precedent, we should naturally adopt June 12 since it was on that day in 1898 that Philippine independence was declared.
Second. Philippine independence celebrations, thus far, are generally overlooked and forgotten by the rest of the world. Falling as it does on the same day as that of the United States, our celebrations are overshadowed by those of the United States.
Third. In determining the date of the granting of independence to the Philippines, the Filipino people had little or nothing to do with the fixing of the date. As a matter of fact, they really cared little for the date. All they wanted was independence irrespective of the exact day.
Fourth. If the Philippines celebrates a common independence day with US, other nations might believe that the Philippines is still a part of United States.

It is also worth noting that Fabella is an ardent fan of the late President Aguinaldo, having read the latter’s exploits during the Revolutionary War against Spain and the Filipino-American War. He was such a frequent visitor at the Aguinaldo Mansion in Kawit, as part of a regular field trip of his UP Diliman History class that soon, he would be invited every year to the late president’s birthday and would become close to the Aguinaldo family. He was also instrumental in UP Diliman’s conferring to the late president of an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 1953.

Another important piece of information is the fact that in 1962, prior to the change in the date of our independence, the US Congress has sponsored a $73 million appropriations bill to supplement the $400 million Philippine Rehabilitation passed in 1946. However, the bill was defeated upon voting and a very upset Macapagal decided to postpone his goodwill trip to the US that year and advocated for the change in the independence date.

An earlier date of independence?
With these problematic dates of independence, we could go back to Fabella’s logic that recognition by other countries is irrelevant in our choice of Independence Day. A closer look at his statements suggests that it stems from the desire and actions of a polity to break free from the yoke of another greater polity. We had that polity already in Haring Bayang Katagalugan, Bonifacio’s de facto nation-state born out of the insurgent Katipunan secret society. Hence, we could argue that our real declaration of independence was when Bonifacio and some 300 of his followers met in Pugadlawin, Caloocan (now in Quezon City), on August 26, 1896 to symbolically start the revolution against Spain by tearing their cedulas personales or community tax certificates. Moreover, applying the same reasoning, we could even argue that a much earlier event, the El Primer Grito of April 12, 1895 is our first declaration of independence when Bonifacio and eight other Katipuneros wrote the words Viva La Independencia Filipinas on the walls of the Pamitinan Cave in Montalban, Morong (now Rodriguez, Rizal), and cried for liberation from Spanish rule and oppression.

The lack of a written declaration is the reason why these dramatic declarations are not recognized. The accepted date is still viewed in the same spirit as the American declaration of 1776, wherein a piece of paper signed by educated men—not a nation’s collective cries of desire for freedom—is the definitive statement of independence. A written declaration warrants an official recognition from other nations, just as in Aguinaldo’s republic, even if such recognition is not universal. McNutt’s publicized declaration sounds even more tantalizing for all its glitz, glamour, and extravaganza. Sadly, the cries of Bonifacio and his men were shouts not heard around the world and have become moot and academic in the consciousness of our leaders and academia.

Do you feel in charge?
And so, 116 years after our accepted and recognized date of independence, are we a truly independent and sovereign nation? Our nation’s decisions in recent decades regarding pressing local and regional turmoil prove otherwise. We’ve very much neglected our armed forces’ capability to defend our territory from foreign aggression by confidently relying on a lopsided defense agreement instead of aggressively pursuing military modernization. We’ve allowed a regional hegemon to unabatedly encroach on waters within our patrimony and territory. We’ve allowed crooks and scoundrels to amass millions from the nation’s pockets for their personal whims and caprices. We’ve allowed the cycle to go on by voting for them each election even as millions of Filipinos wallow in unemployment, starvation, and poverty.

Independence. Sovereignty. These are big words you cannot put into reality by merely writing it on pieces of paper and reading it in public. To be truly free, a society makes its explicit desire potent through collective and effective action. On the 116th anniversary of Philippine independence, the masked mercenary Bane is asking us, “Do you feel in charge?” You know very well the answer.

Originally published in the June 12, 2014 issue of The Philippine STAR.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

FEATURE | Playtime for Tacloban

By EPI FABONAN III. Tacloban, Philippines – It was a sweltering Friday morning at Sagkahan Elementary School. Despite the heat, schoolchildren and their parents sat under a large UNICEF tent, eagerly awaiting our arrival. It's June 6 and I am the sole correspondent from The Philippine STAR to witness Johnson & Johnson Philippines' launch of a new playground, in line with the company’s active play advocacy dubbed Di Lang Laro ang Laro.

The road to Sagkahan is paved with tears and desolation. At the Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport, the signs of a nightmare gone by are still visible: collapsed ceilings, peeled-off roofing, and damaged luggage conveyor belts. On the side of the road lie coconut trees missing their leaves, homes missing their walls and roofs, and families missing their homes. These families still live in tent cities close to the shoreline of Cancabato Bay despite visible warning signs prohibiting them.

It’s been seven months since Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan, the most powerful typhoon to ever make landfall, devastated this city of over 150,000 which left more than 6,000 dead and resulted in a multi-national relief effort costing around $15 billion. One is left to wonder where the money is now.

The city appears much better than it looked in November last year amid all the debris, homelessness, hunger, and looting. Merchants and shoppers make the streets throb with activity. Public transportation now plies major thoroughfares that seemed abandoned in the aftermath of the disaster. However, there are internal wounds that continue to bleed in a city trying to stand on its feet.

Healing through Active Play
These internal wounds are what Johnson’s Baby Philippines and its partners aim to heal by building a new playground and promoting active play among children.

“There are plenty of benefits children can get from playing especially in terms of physical, mental, emotional, and social skills. But what is important now is for the children of Tacloban to overcome their trauma given what happened seven months ago. We believe that active play heals and so we are giving them a place where they can safely play so they can be kids again and get back their normal lives,” says Kris Llanes, senior brand manager for Johnson’s Baby Philippines.

The playground consists of a sturdy tree house with a rope swing underneath, a swing set made of rubber, rope, and steel that can carry three children, a concrete slide, steel monkey bars, an obstacle course of rubber tires, a rope ladder obstacle course, and a mini-water slide made of PVC tubes and plastic drums. The soil around each set is covered with sand and rice husks (ipa in Filipino) making it safer for the kids to land on their feet.

“When we first came here two months ago, we asked the children to draw what kind of playground they want. What surprised us in one of the drawings is a tree house within the playground. We realized that it represented these children’s houses, most of which were destroyed by the typhoon. Hence, the tree house in the playground we built,” Llanes explained.

Other drawings also featured a playground while raining, as well as figures like Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and superheroes. According to Llanes, a child psychologist interpreted the drawings as signs of lingering trauma among the children, especially regarding water, since much of the city was destroyed by storm surge, as well as the lack of authority figures following the widespread chaos, panic, and looting in the aftermath of the storm.

To allay these fears, Johnson’s Baby Philippines filled the playground’s tree house with 1,600 toys collected from various donors which they distributed during the launch. The mini-water slide was also filled with water allowing children to play with plastic boats and inflatable toys provided.

Designed, built with kids in mind
For the construction of the playground, Johnson & Johnson teamed up with Play Pilipinas, a non-government organization advocating for more participation, provision, and protection of children’s right to play at home, in schools, and in communities throughout the Philippines. It aims to construct a playground in each barangay, and since 2011, has built 15 playgrounds in different parts of the country.

“Each playground we build is unique since each community’s needs, as well as the availability of materials, are considered prior to construction,” says Sigrid Perez, executive director of Play Pilipinas. “For this playground, we conducted interviews with the principal, students, and parents, hired local workers for the construction, and made use of locally available, low-cost materials. In this way, the community has a sense of involvement in the construction of the playground, becoming part of the healing process.”

In the design of the playground, Play Pilipinas also considered safety concerns, which they addressed in consultation with Playground Ideas. The Australia-based group adapted Australian safety standards in designing each set and provided training for the project foreman and workers in building the playground according to the safety standards.

“We made sure to minimize the risk of serious injury in building our playgrounds. But definitely, there will always be an element of risk. Active play builds confidence among children that they can play even with the risk of injury; otherwise, everything will have to be foamed,” Perez added.

But more than physical provisions for active play, Play Pilipinas also address the importance of mental and emotional provisions. Often, it is adults that allow or disallow children to play either because of fear for their children’s safety or because children had to help with their parents’ livelihood. To address this issue, the organization also conducted workshops designed to immerse adults in play deprivation, making them understand better what it feels for children to be deprived of playtime.

On the path to recovery
Mrs. Niceta Galura, principal of Sagkahan Elementary School, couldn’t be more thankful for the project. Her school, which is located some 200 meters from Cancabato Bay, was totally washed by storm surge and destroyed 42 of its 45 instructional rooms, including blackboards, chairs, computers, furniture, and learning materials. After the typhoon, looters and individuals mentally impaired by the typhoon roamed the school grounds, adding to the children’s trauma. In front of guests from the media, the local government, and parents, she thanked Johnson & Johnson, Play Pilipinas and the Department of Education for their playground endeavor.

“During enrolment, di umabot ng 80 percent ang enrollees. But on June 2, first day of classes, almost 100 percent ang attendance namin because of our new playground!” Galura said. “Siguro kahit walang bagyo, still, very helpful ang playground because play is also one avenue for learning, aside from the four walls of the classroom.”

But it’s the children of Tacloban who are happiest with their new playing field. After Llanes, Perez, and Galura, together with Dr. Luisa Yu, DepEd regional director for Eastern Visayas , cut the ceremonial ribbon, the children quickly trooped to the playground, eager to try on the different sets for themselves. They laughed, smiled, and cheered, as they traversed monkey bars, hopped on rubber tires, and pushed each other in the swings, as the backdrop of wanton destruction and reconstruction around them seemingly disappeared.

“We at Johnson & Johnson’s Philippines have always believed we are responsible for the communities that we live in. This can be seen in the products, services, and programs we offer to families all over the Philippines. They all stand for one purpose: to build a brighter future for the Filipino family,” Llanes said. “As a health company, it is only fitting for us to fulfill our mission to make the lives of families better. Through our advocacy, Di Lang Laro ang Laro, we are helping create brighter future among these young lives through the promotion of active play and by being a playtime partner.”

With Johnson & Johnson’s first-of-its-kind playground in Tacloban, children now have a venue where they can forget the horrible memories of Typhoon Yolanda, enjoy life anew, and develop their full potential, much like their city as it slowly stands on its feet again.

To learn more about Johnson's Baby and its advocacy Di Lang Laro ang Laro, visit their Facebook page.

Photos of my visit to Tacloban:
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