Monday, December 04, 2006
Practically on the same day of Nov. 1, 2005, at 9 o’clock in the morning, women of GABRIELA Network took to the street in front of the Philippine Consulate in Los Angeles demanding justice for Nicole, the 22-year-old dumped “like a pig” by the roadside, demanding that the US soldiers be apprehended and tried for this violence against a woman, a city, a nation. The picketing was colorful, impassioned and yes, emotional as only women's political language can be.
Irony was redolent in the air. It had taken almost a hundred years and the combined might of activists and Apo Pinatubo to remove the two monkeys off the backs of the residents. But the Philippine government, true to its colors, did not dismantle those bases of iniquity and destruction, did not return the farmlands or the fishing grounds to their rightful owners. Instead, the bases were handed over to the Philippine military, which, in defiance of the Constitution, proceeded to host returning US troops in ever increasing numbers at the same sites. And now, we had Nicole.
To those with long memories, the stories of the residents’ humiliation still rankle. How the indigenous people were driven by the loss of their ancestral lands to scrounge at the base’s garbage dump for food and scraps. How occasionally, a boy would be shot by a US soldier who “mistook” him for a wild boar. How bullets from the firing ranges would hit houses. How fishermen were poisoned by some green glowing slick on the waters in the wake of nuclear submarines. How a 14-year-old girl died when the vibrator pushed up her by a GI broke and left a piece in her vaginal canal. How the clinics funded by the US AID would check prostitutes for disease, but not the GIs; would dispense antibiotics but not condoms or birth control pills, for “fear of angering the Church.”
No US soldier was ever prosecuted for crimes committed against a Filipino. In 2,000 cases, no one was ever tried much less convicted. Victims and witnesses alike were intimidated and bought off, once with a sack of rice and canned sardines. Culprits were “re-deployed” and evaded Philippine jurisdiction.
It took a woman to bring all that subservience to a halt. Nicole, whose father worked with US soldiers and who was therefore herself so trusting of Americans, began her fight on the very day of her rape and never let go. Emotional all the way, weeping and raging, once hitting one of the soldiers with her purse inside the courtroom, Nicole made sure that the violence inflicted upon her by foreigners remained constantly before the public eye.
It takes a woman to render instantly palpable the true nature of Philippine-US relations, and the true oppressive character of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States. One has been a medium for violence; the other, an instrument for the perpetration of violence.
And it took women to create the pressure that enabled the court to withstand the puppetry of the Philippine Department of Justice itself, with its psychotically rampaging Secretary of (In)Justice. It took the women of GABRIELA Philippines and all its sister organizations the world over; it took Congresswoman Liza Maza and the Gabriela Women’s Party; it took women from the entire political spectrum to create the thunderous voice that said, ‘NO MORE! NOT AGAIN! NOT EVER AGAIN!” For over a year, raging in their disquiet, they watched with due vigilance over this case and responded with militant action time and time again.
How nice to hear the verdict “guilty” for at least one of the accused, even though the other three were acquitted. So, though the fight is only half-way done, here’s the warmest hug possible to Nicole, the women of the Philippines and their allies. Onward to the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement – a nine-page treaty, in contrast to the nearly 40 page agreement governing the presence of US bases in Germany and Japan, with intricate provisions for the protection of the community, rather than of foreign troops. The VFA is a treaty so unjust in its treatment of Filipinos, it will go down in history as a document of infamy.
What fine daughters of Gabriela Silang they all are, from Nicole down to the 18-year-old still wearing her St. Scholastica Catholic school uniform as she picketed in front of the courthouse. They make us proud to be women. and to be women of Philippine ancestry. Sulong, GABRIELA, laban, MAKIBAKA!
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Her first words were “the house is 10,000 sq. ft. total.” She didn’t need to add that it was surrounded by an extravagant garden, whose footpath to the kitchen door I had just walked. The house was cupped like a pearl on a upturned green hand. It was all white, outside and inside, neat and clean, the very fact of its costliness making color unnecessary. Though I said “yes, ma’am,” dutifully, I floated inside, imagining my children’s astonishment at their mother living in such a palace.
At first her voice was hardly the sound of a brook but it has become stronger and now sounds like tidal waves upon rocks, crashing in, drawing out.
Mrs. Cody said, as we moved out the kitchen to a back room, “we prefer hot breakfasts.” She said that only lower-income people had cold milk and cereal for breakfast. “Both father and mother have to leave early for work, that’s why.”
Nine months ago, I left the Philippines – I am tempted to say my country but that would not be correct; one doesn’t leave a country; one leaves a house, a neighborhood, a city; one leaves people and there’s no past tense to leaving people; each day one is away, one is leaving… I left in the middle of a life adrift.
These were my earnings and how I spent them: at $50 a day, I got on the average $1500 per month. A thousand was sent immediately to my family. It kept not only my children and my husband in good shape but also my mother and later, my father when he retired, as well as various aunts, nephews and nieces who seemed to be assailed by crisis once a month. That left me $500 augmented by my odd-job earnings of $100 per weekend for a total of $900 per month, depending on my health.
I run out of cigarettes. Run to the corner store. Coo at children playing on the sidewalk. At the next block, a light goes on in my head. NR doesn’t coo at children and pat their heads. NR coos at dogs and pats dogs’ heads. Children are like shrubs to NR. I’m fusing with Angelyn.
This was my schedule: 6 a.m., I made breakfast, washed and dressed the children, waited with them until the school bus showed up. I poured coffee into two mugs and took them to the master bedroom. Then I started cleaning the bedrooms and bathrooms until noon when I prepared Mrs. Cody’s lunch, poured her a glass of wine and served these in her attic office. … Laundry was next on my list until 3 p.m. when I started dinner preparations, putting out fish and meat to thaw. The children returned around this time and I had to deal with their mess – the schoolbag and shoes and sweaters and socks flung in the living room. If Mrs. Cody had to attend an event or a meeting for one child, I would have to watch the other. At 6 p.m., they had dinner. Then I gave the children each a bath, place them in sleeping clothes, combed and dried their hair and tucked them in bed… When the Codys had guests, which was often, I would have to wait until their departure, around 10 or 11, to begin cleaning. On the average, I went to sleep between midnight and one in the morning.
I’m so tired cleaning and cooking in Angelyn’s world a layer of dust overlays my apartment. The stove is cold and the carrots in the fridge are liquefying. In 72 hours I’ve eaten toasted bread, some macadamia nuts. Before that more toasted bread. I tell myself to leave the keyboard, stop staring at the monitor and go to the grocery. I’m dropping half a pound each day. Maybe I can get Zonechef to donate four weeks’ of food so I can survive this writing. Wait, Zonechef is diet food.
The first time I was to have my two days off, Mrs. Cody said “oh, Angelyn, we have to go to a dinner party. We’ll be back as soon as possible but you have to wait for us. The children cannot be left alone. Don’t worry; you’ll make it to the train.” … Okay. I read to Nadia until she fell asleep. Then I went downstairs where my overnight bag stood by the front door, as eager to scoot out of there as I was. Eight o’clock; nine. Ten o’clock. At eleven, I heard a car coming down the road and the garage doors opening. Oh, hurray, but it was so late; it was so dark outside.. I must have looked remonstrating because Mrs. Cody said to me: “It’s okay. It’s daylight savings time. So eleven o’clock is really ten o’clock. It’s not overtime. It’s still early.”
Remove all the anger, remove all outrage. At this point, Angelyn is merely accepting. Leave it all to God, bahala na.
Mrs. Cody and Anson, the landscaper from England, were in the office attic, discussing spring’s garden design. Mrs. Cody wanted her house to be selected by Architectural Digest, just like her arch enemy’s house down the street. Per her instructions, I poured two glasses of red wine, sliced some cheese, took some crackers and arranged all on a silver tray to take to the attic. But – omigod, here was Anson coming down the stairs as I was going up. He’s stark naked, his d**k swinging like a pendulum as he dashed for the bathroom. Omigod, I didn’t see this. Omigod, the British landscaper is doing Mrs. Cody. Omigod, Anson is effing Mrs. Cody and I KNOW! Omigod! I KNOW! The tray shook in my hands. She’ll blame me for knowing; she’ll terminate me; I will lose my job! Help!
Me, too: help!
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Militias, insurgents, jihadists, etc., are being blamed for the spiraling violence. Occasionally, a rare voice would say something about US occupation. But why neighbors who had lived peaceably with one another for decades would suddenly fall upon one another – there seems to be no explanation for that. Nor for the unspeakable and deliberate cruelty with which these killings are done. Torture via electric drills?! The mind is boggled.
But this kind of mass psychosis is neither new nor rare. We have seen it before and are seeing it in various parts of the world. In Cambodia, for instance, where non-stop bombing and acts of war so defeated the Buddhist tradition of non-violence, the “killing fields” bloomed in the English language. Despite his doctorate from Sorbonne, Khieu Sampan joined in the drive to return Cambodia to Year Zero, in a futile attempt to eradicate the experience of brutalization. We see it now in various parts of Africa where otherwise rational men fall upon neighbors in unspeakable carnage; we see it in countries where occupation and colonialism had walked, ruining societies and murdering nations.
In the Philippines, history seems not to occur with a flourish but rather by a slow but steady accretion of seemingly insignificant events, decisions and actions. It took the Marcos Dictatorship almost a decade to reach the kill rate of 14 a day. This current government under Macapagal-Arroyo is inching to that figure at a faster rate but still not as dramatically as Iraq or Darfur or the Congo. Nevertheless, the occupation is happening and is ratcheting up the level of violence – though slowly, desensitizing the population and the world.
First, 3,000 of them entered the archipelago. This was five years ago. In between, discreet numbers rotated in and out from Okinawa. Now, 5,700 US troops are supposed to be exercising with 1,700 Filipino soldiers, ostensibly to better train the latter against terrorism. Why there are more trainers than trainees, no one knows. Why, if this were a defense of Filipino territory, there were more foreign than local troops, no one explains. Why this repeated “exercises,” whose lessons never seem to take, leaving the locals good only for assassinating unarmed civilians, no one explains. Nor does anyone know the exact number of these undocumented aliens in the archipelago at any given time. As Amirah Ali Lidasan of the Suara Bangsamoro explains: “we have to rely on ‘sightings.’ Community people tell us ‘a white soldier was sighted in the barrio over there; another sighting that-a-way.’ It’s like the UFOs.” What white solders are doing in rural villages, nobody explains. It’s all X-filed. Suffice it to say, that the level of violence has been going up, as psychosis creeps from island to island and we find both assassins and the assassinated wearing the same color skin, the same color eyes, the same color hair, speaking the same language.
Early in the Philippine-American War, Apolinario Mabini repeatedly advised Emilio Aguinaldo of the Philippine Revolutionary Army not to allow the US to land in Manila. The US Department of War (now Defense) had sent two spies disguised as shipwrecks before US warships appeared in the bay. Now George Dewey was offshore with his ships, having fought the mock battle of Manila Bay and he wanted shore leave for his men. With the rest of the archipelago in Filipino hands, Aguinaldo must have thought that a harbor, a shore, a single city would not make a difference. Aguinaldo’s cavalier disregard of one of his most loyal advisers would lead to one million Filipinos dead.
Women, who are daily subjected to a culture of mental, emotional and physical violence directed against them, know full well the direct link between the unjust accusation and full-blown murder, between non-personhood and the knife across the throat. Control, oppression and violence smuggle themselves into relationships on cat feet. They begin with a label, a word, a fantasy of threat, like “weapons of mass destruction,” “enemy combatants.” Holocausts begin with the sinister glee of kyrstalnacht. They must therefore be resisted and rejected from inception. So don’t tag women “emotional” when they protest at a decibel higher than what you deem appropriate. They’ve seen it all before and they see it all the time. A baseless accusation now fuels future paranoia. A shove against the wall today engenders the killing rage of tomorrow. -- ###
Thursday, August 24, 2006
My generation remembers the GPCR with fondness, particularly the slogan “women hold up half the sky,” usually illustrated by images of women in militant poses, fists clenched, generically pleasant-faced and virginally wholesome. Despite having read Simone de Bouvoir’s The Second Sex, I had not known what to make of the explosive women’s movement of the West – until “women hold up the sky” blazed in the chaotic sky of the 60s milieu.
I examine each souvenir – a bobbing-head Mao, poster reproductions, even Red Books, wondering if a line, a curve, a color foretold what was being engendered in the bowels of the GPCR: Close Comrade-in-Arms Lin Piao dead in a smoldering plane wreckage, the Gang of Four, Chou En-lai surrendering to cancer, Chiang Ching suiciding in her prison cell and the abominable slogan “to be rich is glorious…”
Aside from “women hold up half the sky,” two other hallmark of the GPCR affected me personally: “people-to-people friendship” and the 3-in-1 committee. Decades later, P2P friendship would inform the organizing model for GABNet*, as it seemed a way to preclude what was happening in the 1980s and the 1990s, when all and every institution and/or organization outside the archipelago – NGOs to church to labor – turned its back on the Filipino’s struggle. From the 3-in-1, on the other hand, we learned the necessity of mitigating hierarchies of power and control, of allowing rank-and-file the freedom to innovate and create in their turf.
Nowadays, of course,
The 3-in-1 is gone. The last time I heard a member of the All-China Women’s Federation speak, she said Chinese women had absolutely no problems. GPCR tactics are often used to crush “thinking outside the box.” And because a large part of women’s experience lie outside the accepted political box, we have not been able to develop a sharper political language for women’s reality.
The Chinese model is back, of course, with the admonition that we should lay to one side the issue of women’s oppression, leave it to a post-victory cultural revolution. As if qualitative change could be effected without an accumulation of quantitative changes; as if women’s oppression does not have materialist foundations and was merely a cultural thing!
I’m ranting and raving, of course, to Dreary/Weary’s amusement. “Templates,” he says. “You got people working off templates. Just like some do in music, work out of models. Very dynamic in the beginning, very fast because it’s easy. You just fill in the words, a little variation in the notes here, there. Trouble is, after a while, it goes no where and implodes. Doesn’t work.”
“Chickenheads love templates,” he mutters.
“From a Philip K. Dick novel, which became Bladerunner, the movie you like so much. It means not enough brain cells for complex processing – hence the two note speech: tak-tak, putak! Over and over again. Having a second note fools everyone into thinking it’s innovative.”
Dreary/Weary and I are inveterate etymology collectors.
“We have chickenheads, too,” he says, meaning in his music world. He explains they are a type of female groupies. He doesn’t like them, he says seriously, because they’re whiny and self-pitying but vicious to other women whom they consider competition for the band’s approval. When caught at intrigues, they always play at innocence. They have a very tenuous sense of self.
But why are they called chickenheads?
He explains and I’m shocked to speechlessness.
He laughs and says maybe, someday, he’ll do a rap about political chickenheads.
*See “GABNet: An Experiment in Transnational Organizing,” delivered at the Nov. 2005 conference at UCLA.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
The burkha made it to my neighborhood, hanging from a hook, innocent among the goods brought over by globalization, in a store that also sold shirts from Guatemala, baskets from China, wool from Romania, bangles from India… It called the eye, being black among the rainbow colors of the store’s wares. I made light of my shock, telling myself that likely, it was being sold for Halloween. Then because I am that kind of weird, I went in, bought the thing and dropped it over my head.
Instantly, the world narrowed to a little square space, that net-covered hole before my eyes. Sound became muffled. The odors of the cuisines of Korea, Argentina, India and Mexico disappeared. Neither wind nor sun touched my skin. I couldn’t look anyone in the eyes. Instead, passers-by gave me sidelong glances.
This is how it is not to exist, I said to myself. I was shuffling on the sidewalk, hugging building walls. The anonymity was complete. I felt both helpless and sinister; I could do anything since I was nothing; and conversely, anything could be done to me because I was nothing. After three blocks, the claustrophobia became overwhelming; I tore the thing off my body.
A squeal of brakes: a car nearly hitting a teenage couple. A male face loomed out of the passenger side window and screamed: “You moron, I’m going to take your dray and f-k her so her eyeballs pop!” Dray? In the wind of male rage, she teetered on four-inch heels. She wore a half halter top, butt-crack and pudenda peeping over low-rise jeans. She reached a hand out, stepped back to the sidewalk and clutched my arm. As threats charged the air, many promises of disaster to the female, we huddled closer to the building flanking the sidewalk, me half-shrouded, her half-naked. I wasn’t sure which the worse non-personhood was: to be exclusive property or common property.
It is disgustingly easy to render women non-persons; sometimes even a word suffices. It took GABNet a decade, for instance, to move the issue of mail-order brides from the private domain to the public. By simply calling such women “wives,” the sellers of women were able to move the issue to the private domain; it became a matter of “consenting adults.”
The Philippine government manages to hide its traffic of women by simply classifying all exported labor as “overseas contract workers.” Even though nearly 30% of the women exported end up in the sex trade (under the category technical skills), there has been general tolerance for this “development” tactic of the Philippine government supported by the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the World Trade Organization.
GABNet itself has been accused (quietly) of having an “incorrect political line,” in campaigns designed to turn it into a pariah, because it refuses to abandon opposition to patriarchy and sexism. As a organization of women, it has consistently considered such opposition as integral to the advancement of women’s liberation, integral to the struggle against imperialism and certainly, considering that women are among the poorest of the poor in the archipelago, integral to its support for the just struggle of the Filipino people for national independence and democracy.
Unfortunately, the mis-judgment persists (or is deliberately fostered) that being opposed to the exploitation and oppression of women detracts from a comprehensive progressive political position. How this is explained with any modicum of logic, I have no idea. Never mind that women do live in a climate of sexism and “patriarchialism” (a mindset based on the male dominance and hence, the marginalization and devaluation of women and the resulting devaluation and alienation of their labor).
Just as the conflict over land forms the stuff of the peasant’s daily struggle, or the high cost of education and poor job prospects form the stuff of the youth’s daily struggle, gender-based discrimination and exploitation permeate the lives of women, exacerbating and in many cases, molding the specifics of contradictions involving their sector. But many persistently deny that women have a specific sectoral reality, thereby withholding from them the right to expect non-sexist policies and practices from everyone.
Nevertheless, to paraphrase Galileo, like it or not, the world of women turns on this axis. The across-the-board devaluation of domestic work, for instance, in all 168 countries to which the Philippines export women, stems from the history of women as the first truly private property (in contrast to slaves who were tribally owned), hence from a historic devaluation of women, a historic devaluation of their work and skills, and hence, from the social perspective and economic view that household work creates no surplus value, requires no skills and is therefore subject to underpayment.Women’s oppression and the apartheid against women are intensifying; the US-led so-called war on terror has steadily shrunk public space for women. Hopefully, women will not simply surrender to this trend but will commensurately increase their political engagement and activism, if only to relieve the claustrophobia of these times.
Liliosa was 23 years old, a scholar at the City University of Manila and editor of Hasik, the school’s student newspaper. Later testimonies revealed she had been tortured, gang-raped, injected with truth serum. Then, because she wouldn’t be cowed and vowed to go after her brutalizers, they poured muriatic acid down her throat and killed her. Hers was the first death in the urban detention centers of the Marcos regime.
When her family tried to obtain justice, the military used all manner of harassment and threats, including raids, beatings and detention, to discourage her parents, her brothers and her sisters.
I never met her but she remains vivid to my mind. She was killed the night before my release and whenever April comes, I hear the whisper of a co-detainee, talking about her murder. “She was killed there,” my co-detainee said, in a hushed voice, pointing to the building across the street from where we were being held inside Camp Crame. My eyes slid away from the building, kept sliding away from it, as my mind repeatedly said, “it didn’t happen here; it happened in another city, in another province, in another island, in another country far, far away.”
Liliosa’s murder came at the end of a week of severe diarrhea and gastroenteritis in our own detention quarters. For two weeks in March, water had disappeared from our quarters (such a nice neutral word); eventually, despite our efforts, the place began to stink and we were ripe as well. One morning, the military parked a fire truck outside, stuck a hose through a window and poured water into a gasoline drum in the bathroom. Our relief was short-lived; the water was contaminated, probably deliberately to punish the women for complaining.
Water and Liliosa would be linked in my mind forever, a presage of murderous things to come, perverting Aquarius’s symbolism so much that to this day, I barely drink water. In the mid-1970s, when so many women (and men, though hardly anyone talks about this) were being sexually assaulted in military detention camps, I voiced my worries to a friend. His reply: “if you were picked up again, rape would be the least of your worries.” I understood. Liliosa was the tidewater mark. After her, everyone and anyone “picked up” was tortured, some murdered, because the military establishment got away with the first. This was how we learned the word “impunity” – from Liliosa’s fate and her family’s experience.
And now there’s PP 1017 by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, so low a number among presidential proclamations. Marcos at least waited until he got to 1081, being a superstitious nitwit who embedded in the number the year he would “lift” martial -- but not his -- rule, 1981. Does this mean Gloria will step down in 2017? As Charlie Brown would say, aaargh!
But then again, there is this so-called people’s initiative (who are these people?) to change the current Constitution. Then there are all these women and men charged with rebellion, five of them congress people who’ve had to accept congressional protective custody to avoid being arrested without warrants. And US troops are debasing Filipinas again, protected by government itself. Then there are the 556 assassinated activists, leaders and critics, the body count inching upwards to the 14 killed per day in the last years of Marcos’s rule.
Time seems to have looped upon itself, things devolving, the descent into darkness accompanied by the gloating chortles of fundamentalists, military men, warlords and landlords, corporate men and a host of women glorying in their own abjectness. Time has loop and is eating itself up.
I hear myself responding over and over again, to questions trite and significant, that I don’t have time; there is no time; no time at all, because the cloud in the crystal ball has cleared and forever is visible and there is no time left.
Another generation will drop out of school; take to the hills and risk life and liberty to make democracy more than just a word. Physicists, engineers, poets, young peasants, the tribal braves, workers, women, men and even children will forgo the amiable pleasures of an ordinary life to do something which shouldn’t be extraordinary but is – assert people’s rights and freedoms.
Another generation will leave their parents’ homes and take to the hills and risk life and liberty to make democracy more than just a word. Abandoning all that is familiar, they will learn the unfamiliar heart of poverty among 70% of the population and by so doing, become themselves ordinary, usual and familiar, transformed, as the village folks used to say, into nice people around.
Sometime in the future, a woman grown old in this never-ending enterprise to create a true nation will look at the sky with horror-stricken eyes and think: “a third of my generation was killed young; a third went to prison, went to the hills or both, and a third is scattered the world over in exile.”
And remember again, the words of a woman who joined the Tupamaros of Uruguay at the age of 15, spent two years in prison where the military destroyed her right arm, and the rest of her life in exile in Sweden: “there are things I regret having done, but never being there, at the moment of historic juncture, when everyone was engaged in a magnificent undertaking.”
It is said that the poet, Pablo Neruda died of a broken heart when the Allende government was destroyed by a CIA-supported military coup and replaced with a military dictatorship. But one remembers a childhood fairytale, where an honorable man looped iron bands around his heart, to stop its shattering at injustice, thus enabling himself to act.
Go and do likewise. There is no time anymore.