Nicole, and the road back to anger

I am the history of rape

I am the history of the rejection of who I am

I am the history of the terrorized incarceration of

my self

I am the history of battery assault and limitless

armies against whatever I want to do with my mind

and my body and my soul and

whether it’s about walking out at night

or whether it’s about the love that I feel or

whether it’s about the sanctity of my vagina or

the sanctity of my national boundaries

or the sanctity of my leaders or the sanctity

of each and every desire

that I know from my personal and idiosyncratic

and disputably single and singular heart

I have been raped

be-

cause I have been wrong the wrong sex the wrong age

the wrong skin the wrong nose the wrong hair the

wrong need the wrong dream the wrong geographic

the wrong sartorial I

I have been the meaning of rape

I have been the problem everyone seeks to

eliminate by forced

penetration with or without the evidence of slime and/

but let this be unmistakable this poem

is not consent I do not consent

~From Poem About My Rights, June Jordan

It is when highly unexpected events happen that our personal opinions are most truthfully tested. It easy to feel or galvanize towards anger when old players play out old roles, even if in carrying them out they create such shocking scenes of horror that some roles are redefined. Just a couple of weeks back, when suspected military men abducted, raped, and killed Rebelyn Pitao, the whole of Davao City was so incensed its mayor suddenly took up the cudgels for human rights. This raised the eyebrows only of a few, such as the Philippine Daily Inquirer, which in an editorial chose to nitpick on Rodrigo Duterte’s local vigilantism instead of zeroing in on Gloria Arroyo’s national policy of wiping out leftists. Most understood that everyone can and should condemn state forces that are the only ones to be blamed, and that Rebelyn needs nothing less than a strong and resounding chorus for justice if such crimes are to be prevented from happening again, especially to innocent women.

But then here come’s Nicole with her “recantation”—I would like to say reinterpretation would be more accurate—of the events that transpired in the back of a van one night in Subic November of 2005. It was a shock, too, in a way that Rebelyn’s death was. But it was one that gave way to much confusion and dismay because the one cast in the role of the victim suddenly didn’t seem to be much of a victim anymore, if one were to read superficially the sworn statement Nicole gave to the court before leaving for the United States, as those who were behind its construction intended it to be read.

Those who have intelligently attempted to deconstruct the statement found that it did not remove the fundamental element of rape and that it in fact strengthened it by underscoring that she was too drunk to have given Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith her consent for sex. In fact, those who bother to read the situation in which it was produced would figure out that it was probably not Nicole speaking but Smith’s lawyers who notarized it for her. Unfortunately, all that many chose to see is the self-doubt that a rape victim made apparent after the pressure of three years of waiting for justice from a government that from the start treated her merely as an inconvenient PR disaster for its subservient relations to the US, of standing up to a foreign power that pounced on her every vulnerability, of living in a hometown where the likes of Smith freely roam with masks of benevolence. For those who had symbolically invested in Nicole the fight against US military presence in the country and violence against women, her recantation seemed an act of betrayal of their trust in her person. It elicited a lot of immature, knee-jerk reactions that is painful to watch, especially because it was led by the supposedly rational media, which chose for the first time to splash her true identity in front pages and primetime TV even if nothing about the case had changed to merit such vindictive disrespect for victims of violence against women. Then came a deluge of the same set of opinions that the progressive women’s movement had struggled with at the start of the Subic rape case trial—that she was a loose woman who got what she was asking for, with one columnist even going as far as saying that she wore skinny jeans that Smith couldn’t have taken off without her help. The sensational news headlines of old (“Nicole wants to have more sex”) have been rehashed into softer opinion pieces (“Deconstructing Nicole”) or subtler editorial treatment that nevertheless consist of the same victim-blaming mode. Except that now, starting a new life on foreign shores, Nicole is beyond feeling the hurt that anyone in this country with the compulsion can inflict. It is only we who are left to grapple with the remaining struggle as both the Philipine and US governments are poised to justify the continuation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the thorny issue of a US soldier’s rape of a Filipina expected to be extracted from its side.

In its editorial, the PDI enumerated judgments on Nicole that have crystallized over the past few days. “She was the victim of government neglect”; “she was a flirt who couldn’t handle her drink”; “she was in it for the money or the visa”; “she was a Filipina who wanted to live the American dream.” It said that her sworn statement “may tell us more about her than we are ready for.” I say that the way we have reacted to her sworn statement tells us more about ourselves than we are ready for. Despite centuries of oppression and exploitation, in which many of our women have been abused by colonial and neo-colonial powers led by the US, we still haven’t learned how to recognize victims that could be ourselves, our mothers, our sisters, and our daughters, much less treat them well and nurture that which compels them to stand up and fight. We had rallied behind Nicole because she had the courage it took to file a case that the government itself had ensured wouldn’t send her rapist to jail, to sit in court under the glare of many who couldn’t be moved to believe her, and to endure pressures that we can never know of or even be bothered to imagine. But now that her courage ran out, we had failed to exhibit the same. Instead of turning our ire on the old players that with gusto played out their old roles—Philippine government as US lackey, US government as foreign bully—we instead embarked on a misdirected crusade to discredit the role that Nicole played, however inadvertently, as a champion for women’s rights and national sovereignty but in the end just couldn’t sacrifice a “normal life” for. What Nicole did was understandable; what we are doing is not.

Our voices are falling through the age-old cracks of patriarchy, thus rendering our chorus for justice weak and dissonant. It the Arroyo and the US government succeed in once again ramming the VFA down our throats (and god knows what else into the lives and bodies of our women for decades to come) at this exact point in history where we are in the best position to call for its junking and yet chose not to simply because we judged a woman in a way that no woman should ever be judged, we will have nobody to blame but ourselves. This particular issue must push us to recognize the sophistication of the ways of the enemy. Sometimes it is downright brutal as in the case of Rebelyn. Sometimes, though, as in the case of Nicole, it simply spawns and feeds on existing prejudices in a society still very much steeped in a culture that habitually and insidiously devalues women. The former arouses the senses; the latter deadens it. Both are equally foul play that deserves nothing less than our highest collective condemnation.

In an interview last 2006, Nicole’s therapist Dr. June Pagaduan-Lopez said that her client was on the verge of chronic post-traumatic stress disorder. This was a condition, she explained, wherein a rape victim can’t regain her confidence and self-worth. “I alone cannot nurse her back to health. At the right time, she should join an organization that will carry the same struggle. It is the only way for her anger to be constructive; the only way to empower her,” Dr. Lopez added. It takes no degree in psychiatry to understand that Nicole’s “recantation” was one of the many roads that are open to rape victims who do not so easily reach the place of dignity, or who lose empowerment along the way. As for us who had felt injustice not only as witnesses to a single crime against her person, but also as historical victims of imperialist aggression whose implications go far beyond women’s issues and lie at the very heart of national independence and sovereignty, there should only be one dignified road to take, and that is the road back to anger. Anger for rape, both individual and systemic, actual and symbolic. Anger for those who enjoin us to think in the manner of rapists and their coddlers whose sense of unchallenged power lead to human rights violations of the most offensive order. Anger that is constructive and empowering because it is organized towards a just end, with or without Nicole to act as its symbol.

The struggle against the VFA is far from defeated. The role of those who can and should partake in it has only been redefined to include becoming harbingers of human compassion and political astuteness at this period of shock when a narrow sense of betrayal and classic machismo reign over our personal opinions and—like American soldiers on our soil—threaten to stay “for good.”

March 22, 2009 at 3:28 am 2 comments

Insights on the struggle of the Palestinian people

Above are photos taken at the protest action led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in front of the Israeli embassy in Makati last January 6. It is part of the worldwide condemnation of Israel’s offensive at the Gaza Strip, now killing more than 500 Palestinians. There is a short but highly informative post on Malcolm Guy’s blog entitled Israel- an imperialist outpost in oil country. Below, meanwhile, are passages I copied from the book Guerillas: Journeys in the Insurgent World by journalist Jon Lee Anderson. They describe the struggle of the Palestinian people and are extremely well-written as well.

On the birth of the intifada:

The events of the uprising were themselves strangely mythical: First, like a Palestinian Icarus, a lone guerilla flew on a hang glider into Israel from Southern Lebanon. Upon landing, he took on an Israeli military camp, killing six soldiers before he was gunned down. The incident captured the imagination of Palestinians throughout the Occupied Territories; Israel’s vaunted border security had been punctured, and the notion of Palestinian resistance was given new life by a singular act of heroism.

There were also confirmed reports that an Israeli sentry who could’ve stopped the attacker had instead run away in a cowardly panic. Along with the feeling of elation that the attack generated among Palestinians, this suggested that the Israelis’ legendary bravery was only a myth, just as their supposedly impregnable defenses had been. Maybe they were really afraid of the Palestinians.

One event followed another. Next, in broad daylight, an Israeli Jew was stabbed to death by an Arab in the rabble of Palestine Square, in downtown Gaza City. This sectarian murder was an act of deliberate provocation. Within days, retribution seemed to come, in the form of an accident: An Israeli military truck driving along Gaza’s crowded roads careened out of control and killed four workers standing at the roadside. But, with Palestinians always ready to believe the worst, the rumor quickly spread that the crash was no accident but a premeditated Israeli reprisal for the stabbing. Rioting broke out in Jabaliya camp, where the four men had lived, and the intifada was born.

The unrest spread quickly. Within days, it established itself as ritual throughout the Occupied Territories and inside Israel itself. Each day, shabbab, wearing their checkered kaffiyehs over their faces like masks, took to the streets to taunt the fully armed soldiers of the Israeli Defense Force. Invariably, someone was killed, as the soldiers fired on the youths with tear gas and live ammunition, or beat them senseless with wooden batons.

The Israelis tried to subdue the unrest by every possible means. Soldiers were ordered to break the bones of rioters they caught, and many did so. New prison camps were set up, where thousands of Palestinians were detained for months, without trial, in harsh conditions. Now it became a terrorist offense to throw a Molotov cocktail; offender’s homes were blown up by Israeli demolition experts.

Other collective-punishment tactics attempted to hurt the Palestinians economically, and included sealing off Gaza for days at a time. This prevented the tens of thousands of Gazans dependent upon menial jobs inside Israel from reaching their places of work. Another routine punishment was to impose domestic-confinement curfews on entire communities, forcing people to stay inside their cramped homes for prolonged periods, sometimes for days on end.

These Draconian measures did little to quell the disturbances, and seemed only to justify the Palestinians’ desire for confrontation. With few exceptions, the shabbab’s weapons were non-lethal; they soon saw that if they bore the brunt of the casualties, the ensuing publicity strengthened their cause. The list of “martyrs” grew longer, and the Palestinians gained widespread public sympathy as the victims in an unequal David-and-Goliath struggle. For the first time in years, they shed the terrorist tag they had borne as a result of the PLO’s armed activities.

And then, a quite romantic bit on the psyche of the Palestinians:

Without a physical environment of their own in which to chart their progress as a people, the Palestinian refugees instead take pride in their ability to suffer. Proud of their capacity to endure pain, they earn self-confidence in acts that arouse further retribution from their enemy. The adrenaline-filled battles of the intifada release the pent-up frustration, rage, and testosterone of the shabbab and fuel the paradoxical belief that, even if at the close of the day they are worse off than when it started, they are doing something to change the way things are. The Palestinians believe that in the end their suffering will be rewarded. Like hit-and-run victims lying at the roadside, they hope that the humane instincts of a passerby will stop their hemmoraging before it is too late. But in the meantime, they continue to dart in front of cars, competing with one another, daring the traffic to run them down.

In many homes portrait photographs of young men hang high on the walls, like icons. Usually, the photos are of a martyred or imprisoned son—something to be proud of because it proves that the family has done its bit for the Palestinian cause. They are also a reminder of the persistent nature of the struggle. Outside one home in Breij sits a derelict truck that belonges to a man killed years before by Israelis. His parents refused to sell it or even move it; over the years, the truck has become a part of the street. Rusting and sprouting weeds, it is a Breij landmark, the monument to a community martyr. And inside the house, the dead man’s aged parents have kept his room exactly as it was on the day he died.

It is sad to see images of maimed children and other civilians hog the headlines so early into the year. But is also rather uplifting to see images of well-attended and highly agitated protests from different countries. I am hoping that as bombs explode all over Gaza so will seeds of understanding in public consciousness about the true nature of the conflict, and that news coverage will not be reduced to senselessness.

January 10, 2009 at 11:34 am Leave a comment

Biased, dangerous reporting on the 40-year Philippine communist rebellion

I highly recommend reading Teo Marasigan’s blog entry Mahirap Lang Sila, Hindi Tanga* on the mainstream media’s attempt to forever tie down the supposed insignificance of the communist rebellion in the Philippines, the CPP having celebrated its 40th year last December 26, with character assassination of its founding chairman, Jose Ma. Sison. Teo matter-of-factly, and then quite ardently, exposes how this line of thought based on shaky, almost non-existent logic actually betrays a disdain for the masses and their capacity to think and act for their own interests and utter ignorance.

May I add that the two-part article that came out on the Philippine Daily Inquirer in time for the CPP’s 40th, Sison now croons to keep cause alive and Campuses source of CPP ‘quality cadres’, are appalling as journalistic pieces. It was shamelessly slanted towards military propaganda, with AFP officials quoted 80% of the time. In fact, the military’s assumptions–that the CPP is “grasping at straws”, that Sison does nothing except to sing on YouTube and to party, that the New People’s Army resorts to criminality, that universities are communist recruitment centers–form the backbone of these two articles, with Rightist commentary on how the Left has fared in world politics thrown along the way.

It was shocking that the article treated so cavalierly AFP vice chief-of-staff Lt. Gen. Cardozo Luna’s statement that rebellion should be regarded as a common crime. I would be tempted to say that that discredited militarist fantasy looks so ancient and funny on print, if only the repercussions were not so serious and all too real, with six Southern Tagalog activists, including labor leader Atty. Remigio Saladero Jr., still in jail because of trumped-up rebellion charges.

The repeated use of the words “his revolution” or “his cause,” pertaining to Sison, is inaccurate and malicious (Sison is technically National Democratic Front of the Philippines chief political consultant and chairperson of the International League of People’s Struggles, attempts to link him to the current CPP leadership prove to be threatening to his life and liberty), annoying and ridiculous (I mean, come on, would a revolution “waged halfway around the world” survive for this long? Have you ever heard an NPA anywhere ever say that they were willing to die for “Joma’s cause” or “Joma’s revolution”?).

In the second part, the article also cannot make up its mind whether to portray idealist youths as mindless Sison followers or as intelligent but misguided activists–I guess the falsity of its claims couldn’t help but end in confusing contradictions. This paragraph was an entirely unattributed assertion: “The increasing cases ranging from malicious mischief, robbery, grave threats and assault filed against activists in the PUP are also evidence of NPA activities in the school.” Probably because it was non-sequitur. So campus kleptos are now armed insurgents? And aren’t cases of malicious mischief and grave threats and assault filed against activists more often than not evidence of repression of their right to free speech, assembly, and expression? (Such as drawing a moustache on Arroyo, the article thankfully points out)

AFP Civil and Military Operation’s chief Col. Buenaventura Pascual, also speculated that Diana Publico, a missing PUP student, went underground–and the reporter didn’t even bother to corroborate or counteract this allegation with possibly an interview with the student’s family. For all we know the girl could’ve run away with her lover, there was totally nothing by way of background information.

The article gave full play to the military chorus that the NPA uses banned landmines and acted deaf to the CPP’s clarification that NPA’s only use contact landmines whose targets are precise military ones and are permissible under war conventions. As “background information,” the article said: “The planting of land mines has maimed millions of civilians, including women and children, caught in recent conflicts from Cambodia to Mozambique.” And weren’t these non-contact (anti-personnel) landmines in contrast? And what are the incidents of civilians maimed HERE because of the NPA’s landmine use?

The article also had this penchant of citing commentary of unnamed political analysts, such as: “One political science professor says those attracted to the OFW phenomenon fit the persona of the adventurous, if romantic, potential recruits of the CPP revolutionaries, except that now they’d rather go abroad.” I’m sure that there are no lack of anti-Left political professors who would readily mouth such an opinion, but couldn’t the PDI just name his/her? Only “common knowledge” bears lack of citation; the above is merely subjective observation.

Lastly, presumably to get the side of the Left, the reporter interviewed Bayan Muna Reps. Teddy Casino and Satur Ocampo. The two offered, quite gracefully, their opinions on why the rebellion persists and the attraction this holds for idealist youths of today. But really, if the sources were to be objectively viewed, an NDFP representative–or maybe even Sison himself (he should’ve been readily available through the Internet, his “main vehicle for propaganda”, right?) –should’ve been interviewed on the CPP instead.Why these party-list representatives, much as their respect and admiration for the revolutionary Left must be, whom the government imputes to be communist cadres in order to persecute?

There are articles that are infuriating because of what the sources say (it is common for me to utter invectives while reading the newspaper). But there are articles that are infuriating because of what the sources say and the way it was written. The PDI’s “Red Revolution at 40″ series is of the latter. Being a practitioner of alternative journalism I know that bias is a given. But careless Rightist bias that seeps into a front page article on the country’s biggest broadsheet is not only bad reporting, it is also dangerous reporting.

Let us remember that under the Arroyo regime, ordinary civilians and activists continue to be killed, abducted, tortured, jailed, harassed, and persecuted on mere suspicion of being communist rebels. This is the “90%” action that the AFP boasts of in the article. If the mainstream media will allow itself to become part of its 10% propaganda–which mainly consists of vilifying the CPP and linking to it legal Left organizations and leaders–it will have blood on its hands as well.

January 3, 2009 at 3:57 pm 2 comments

Allen’s welcome

For K

A handsome almost fully grown German shepherd

thought he was harmless and little

and so acted without supposition.

With a helpless vigor

he leapt to a scent unknowingly

mixed with that of his friend and master’s.

It was a scary, heady welcome.

A nightmare if I had come in clean clothes

and a heart much frailer.

But we had journeyed long,

and nothing more could surprise me

except how wonderful dog’s breath on my face could be.

January 3, 2009 at 12:01 pm Leave a comment

Various disappointments and agitations

It was something rather expected, still when I got word from the No Deal! Movement that the Senate just ratified the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement, I felt my spirits sink. The anti-Jpepa fight was a good one. No way did the agreement survive public debate. The voices in protest were always broad and insistent and carried only the soundest of arguments. Since it was signed by Arroyo last 2006, I’ve done several articles exploring the many facets of Jpepa–constitutional, economic, grassroots impact, environmental–and they always ended with the same conclusion: that it must be absolute folly to concur. So this is how it ends: through deliberate folly of those so deeply steeped in neo-liberal dicta. I am sad for those who will be most affected: the farmers whose produce will further lose in the market due to the influx of imports, the workers who will be paid depressed wages and repressed in export-processing zones, the small fisher folk who’ll be robbed of catch in our own territorial waters.

* * *

I felt sad, too, for the striking workers of Kowloon House in West Ave., Quezon City who had their hopes crushed when a vehicle bearing the signage of the Philippine Daily Inquirer stopped by the Chinese restaurant more than a week ago but the occupant, rather than interviewing them as they expected, went for take-out. It was no other than Conrado de Quiros. The workers waved placards at his face and shouted boycott. But he was nonchalant, said a friend/fellow-reporter who witnessed the incident and identified the famous columnist. We were drained of all admiration for him henceforth. Read about Kowloon House’s non-payment of the minimum wage and illegal dismissal of 73 workers here.

* * *

Yesterday, PGMA infuriated me once again. At the launch of the media campaign for the upcoming Global Forum on Migration and Development, she said that we should be calling Filipino migrants “expatriates” instead of “workers” since most are skilled and get high pay anyway. Her claim is imbecilic as 1 out of 3 OFWs are unskilled, according to the National Statistic Office’s 2007 Survey on Overseas Filipinos. Only 9% are skilled workers. On the average, OFWs are only paid $200-300 per month of P10,000 to P15,000. “Their earnings are barely enough for their families to subsist back home, given the spiraling costs of basic necessities and the government’s lack of social services. No one is living the good life–not OFWs nor their families,” said Migrante International in a statement. Lately I’ve been immersing in migrant issues and figure that it’s a highly interesting sector with emerging importance in Philippine society and struggle. On October 27-30, the International Migrants Alliance will be holding the International Assembly of Migrants and Refugees, parallel to the GFMD. It is an alternative space for the migrants’ voices to be heard, and this is their message:

(Illustration by Tarik Garcia)

October 8, 2008 at 6:34 pm Leave a comment

For myself, tomorrow (yawn)

September 4, 2008 at 7:26 am 4 comments

Response to a sister/outsider

“And that deep and irreplaceable knowledge of my capacity for joy comes to demand from all of my life that it be lived within the knowledge that such satisfaction is possible, and does not have to be called marriage, nor god, nor an afterlife.” ~Audre Lorde, Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic As Power

Every day we mount an assault
that is both giddy and bloody–
perhaps we see the streets shine,
and wonder where those diamonds
could be hidden.

So we grope the crevices of our lovers,
navigate the labyrinths of power,
inhale sunshine, digest smiles
and furrow our foreheads,
we can say, in service of the next generation.
Certainly, in the knowledge of choice
lies the secret of eros.

But what of fish scales splattered
across her apron, blunt knife motions
circular without time or anger?

August 4, 2008 at 3:40 pm 5 comments

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