Armed conflict, Culture, Human Rights, journalism

Photographing defiance against impunity

No single image or photo can adequately capture the phenomenon of “impunity” in the country, much less the efforts to curb or stop it. But that was exactly the challenge that the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL)’s photo contest posed to photographers: Present a single image that visually captures our fight against impunity. I entered the contest with the idea of submitting some of my photos that invoked resistance or struggle against state-sponsored violence, either in the provinces where the various armed conflicts are most vividly experienced, or in the metropolitan streets, where the protests are most frequently expressed. I am thankful that the NUPL’s judges, Attys. Charlie Yu and Greg Fabros, as well as Edith Burgos and (legendary) Associated Press chief photographer Bullit Marquez, chose two of my entries in the top ten, and chose one of my submissions as the first prize. The latter photo, which I clumsily titled “Act of Defiance,” shows an urban poor activist braving the water canons employed by anti-riot policemen during a protest rally against repressive policies of then President Arroyo’s regime, in 2006. (Trivia: I used a FILM SLR Nikon camera for this photo. Yes, I was still using film as late as 2006. Hehe.)

While I am proud of this photo (if I remember correctly, this was one of my “Hail Mary” photos), some of the other submissions — the ones that I did see, because I arrived, uhm, late during the awarding program last January 27 — are quite compelling. I wish NUPL would publish the submissions, or at least the ten finalists, in their website, blog or Facebook account.

Here is one of my submissions; one of the ten finalists: a photo of a Muslim man and his child awkwardly sitting between two paramilitary armed men in Munai, Lanao del Norte on October 2008. The paramilitary soldiers were a constant presence in refugee camps like the one that the man and his child sought refuge in, after government troops attacked Muslim communities with supposed Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) presence in Lanao del Sur. These refugees fled their communities for fear of their lives.

 

Here is the so-called “winning” photo.

News of the contest in alternative newsmagazines Pinoy Weekly and Bulatlat.

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Because I’d rather quote Neruda


I Explain a Few Things

You are going to ask: and where are the lilacs?
and the poppy-petalled metaphysics?
and the rain repeatedly spattering
its words and drilling them full
of apertures and birds?
I’ll tell you all the news.

I lived in a suburb,
a suburb of Madrid, with bells,
and clocks, and trees.

From there you could look out
over Castille’s dry face:
a leather ocean.
My house was called
the house of flowers, because in every cranny
geraniums burst: it was
a good-looking house
with its dogs and children.
Remember, Raul?
Eh, Rafel? Federico, do you remember
from under the ground
my balconies on which
the light of June drowned flowers in your mouth?
Brother, my brother!
Everything
loud with big voices, the salt of merchandises,
pile-ups of palpitating bread,
the stalls of my suburb of Arguelles with its statue
like a drained inkwell in a swirl of hake:
oil flowed into spoons,
a deep baying
of feet and hands swelled in the streets,
metres, litres, the sharp
measure of life,
stacked-up fish,
the texture of roofs with a cold sun in which
the weather vane falters,
the fine, frenzied ivory of potatoes,
wave on wave of tomatoes rolling down the sea.

And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings –
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children’s blood.

Jackals that the jackals would despise,
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate!

Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives!

Treacherous
generals:
see my dead house,
look at broken Spain :
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers,
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes,
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull’s eye of your hearts.

And you’ll ask: why doesn’t his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land?

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
The blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
In the streets!

Poem by Pablo Neruda | “Guernica,” painting by Pablo Picasso
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Human Rights

Kung ano ang sinasabi ng mga puno ng Kananga sa pagpatay kina Leonardo Co

Nakatingala sila sa isang puno, pinagmamasdan ang mga dahon, tanghaling tapat ng Nobyembre 15.

Nasa isang masukal na gubat sa Kananga, Leyte ang field work team ni Leonardo Co. Isang tanyag na taxonomist – o siyentistang nagkaklasipika ng mga tanim at puno – si Leonard. Nangongolekta sila ng seedlings ng mga puno sa lugar. Pangkaraniwang gawain na ito ng mga siyentistang tulad niya.

Kasama niya ang kanyang mga guide at katuwang sa pananaliksik na sina Sofronio “Ponyong” Cortez, Julius “Oyong” Borromeo, Policarpio “Carping” Balute, at Ronino “Niño” Gibe. Nasa gitna sila ng munting palaisipan: Tanguile ba o isang specie ng Shorea ang punong tinitingala? Nalito sila, dahil may nakitang terminal bud ng Shorea sa ibaba ng puno. Pero mukha namang Tanguile, isang tanyag na hardwood, ang puno.

Nakatingala sila sa isang puno, pinagmamasdan ang mga dahon, nang magsimula ang pamamaril.

Interogasyon habang agaw-buhay

Nang matapos ang pamamaril, natagpuang patay ang tanyag na taxonomist na si Leonard. Gayundin sina Ponyong at Oyong. Nakatakas, pero may malalim na sugat sa kalooban, sina Carping at Niño.

Mula sa mga pahayag ni Carping sa midya, sinumpaang salaysay ni Niño na sinumite sa Commission on Human Rights, gayundin sa pag-aaral ng isang independiyenteng fact-finding team na pinamunuan ng grupong Agham (Science and Technology for the People), maaaring mabuo ang mga sirkumstansiya ng pamamaril.

Tatlong araw na silang nasa field work noong Nobyembre 15. Sakop ng operasyon ng isang geothermal plant ng Energy Development Corporation o EDC sa Kananga ang lugar ng pag-aaral nina Leonard. Dating pinatatakbo ng Philippine National Oil Company na pag-aari ng gobyerno, ngayo’y isang pribadong kompanyang pag-aari ng pamilyang Lopez ang EDC.

Tamang tama, konsultant ng EDC sa biodiversity si Leonard, kung kaya may akses siya sa kagubatang kinasasakupan ng operasyon ng planta. Nandoon siya para mangolekta ng seedlings ng mga matatayog na puno sa bahaging ito ng bansa.

Nakatingala sila sa isang puno, inaaral ang mga dahon, nang may magpaputok sa likod ng grupo. Agad na nakatago si Niño. Sa lumabas na mga pahayag niya sa midya, sinabi naman ni Policarpio na nakatakbo siya. Pero sina Leonard, Sofronio at Julius ang tinamaan. Mula sa mga pahayag nina Niño at Policarpio, mistulang pinaulanan sila ng bala. Parang umaangat ang lupa, anila, sa pagtalop ng bala sa lupa. Tumatalsik ang balat ng puno. Habang nakadapa, hindi maiangat ni Niño ang kanyang ulo sa takot na madaplisan ng bala.

Nang matapos ang pagpapaputok – 20 minutos iyon, bagamat ayon sa militar ay 10 hanggang 12 minuto lamang – lumapit ang mga sundalo. Kinuwestiyon si Niño: Nasaan na ang mga kasamahan n’yong armado? Bakit nandito kayo? Bakit may drowing kayo ng lugar? Bakit may GPS kayo? Lumalabas na tumagal mahigit isang oras ang pagtatanong.

Ibinaba sila, alas-dos na ng hapon. Binitbit sila ng mga sundalo, at ibinaba sa nalalapit na pad (isang sementadong clearing na dinebelop ng EDC), tinatawag na “Pad 403,” at doon naghihintay na ang mga tauhan at sasakyan ng EDC.

Pumanaw na sina Leonard noon. Patay na rin si Ponyong. Ngunit sugatan pa si Oyong, ayon mismo sa militar. Dumadaing pa umano si Oyong, matapos ang putukan. Posibleng dahil isang oras pa ang lumipas, isang oras pang nagsagawa ng interogasyon ang militar, pumanaw din malaon si Oyong.

Mula sa Pad 403, sa pagitan ng alas-dos at 4:30 ng hapon, dinala ng sasakyan ng EDC at ilang sundalo ang tatlong bangkay sa himpilan ng pulisya para ipa-blotter ang kaganapan. Mula sa himpilan, dinala sa ospital para ideklarang patay, at saka dinala sa punerarya.

Di agad nakapag-imbestiga ang pulis at Leyte SOCO sa lugar ng insidente. Ayon kay Senior Insp. Joel Camacho, hepe ng PNP sa Kananga, kinabukasan ng alas-11 ng umaga na unang naimbestigahan ang lugar at nakapagsagawa ng forensic examination sa lugar ang SOCO. Dahil umano ito sa “hot pursuit operations” na ginagawa pa ng militar noong hapon ng Nobyembre 15, matapos mabaril sina Leonard.

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Human Rights

Land and freedom in Luisita

I was supposed to post last month these other photos that I took in Hacienda Luisita last year. But a deluge of work washed it away from my consciousness. After posting the photos in San Roque, I remembered Luisita. A lot of people, in fact, remembered Luisita when the resistance of the people of Sitio San Roque happened last September 23. More specifically, it recalled those images before the massacre of November 16, 2004: the barricades, water cannons, people’s arms linked in defiance of the violence before them. Both the people of San Roque and Luisita fought, not just for a place in this world, but for control over their own lives. They cannot just be washed away by the water cannons, and their houses and lives destroyed by the demolishers. They stood their ground, united, and they triumphed. However limited, however momentary. It was a triumph, a powerful statement for the power of unity and militance, a testament to the true strength of the people.

Anyway, here are some of the photos that I was supposed to post last month.

One of the many hectares of Luisita land now planted with rice by the farmers who went on strike against the sugar plantation and refinery in 2004.

One of the many hectares of Luisita land now planted with rice by the farmers who went on strike against the sugar plantation and refinery in 2004.

A Luisita resident and farmer inadvertently flashes the "L" sign that is the trademark of Luisita part-owner and President Noynoy Aquino.

A Luisita resident and farmer inadvertently flashes the "L" sign that is the trademark of Luisita part-owner and President Noynoy Aquino.

The union flag displayed in front of a farmer's house.

The union flag displayed in front of a farmer's house.

A child wonders outside the house.

A child wonders outside the house.

A child presses his palm against a tarpaulin displayed during one union activity. On the tarp were pictures of the farmers' and farm workers' campaign in Luisita to till the land.

A child presses his palm against a tarpaulin displayed during one union activity. On the tarp were pictures of the farmers' and farm workers' campaign in Luisita to till the land.

Gossip among friends.

Gossip among friends.

On their way to school, via bicycles.

On their way to school, via bicycles.

One of only a small number of tractors employed for tilling the land in the hacienda.

One of only a small number of tractors employed for tilling the land in the hacienda.

There are those who criticize the farmers who ask that the land of Luisita be given them, saying that the hacenderos deserve to be compensated. But the farmers have toiled the land and created the wealth off the land for decades, for little or no pay. Was that, they ask, not enough?

There are those who criticize the farmers who ask that the land of Luisita be given them, saying that the hacenderos deserve to be compensated. But the farmers have toiled the land and created the wealth off the land for decades, for little or no pay. Was that, they ask, not enough?

A farmer rests and surveys the land that they have planted on so far.

A farmer rests and surveys the land that they have planted on so far.

Irrigation for the rice paddies, made by the farmers.

Irrigation for the rice paddies, made by the farmers.

Part of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway that intruded into the Luisita land.

Part of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway that intruded into the Luisita land.

Before the massacre in 2004, carabaos were banned in Luisita.

Before the massacre in 2004, carabaos were banned in Luisita.

I was there in Luisita courtesy of Salinlahi Alliance for Childen’s Concerns, who had a photography workshop program for children. The subject of these prospective child photographers were fellow children who worked in the fields.

A child photographs a fellow child who works the field.

A child photographs a fellow child who works the field.

Three of the child photographers who participated in the Salinlahi workshop.

Three of the child photographers who participated in the Salinlahi workshop.

We visited the site of the 2004 massacre. In order for us not to be whisked away by the Hacienda security, we had to pretend to be ordinary tourists (ha, tourists in Luisita) having our pictures taken there. We also were there a month after Cory Aquino's death.

We visited the site of the 2004 massacre. In order for us not to be whisked away by the Hacienda security, we had to pretend to be ordinary tourists (ha, tourists in Luisita) having our pictures taken there. We also were there a month after Cory Aquino's death.

I had to get my feet dirty.

My feet and Luisita.

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Human Rights

Land marked

If the Ayalas and the local officials and, yes, Noynoy Aquino himself, are to have their way, thousands of families in Quezon City will again be subject to forced relocation very soon. These are the people of North Triangle, whose homes perched on public land (the National Housing Authority’s, to boot) stand in the way of a “business district” catering to multinational corporations and commercial establishments. These people, many of them already former relocatees from demolished communities during past administrations, are again to become refugees in their own country. On September 23, attempts at demolishing Sitio San Roque were repulsed by barricades, stones and defense on the people’s houses with their own bodies. They temporarily succeeded, but the demolishers are determined to have their way.

A woman and a child stand in front of a huge fence separating a privately owned land (which used to be an urban poor community, too), guarded by armed security personnel, like the man behind the fence.

A woman and a child stand in front of a huge fence separating a privately owned land (which used to be an urban poor community, too), guarded by armed security personnel, like the man behind the fence.

    Sitio San Roque is a community of more than 8,000 families, before the "voluntary relocation."

Sitio San Roque is a community of more than 8,000 families, before the "voluntary relocation."

Goats for sale. Before the demolition, San Roque was humming with economic activity.

Goats for sale. Before the demolition, San Roque was humming with economic activity.

An elderly woman smiles while passing through a sari-sari store in San Roque.

An elderly woman smiles while passing through a sari-sari store in San Roque.

A basketball game to break the daily grind. Despite the cramped houses, there are many basketball courts within San Roque.

A basketball game to break the daily grind. Despite the cramped houses, there are many basketball courts within San Roque.

The divide between the plush Landmark shopping center in Trinoma Mall and the impoverished San Roque community.

The divide between the plush Landmark shopping center in Trinoma Mall and the impoverished San Roque community.

A backhoe truck seemingly stands guard between the mall and the urban poor community, the night before the start of the September 23 demolition attempt.

A backhoe truck seemingly stands guard between the mall and the urban poor community, the night before the start of the September 23 demolition attempt.

On the 23rd, the assault began in earnest. As residents, mostly youths, battled the police for control of EDSA, a demolition team went about its business of destroying homes.

On the 23rd, the assault began in earnest. As residents, mostly youths, battled the police for control of EDSA, a demolition team went about its business of destroying homes.

Many temporarily sought shelter beneath the train rails.

Many temporarily sought shelter beneath the train rails.

The houses of these children were among the first to be demolished.

The houses of these children were among the first to be demolished.

Demolilshers fling rocks, bottles and other materials at the barricaders.

Demolilshers fling rocks, bottles and other materials at the barricaders.

A cop, bearing a tear gas gun, surveys the street after the residents momentarily retreated before a hail of rocks and bottles from the demolishers.

A cop, bearing a tear gas gun, surveys the street after the residents momentarily retreated before a hail of rocks and bottles from the demolishers.

But the barricaders fight back and won EDSA -- this time.

But the barricaders fight back and won EDSA -- this time.

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Kay Alex

Bawal magbukas ng telepono sa teatro, kaya maaaring napaaga pa sanang nalaman ko ang pagpanaw mo. Pero ilang minuto lang naman ang tumagal bago nabasa ang text. Hindi pa agad makarekober sa napanood na pagsasadula ng buhay ni Rachel Corrie nang mabalitaan ang hinggil sa iyo. Aminin mo, ang husay ng timing. Ang husay ng paralelismo. Higit sa iba, ikaw ang matutuwa sa literary device na ginamit na ito ng tadhana: dalawang buhay na maagang kinitil sa gitna ng pakikisangkot. Manunulat ka, manunulat din si Rachel. Alam mo, hindi tayo nagkausap man lang nang malaliman. Pero palagi naman tayong nagkakasabay sa pagsusubaybay. Minsan naman, nagkakatsikahan, pero labas dito, tila’y sa mga sulatin na lang nagkakilanlan. Okey lang, dahil madali ko namang nakilala ka sa iyong mga sulatin. Hindi ko alam, baka dahil sa kapapanood ko lang ng dula, o dahil biglaan ang pagkawala mo, pero mabigat kong dinala ang balita. Sa loob ng teatro, parang di ako makahinga, nanlambot ang tuhod ko, kinailangang lumabas huminga at lumuha. Kinabukasan, pagdating ng labi mo sa simbahan, muling sinukluban ng kalungkutan. Di ko mapigilan ang luha, nguynguy pa nga. Panghihinayang, marahil. Tama silang nagpupugay sa iyo at dumdakila sa naging ambag mo. Pero bukod dito, pagkalungkot lang sa trahedya ng iyong pagkawala. Ikinaluluksa ko ang pagkawala mo na parang nawala na rin ako.

Larawan ni Jordan Santos
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Culture, Human Rights

Pakikiisa, pakikisangkot

Rebyu ng dulang My Name is Rachel Corrie
Isinadula ng New Voice Company
Tampok si Monique Wilson
Dinirehe ni Rito Asilo
Music Museum, Setyembre 3-4, 2010

Magulo, madilim at masikip ang kuwarto ni Rachel. Paggising sa umaga, nakatingala sa kisame. Parang sinusukluban siya nito. Pinipigilang kumilos, hinaharangan ang paglipad. Gusto niyang lumipad. Kalagitnaan ng kanyang maikling buhay, nakawala rin si Rachel. Nakarating sa Rusya at nakita ang malawak na mundo. “Nagising din ako. Habambuhay nang gising,” sabi niya. Nagbago ang buhay niya, ang pananaw sa mundo at paglahok dito.

Sa kanyang ika-23 taon, nahimok si Rachel na tumungo sa bansang Palestine sa Gitnang Silangan, bilang bahagi ng isang “nonviolent, direct action group” na International Solidarity Movement (ISM) na naikiisa sa di-marahas na paglaban ng mga mamamayang Palestino laban sa okupasyon ng armadong puwersa ng Israel. Malayo sa kanyang tahanan ngunit taglay ang diwa ng pakikipagkapwa-tao at paghangad ng hustisya, naging kaibigan ni Rachel ang mga Palestino. Kabilang siya sa mga dayuhang humaharang sa mga bulldozer ng Israel Defense Forces (IDF) na nagdedemolis ng bahay ng mga Palestino.

“Minsan, kasabay kong maghapunan ang mga tao, at naisip kong may malaking makinang militar na pumapalibot sa amin, nagtatangkang patayin ang mga taong kasalo ko sa hapunan,” ani Rachel. Isang araw, sa pagharang sa bulldozer ng Israel na naglalayong wasakin ang isa sa bahay ng mga Palestino, sinapit ni Rachel ang kanyang kamatayan. Tulad ng kanyang kisame, sinukluban si Rachel ng makinang militar. Inipit, dinurog, kinaladkad.

Ako ri Rachel

Sa imahe ng pagsuklob at pagsupil nagsimula at nagtapos ang dula (o mas angkop na tawaging monologo) na My Name is Rachel Corrie. Ibinatay sa mga sulatin, kabilang ang emails, journals at liham, ng Amerikanong aktibistang si Rachel Corrie mula sa Olympia, Washington, at hinabi para maging dula ng sikat na Ingles na aktor na si Alan Rickman at mamamahayag na si Katharine Viner noong 2005, tema ng dula ang paglaya sa isip at pagkatao ng isang bata, ang pagkamulat niya sa mundo at sa reyalidad nito, at ang paglahok niya at pag-alay ng buhay.

Hindi naman bago ang naratibong ito: Katunayan ito ang naratibo ng kabayanihan at pagkamartir. Batbat ang ating kasaysayan ng mga martir na nag-alay ng buhay para sa paninindigang mas malaki sa kanila, para sa kapakanang higit sa sarili nila. Batbat nito kahit ang rebolusyonaryong mga kilusan – nakaraan at kasalukuyan – sa bansa. Ang bago, marahil, ay ang pagbibigay-katawan ng isang kabataang babaing Amerikano sa naratibong ito. Isang 23-anyos na babaing Amerikano na tumahak sa landas ng pagkilala sa sarili at sa mundo. Isang kuwento na ayon kay Viner ay “di pangkaraniwan sa panahong ito.”

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