Back to writing

By Ben Sumog-oy

In 2004, I was forced by circumstances to restore myself into the writing arena. The logic that I advanced for doing it was rather weird. I said, then, that my reason for writing was “to save my sanity.” However, at that time, I cleverly played a guessing game by not revealing the full context behind such reason.

I postulated that when a person writes, he actually creates a world which is wholly different from his real circumstances. Writing has a narcotic effect, but in a positive way. By writing, the person’s mind takes respite from boggling annoyances; thereby preventing it from being torn apart. Thus, writing snatches the mind away from the edge of the abyss before it falls.

I also theorized that, by writing, a person can exercise a certain portion of political power even in the midst of his powerlessness and destitution. He could, in addition, create certain level of social significance during the time when his life is turning out to be meaningless. Living a meaningful life is widely considered to be a formula for the preservation of one’s sanity.

However, not all people could write. This is the reason why so many people evade their problematic life’s situation by aimlessly wandering around, without any conscious regard for space and time. Fortunately, although I am not a good writer, at least, I could write!

Three years ago, when I resumed my law studies in the MSU College of Law, I also contended that studying law is a potent sanity-preserving pill. I posited that insanity comes to invade the mental realm when a person is plunged into hopelessness or is deprived of his right to dream. Somehow, my study of law revives my hope and restores my right to dream, even if I am being constantly disparaged or subjected to ridicule by my law professors.

But my decision to return to the College of Law had forced me to give up writing momentarily. For a little more than a moron like me, the requirements to maintain a sustaining academic life in the Law campus are simply too heavy that I am left with almost no time for other things, eking out a living included. Time is simply not enough to grapple with my voluminous books and other reading materials.

Really, the College of Law campus is a peculiar planet. It is in the law school where I cannot display even a little of my writing prowess. Almost always, I do not know what to write, and, if by twist of pure luck, I managed to write something on my test paper, I missed the point altogether.

Today, I announce that I am again leaving the College of Law, hopefully for only a semester this time. There is a reason for this. I am unable to find “break” for myself within a period already spanning almost a decade, and there is a strong indication that there is no such “break” coming for now. I decided to leave the College lately for a nobler mission, that is; to stall the unraveling of my family’s finances. My economic interregnum has prevailed for too long that it is already perpetrating a grave injustice against those who, all these years, continue to offer me their helping hands.

This is a bitter pill to swallow, but, sometimes, it cannot be avoided that one person has to bite the bullet in order to survive, and prosper in his own cruel life’s jungle. I am now ready to bite the bullet.

Many years ago, I accidentally stepped on a time-machine, and it brought me back magically to a destitute life I lived more than 30 years ago. Worse, already hapless and penniless, a savage fate struck relentlessly in an almost unending fashion to further fill my quota of pains.

My father and mother long lingered in their sickbeds, and eventually passed away while I reel through the period of my destitution. I was so destitute that, if not for my new-found friends (“new-found friends” because they helped me when I was useless and out of political contention), I might not have been able to come home to be of service to my father and mother as they harped for their breaths, and to finally witness their penultimate journey.

Days before her death, in a dingy public hospital in the Province of Antique, my ailing 89-year old mother rested on my lap the whole night round. Then, one moment at about midnight, my mother gently touched my face, sweetly smiled and whispered to me: “Boy, salamat.” “Boy” is my hometown nickname.

This true-to-life melodrama keeps on flashing on my mind, and this makes my heart bleeds continuously. My conscience annoys me no end for allowing my parents to reach the edge of their respective life’s journey, without giving them a decent and comfortable life.

My mother’s succinct and simple word “salamat” comes to me like a thunder. It is so powerful that it devastates me every time such serene, but moving, scene with my ailing mother flashes back on my memory.

More than a year ago, a millionaire resort-owner, in connivance with a sitting Municipal Mayor, intruded into our small piece of land which our family owns in Patnongon, Antique, my hometown. We own this piece of land, through our forefathers, long before the signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898. But, having no match against the awesome power of a local state apparatus and unable to engage them in an expensive legal battle, we have decided to abandon our right of ownership on a substantial portion of our land in favor of injustice.

One day, agents of the resort-owner encroached into our domain for the purpose of harming my nephew, but, being a retired wrestler, he overpowered his three adversaries after suffering some injuries. My nephew filed a case against the intruders but was dismissed without hearing through the behest of a public prosecutor, while the counter-charge filed against him by the intruders prospered. Now, my nephew is in prison as he is not capable of bailing himself out, after having been charged of attempted homicide.

In the past, I fought, and won, so many battles for others. Now, I am incapable of fighting the battle of my own family. As my family is burned in helplessness, anger is burning on my breast.

In the midst of this sorry-state, again, I have decided to go back to writing. Writing is my fortress. Like a revolution, it is my greatest comforter. It is just a pity that, in doing so, I need to leave the law school, and suspend the possible fulfilment of a dream. But, hope is eternal.



Warrant of arrest issued vs. all members of GSIS Board

The new members of the GSIS Board of Trustees are considered “heroes” here in General Santos City for solving the long pestering housing problem in Doña Soledad, Labangal, General Santos City. This representation is one of the beneficiaries of their good deeds.


It can be recalled that because of their problems, the retirement benefits of, more or less, 600 government employees were clipped, and those who have retired did so without receiving anything for GSIS in terms of old-age benefits. This housing problem has created so many sob stories of government employees wallowing in crippling poverty after they had retired. Not only that their pensions were confiscated, but their housing units remain under threat of being attached.

But before the court bulldozed the affected government employees from their respective housing units, the new members of GSIS Board, with former Akbayan Congressman, Mario J. Aguja, as one of the members came to the rescue by coming up with a very reasonable buy-back scheme with affordable market price, thrashing all arrearages and penalties.

However, the people to whom we owe gratitude are now about to be incarcerated as a warrant of arrest has been issued against them. We need to support the cause of these idealistic people. We pave the way for the news article below so we may know the reason for the travails of these good, altruistic people:

“In their effort to settle a 21-year-old case involving an 82-year-old widow, the newly constituted GSIS Board  of Trustees  is  facing  the  challenge  of  an  arrest warrant  issued  by  Judge Roberto Mislang of RTC Branch 167 of Pasig.

“The  arrest  warrant,  issued  March  31,  2011,  was  based  on  a  petition  for  indirect  contempt filed  last March 14, 2011.  Judge Mislang found the Trustees liable for alleged violation of the Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) issued on March 2, weeks after the settlement between the GSIS and 82-year-old Rosario Santiago had been executed.

“The settlement case between the GSIS and Mrs.  Santiago  stemmed  from  a  question  of  land ownership  that can be  traced back  to  the 70s. The case was decided in favor of Mrs. Santiago against the GSIS in 1999 and became final and executory in 2004.

“The  previous  Board  tried  to  prevent  the  decision  from  being  implemented  by  filing  a  total of  three  motions  for  reconsideration  before  the  Supreme  Court  which  were  all  denied.  As a  last  recourse  to  protect  the  state  pension  fund,  the  current  Board  filed  a  fourth motion  for reconsideration  to  no  avail. The Supreme Court ruled with finality on December 14, 2010 in favor of Mrs. Santiago.

“Hence, the GSIS settled with Mrs. Santiago on the basis of the final Supreme Court Decision.

“The TRO,  issued March  2,  2011, which was  granted  in  favor  of  a  certain Antonio Vilar  and Harold Cuevas, directed  the GSIS Board  to  turn over  to Vilar and Cuevas  the  sums of money adjudged in another case and by another court specifically, Branch 71 of RTC Pasig City.

“Incidentally, Vilar and Cuevas were not parties in the case of Mrs. Santiago. After having gotten wind of the settlement, Vilar and Cuevas all of a sudden surfaced to claim their supposed shares.

“Surprisingly, the TRO gave credence to the supposed right of Cuevas, which only came from an assignment made in his favor by Vilar.  The assignment however was done only on 15 February, 2011 and for only 1/2% of the judgment award in favor of Mrs. Santiago which had long become final in 2004.

“The provisions of the TRO were also highly irregular.   A TRO  is only supposed  to prevent  the Board  of  Trustees  from  doing  certain  acts,  but  the  one  issued  by  Judge Mislang  also  forced them to carry out some acts which they can no longer do since the GSIS and Mrs. Santiago have already entered into a settlement even before the complaint was filed.

“The TRO, in effect, inappropriately resolved the main issue of the case without the benefit of a trial, without considering available evidence, and without observing due process.

“The GSIS,  for  its  part,  is  exhausting  all  available  legal  remedies  to  annul  the  orders  of  Judge Mislang.     However, all members of  the Board are prepared and willing  to go  to  jail  if  this  is the  result of  their collective decision  to protect  the pension  fund and  its more  than 1.7 million members and pensioners. (end)



Herbert needs your help!

Three years ago, we began a campaign to save the life of Herbert Demos, now the SOCSKSAGEN coordinator of the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL) and the Chairman of the AKBAYAN Division in General Santos City. His Medical Doctor forewarned him, then, of the impending collapse of his Kidney. His strong faith in God, and regular medical interventions made him survive without necessitating a kidney transplant. It is not anymore true today. He needs now to undergo a kidney transplant operation.

Herbert Demos, since December 13, 2010, is now confined in the General Santos City Doctor’s Hospital, one of the private hospitals in General Santos City, when sleep failed him for more than five days. After undergoing a comprehensive medical examination, his doctor said that a certain kind of virus has been invading his brain, resulting from his kidney disease, and that the only remedy to save his sanity, and, later on, his life, is for him to undergo hemodialysis to cleanse his blood and prevent it from further contamination.

Herbert, with much reluctance, submitted himself to a lifetime and expensive procedure and only a successful kidney transplant, a delicate and expensive medical procedure, could restore him to normal life, which, on his own, he cannot simply afford. Thus, in this crucial period of his life, he badly needs the help of his comrades in the struggle and his fellow believers in the just cause of the nation, both here and abroad.

Herbert is a man of extraordinary feat and determination. Within this last three years when he is terribly bothered by his worsening kidney disease, he still succeeds to catapult AKBAYAN and APL into a high degree of social significance in General Santos City and the entire SOCSKSARGEN economic corridor, with him in the forefront of the struggle to ensure the balance of local social forces and public issues. Herbert is presently playing a paramount role in the continuing economic and political discourses in this part of the country.

Today, AKBAYAN and APL compose a dominant activist block in this locality, in terms of number, participation in political and economic debate and in terms of public acceptance. While public support for other activist forces are speedily cascading down into the gutter, public support for AKBAYAN and APL is steadily and speedily pedaling towards the apex. In the last partylist election, the number of votes for AKBAYAN radically increased from more than 7,000 votes in 2007 elections to 19,000 plus votes in 2010. In sharp contrast, Bayan Muna failed to display its generational superiority when it miserably settled in the second slot, with its number of votes diving from 6,000 votes in the 2007 election to a little more than 4,000 votes in 2010.

Yesterday, Joshua Mata, of the Central Headquarters of APL, sent Herbert P50, 000 and, at the same time, sent a text message to him, stating and we quote: “We cannot afford to lose you, Comrade!” Arlene Santos, former Secretary-General of AKBAYAN also called to inform Herbert that she is facilitating help for him. So does Mayong Aguja, former representative of AKBAYAN in the House of Representatives.  The Office of City Mayor Darlene Magnolia R. Antonino –Custodio has also signified its desire to help.

Cash donation may be sent to:




Metro Bank, Matina Branch

Davao City





Account Number: 067-58-006328

One Network Bank

Lagao Branch, General Santos City

Below, we reproduce the article, which we wrote three years ago, on Herbert, detailing his life story and his exploits. We believe that it is worth our revisit so we may be able to appreciate the meaning of this man to his family, comrades and society.

Posted by:

Ben Sumog-oy

Columnist, Sunstar Davao/

Editor-in-Chief, The Advocati

Official Campus Paper of the MSU College of Law, General Santos City Campus



To all our Comrades, Friends, and Other Charitable Spirits:

Despite the crass materialism of the present, many still prefer a short but meaningful life than a long but meaningless one. However, the life of Herbert Demos is so wondrously meaningful – for the social movements where he belongs; for Akbayan with which he is a vital part; for our development institution here in General Santos City; and for his family (to his wife and one-month old daughter, more especially) – that we should help him in his yet sternest battle against a very powerful force for which alone he has no match. This powerful force is the fang of death that is now starting to devour his fragile body.

As early as 2003, Herbert Demos was recommended for a kidney transplant by his General Santos City-based doctor, Dr. Arnelia Bersales-Masendo. A frantic call for help ensued, after that shocking news. A campaign for help through the internet was initiated by his various comrades here in General Santos City.

Fortunately, our friends both here and abroad readily responded and sent cash donations to Herbert, with a promise to contribute more during the actual conduct of a kidney transplant. Herbert’s friends from SEACA, IPG, IPD, BISIG and from Akbayan all contributed. For its part, KAISAHAN, together with its network, sponsored a fund-raising concert which was dubbed as “Buhay at Musika” (Life and Music) also for Herbert. Resulting from this campaign, the contributions, coming from far and near, amounted to, more or less, One Hundred Thousand Pesos (P100, 000.00).

Herbert used this amount for his series of pre-kidney transplant examination, to include organ matching at the National Kidney Institute (NKI), with his sister who agreed to donate one of her kidneys. However, the planned kidney transplant was not pushed through after the NKI found it more beneficial for Herbert to delay the operation until Herbert’s kidney is already on the verge of collapse or before he is subjected to dialysis treatment.  Meantime, he was advised to submit himself to monthly medical monitoring and was made to regularly take prescribed medicines for the purpose of slowing down the plummeting of his kidney condition, which was at its irreversible state at that time.

When he was recently confined at the NKI (January, 2007), Herbert was told by his doctors that he would be fortunate if his kidney could sustain beyond a six-month period. So, he was advised by his doctors to make preparations necessary for the kidney transplant. The sixth month happens to be June, 2007 but Herbert, as we observe it, is not preparing at all and we know the reason for this: he ceases to think what he is not capable of thinking and of doing what he is not capable of doing. He just leaves everything to fate.

The needed medical interventions for him would cost over a million and we know that he cannot afford to have such a big amount of money … not even in his imagination.

Today, despite his physical conditions, Herbert is busy coordinating the Akbayan electoral campaign in the SOCSARGEN area with his motorcycle as his constant companion. He travels, sometimes snaking through communities over hundred kilometers away, for the purpose of consolidating Akbayan forces and allied organizations in preparation for the May 14 elections.

He is trying to show us that he is still well but we know, and we can see this in his eyes that the thing he fears of is just around the corner, ready for the kill anytime, anywhere from now. He is trying to show us that he can still do so many things for the party but we can already see the weakening of his body and how he struggles to continue with his self appointed tasks by merely taking refuge on the strength of his will and the formidability of his spirit.

Herbert’s physical being is steadily shrinking, melting like a candle and becoming bluish, at times. He is now suffering from unending severe coughing and sporadic fever attacks.

Lately, he suffered from an unexplained diarrhea. He is also constantly losing his voice.

We are not medical doctors and so we do not exactly know whether or not the present occurrences involving Herbert’s body are symptomatic of his kidney disease. However, there is one thing that we are quite sure of: Herbert is now becoming a fleshly caricature of one whom – if a timely medical intervention is not instituted and if God will not intervene – is about to bid us farewell.

But who is this man, called Herbert, who seems to pursue a collective mission unperturbed, until his disease would make him blue and his spirit would depart from his body for reason of his poverty? Herbert is a man of steel, hardened by life’s hardships and of his long-winding struggle for survival.

His life is, in itself, a very interesting story of how an indomitable spirit can survive the harshest trials, which characterized the vicissitudes of his childhood and his youth. Herbert is just 33 years of age and with an interesting story like his own, his life is one that should not be allowed to cease this early.

Herbert is the son of a married businessman in General Santos City to his house-help who, after becoming pregnant, settled to a mountain village in Malungon, Sarangani, to free herself from her parents’ fury. It was in that village where Herbert was born. In that mountain village too, Herbert’s mother married a very poor peasant and had so many offsprings with him.

Until, today Herbert refuses to see or deal with his father

When he was 5 years old, Herbert settled in one of his uncles in General Santos City to escape from poverty and from the drabness of rural life. It is in this place where he started his own personal struggle and his own story.

He was then a grade 2 pupil when he went away from his uncle’s home and lived by himself. He tried a life of a scavenger, of a shoe-shine boy, of a grass-cutter and of an unsalaried houseboy.  Few months later, however, Herbert returned to his uncle’s house to resume his elementary education.

Upon his return, his uncle noticed Herbert’s radical transformation. He was too dedicated to his studies. He can be entrusted of all household responsibilities. In fact, he later became a regular cook in his uncle’s house at a very young age.

After he finished his elementary education, Herbert worked as a stay-in cook in the house of Atty. Juanito Asencio and pursued his high school education, this time, as a working student. Later, he was designated as the household manager of the Asencio family where he took charge of mobilizing other house-helpers in the maintenance of cleanliness and orderliness in the house. He was also given full authority to manage the household budget. As such, Herbert did not fail to liquidate the household expenses to the last centavo, earning for him the full trust and confidence of the Asencio family.

This is a virtue that Herbert still practices at present as a civil society worker, as a social movement operative and as one of the members of the Akbayan congressional staff.

His great feat as a leader was brought to the fore after he enrolled as a college student at the Holy Trinity College (HTC), where he took up Bachelor of Science in Community Development. He was awarded as one of the most outstanding student leaders in the college and this ushered his eventual election to the presidency of the Student Council.

As the president of the Student Council, Herbert became one of the prime movers in the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP) and in the Movement for the Advancement of Students Power (MASP). These students’ organizations were allied to the Bukluran sa Ikauunlad ng Sosyalistang Isip at Gawa (BISIG). They were to later on comprise the youth movement within Akbayan – the Akbayan youth. Eventually, Herbert was inducted as a full-pledged member of BISIG.

His membership to these progressive organizations ushered Herbert’s transformation from a conservative student leader to a radical one, developing activist positioning on various social issues and nurturing a transformative agenda. From then on, he was seen leading student rallies and demonstrations to address not only various school campus issues but also issues that relate to our country’s prevailing unjust social structures. He went as far as Cebu City to attend student rallies, where he also became a good media copy.

Today, Herbert is one among the few individuals in the SOCSARGEN area who has a full appreciation of global and national issues through Akbayan’s different lens of analysis and within the perspective of the party’s consensus, arising from its continuing narrative building work.

Herbert’s activism did not come without paying a high price, however. The proprietors of the HTC, headed by a retired officer of the defunct Philippine Constabulary (PC), began to implement an iron-hand policy against him for fear that; with Herbert around, the school campus could become a breeding ground for student activists whom they consider as anathema to the tranquility of the school campus. Herbert fought back by staging massive campus pickets, paralyzing classes for few days. He also availed of media interviews, exposing some of the unjust policies of the school management.

As a result, he was expelled from the school less than a semester before his graduation and he was later arrested, after having been sued for libel by the president of the school. He languished in jail for few days or until he was able to put up a 20,000-peso bail for his temporary liberty. The libel case is still pending for decision up to this day. However, acting on a separate case, the local court here has already issued an order directing the school to allow Herbert to finish his course, this time, for free.

However, since the order for re-admission came two years after he finished a four-year accountancy course from another school within the city, Herbert’s lawyer is presently working for the issuance of another court order directing the school to allow him to enroll, still for free, in any of its post-graduate courses, instead.

After his expulsion from the college, Herbert worked as a volunteer of a, then, newly-formed SOCSARGEN-based development and governance NGO, the Building Alternative Rural Resource Institutions and Organizing Services (BARRIOS). It was in this institution where he had proven his concern for the common good. For more than a year, without receiving any salary, he bested even the salaried employees in terms of outputs and the number of hours spent for his mandated tasks. He worked night and day consolidating communities and sectors and designing and coordinating rallies and demonstrations. He also had savvy for media work for all the activities, big or small; he was undertaking were given prominence in the local media.

When he was finally taken in by BARRIOS as its community organizer, Herbert became one among the few who were responsible in facilitating the participatory barangay development planning process, a project under the Barangay-Bayan Consortium, in 58 barangays within the SOCSARGEN area. He was the main person responsible for the formation of 33 POs in this same area and for the formulation of their respective organizational development plans (ODPs). He also made a prominent mark in the development and governance arena as a popular educator, para-legal practitioner, community consensus builder and as a social advocate.

For his feat, Herbert was invited to different regional, national and international conferences either as a facilitator or a participant with which he learned from the experiences of others and shares his own experiences with them. During the national conference of the different farmers’ organizations in 2003 at UP Alumni wherein he attended as one of the representatives of the Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Samahan sa Kanayunan (PKSK), Herbert participated in a farmers’ rally and landed in the headlines of one of the country’s leading national newspapers. His published picture taken during the rally (where he stood bare with slogans printed on his breast) was laminated and displayed in the offices of various civil society organizations working for the emancipation of peasants from the bondage of the soil.

Probably as recognition of his works, Herbert was made to attend some of the SEACA and SEAPCP-hosted activities – thrice in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; twice in Bali, Indonesia; once in Maluko, Indonesia and once in Hong kong Kong, which was undertaken in time for the WTO Fifth Ministerial Round. In Hong Kong, he was among those who coordinated a series of anti-WTO pickets and for which he, again, become good copy in the local Hong Kong press.

Today, as the May 14, 2007 elections draw near, Herbert is again spending time consolidating the various Akbayan forces in SOCSARGEN, unmindful of his steadily deteriorating physical condition. He is trying his best to perform but we know that he is now being slowed down by his physical limitation. We know that what is left with him now is only his indomitable spirit which is still powerfully propelling him to continue with what he does, despite the odds.

His wife, Inday, who presently works as a bookkeeper in our office, has told us once that it was Herbert’s strong injunction to sustain the food needs of their newly-born baby, Hazel Daphne, through breast-feeding. “I do not want her to become sickly like me”, she remembers Herbert saying.

When we lately paid him a visit at his residence, Herbert proudly showed us his baby daughter, saying “Guapa siya.” (She is beautiful.). Then, he said, with a smile: “Himuon ko ni siya nga aktibista susama sa iyang tatay.” (I will make her an activist, like her father).

We responded with an agreeing smile, while holding our tears for we are not so sure if Herbert could really be around to see her daughter, Hazel Daphne, grow and guide her in order that she can, in the future, become an activist like him. We are not so sure if Herbert has still the time left to pursue his inter-generational responsibility – the nurturing of his successor-generation.

His wife also informed us (and we witnessed this too) that, whenever he is at home, Herbert permanently seals his baby daughter in his loving arms and this he does as if there is no tomorrow. He envelops his baby daughter with his sweet embrace, as if optimizing the things he can still do to his baby daughter now which he might not be able to do anymore, anytime soon.

Herbert is a young man filled with dreams for his family and community. We believe that we can still snatch him away from the fangs of death. With 10,000 people contributing P1, 500.00 each, we can still save Herbert’s life; with 2,000 people contributing P750.00 each, we can still see Herbert pursuing his advocacies against society’s ills; with 3,000 people contributing P500.00 each, we can still see Herbert fulfilling his dreams for his family; and with 4,000 people contributing P375.00 each, we can still see Herbert rearing of his daughter to become a social activist like himself.

We appeal to all of you to help Herbert while there is still time.




In my previous article, I vowed to present detailed arguments to prove my thesis that the assassination of Vice Mayor Alexander Tomawis, who previously served as Mayor of the Municipality of Barira for three terms, was also the end of the processes of democratization in the troubled province of Maguindanao.

But as I subject the life of Alex Tomawis to deeper retrospection, it dawned on me that to measure his social significance using as a benchmark the stalled “processes of democratization” in the Municipality of Barira could logically result to the trivialization of his achievement and his dream for the Iranuns, and rest of Mindanao.

The cause that Alex Tomawis gallantly fought for his constituencies, during his life time, pierces deep into the core of the problem that besets the Bangsamoro Homeland for so many decades.

His was a battle to end the isolationist character of local governance in Maguindanao and the rest of the Island, with the Municipality of Barira and the two other municipalities comprising the Iranun Development Council (IDC) as venues of apprenticeship for democratic Moro governance.

Alex Tomawis believed then that, unless a type of governance that totally deprives the Moro masses any access to the processes of decision-making and secludes them wholly from any mechanism that provides opportunities for the people’s meaningful exercise of economic power, lasting peace in Maguindanao and the rest of the Island can never be attained.

His was a new type of a social revolution that intends to transfer political and economic power into the base of society by empowering the masses to optimize the untapped power of their rationality to take hold of their resources, decide for the processes of their becoming, and to freely chart their own destiny.

This is not as simple as we think it is, in the first blush. I know that Alex had realized this as he harped for his last breath after his fragile body was riddled with bullets. For the well-entrenched political warlords in Maguindanao, his is a revolutionary proposition for it intends to totally dismantle a social system and traditional practices that afford them unbridled political and economic power and benefits.

Thus, for the Moro Elite of Maguindanao, a person who works to transform this status quo is flirting with death. Alex Tomawis did, and so, as destined for one who bravely treads into this dangerous ground, is now “resting” in his grave, with his unfulfilled dream and unfinished revolution.

Tom Villarin, an Akbayan nominee who authored many occasional papers for Mindanao and who had long been in the forefront of the struggle for peace and development in this troubled Island, is mourning the untimely death of Vice Mayor Tomawis the way Mark Anthony did to Caesar. This is for a reason.

Above all else, Tom knows every facet of Alex Tomawis’ political exploits and perfectly appreciates every bit of his dream for his people. Tom knows how the fire burns in the heart of Alex Tomawis every time the fires of unrest visit the homeland of the Iranuns. His dream for his people is too noble to be forgotten.

I accompany Tom in his drive to immortalize the dreams of Alex Tomawis, so his people may be able to pick up the torch where he left it and to continue with his difficult journey … and so that he may not die in vain.

Like Tom, I was also privileged to be with this man, Alex, as he reels towards a dream of attaining development and meaningful peace in the municipality of Barira and its the adjoining localities, which constantly serve as a theater of war in the mainland of Mindanao. It was by working with Alex that I came to fully know the character of a man who would soon become a hero for the Iranuns.

I did not have the opportunity to see him beginning in the middle part of 2004 when I was forced by circumstances to voluntarily leave Akbayan and its development networks to undergo the painful processes of self-rectification and reinvention.

Although, I confess that there were times when I was tempted to text him for help when I was soaked in crippling poverty, the kind that almost shattered my family and snatched away my sanity. But, after I weighed things judiciously, I held myself against the temptation to preserve whatever “good impression” he had then on me.

Now that I begin to celebrate my success, and my feat, in preserving the unity of my family amid the cascading misfortunes, Alex Tomawis ended his story. It is also a pity that, at the very same time when I am about to rise from the rubbles and restore my social significance and my dream, he perished.

I happened to head a team of development planners which supervised a six-day practicum for the trainees in participatory development planning in the Municipality of Barira sometime in 2003. One night, while we were in a deep sleep, a loud explosion thundered. Still in half-sleep and trembling furiously, I quickly moved to bury my head on the cemented corner of the municipality (I am a born coward). A few seconds after that, Alex came to me laughing. Then, in a very assuring voice, he told me: “Ben, this is my place. We are safe here.” Embarrassed, I slept my whole night out, with his words serving as my comforting mantle.

Alex was right in embracing a thought that he was safe in the place of his birth and in the bosom of his people. However, he failed to perceive that he could be unsafe in a “safer” place, but away from the people for whose welfare and interest he eventually offered his life.

Previously, I made a solemn vow not to stop writing about Alex Tomawis until justice is served to him, to his family and to his people. But today I pledge to continue writing about this great man for a greater purpose, that is, to immortalize his deeds and his dreams for the glory of successor-generations.

As a former political council member of Akbayan and a governance consultant of various governance and development centers operating in Mindanao, I was privileged to work with the late Alex Tomawis –who was then the Mayor of the Municipality of Barira in Maguindanao – for the democratization of the local governance in three Maguindanao municipalities comprising the Iranun Development Council (IDC), the municipalities of Barira, Buldon and Matanog.

I was with Alex Tomawis when he started to reinvent the system of local governance in that portion of Maguindanao which served for many decades as a host to Camp Abubakar, once the main fortress of the Moro armed struggle under the MILF. His bold attempt at democratization of local governance in the area was considered as a radical democratic breakthrough in a province embroidered in the dictatorship of local tyrants, crippled by fear and poverty, and soaked in the blood of the hapless and the innocent.

In the next issue, I will put into details why the untimely passing of Alex Tomawis also spells death to the processes of democratization in Maguindanao. As a personal witness to his democratic governance experiment, I vow not to leave the issue of the death of Alex Tomawis until I see the protective and coercive apparatus of the state strongly moving in search for his justice, for the justice of his family and for the justice of his people who had found hope in him.

Meantime, I will pave the way for the portion of the article posted by Tom Villarin, an Akbayan nominee, in the Akbayan forum. This article details, among others, the circumstances surrounding the death of Alex Tomawis and gives us certain perspective as to the possible motives for his assassination.

Here is the portion of Tom Villarin’s article:

”Alexander Tomawis, 38, Barira, Maguindanao vice-mayor and Akbayan supporter since 2001 was shot dead around 10AM Sunday morning, November 29, 2010 after leaving his apartment house in Bajada, Davao city by two teenage gunmen after allegedly asking him to sign some documents. The gunmen escaped on motorcycles. He was rushed to the Davao Doctors Hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival.  Mayor Alex Tomawis is not known to walk around with dozens of armed bodyguards unlike other Maguindanao politicians.

“A few hours before his death, we met in a coffee shop to discuss the cases he filed against Col Ernesto R. Aradanas (batch ’79), commander of the 603rd Brigade based in Barira in the office of the Ombudsman, provincial prosecutor and the Comelec. During the recent barangay elections, the two had a heated argument as the military was intervening in the local elections. Cases of illegal detention and election offenses under the Omnibus Election Code was filed by him against Col. Ernesto R. Aradanas last November 5, 2010. Mayor Tomawis was in Davao to file with the Ombudsman last  November 26 cases of grave misconduct and grave abuse of authority versus Col. Aradanas, Major Mahainien Sangki, and 1st Lt. Manago Macalintangui, all officers from the 603rd Brigade.

“Mayor Alex is a good friend who never failed to support Akbayan.  While many will disagree with the ways he ran his municipality, he was an “action man” who brought back to life Barira (command and control HQ of the MILF) after the 2000 all-out war by Estrada.  He’s also the mayor instrumental in creating the Iranun Development Council, an inter-LGU alliance composed of Buldon, Barira and Matanog. His ambitious ways of making the ethnic group of Iranons become a potent political block in Maguindanao created many enemies against him.  His municipality became a recipient of some P380-M worth of development projects in 2001-2004 and partnered with the NAPC, CIDSS-KALAHI and other national government agencies as well as Gawad-Kalinga which constructed some 500 core houses in Tugaig, Barira. During my NAPC stint as NGO sectoral council member, I asked him to be resource speaker in ASEAN-NAPC forums in Jakarta and Singapore which he did well.

“While perceived to be close to Andal Ampatuan Sr., Mayor Alex had to resort to such an alliance with the Ampatuans to have leverage against the other political warlords in his area.  It is well known that Mayor Tocao Mastura of Sultan Kudarat municipality is a political nemesis of his. Mayor Mastura ran unsuccessfully as governor of the defunct Shariff Kabunsuan province in 2007.  Tomawis allied with the Sinsuats then. After the Maguindanao massacre, Mayor Alex distanced himself from the Ampatuans and organized nine municipal mayoral slate under Aksyon Demokratiko that delivered the votes for President Noy Aquino and Mar Roxas. He already has plans for 2013 as he has consolidated his political base consisting of Buldon (Mayor Fatima Tomawis, his wife), Matanog (Mayor Nasser Imam, a close ally who was also ambushed in the past but survived), Barira (his mother is the mayor), Parang (Mayor Ibrahim Ibay, a very close ally), Datu Blah Sinsuat (Mayor Toto Sinsuat, his brother-in-law married to his sister), South Upi, and Northern Kabuntalan.  He reportedly had several talks with Gov. Toto Mangudadatu of Maguindanao province before his death.”

We join Akbayan, and the rest, in calling the government of P-Noy to leave no stone unturned in its drive to put into the gallows the brains behind the assassination of Alex Tomawis.

The family of Myrna Reblando could have been a perfect Filipino family had her husband, Bong Reblando, not been there in Maguindanao when the “myths”, in whose assuring principle we relied on our safety since the advent of modern civilization, were shattered.

For so long a time, we find comforts on the thoughts that being in a company of (1) crowd of people, (2) throng of women, and of  (3) group of media practitioners are enough armor to ensure our safety and security. However, these “myths” were shattered by the Maguindanao Massacre.

Really, death comes in so many ways. Sometimes by one’s own folly, many times by the folly of others, and, in other times, by sheer coincidence.

Myrna’s husband, Bong, died consequential to a rupture that shattered the “myths” with which the media and other activist movements hath considered as life’s formidable ramparts. It was just unfortunate that her husband was there when the “myths” were torn apart.

Some say that the Mindanao massacre was divined to free the people of Maguindanao, and other parts of the Island, from the claws of fear, oppression, injustice and death, and those who perished there were offered in the altar of sacrifice in order for society to correct itself.

Bong and the rest were just unfortunate to be there when the journey of civilization made a sudden pivotal twist, with Myrna and many others, bearing the painful social costs inherent to the making of history.

Of course, Myrna, like the rest, cannot just easily accept that it is her husband, Bong, who should render a great sacrifice for society’s self-correction and for the natural processes of its becoming.

In her recent appearance on TV one year after the savagery, Myrna wept and wailed even louder than she did a year ago while actually seeing the body of her husband – cold, mangled, bathed in crimson blood, and dead.

There is a natural logic to this human tendency. Myrna’s situation is more painful this time than it was a year ago.

It is during this period that the feeling of emptiness visits frequently in unlikely moments and in its most haunting fashion. Certainly, it is also during this same period that one’s remembering of sweet and happy memories of a fallen loved one, especially if the fall was caused by the fiercest of all evils, and done in its most barbaric form, is an excruciating experience.

Adding to the pain is how the case against the Ampatuans had dragged for years, without any substantial breakthroughs. Compounding the pain is the thought that, considering the very slow pace that the case advances, the trial may still last for another ten years.

These deplete any hope for justice. There is also nothing more vexing to Myrna and the rest than thinking about the probability of their losing in the “war attrition” against the well-placed culprits, who clearly use the element of time as a potent weapon.

After all, there is nothing more painful than graphically seeing our bleak future looming in the horizon.

If there is a reason for Myrna’s more furious cries nowadays, then, it is this. Tired, scarred and hapless, the families of the victims are still being made to undergo by our country’s justice system a high level of difficulty, as if they are waging a revolution, where triumph is uncertain and defeat is a great possibility.

But Myrna is right in seeking solace to her angry tears. Anger would give her strength. It will give her a sustaining power to bear the unbearable, cling strongly to her dream for justice no matter how impossible, and to finally attain it.

Anger is an awesome power that could make her overcome all obstacles like an avenging angel, give justice to her husband and a good future to her children, and, eventually, to attain peace to herself.

Without Myrna knowing it, the angry tears she shed, while being interviewed on a national TV, had moved the whole nation once again. Our desire for justice is restored. Our drive to work for a peaceful Mindanao is, once again, given life.

Myrna’s angry tears carry an awesome power that we, as a nation, cannot resist. We must respond to the call.

When the “myths” burst, Myrna emerges as the symbol of our struggle and the fleshly embodiment of our hope for this nation.

Who is this guy named Mohammad “Bong” Acquia, and why is he being dreaded by many people?

Bong Acquia, as he is popularly known in media quarters in GenSan, was reported to be the culprit in a shooting incident at Casado Bar, a nightspot located inside the compound of Royale Hotel, a three-star luxury hotel in Gensan.

A case was eventually filed against him at the City Prosecutors’ Office, but not after a strong pressure exerted on the police by some concerned citizens here. However, one of his victims deliberately refused to file any case against him, but for whatever reason, his family could not say exactly.

The near-fatal shooting involving Bong Acquia, which occurred at about 3:00 in the morning of October 29, 2010, almost claimed the lives of two young and promising students – one, a six-footer commercial basketball player, and the other, an academic scholar in one of the universities in General Santos City and also a basketball player.

The victims were John Kusmod, 19, and Curt Coronado, 21, both residents of Doña Soledad Subdivision, Barangay Labangal, this same city. They were reportedly celebrating the end of the school semester with their six (6) other fellow basketball players at the Casado Bar when the shooting incident happened.

There were more to this incident than meets the eye, however. The incident literally plunged certain sections of the city’s population into the abyss of fear, resulting to a situation where almost all are adamant or even refuse to delve into the subject, an unlikely deviation from the usual prominence being given to similar incidents in the past.

The incident prominently marked the existence of a serious social error, not because of the graveness of the crime involved in the incident, but of the seemingly unexplainable awesome power that sent a shiver of fear in the collective spine of the public.

Such power is so magical that it is capable of causing the spontaneous emergence of a climate of fear in the city, despite of the fact that Bong Acquia is not reported to be doing anything that could propel the city into certain level of terror after that near-fatal incident.

During a brief interview in his office, General Santos City Police Director, Cedrick Train, a lawyer with a Doctorate Degree in Jurisprudence, confirmed the existence of a public feeling of fear on Bong Acquia, but failed to venture on a specific reason why it existed and how such public impression actually came into play.

In a privilege speech delivered recently during the regular session of the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP), GenSan City Councilor Dante Vicente also impliedly noted how this shooting incident involving Bong Acquia instills fear on the public mind.

Councilor Vicente also ventured into a conspiracy theory proving, in effect, how the alleged tentacles of Bong Acquia within the military and police establishments are working to eventually absolve him of the crime he had committed.

There is sense in Vicente’s conspiracy theory. The pieces of evidence which are material in proving the crime were nowhere to be found. It was also reported that one of the investigators in the City Prosecutor’s Office complained on how the police had built a case against Bong Acquia.

Vicente claimed that the police case against Bong Acquia is too weak and fatally inadequate. For this reason, City Councilor Dante Vicente indicated that there exists a conspiracy between and among the culprit, the bar owner and some elements of the police department.

However, in an interview, Police City Director Train belied the allegation that the cases filed against the culprit are weak and incomplete. He claimed that their case against Acquia is strong and that they still intend to file more cases against him.

Train also said that the evidences already under the custody of the police are enough to secure the conviction of Bong Acquia.

Candidly, this sort of public fear is not new in the city. It is reminiscent of the realities within certain period in the past when illegal gambling outlets mushroomed, were established and openly operated, like sari-sari stores, on every nook and cranny of this city, to include public transport terminals and public markets.

No one dared then to provide an effective critique on the operations of these illegal gambling outlets even when these were done with impunity before the very noses of police authorities.

People then feared of being assassinated by the elements of a powerful syndicate behind these illegal gambling operations, which is allegedly comprised, among others, by armed elements coming from various state agencies.

“You are a ‘dead man walking’ if you do”, one of the prominent members of the local media here said.

However, although the effects of both circumstances on the public are the same, there is a total absence of information linking Bong Acquia to this gambling syndicate, which is still believed to exist even after the recent clamping down of their illegal gambling outlets all throughout the city.

This gambling syndicate is reported to now compose an influential clique, operating as an abstract substructure within the local police establishment with strong support from high officials of the PNP, rendering the regular police command structure wholly ineffective.

“This clique is so powerful and so influential that it could even reduce the police city director into a mere pushover or a hapless prop on the scheme of things”, one local official said.

It was reported that all the gambling outlets which were established here before were under the same syndicated network, but it was then public knowledge that those gambling outlets with a code name “Ground Zero” were owned by one of the popular political figures in the SOCSARGEN area.

The shooting incident involving Bong Acquia is dwarfed in terms of level of heinousness and savagery by the Maguindanao Massacre but its deadly impact on the public nerve is almost the same.

Immediately after the incident, a virtual threat, in the form of an informal news account, began to travel along the underground information highway and this spread like wild fires, especially in the place where the victims reside.

The “news”, which became the subject of loose talks among the victims’ peers in Doña Soledad Subdivision, posited that someone is hiring an assassin for P1, 000,000.00 against any person who would help pin Boy Acquia down. Worse, the “news” is spread with a caveat “during this time and age, persons could kill for P5, 000.00.”

“We don’t know where these rumors come from, but invisible hands seem to cause them to spread so fast”, one resident in Doña Soledad said.

Whether this “news” is true or not, the fact is that the impact of the loose talks is fatal to the victims and their families. They are not so expressive about this, but how the victims and their families are dealing with their fate lately indicate unequivocally that fears for the unknown hover over their heads.

We can decipher this when we attempted to interview them and failed to avail of their cooperation. While they act as normal as they can be, we know that, beneath the fortress of their innate love for justice, something more powerful is influencing their dispositions.

In fact, some of our friends in the media even advised us to handle this incident with extraordinary caution. Their logic was that this Bong Acquia is a well-connected person and has been reportedly in control of an armed infrastructure that, while operating clandestinely, has gained tolerance from some powerful sections within the police establishment, which may also be a part of such armed formations.

Bong Acquia’s alleged control of an armed formation cannot be confirmed by independent and official sources, although Train confirmed that really such public impression exists. But, of course, we know that a public impression cannot always be equated with the truth.

Personally, we are convinced that, by delving on this subject, our safety is not wholly ensured. In fact, we asked Director Train whether or not our safety is secured if we decide to dip our fingers into this issue. His commitment was not assuring, but he emphasized the need for media to be vigilant if society’s welfare is to be protected.

Nevertheless, we have decided to challenge our fear and come up with a public discussion on the incident, rather than to wait for society to defend and correct itself, if indeed what the public fears about is really correct.

Society has its own natural way of correcting the excesses of individuals, like how the Maguindanao Massacre did to the Ampatuans, but society’s self-correction processes are oftentimes extremely violent and costly, and, therefore, for us to wait for such process to take place is to find glory in our sadistic self-inflictions.

We have tried to get the side of Bong Acquia to lend certain objectivity on our discussion, but access to him is simply difficult at this time.

Nevertheless, this should not serve as an obstacle for this discussion. After all, our motive here is not to cast aspersion on the integrity of the person or persons involved in this discourse, but to protect the security and safety of the individuals, in particular, and the welfare of the public, in general, considering that the shooting incident is committed with certain level of impunity.

The election gun ban was still in effect when the shooting incident happened.

Our background information on Bong Acquia is rather sketchy. We first heard of him while he was directly intervening in the politics of Sarangani Province, where he seemed to have been given some crucial roles.

The basis for the privilege given to Bong Acquia by prominent politicians in Sarangani is not easy to decipher. He neither belongs to any prominent clan in Sarangani nor to any organization which is big enough to deliver a substantial number of votes to any politician.

But still, prominent politicians in Sarangani Province had entrusted him some high profile political roles.

Bong Acquia has lately served as the Chairman of the Oplan Kalikasan which is known to be the pre-2010 election campaign tool of the now incumbent Sarangani Congressman, Manny Pacquiao. As Chair of Oplan Kalikasan, he was reported to have engaged in a serious skirmish with Malungon Mayor Bong Constantino, resulting from their stern tug-of-war for the attention of the internationally famous member of the House of Representatives.

There are people who postulate that the alleged armed infrastructure, which is allegedly under the control of Bong Acquia, is the reason why some big-time politicians in the province were so interested with him, then.

In a province characterized by vast mountainous terrains and rugged political contours, armed infrastructures are necessary in all electoral battles. These terrains and contours resemble that of Sarangani Province.

Bong Acquia also served as the Chair of the Presidential Anti-Smuggling Group (PASG) in Mindanao. It was reported that it was because of this influential position that he had been able to recruit many “anti-smuggling agents” from both the uniformed and civilian armed formations within the SOCSARGEN area.

We cannot, at this time, avail of any reliable information which could prove whether or not this group of “anti-smuggling agents” was later formed into a privately-operated armed formation, or it is just mistaken to be one.

It was also reported that it was because of his powerful position in PASG that Bong Acquia has succeeded to establish strong connections with high military and police officials at the national and local levels and solid networks among prominent and powerful business groups and institutions in the city and in some other parts of the country.

In fact, he is frequently seen with a prominent businessman-politician in General Santos City since the 2010 national and local elections.

Bong Acquia’s eventual replacement as PASG Chair did not result to the depletion of his influence among the powerful sections of the local military and police establishments. He was even reported to be currently wielding strong influence among high military and police officials.

City PNP Director Cedrick Train said he does not personally know Bong Acquia but confirmed that he has so many “friends” among the city’s police officials. “It is probably because he has been mingling with them for too long”, Train said.

However, he failed to explain the nature of Acquia’s business in the local police establishment and the reason why these police officers find him a “good company.”

There are those who suspect that Acquia’s connection is actually with police officials who acted as protectors of the gambling outlets which had openly proliferated in the city before, but which were closed down lately. While these police officers are said to be hibernating for now, they actually remain intact as a group, and are only waiting for an opportune time to revive their illegal ventures.

Meantime, they are reported to be working hand-in-hand with other social forces working for the ouster of anti-gambling officials from local power, with alleged backing from known gambling lords in Central Luzon.

Again, following the maxim that it would take a scoundrel to catch another scoundrel, this suspicion cannot still be proven by material evidence. But the powerful state’s protective and coercive apparatuses, unless they are among the tentacles of a gambling syndicate, must do something to unearth the truth, rather than passing the burdens to the media or to hapless private citizens.

Bong Acquia has no known business in the city, save his dealership of non-popular brands of four-wheel vehicles, but he remains capable of financing vast networks within the military and police establishment. He can even afford an expensive lifestyle and maintain a phalanx of armed bodyguards.

How he procures funds to maintain and finance expensive networks, coupled with a luxurious lifestyle, remains to be a guessing game for many.

The story that we told here may not be perfectly accurate. But, somehow, we are sure that it approximates the exploits of a man, somewhat feared by many and allegedly protected by some powerful hands.

We can only hope that this will start the full public unleashing of a man whose life, at least a substantial part of it, remains a mystery to many of us.  Certainly, his story is a great saga of a man, with an outstanding feat.

Our role here is only to ensure that such feat would benefit, and not prejudice, the public.

Do we put ourselves into danger by doing this? There might be possibility that we do, God forbids. But history has taught us that there are times when people are called upon to offer themselves into the altar of sacrifice to serve others and straighten out society.

Almost always, they were forgotten, with their families wallowing in the filth of poverty by their untimely demise, and with society unmindful of their pains and travails.

But, that is the reason why they are called heroes. Their offerings should always be for selfless motivations; otherwise, they do not deserve the social grandeur.

Heroism is a powerful drive that occurs on an individual in a given moment. The moment calls for it now!