BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Saturday, February 26, 2011

God's Army*

You look into his eyes and you wonder if the evil you see truly exists or if it's all just in your mind.

I used to want to ask him myself. I used to dream of interviewing him to ask if he really did eat the Italian priest's ears. Oh, but as Mother Teresa said, more tears are shed over answered prayers. 

Given the chance now, I don't know if I still want that "dream interview." But yeah, I still would like to find out. Perhaps like Clarice in the Silence of the Lambs. 

I don't have screaming lambs to silence, just plain curiosity based on stories I heard about the Ilaga while growing up. 

Last night, I saw them. Or more accurately, I saw them through the eyes of Jes Aznar.

They are God's Army, indeed. 

*The title of the photo essay as quoted from the website.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

creative vampires*

(Or editors and bosses who suck on others’ creativity and intellect)

They’re all smiles when they talk to you.  Their smiles are stretched from ear to ear and they’re almost on their knees just to get you to say YES.

And because you need to earn a living, you give them a few hours of your invaluable time. You drive to their office, talk to them online or over coffee.

And then you do the task assigned to you. You give it your whole heart, like a passionate lover whose love knows no boundaries.

You work your ass off and burn the midnight oil because that is the only way you do things. Nothing less.

And after your opus is done, you sign and submit it – tired but happy.

Fast forward to payment time. You ask what is due you.

And what do you get? You get the runaround. Exactly like an unfaithful lover, that same person who pleaded for your services will hide from you.  You will hear all sorts of excuses.

And of course, you will be paid a measly amount if you ever get the money. And without doubt, you will get it in tranches or after a long period of time.

They’re called creative vampires. They suck on other peoples’ creativity and intellect and they think it’s A-okay.

And they're everywhere. Mr. X for instance wants to pay a lay-out artist just P5,000 for a cover design. Mr. Y, on the other hand, is offering P2,000 for a 2,000-page article. That's one peso per word! A magazine is offering P15,000 for a photo shoot in four provinces to be paid in four months. 

The horror stories can go on and on. 

As for me, I’d rather blabber about it, even with my wallet empty, than write a 1,000-page article for P1,000 pesos.

Besides, there’s always another writer, another photographer or another lay out artist stupid enough to take the job.

Now, let me have some Johnny.

"creative vampires" - quoted from Jes Aznar

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The story with no end in sight -- New Internationalist

The story with no end in sight -- New Internationalist

The ways of transporting illegal drugs across borders are as creative as they are dangerous. Some hide the package in their cotton underwear; some surgically implant this in their abdominal cavity while some tuck it inside their genitalia.

But China would never tolerate it.

Last week, the whole country waited in bated breath as the government appealed to Chinese authorities to grant a reprieve to three overseas Filipino workers facing execution for drug trafficking.

The reprieve came for the three drug mules after the country’s vice-president, Jejomar Binay, went to Beijing to appeal on behalf of the Filipinos on death row. In response, China delayed last week’s scheduled executions but gave no new date.

It was a welcome decision to the desperate families of the Filipinos on death row in China, and to the victims themselves.

In 2008, the three overseas Filipinos have been convicted of smuggling drugs but the Philippine government argued in its appeal that all three did not know they were carrying heroin as they were simply duped by big drug syndicates that operate globally.

With Beijing’s decision to grant a reprieve, Filipinos heaved a sigh of relief.

Nevertheless, observers believe that long-term solutions must be put in place so that the problem of Filipinos being lured into drug trafficking is addressed for good.

A Filipino-Chinese anti-crime advocate based in Manila is raising hell over the government’s decision to appeal to China. In an article published on the Philippine website abs-cbnNews, Teresita Ang-See said: ‘The country should have tolerated the execution of three Filipinos on death row, out of respect to the laws of China.’

‘The three Filipinos knew they were dealing with drug syndicates,’ Ang-See continued. She served as interpreter for Chinese authorities who investigated the cases.

One of the three said she did not know that her luggage contained drugs. She thought there was nothing in it.

‘She was found to be carrying five kilos and she said she was carrying an empty luggage. It really stretches the imagination,’ Ang-See added. She firmly believes that the families of the victims knew of their loved ones’ dealings with international drug syndicates.

The issue sheds new light on the massive corruption in the country’s international airport.

Photo by Jametiks under a Creative Commons licence.

Ang-See said in the abs-cbnNews report that the three admitted that they did not pass through x-ray machines at the airports. ‘How could the drugs slip through the machines..? The government should find out who these people are,’ she said.

Another deeper issue highlighted by the case is the lack of support for the millions and millions of Filipinos leaving the country in search of gainful opportunities abroad.

Many of them are victims of illegal recruiters who are in cahoots with drug syndicates or human smugglers. They left their families in their home countries only to end up beaten and abused by their employers in distant lands; to be in jobs they did not sign up for; to be living in cramped sleeping quarters; to be locked up in jail or to be waiting on death row.

The horror stories can go on and on.

But it is only when three people are about to be beheaded that the government starts looking for solutions.

Friday, February 18, 2011

When a general kills himself -- New Internationalist

When a general kills himself -- New Internationalist

When a general kills himself

Posted by Iris C. Gonzales | 0
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On his mother’s grave, in the morning of 7 February, under a clear blue sky, he put a gun to his heart and shot himself.

His name was Angelo Reyes, a former Philippine defense secretary who had been implicated in a major military corruption. He was 65 years old.

He had projected an image of being fierce, tough and commanding, but that Monday morning, in the middle of weeks and weeks of investigation by the Congress of the corruption scandal, he pulled the trigger and took away his own life.

Foul play had been ruled out, because a cemetery employee had witnessed the incident from 20 metres (nearly 70 feet) away, the police said.

Reyes, a retired army general who spent his time playing with his grandchildren, had been accused of accepting the equivalent of millions and millions of dollars worth of kickbacks from military contractors and suppliers.

A former budget officer of the military, retired army colonel George Rabusa, testified before a Senate committee in hearings that started in January that Reyes and two other former chiefs of staff of the armed forces of the Philippines received kickbacks or send-off moneys.

The same witness also said that Reyes’ wife and the wives of other generals often roamed around the world with shopping money from funds intended for military use.

Reyes’ suicide could well be a scene from a movie similar to A Few Good Men and No Way Out.

Unfortunately, fiction it is not. Every character in this movie-like saga is made of flesh and blood. And every peso pocketed by these corrupt military officials also meant a peso less for much needed social services such as health and education.

The revelations at the Senate only reinforce the longstanding allegations of deeply entrenched systemic corruption in the Philippine military. The witness who testified before lawmakers described a slush fund that needed to be maintained by the military. Employees were required to raise some P40 million (about $920,000) from military suppliers. Military suppliers bid for various needs ranging from ammunitions to clothing.

That corruption is rampant in the Philippine military is not surprising. Its yearly budget from the state is P8.3 billion ($1.9 billion). It is also the reason why wars against the so-called ‘enemies of the state’ – terrorist groups, communists, rebels – go on and on.

An article in The New York Times, published on 7 February by Carlos Conde, quoted Carolina Hernandez of the University of the Philippines as saying that it was time the government implemented serious reform of the military and not just lip service. ‘This should be a catharsis for the entire Philippine society, not just the military. The issue does not begin and end with the military,’ Hernandez said.

On Saturday, 13 February, under a glistening sun, Reyes was laid to rest with full military honours. The Philippine flag was flown at half-mast.

To his grave went the truth about how far up corruption in the military went and how much of taxpayers’ money goes to finance military wives’ guiltless shopping sprees around the world and other luxury, while foot soldiers die in war zones; while evacuees caught in the crossfire sleep in makeshift evacuation centers; while roughly 40 out of 94 million Filipinos live below poverty line; while funds for education remain wanting and while the homeless sleep on the cold damp earth.

Monday, February 14, 2011

birthday gift

When you try your best but you don't succeed 
When you get what you want but not what you need
When you feel so tired but you can't sleep
Stuck in reverse

And the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you cannot replace
When you love someone but it goes to waste

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

And high up above or down below
When you're too in love to let it go
But if you never try you'll never know
Just what you're worth

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

Tears stream down your face
When you lose something you cannot replace
Tears stream down your face
And I

Tears stream down your face
I promise you I will learn from my mistakes
Tears stream down your face
And I

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you. 

Fix You by Coldplay

Friday, February 11, 2011

"Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."
- Buddha

(But it hurts just the same...)

Monday, February 7, 2011

The mayhem through a lens -- New Internationalist

The mayhem through a lens -- New Internationalist

Posted by Iris C. Gonzales | 0
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There was no time to scream for help. My lungs were heavy from the tear gas, my eyes were already blurred by tears.
I could hardly breathe, as if a slab of concrete fell on my chest. The burn of the gas hung heavy in the air. I wanted to stop and rest but rocks, bottles and sticks were flying everywhere.
The anti-riot police in their seamless sky-blue uniforms mercilessly sprayed water cannons against the human barricade of men and women. Like flies, they started falling one by one, helpless against the fury of the water cannon.
The dispersal turned violent as residents of a shantytown here in San Juan in the eastern part of Metro Manila refused to give up their homes.
A thick blanket of water pierced through the residents who minutes before stood adamant in front of their homes. They all ran for safety, crying, screaming and coughing.
But while they all moved as fast as they could, a handful of brave individuals stayed right smack in the middle of the chaos, recording the mayhem with their lenses.

Filipino freelance photojournalist Jes Aznar (left) is among those who covered the demolition. Photo was taken before the violent dispersal erupted. Photo by author.
Hats off indeed to these photojournalists and video journalists who covered the demolition. As Filipino journalist Carlos H Conde noted in his blog post immediately after the dispersal, ‘photojournalism and video journalism are alive in the Philippines.’
And this is what I saw with my own eyes as I covered the dispersal, albeit from a relatively safer corner as I did not have to take photos.
As Conde said, these photographers and video journalists risk not just their equipment but also, more importantly, their life and limb to show the world the many injustices that continue to plague the Philippines.
One of them got hit on the forehead but he did not have time to stop.
None of them fled or stopped for a second to escape from the violence. They went as close as they could so that they could take photos and videos of the whole ordeal.
All they could think of was to capture with their lenses what was unfolding before their eyes: anti-riot police throwing tear gas canisters in a place full of babies; men and women collapsing from the suffocating burn; children caught in the cross-fire; thick blankets of smoke billowing through the shanty homes; hapless residents drenched in the fury of the water cannon; snipers ready to fire and demolition teams tearing down shanty homes.
And it was through their images and videos that the world was able to know what had happened in the morning of 25 January 2011 in an urban poor community in San Juan.
Photos by Jes Aznar.