Thursday, November 26, 2009


Before I share what's on my mind, let me first say something about the picture posted here. To those who are in the know, that's barrett sniper rifle and it's a long distance rifle that should only be in the hands of elite units in the Armed Forces or the Philippine National Police. Gun dealers refer to this kind as "exotic" firearms because of precision and sophistication. Sama na ang price tag siyempre.

The PNP's Special Action Forces procured several pieces of this kind for anti-terrorism purposes.

But guess what? The Ampatuans bought one like this and one powerful mayor in Southern Philippines knew this and I hope he confirms this information because the barrett model seen in this picture was first offered to him at a price of P1.2-million pesos. Namahalan si mayor. And gun dealers knew just where to offer it next, the one person in Mindanao who would not even ask for a discount on buying this kind of firearms.

Binili ang barrett sa halagang inalok, walang tawad-tawad, paid not in check---but in CASH!

Where did I get this story? Sa mga mismong nakakaalam ng transaksiyong naganap.

Now---aside from the "surrender" of Andal Ampatuan Jr. and the "arrest" of policemen involved in the carnage of 57 last Monday in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao---the other photos you'll probably see in all newspapers are the firearms surrendered or confiscated from the Civilian Auxiliary Forces in Maguindanao---all 357 firearms issued accounted for. Wala akong problema sa impormasyong iyon, di ko nga pagdududahan sa kasi...tignan ang mga tipo ng baril na nakumpiska o isinuko ng mga civilian forces...di ba GARAND lang?

May nag-do-drawing na naman yata.

Now---this is what happens when media unites and when the constitutionally mandated role and function of media in a democratic society is attacked with total disregard and with the highest form of brutality and barbarism: WE DIG MORE. WE INQUIRE MORE. WE INVESTIGATE MORE. WE EXPOSE MORE.

If the intention was to cow the messengers, then the opposite was achieved.

The give justice to November 23-Maguindanao carnage victims --- civilians, lawyers and journalists --- is to continue unearthing everything that they have desperately concealed in the last few years.

Bigla---naalala ko muli si Lintang Bidol (Bedol)...asan na nga kaya siya?

May dapat kayang HUKAYIN kung nasaan na siya ngayon? O baka IBINAON na nga siya sa limot?

No doubt that Maguindanao carnage placed the country on the world map again---recognized for something that placed our ranking on top of Iraq as the most dangerous place on earth for journalists.

The massacre of 57 individuals, relatives of a political clan in the province of Maguindanao, their lawyers and supporters and journalists covering their intention to file for Certificate of Candidacy in next year's election exposed the ugly truth about the country's political system especially in a province like Maguindanao, where warlords are considered allies and partners of government for "peace" and "security". I qualified the statement...especially in Maguindanao because the other ugly truth here is that warlords do not only enjoy demi-god status in that part of the country, in every region, there exists one.

There were many inhuman acts that journalists like myself have witnessed in the last 20-years but nothing compared to this and this I say not because journalists are among those who were brutally killed with no reason at all! The very act itself is beyond any human comprehension. Minsan sa dami ng mga karahasang nakita ng isang mamamahayag, akala niya, hindi na siya magugulat pa. Akala lang pala namin...hanggang sa dumating ang araw na maging ang buong mundo ay nagulantang. Nangyayari pa pala ang ganito sa lugar na tulad ng Pilipinas? Teka, mali ang hanay ng salita: Puwede palang mangyari ang ganitong uri ng kahayupan sa lugar na tulad ng Pilipinas? Teka, ayusin uli natin ang kamada ng mga salita: Pinapayagan palang mangyari ang karumaldumal na krimeng tulad nito sa Pilipinas?

What was shattered in the Maguindanao incident is the very essence of law and order and of governance in this country. Hindi lang sa panahon ni Pangulong Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo nagsimula ang mga private armies at kalakaran ng warlordism sa bansa. Hindi lang ito kahapon nangyari. Dati na, meron na, marami pa.

Huwag na tayong maglokohan, hindi lang sa Maguindanao may private army ang mga pulitiko. Huwag na tayong lumayo, sa Kamaynilaan, meron din, ang tawag nga lang minsan, private security.

Kung sasabihin sa atin na nabuwag na ang armadong suporta ng mga Ampatuans---tignang mabuti ang mga ihaharap na mga armas na umanoy nakuha sa kanilang mga taga-sunod.

Alam na alam ng mga gun dealers kung anong mga uri ng armas ang naibenta nila sa mga Ampatuans at wala sa mga naibenta nila ang garand. Dati nang nasa Mindanao yan...please lang, do not insult our capacity to comprehend.

Kung sa presentasyon ng mga armas na nakumpiska---may nakita kayong mataas at makabagong uri ng armas na tulad ng nasa larawan---may chance na maniwala akong binubuwag na nga ang puwersa ng mga Ampatuans. Pero hanggang garand pa lang ang ipinapakita....walang maniniwala.

And while I'm at it...kung seryoso talaga ang pamahalaan na buwagin ang mga private armies---bakit kaya di tignan din ang mga malalaking personalidad na may koleksiyon na rin ng mga matataas na kalibre ng armas? Yan ay kung SERYOSO nga ha. Sabi ng isang retired general na kausap ko kanina, "(Blank) is the next big warlord in Mindanao...lalo na kapag nanalo...and no doubt he will win."

Papangalanan ko pa ba? Wag na, baka mabigwasan pa ako ng isang malakas na KALIWA.

The point here is, to fully salvage the shatterred credibility of governance and law enforcement in a place like Maguindanao, the reactionary campaign against private armies should not stop with the Ampatuans alone.

For years, the system of warlordism in this country has been tolerated, patronized and re-engineered and re-invigorated to conform and to comply with political agendas and interests.

Nakatingin na ang buong mundo. In this day and age, why are we allowing this kind of political patronage to exist?

After the condemnation, call for justice, what comes next?

Tignan na natin ang mas malaking larawan na naipamukha at nailantad ng naganap sa Maguindanao. Doon tayo tunay na makapagsisimula.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Teaching was his passion and vocation in life...

Every victim has a face. It is with deep pain that I share the picture of this man, respected and loved by many in an island province down South.

The one you see on this blog entry is that of Gabriel "Bong" Canizares, the school principal in Jolo, Sulu beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf Group.

When I arrived home this evening, it took me a while before I opened my computer to join the rest of the ON-LINE world.I did not open my Gmail account at once and instead stayed a few minutes on Facebook before opening my Gmail--and among the messages in my INBOX was from a staff in the Department of Education who e-mailed this picture. I remember inquiring about this, to DepED Secretary Jesli Lapus mid-morning but completely forgotten about it as I went on with my day's schedule.

When I saw his face--I thought he is someone I may have met in the past in the many years that I covered Sulu beginning in the early 90s. I made a mental note to ask my other friends in Sulu like Ed General, Ed Gambali...if he was among those whom we met in some coverage about consultation meetings related to a crisis in Sulu---usually---another case of kidnapping.

But even if he's a total stranger to me---to you---to all of us---the face here that smiles back at us in this picture gives us an idea on how he labored his time and effort in his profession as educator in Sulu.

Lapus in a statement said: The entire DepED family is shocked and grieves with the family of one of our best performing principals, Mr. Gabriel Canizares.A key catalyst in teacher trainings with Synergia in Sulu, he is a great loss to efforts to improve the quality of education of our children in the area. We condemn this heinous act committed against the people of ARMM. Violence creates more sufferings and sabotaging education by harming tachers will have dire consequences in the attainment of peace and progress."

The severed head of 36-year old school principal was recovered at a gas station in Jolo town at around 5 a.m., said Major David Hontiveros, spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command. Canizares was abducted by armed men suspected to be Abu Sayyaf bandits last October 19, eight days after Irish priest Michael Sinnot in Pagadian City last October 11 by armed men suspected to be allied with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

According to AFP spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Brawner Jr. Canizares’ case was “not a simple kidnap for ransom” incident."Prior to his (Canizares) kidnapping, marami ng threats sa buhay niya. And dun sa sasakyan, siya lang ang dinukot ng mga bandido (there have been a lot of threats to his life. He was the only one taken by the bandits in the vehicle)," Brawner said.

The people of Sulu are used to news of violence but this one shocked and angered many according to Jolo municipal mayor Hussin Amin. Who would not be?

It was reported that the non-payment of ransom amounting to P2-million pesos was the reason Canizares was beheaded. That maybe true as far as the parameters of the ASG or other bandits in the area is concerned. But having covered conflict related stories in Mindanao, Sulu in particular for nearly two-decades now--I did not take that reasoning pointblank.

The Philippine National Police too said in a statement that the beheading maybe linked with the arrest of a top MILF commander. The MILF as an organization has long been suspected of providing sanctuary to the ASG, something that they always deny and belie in media. You must have heard Ed Kabalu's statement about this a hundred times. The intelligence report gathered by the PNP about the arrest of an MILF commander and the beheading may also be true given the fact that the ASG has indeed sought protection in areas known to be lairs of the MNLF in the past.

But as I ponder the sad news about the beheading of Canizares---my mind brought me to another possible angle on this story. Just last week, I received an e-mail from a source in Sulu and with that email are attachments of pictures from the swearing in of some 2,000 Civilian Volunteers or CVOs in Sulu, all armed,ready to wage battle side by side with government troops anytime.

In Sulu, these CVOs have another name, unofficial, uttered in whispers:"private army."

They underwent rigorous training on the art of modern and jungle warfare and have been trained to use modern rifles--a bush rifle type, one source told me--a weapon that has yet to see action in the battled tested grounds of Sulu.

But how does one measure the performance of those 2,000 plus armed CVOs or auxiliary force when there's no on going and actual war happening to begin with?

Create one? Is this the answer here?

What incident would be condemnable enough to wage an active war in the field again?--Something like this one? The beheading of Canizares? ---I sure hope the answer is NO!Certainly NOT.

But then mind took me again to another time---stories of the MAGIC-8, civilian forces armed figting side by side with government troops against the Moro National Liberation Front in the early 70s, of the burning of Jolo in 1973---a period referred to in history as Martial Rule.

And then there's this twin bombing again this morning adding to the other two last week in Metro Manila. Some dots connect---and I hope these "dots" do not.

In the meantime--let me set aside these thoughts that popped out of nowhere and instead end by adding my voice in honoring the man---this man,Gabriel "Bong" Canizares, for the service he extended to the students of Sulu.

When I was a hostage for 98-days in Sulu, at least two of those who guarded me begged me to teach them how to read using that old woman's magazine cover (MOD-old size) with Patricia Javier on the cover. When I was released on the morning of April 27, 2002---one of my guards, NOUPAL said, "Magsukol, Kaingatan na ako Magbasa." He said, thank you, I know now how to read.

This thing I knew as TRUTH: In the hearts of many youngsters in Sulu, many yearn for real education. Many of them believe that education is the way to free them from the pains of poverty, violence and discrimination.

We honor the memory of Gabriel "Bong: Canizares because he responded to the yearning of many and showed them that yes---education opens doors and that it is possible and not just something they imagine or dream of acquiring.

This face you see on this page lived a life that was meaningful and selfless in service of other, a true hero every Filipino can be proud of. (END)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A reason revealed in the movie PUNTOD...

Let me begin this piece by uttering the lines "Everything happens for a reason"---probably the most abused lines to describe or to justify an occurrence or a non-occurrence. But I cannot help but fall prey to these lines again for it is the law of nature--again, everything really happens for a reason--good or bad, there is always something that explains why it happened or did not happen.

As a first time producer of an independent film, my intention of course is to show the movie at once and showcase the final product, a result of a magical and unforgettable collaboration of hearts and minds of men and women involved in the making of this film. Our aim was to enter the film in different international film festivals and we did the rounds, inexperienced and with a vague idea on how things work in the world of independent films and international film festivals, we simply did what anybody else in the same shoes as ours would do: send entries, wait for the next big opportunity for the film to be noticed in one of the many international film festivals happening all year round in various parts of the world, one after the other, sometimes almost simultaneously. DHL must have made a "small fortune" from me if I would be counting the many entries that I sent.

Every time I would hear a report about a Filipino film being selected or having won in this and that award---I would be filled with joy and excitement for the recognition of a Filipino work of art. When the movie KINATAY won the top awards in this year's CANNES FILM FESTIVAL, I was among those who literally jumped with happiness and pride for I am part of the casts of the film, portraying the role of a reporter along with fellow journalist turned filmmaker Jim Libiran for a brief scene that establishes the kind of life the central character in the film, sees and confronts on his day to day existence.

But to be totally frank about it, while I was genuinely happy with that recognition, there was this nagging thought, restless question begging to be answered: Why was our film not selected? Why is it that no one seemed to be noticing the film we submitted even for exhibition purposes?

We have an award winning director in the person of Cesar Apolinario, a good friend of mine and a fellow journalist who is as passionate and as committed as I am and other journalists turned filmmakers too in translating the realities of life that we witnessed and experienced as journalists in the big screen via independent and small budgeted film productions; the script was very realistic and penned by someone who actually experienced life in that part of Tondo, Melchor Encabo; we have very competent casts of actors and actresses in our film led by the very talented and multi-awarded actor Mark Gil, the Mark Gil of Philippine Cinema; we have a gem in the person of our discovery and central character, Baby, portrayed by Barbie Forteza; the original music was handled by an Urian veteran;---I could go on listing plus factors about the film that only left me to ask that same question over and over again---why? Why does it seem that no one noticed our film?

And then last month, we were finally included as one of the exhibition films for the recently concluded Cinemanila Film Festival and it was there that I got the answers to my questions---in the company local viewers, in the perspective of fellow Filipinos who watched the films with us and voluntarily approached me and Melchor to share their views about the film, PUNTOD.

One comment came from Ms. Liza B. Martinez, Ph.D.Director of the Philippine Deaf Resource Center who said, "you guys had me fooled. I thought that your character Baby is really deaf!" --And then she encouraged us to present our film during the Deaf Awareness Month this November and the next thing I knew, there's this invitation for the exhibition of our film PUNTOD, described by the recognized authority in deaf related studies as "the most realistic portrayal" she has even seen in movies.

And then another unsolicited review, most welcomed and very much appreciated, from a member of the entertainment press, columnist Eric Borromeo who said, "it's not usual to end a movie on a sad note, but that's life, not all have happy endings, what happens is that we simply go on and move on after a seemingly insurmountable pain."

Actress Sheree who essayed the role of Sarah, told me, "Ate Arlyn, salamat po talaga sa pagpili ninyo sa akin ni Direk Cesar at ngayong nakita ko ang kabuuan, masasabi kong ito na ang pinakamakabuluhang pelikulang nagawa ko. Ipagmamalaki ko ang pelikulang ito."

And then there's this stranger, who shook my hand as she spoke to me, "please show this film commercially, it's a very powerful film. Akala mo tungkol lang sa isang pipi at bingi, pero ang totoo, tungkol sa kuwento nating mga Filipino na sa katagalan na ng panahon ng pagkukuwento ng kuwentong ito, ayaw na nating marinig at makita, dahil kinasanayan na natin, kahirapan, pagwawalang bahala, pang-aabuso sa kalikasan. You are depicting the story of many in one film. Sana mapanood ng mga gustong pamunuan tayo." She said a lot, she left me with a calling card and I realized we attracted someone from the academe to watch the film in wide screen, and the delight was strengthened by the fact that she's also teaching aspiring filmmakers.

And then it hit me. While we strive so much to have our film get noticed outside, in the international arena, the audience of the film is really inside the very shores where the movie is set----the Philippines, seen in the eyes of Filipinos looking at themselves, examining the horizon of the immediate future that awaits their decision or indecision, hoping for the one direction that would eventually affirm the dignity and the bravery of Filipinos.

In the movies, you would often hear this, "ang buhay ay parang pelikula", and as journalists and filmmakers, we say this with a twist, "ang pelikula ay parang totoong buhay nga!"---truth in journalism translated to films.

And just as I was convinced that the film is really meant for the local audience, I got a confirmation from organizers of an upcoming festival in San Fransisco, USA, that the film will be among those chosen for film-showing as exhibit films.

Then another surprise came---another international film festival, by invitation only---is asking for a trailer copy of the movie. No final decision yet but the mere fact that they asked for a copy spoke volumes on how thrilling this piece of news was---so thrilling and so exciting that I am still awake at this wee hour of the morning, exhaling and unloading my thoughts and emotions about the film PUNTOD.

Puntod or tomb symbolizes and end but in many ways, as we labored to promote this film in months, we were rewarded with the virtue and lessons learned of having to wait in line with patience, tired, wounded, but never giving up.

Everything happens for a reason I said at the beginning, and now all of us involved in this humble production are delighted in the opening of not just a window, but many doors for our film PUNTOD. (end)