BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Arroyo Arrested But Problems Persist

My latest blog on The New Internationalist

Former president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, has been arrested on charges of election fraud, a non-bailable offense here. As I write this, she is under hospital arrest, in one of the most expensive private hospitals in the country.

The nine-year reign of Arroyo witnessed an endless list of crimes – from human rights violations, illegal arrests, political maneuvering, corruption, overpriced road projects, the list goes on. On November 18, 2011, a local court made history by issuing an arrest warrant against the former president on charges of electoral fraud.

Aware of the crime she had committed and fearing her eventual arrest and because of a lingering illness – the extent and magnitude of which is still unclear to the public – Arroyo attempted to leave the country on November 15, three days before the warrant was issued. She said she needed to seek medical treatment from hospitals in Singapore. But a hold departure order from the Department of Justice prevented her from leaving the country.

The scene at the airport could very well have been from a movie. The Arroyo camp brought the former president to the airport despite the hold departure order (they obtained a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court). The former president looked helpless and fragile in a wheelchair. Diagnosed with a cervical spine condition, Arroyo must wear a halo vest. Immigration officials barred her from leaving and the scene of authorities preventing a frail president from seeking medical help abroad was meant to draw public sympathy.

Unfortunately for the Arroyo camp, it did not.

Arroyo is the second former president of the Philippines to be arrested on criminal charges filed in court. Her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, whom she pardoned, was convicted on plunder charges. The charges are serious and if convicted, Arroyo faces life imprisonment. Witnesses have attested that she rigged the 2007 elections.

President Benigno Aquino III, Arroyo’s successor, has made it clear that his administration will make sure that the former president and her cohorts will pay for their crimes. Elected on a good governance platform, President Aquino is doing all that he can to make sure corrupt people pay the price for their wrongdoings.

I’m all for it but after more than a year in office, the administration needs to show that it can prosecute the sinners of the past and at the same time fix the economy. The people are waiting for measures that would move the country forward and not just acts to plug revenue loopholes or corruption.The latest data showed that the Philippine economy slowed down to 3.4 per cent in the second quarter of the year, remarkably slower than the 8.9 per cent recorded a year ago.

An anti-corruption mandate, after all, can only get the country so far.

(Photo taken from

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

a letter from a child

This blog post is a much needed break from this seemingly never ending word factory operation. In the middle of cream cheese pasta and warm milk at 1: 40 am.

1. Don't spoil me. I know quite well that I ought not to have all I ask for. I'm only testing you.

2. Don't be afraid to be firm with me. I prefer it, it makes me feel secure.

3. Don't let me form bad habits. I have to rely on you to detect them in the early stages.

4. Don't make me feel smaller than I am. It only makes me behave stupidly "big".

5. Don't correct me in front of people if you can help it. I'll take much more notice if you talk quietly with me in private.

6. Don't make me feel that my mistakes are sins. It upsets my sense of values.

7. Don't protect me from consequences. I need to learn the painful way sometimes.

8. Don't be too upset when I say "I hate you." Sometimes it isn't you I hate but your power to thwart me.

9. Don't take too much notice of my small ailments. Sometimes they get me the attention I need.

10. Don't nag. If you do, I shall have to protect myself by appearing deaf.

11. Don't forget that I cannot explain myself as well as I should like. That is why I am not always accurate.

12. Don't put me off when I ask questions. If you do, you will find that I stop asking and seek my information elsewhere.

13. Don't be inconsistent. That completely confuses me and makes me lose faith in you.

14. Don't tell me my fears are silly. They are terribly real and you can do much to reassure me if you try to understand.

15. Don't ever suggest that you are perfect or infallible. It gives me too great a shock when I discover that you are neither.

16. Don't ever think that it is beneath your dignity to apologize to me. An honest apology makes me feel surprisingly warm towards you.

17. Don't forget I love experimenting. I couldn't get along without it, so please put up with it.

18. Don't forget how quickly I am growing up. It must be very difficult for you to keep pace with me, but please do try.

19. Don't forget that I don't thrive without lots of love and understanding, but I don't need to tell you, do I?

20. Please keep yourself fit and healthy. I need you.

(My Dad read this somewhere and asked me if I agree with them and I told him these are really true... -Zen Longid)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Learning from the Angler Fish

The Guardian has an interesting article about the angler fish, with a lot of strong points.

Take for instance this part:  For a male anglerfish, an increasing reliance on the female results in his organs becoming unnecessary, and he begins to disintegrate. Eventually he's nothing but a lump on her side functioning as the access point for egg fertilisation – an unconscious bulge where once swam an individual.

I agree with some points but of course, there isn't a one-size-fits-all formula in life. Disintegration of oneself is a choice. The key is to be aware of every step in the journey and not be blinded by the daily struggle of survival or the frenzied euphoria of a romanticized life.

The simplest things in life are often the best: hot cappuccino for two; a shared dinner of cream cheese pasta made of left-over ingredients from a recent exhibit; clean sheets; or sharing cold pancakes even during a fight. 

As the Dhammapada once said, "travel only with thy equals or thy betters; if there are none, travel alone."

photo from The Guardian

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

After the Slaughter

My latest blog on The New Internationalist:

Two years ago today, under a glistening sun on a far-flung barren hill, 58 people, including 32 journalists, were massacred to death in the Philippines. The massacre is considered the worst election-related violence in recent years.

Two years on, the grief and the pain remain immeasurable. The families of the victims of decades-old clan war continue to cry out for justice. The carnage, which came to be known as the ‘Maguindanao massacre’, happened on November 23, 2009, somewhere between Ampatuan town in Maguindanao in the southern Philippines and the heart of darkness.

According to Task Force Maguindanao, the group handling the investigation, a total of 100 people are accused: nine policemen, four military personnel, 18 members of the Ampatuan clan, and 69 members of the private army of the Ampatuans, a ruling clan in the province.

It happened on a Monday, as the group was on its way to Shariff Aguak to witness the filing of election candidacy of Toto Mangudadatu, a member of a rival clan of the Ampatuans in the province. His wife Genalyn would be filing his candidacy for him, along with a convoy of supporters and members of the working press.

But on their way to the provincial capital, around 100 armed men intercepted the convoy and led them up a dirt road, some four kilometres from the highway they were on.

They were brought to an empty lot, from where they could only dream of their loved ones in the distant valley below as they stood helplessly to meet their deaths.

Two years have passed but justice for the victims of the massacre that happened in broad daylight remains elusive.

So that people will not forget, media organizations here have lined up various activities for the commemoration. There is a photo exhibit on Mindanao by Filipino photojournalist Jes Aznar.  Under the Lord’s Shadow takes a deeper look into the conflict in Mindanao, the very same conflict that led to the massacre.

There is also a ‘Countdown to End Impunity’ as Filipino journalists join the International Day to End Impunity initiated by the International Freedom of Expression Exchange.

Today, media organizations, journalists and other groups will march to the presidential palace to remind the government that justice has not been served and that the massacre has not been and will never be forgotten.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

TWO YEARS AND STILL NO JUSTICE: A call to bloggers, Twitter users and social media activists

Below is a statement from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines. I urge my fellow bloggers to heed the call:

On November 21, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, in cooperation with other media groups, is launching a Blog Action Day in connection with our commemoration of the second anniversary of the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre and the first International Day to End Impunity.

As of today, only two Ampatuans have been arraigned. Only 93 of the 196 accused have been arrested. Prosecution and defense lawyers have listed 300 and 320 witnesses, respectively, which, according to Senator Joker Arroyo, a veteran human rights lawyer and courtroom litigator, may take 200 years to present.

Meanwhile, the families of the 58 victims continue to suffer from the loss of their loved ones, most of whom were family breadwinners. Some of the children continue to innocently wait in vain for their murdered parents to come home.

On this day, we would like to invite all of you to use the power of communication and the Internet to speak out for justice and against the continued impunity with which those who wish to suppress freedom of expression impose the ultimate censorship – death – and how the apathy and inaction of government has made this so.

Let this be the start of a meaningful partnership as we forge onward together to realize the full expression of our rights and freedoms as communicators and as citizens of our country.

Below are some links that provide background information on the Ampatuan massacre and current status of the 57 counts of murder filed against the 196 accused:

“End Impunity: NUJP’s countdown to the Ampatuan Massacre’s second Anniversary” on Facebook (

NUJP (@nujp) on Twitter (

NUJP on Tumblr  which features artworks of children of the victims of the massacre and other media killings. These artworks express how they are coping with the death of their slain parents (

Let’s do our share in not forgetting the fallen victims of the Ampatuan Massacre.


Rowena C. Paraan

Secretary General

Nestor Burgos

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Documentary photographer gives deeper glimpse into Maguindanao's woes

As published on
15-Nov-11, 6:39 PM | 

MANILA, Philippines - A photo and multimedia exhibit on Mindanao by documentary photographer Jes Aznar opens on November 23, 2011 at Kanto Artists-Run Space in Makati as part of the activities marking the second anniversary of the Ampatuan massacre.

Under the Lord’s Shadows provides a deeper look into the source of conflict in Maguindanao, the very same conflict that led to the massacre of 58 people, 32 of them media workers, two years ago.

The exhibit is an attempt to tell and retell the story of Maguindanao, a place mired in poverty despite its abundant resources, where men, women and children are constant victims of wars and the conflicts between ruling clans desperate to stay in power.


It is part of Aznar’s long-term documentary project on Mindanao, which to him captures the decades-old problems of feudalism, greed and poverty hounding the Philippines.

“What is happening in the rest of the country is happening in the island tenfold. The ruling clans remain in power, living comfortably inside sprawling mansions, surrounded by their very own gun-wielding private armies,” he says.

Armed with just a few hundred pesos in his pocket and a camera, Aznar went to Mindanao some years ago to document this enigmatic and historical island teeming with the complexities of life and suffering, of failure and triumph, of hate and love. A place he now calls his second home.

He lived with priests, soldiers, evacuees, child warriors and different families.

He has been going back and forth to Mindanao for more than two years now.

What has emerged from his trips is a mosaic about the lives of people living under the lords’ shadows. The lords are the powers-that-be, the ruling clans who spawned wars and conflicts to remain in power.

“Mindanao can feed the whole country but the island’s geographical distance from the rest of the country made it easy for ruling clans to plunder its resources and abuse its people. The powers-that-be spawned wars to justify armaments and their slice of the trillion-a-year national budget,” Aznar says.

Aznar has been documenting human rights, land and other social issues in the country for many years now. His works have appeared on various local and international publications including Time, Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times.

The exhibit opens on November 23, 2011 at 4 pm up to December 7, 2011 at Kanto Artists-Run Space, The Collective, 7274 Malugay Street, San Antonio Village Makati, Philippines.

For inquiries please call +639273572724 or email

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cuba makes cancer breakthrough -- New Internationalist

My latest blog on The New Internationalist:

I am seated across the dining table ready to feast on a dinner of seafood. The man across me breaks the news. He has cancer, he says nonchalantly, speaking as if the person inflicted with the Big C is someone we just happen to know.

I am at a loss for words. Although the man has been smoking heavily for some years now, I am shocked and speechless. The man is a journalist; a veteran editor in the industry, widely respected by his peers and considered a mentor of generations and generations of journalists. More importantly, he is a friend.

The bad news is that the cancer is already in its late stages. The good news is that the small island nation of Cuba has just released the first therapeutic vaccine for lung cancer.
Lung cancer cells
Lung cancer cells. Photo by Pulmonary Pathology under a CC Licence

According to a report by Chinese news agency Xinhua, Cuban medical authorities have released CimaVax-EGF, the result of a 25-year research project at Havana’s Center for Molecular Immunology.

The article states that CimaVax-EGF isn’t a vaccine in the preventative sense – that is, it doesn’t prevent lung cancer from taking hold in new patients.

‘It’s based on a protein related to uncontrolled cell proliferation – that is, it doesn’t prevent cancer from existing in the first place but attacks the mechanism by which it does harm,’ Xinhua said.

The vaccine, so goes the article, can turn aggressive later-stage lung cancer into a manageable chronic disease by creating antibodies. These antibodies battle it out with the proteins that cause uncontrolled cell proliferation.

The new vaccine can literally be a lifesaver, especially for those showing no signs of improvement from chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

‘The vaccine has already been tested on 1,000 patients in Cuba and is being distributed at hospitals there free of charge. That’s a big deal for a country where smoking is part of the national culture and a leading cause of death. If it proves as successful as researchers say it is, it should give those suffering from lung cancer reason to celebrate – just not with a Cohiba [cigar],’ according to the Xinhua article.

This is a major breakthrough and no doubt a source of hope for many cancer patients.

What I would like to see, though, is for giant pharmaceutical companies to leave the vaccine in the hands of Cuba and not to buy and patent it like it’s theirs – which would raise the cost of the vaccine and dash hopes for many patients.

I just wonder how Cuba can bring this out into the world, beyond its borders, without the giant pharmaceutical companies scrambling to patent or distribute it? If there is a way that Cuba can have its own distribution system so that the rest of the world can benefit from it, that would be great.

These giant pharmaceutical firms, after all, prioritize profits above healthcare.

As for my friend, he is willing to go to Cuba as he fights the cancer cells in his body. Hats off to the island nation for this breakthrough.

Friday, November 11, 2011

"Everything's Going to be Alright."

Once a while, the push comes to shove and all hell breaks loose. Everything that can go wrong goes wrong and you just wish that you're swallowed into a black hole temporarily and get back to reality only when things get back to normal.

This week is just one of those times. The nanny's passport application is hitting a wall. My external drive just died. The book project, which Jes and I have been working on for months now is NOT turning out the way we want it.

But that's almost ordinary compared to the real wrongs. Let me tell you how many wrongs there are. A friend has been diagnosed with cancer, stage 4. My child is in a shared room in a private hospital. I'm running out of cash. The health insurance won't pay for the bills because I chose a doctor whom I think is good instead of an accredited one. She has rashes all over her face. Her arms are filled with needle marks.

I was in the waiting room of St. Luke's when I got the test results of her blood test. She was there lying on my lap, tired and feeling very sick as I read the numbers. Her white blood cell count plunged to 1,700 from the normal range of 5,000 to 7,000. WTF! For a second, I thought it might be Leukemia. I broke down for five minutes before I got hold of my emotions.

Cruel this thing called motherhood.


But Jes said everything's going to be alright. And hearing those assuring words from him puts me in the safest and most comforting place in the universe in these difficult and stressful times. And here we are, back in that place found between the heart of an enigmatic young boy and a paradise of a beach called Puka.

And that's where my goose bumps* come from.

Goose bumps are the bumps on a person’s skin at the base of body hairs which may involuntarily develop when a person is cold or experiences strong emotions such as fear, nostalgia, pleasure, awe or admiration. They are created when tiny muscles at the base of each hair, known as arrectores pilorum, contract and pull the hair erect. The reflex is started by the sympathetic nervous system,which is responsible for many fight-or-flight responses. Source: Wikipedia (This is from a post by fellow blogger Jeanine Caron. Thank you for the inspiration!).

Thursday, November 10, 2011

In the words of Joan Didion

It is 10 pm. I am here in a shared room at Capitol Medical Center in Quezon City waiting for the little girl to get well. It has now been four days that she has been down with a still unidentified strain. She has rashes all over her face and her arms are filled with needle marks, no thanks to the regular blood tests she needs to take every now and then.

Here I am, dead-tired and sleep-deprived but my mind is just so wide-awake thinking of what went wrong, and where in the world did she get this strain? What did I do? What did I not do?

In times like this, I am reminded of the words of writer Joan Didion: "I don't think it's possible to have children without having a sense that you've failed them. And that's what I kept edging around, in there. You are always failing them, and they are always your ... hostages."

Sunday, November 6, 2011


Kapag ang anak ay nababalot ng sakit,
at ang dating sigla ay nawala,

Kapag halos hindi na siya makahinga
dahil ang baga ay puno ng plema,

Kapag wala ng gana kumain
at ang iniinom na gatas ay isinusuka,

Kapag ang mga mata ay mugto at mabigat
at ang katawan ay inaapoy ng lagnat,

Kapag sa magdamag ay hindi siya makatulog
at ang tanging daing ay 'mama, mama,'

Paano ba maging ina?

Friday, November 4, 2011

How to Avoid Burnout

I found a good piece on how to avoid burnout. Nothing new but things we tend to forget when we're over the top busy. Read and enjoy! And stay cool :-)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011