Archive for the ‘Cultural’ Category


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.


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.

Conservatory of Culture

Posted: July 17, 2008 in Cultural

Political and economic issues are now choking Gensan’s information highway. In fact, they are nearing the limits of our mental fortitude. So, it is now time to take respite from all these mind-boggling issues and explore the still widely unchartered terrain – the realms of culture.

Last Saturday, we watched the MSU Kabpapagariya as it rendered a concerto of cultural songs and dances during the wedding reception of Suelyn Guerrero and her American husband, Reginald Williams, at the Phela Grande Convention Center.

The rendition was powerful. We are moved and awed by its mystics. It was so magnificent that our spirit had seemed to depart from our physical self to join the clouds and be free. The spiritual ecstasy was momentary but it was a sweet divine experience for us.

Perhaps, what added to its powerful impact was the way the MSU Kabpapagariya had revolutionized its craft. In the past, the rhythmic, smooth and artistically graceful movements of the fingers, hands, feet and body are specific roles which were traditionally assigned to women dancers. But now, the men are doing exactly these, with perfection and finesse.

Kabpapagariya’s symphony lifted our spirits into the horizons and its dances, showed off in fascinating cadence by men and women clad in mystical native outfits, were virtual time-machines which brought us back into our glorious past, away from the shams and fakeries of the present.

Really, Gregorio Zaide and Teodoro Agoncillo were terribly wrong in tracing our society’s roots, mainly, to the Aetas of Panay. Neither Onofre D. Corpuz was correct to regard the Tabons, the ancient cavemen of Palawan, as our leading ancestors.

We disagree with Renato Constantino that Zaide and Agoncillo and, perhaps, Corpuz had conspired with our colonial masters in committing a wholesale insult against the Filipino race by tracing its roots to lower classes of people. Such sad commentary is inexcusably racial.

But we do agree with him when he said that Zaide, Agoncillo and, perhaps, Corpuz had deliberately schemed to eclipse the many rich Filipino cultures and traditions in the pages of our history and, worse, in the collective memory of the nation.

Fortunately, what our history writers failed to do, the MSU Kabpapariya is doing it us, earning for itself the esteemed honor of serving as the conservatory of our cultural heritage. For this deed, we thank the people behind the MSU Kabpapagariya: Mrs. Estelita A. Aquino; Romy Narvaiz; and Alma Dumalag-Aguja.

Now for the confession! We are supposed to describe how Itangka and Pakirig dances are executed; however, our arsenal for descriptive English words is simply inadequate.

Thus, we encourage our prolific local descriptive writers, Bong Sarmiento, Aquiles Zonio and Russtum Pelima and the rest, to write more about what we consider as the epicenter of our social existence – culture.

We should fight with all our might the forces of cultural contortionism which are now becoming pervasive in our modern society. In the last analysis, it is this that will eventually liberate us from all our woes.

Reviving old Holy Week customs

Posted: March 19, 2008 in Cultural

We shivered in fear after hearing that DENR has issued Environmental Clearance Certificates (ECCs) for the planting of pineapples on a 1,000-hectare mountainous and rolling terrain in Barangays San Jose and Sinawal, the few remaining bulwarks of Indigenous People’s rich cultural heritage.

Conversion of upland areas into pineapple plantations is an invitation to a rampaging environmental disaster and, as proven in New Orleans, even America’s sophisticated nuclear armaments were proven useless against the invincible fury of a revolting nature.

In his book, Care for the Earth, A Call for a New Theology, Fr. Sean McDonough described how pineapple plantations in plains and valleys could trigger deadly floodings in low-lying areas. Clearly, the disaster could even become worst if they are established in mountainous and rolling landscape, like those in Barangays Sinawal and San Jose.

The geographical character of General Santos City forewarns us of this danger. Giant water tributaries and natural creeks and waterways from Barangays San Jose and Sinawal snake through the city’s major commercial and residential centers toward the Sarangani Bay, a water basin.

Thus, in case of rampaging floods, the city’s commercial and residential centers, including the General Santos City International Airport, could be ravaged. It could also destroy the Sarangani Bay’s majestic underwater sceneries and pollute its waters, as floods result to siltation and Dolefil fruit ventures are basically chemical-based.

Kevin Davis, Dolefil vice president and managing director, cannot hide this “murderous scheme” by trumpeting rural development concerns. As proven by actual experiences, pineapple plantation results to the impoverishment of rural communities because of its extractive nature. Moreover, it paves the way to a contract-growing scheme, which is generally considered as contract of poverty and destructive of the Indigenous People’s way of life.

As has been reported, the ECCs for the planting of pineapple in Barangays San Jose and Sinawal were issued by the DENR to Indigenous People’s cooperatives, which were allegedly organized through the behest of a Dolefil, without the imprimatur of the city government; thus, undermining its statutory powers.

Since the PANAMIN days, instances that bespeak of how tribal communities were exploited by their own unscrupulous leaders, with the connivance of equally unscrupulous national government officials, are already in great abundance. Unfortunately, perhaps with greater impunity now, this same pattern of exploitation and deceit is again unfolding before us.

Lately, in Populurum Progressio, the Vatican announced that destruction of the environment is now considered primus inter pares, first among equals, in the hierarchy of mortal sins. Thus, the hottest part of hell is reserved for those who are responsible for the introduction of pineapple plantations in Barangays San Jose and Sinawal.