Supertyphoon Meranti and the Forgotten Islands of Batanes

A thunderstorm in Manila is a headline, a flood in taft is news., a typhoon elsewhere is a national concern, but a supertyphoon in Batanes is gone with the wind issue… Our provincial hymn is always true “forlorn country though they say, orphans of the motherland…” But whether Manila would care or not, whether help will come or none, the stone houses of Batanes and its people molded by fierce weather thru the ages will stand strong and proud… Ivatans will bounce back in a matter of days. We are a nation on our own, we have always been…

After 3 days since the onslaught of the Supertyphoon, there was no initiative from the government,. C130 of the military is waiting for a rainbow, until a private aircraft finally decided to conduct an aerial assessment of the farthest island.

 

 

Third Millennium Equipoise (Epilogue)

Note: Shared wit the permission and encouragement of the Book’s Author, Maj.General Vinod Saighal (Ret.), a peace advocate and  a good friend.

I sit in my garden with my little son. We are thinking of planting a tree in our backyard. He wants me to plant a jacaranda. He has seen these trees elsewhere and likes the mauve clusters when the tree is in bloom. I want to plant a peepul. It is slow growing but it is ageless. It attracts a variety of birds. It is the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. It is still venerated by the people. They will spare it when there is fuel scarcity in this drought-prone region. There is great poverty around these parts. I see women and children gathering twigs all day long to cook their evening meal in their mud adobes.

I try to explain all this to my son. He listens patiently but I don’t think he understands. He sees that I have become pensive. He wants to know what I am thinking about. What should I tell him? That I am suddenly beset by doubts. Can I really plan that far ahead? Will there be anybody around to enjoy the shade of the peepul and listen to birdsong when the tree has grown. I am no longer sure. I envy my ancestors all the way back to the mists of antiquity.

Each successive generation must have had its share of joys and sorrows; they must have faced many kinds of problems but they could not have had my kind of doubt. The fruits of their labours would be enjoyed by their sons and their son’s sons. Generations to come would sing of their deeds. Somebody somewhere would keep the hearths from growing cold. Can I pass on that certitude to my little boy who now looks at me in a wonderment that saddens rather than gladdens my heart? I see a purple sunbird alighting on a slender stalk. Its plumage glistens in the sun. Butterflies and dragonflies hover about in the balmy air. I start wondering about the thousands of species that share the planet with Man. When we disappear how many of these will we take along with us. Have we arrogated to ourselves the right to be the arbiters of their fate or have we simply stopped caring. Sentience must be extending to trillions or zillions of creatures who have slowly evolved over billions of years. How much time will we take to snuff out a great majority of them?

A stray dog has come into the garden. My son and I pick up a stone. It is a reflexaction. It has become ingrained in my child at a very tender age. My arm becomes arrested in mid-air. The child completes the motion. He has found his mark. The animal gives a yelp of pain and slinks away. I have seen the dog before. My own dogs set up a furious barking whenever
he enters our compound. They are well-fed. They would not even sniff at anything not to their liking. The stray dog comes to the rubbish can to rummage for some morsels — any morsel — of leftovers. His canine brethren would begrudge him that morsel. So, it seems, would I. I wonder how that stray animal survives after being hounded all day long. What about the strays and waifs of our society? How many millions or hundreds of millions are there? On a diff erent plane is my reaction as instinctive when one of them wanders into my circle of light and warmth. Do I feel threatened or does their presence give rise to doubts I would rather keep the lid on?

How did I happen to acquire the ability to think? If happiness or self-satisfaction is all that I am looking for then would I not be better off without an intelligence that keeps leading me into labyrinths when I already possess all the ingredients that should confer this state on me. On the face of it the reverse proposition is truer: the lower the state of intelligence the greater the pleasure that can be derived from the satisfaction of basic urges. A cow is in a state of near bliss when chewing the cud. A constant supply would perpetuate that state. A simple, unlettered peasant who tills his fields is satisfied if the rain is on time and he has a square meal at the end of the day. Both these categories would be content to leave well alone. Who then disturbs the natural harmony of existence? It could not be the result of the simple urge to aggress. The tiger stalks his prey only when he is hungry. When that hunger is assuaged and he has slaked his thirst at the spring he will slumber peacefully in the dappled shade. Till his next pang of hunger he is at peace with himself and his surroundings. He will not disturb the tranquility of the jungle. The woodcutter lived in the forest. His donkey load of wood which he sold in the city met the needs of his family. They did not have many cares. They were attuned to the rhythm of the forest. Whence the urge to destroy the forest?

In the stages of man’s evolution he first tried to understand his environment; then he tried to live with it; and finally he attempted to overcome it. This is the stage that we are in; dominance. Domination can be achieved by a gross process (destruction) or by the subtle process (harnessing). The urge to dominate disturbs the equilibrium and the ferment thus created releases tremendous bursts of energy in the form of physical forces (gross process) and mental forces which on the higher plane become a subtle and on the lower plane a gross process. In the intellectual sphere the struggle between the gross and fine determines the path which will be followed by mankind. In the fine state as it applies to an individual, the appeasement of the basic urges does not, in itself, lead to contentment.
The realization that the satisfaction of wants cannot be the end that we are really looking for impels man to look beyond: within himself (the microcosm) and without (the macrocosm). It is the urge to excel which inheres in every man. It is the condition that can make man into superman.
***
In the twentieth century after the birth of Christ, in the fifteenth century after the birth of the Prophet, in the fi fth or sixth millennia of the older orders that attempted to defi ne the
basis of our existence mankind is at a watershed. It is the first time since our race began that we have a conscious choice before us: to realize our destiny which will take us beyond
the stars to fill the Universe or to sink back into oblivion –without a beginning and without an end.
***
It is approaching the hour of twilight. In this serene place which is still steeped in the past I can hear the tinkling of the cow bells as the herds return for the night. The lowing
of a stray calf can be heard in the distance. I can see that my son has run out of the gate. Shall I go after him or wait for him there to come back on his own. I am worried. Times have changed. There are undercurrents that reach me in my remoteness. What evil pervades the hearts of men that even in this haven of peace I feel a disquiet?
Violence and unrest are on the increase. It is the same wherever you look. From East to West and from North to South; suicide, homicide, genocide, rape, arson, pillage; urban unrest, rural unrest, popular discontent; amongst the high income groups, low income groups and no-income groups. They call it a law and order problem. Youth is on the rampage. We refuse to recognize it for what it is: UNCERTANITY. Uncertainty that whatever we attempt is futile in the face of that constant, lurking fear that it can all go up in smoke in a few cataclysmic hours. That how can you hope for rational behaviour when you live in the most irrational of environments?
***
Remove the irrationality and the unguent will fl ow to soothe the frazzled nerves of a despairing generation.
***
I do not know whether there is life after death. I do not know if that thing we call the atman (soul) perishes along with our mortal remains when we die. I do not know whether the
mystical experience (enlightenment) is simply a perception on a diff erent plane or if it is actually a realization of the Infinite. There are many things I do not know. What I do
know is that “I am part of mankind” and till the time there is one man drawing breath, now or a billion years hence, I can never really die. I am part of the life force. I am the continuum before and after. Through some strange process I inherited a quality, a thought, a racial memory from my earliest ancestor. Subconsciously I may still be influenced by a footprint left in the sands of time a million years ago and, in turn, I may yet bequeath a gene which by complex mutations will become the key to unlock some door a million years hence.
***
I do not know whether there is God. Like most of my fellow beings I desperately hope there is one. In a way it frees me from the responsibility for my actions or inaction. Deep in our hearts are we not all hoping that someone will lead us back before it is too late? What if there is no someone. Or if there is a someone He has left us to decide for ourselves. Will man measure up to his ascent or will four billion “little” men walk helplessly to their oblivion?

Editor’s note: Authored by Maj Gen Vinod Saighal. The book can be accessed from the author’s site www.vinodsaighal.comThird Millennium Equipoise EPILOGUE

The book can be purchased also through Amazon

Give and Forget…

When you do kindness, do so out of pure charity and love. Think not of what will you get in return whether from the recipient or even from God. Give with total abandon…  give and forget… The fair assurance you will have is that, take care of others when you can, for when the time comes when you cannot take care of yourself, for sure someone will take care of you, someone who will take care of you without expecting anything from you…

My Ideology

I was asked if what is my ideological leaning, left or right, liberal or conservative? I said, my ideology is the welfare of the people at large, with sensitivity to the voices of the minority…

Pursuit of Peace in Mindanao: Where the Failure Lies

Sometime in 1969 the first major armed rebellion led by Nur Misuari under the name National Moro Liberation Front (MNLF) erupted, and since then efforts to bring lasting peace in Mindanao has proven to be elusive. For almost half a century of conflict and desire to find lasting peace, all sides have failed to come-up with a solution that addresses the Mindanao problem.

When President Benigno Aquino came into power in 2010, one of his major agenda was to forge peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a splinter group of the MNLF. MILF was formed in opposition to the MNLF’s decision to enter into a peace deal with the government and settle for autonomy instead of an independent state. The President unilaterally declared that the Autonomous Region as a result of the peace deal with the MNLF concluded by the signing of the Final Peace Agreement in 1996 has failed and that a new agreement is to be adopted-this time with the MILF. Such a declaration led to resumption of skirmishes by the MNLF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) a new splinter group from the MILF.

For almost half a century of conflict and struggle for peace, the government seems NOT to have grasped the basic reality in Mindanao’s diversity of tribes. According to the National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP), Mindanao consists of at least 18 indigenous but non-Muslim/Christian tribes commonly referred to as the Lumads and 13 Moro tribes (Islamic Tribes). The reality concerning these tribes was that they were never united under one banner but rather constantly involved in tribal wars. Probably the only prominent leadership back then was the Sultanate of Sulu and the Sultanate of Maguindanao, both of which considerably declined to the point they ceased to exist at the dawn of a new era.

With this basic fact and reality, it is a false hope, as peddled by the current Administration that the adoption of the Bangsamoro Basic Law will finally end the half century of bloodshed in Mindanao. The government has made the same mistake committed by the former Administration when it negotiated with the MNLF. It negotiated an exclusive peace agreement. The realization of the ideals of the peace deal with the MNLF failed because it was a peace deal with a minority. MNLF headed by its founding chairman Nur Misuari, is a Tausug-Samal so that MNLF as an organization is dominantly Tausug. When internal strife emerged in the MNLF, the new factions formed further demonstrated the strong influence of tribal identity; Hasim Salamat, a Maguindanaoan, then formed the MILF and another group mainly Maranaos formed the MNLF-Reformist Group.

The reality is that MNLF before, and now the MILF are but only stanzas in the whole Mindanao poetry. They do not represent nor speak for the entire tribes of Mindanao. What is true to both groups is that they possess the firepower but not the mandate of all the tribal groups and other stakeholders in Mindanao. To empower only one or few tribes and charge them to head all the others is a problem in its self not a solution. Dissension from the other tribes will naturally emerge as witnessed in the past and as it is today.

Real Comprehensive Agreement

The government should understand that Mindanao is characterized by tribal diversity. The solution to the long-standing struggle in Mindanao is a true comprehensive agreement; an agreement that involves all the tribes and stakeholders. An agreement, founded on the basis of cultural and tribal identity not only on the ability to wage war.

It is true that the problem cannot be resolved purely by military action but rather political, however, negotiators are missing yet another important ingredient in the whole menu of peace seeking -tribal and cultural identity. The rise of armed struggle in Mindanao was a call to respect their unique identities so that any agreement, though political in character, must not deviate from the very reason of the uprising that is truly about tribal identity. The government should forge an agreement that takes into account the tribal and cultural diversity in the region.

The Aquino administration committed a fatal mistake when it isolated the MNLF, the Sultanate of Sulu and collectively the Lumad tribes in the current peace process. To negotiate only with the MILF, the product of which will inevitably affect the interest and rights of all the other tribal groups is not comprehensive but rather selective if not oppressive to the others.

Disarmament

The existence of numerous armed groups in Mindanao further exacerbates the problem. Lawlessness plague the land as armed groups further their own interest by violence. Terrorism, banditry, and all other criminal activities flourished in the region because of ease in obtaining firearms and impunity. The success of any peace agreement will rely also on the success of disarming all the groups including the MILF. When the last renegade gun finally comes to a deep slumber only then when the agreements adopted by all the stakeholders for the creation of a political entity unique for the people of Mindanao will sprout towards the light of a new morning, the dawn of a peaceful home for all the tribes in Mindanao.

The road to peace is a journey across treacherous waters. A journey, the success of which relies on the careful assessment and consideration of the diverse parties and complex problems. It maybe a slow process but most importantly it must be a careful journey. Pursuit of peace is not a sprint to the finish line as the current Administration wants it to be. It is not important if whose administration it was forged or who will get the credit. What is important is an assurance that after the long journey, at the end, the conflicting voices will cease to exist, and the different beats of drums for marchers of different paths will finally beat as one to which all will march towards a new Mindanao.

Rizal Park vs. Torre de Manila

History versus Development, Culture versus Development and Modernization, Nature versus Development. Here in the Philippines we are always confronted with the dilemma of extremes. We have never perfected the art of harmonization. Either the other side suffers while the other one flourish.

Today yet another issue confronts us in our time. History vs. Development. A building being constructed more than 100 meter behind the National Hero shrine is being questioned and demands for its demolition is pushed as it blocks the former picturesque view.

RP(Photo taken from google)

I am a sentimental person, I love history. With this matter this is my personal take.

I’ve seen important landmarks in other countries, important landmarks with buildings around them, yet these statues/landmarks are not diminished, much more the people there are even more patriotic than we Filipinos.

My question is, what is there to boast about the landmark if we Filipinos cannot grasp or care to know and live what that landmark represents and what it wants to tell us.

That landmark I think is not intended simply as tourist spot, but a living testament of the grand ideals of our forefathers. What is the use of a picturesque landmark when the beauty of its message we cannot appreciate much more we cannot follow. Lessons of history should not just be seen, it must be lived, immortalized in our lives as Filipino citizens… not just in the stones.

Ironically while we struggle to protect the view of Rizal Park, question such as whether Filipino as a subject would still be mandatory in private schools is being considered, in fact more time is allotted to foreign languages than to Filipino subject. For educational field trips apparently Rizal Park, or Bonifacio shrine seldom find their names in the list, instead Enchanted Kingdom, Star City and Mall of Asia are more popular.

I hope this issue was resolved when things were just starting, not when the possible damage is as high as the two structures now.

Ode to the Vanishing Paradise

Batanes

Oh land so dear

God blessed thee so clear

Verdant hills, black and white beaches and clear seas

Above the land, under the sea, are wealth to cherish

Oh God the supreme architect

By the winds He carved the hills and mountains

By the current of the sea, He outlined the shores

For long He kept it hidden, like a precious stone in the treasure chest.

Then by His providence, chose among the tribes a custodian

The Ivatans, so they are the chosen one

They settled there and became one with the land

Small it was then, as it is now, but sustenance was sufficient for the band

Luxury,iyara

Some say-they lack

Some say-we lack

It depends to the person what is indeed worthy

The simple truth is,

We don’t need high rise building-

To see what lies beneath,

We have Iraya and Karaboboan, we can see much from their zenith

No need for super markets

For the land yields enough livestock and fruits

The sea produces enough fish for the day

We need not worry for food is always on the way

They said we are left behind,

A remnant of the old world,

Yet, back then children respect the elders,

God we fear, and above all we value our virtues

Leaving all behind, have we then progressed?

Now, paradigm shifted,

We think what is beautiful is the concrete jungle

Mountains paved or levelled

Trees we wish to replace with towers

And we want to re-draw the coastlines

When the Creator comes back for accounting,

A question worth answering,

Did we kept it in the best way

Or we wasted it away?