Monthly Archives: April 2010

Macliing Dulag

When an army engineer reportedly asked the Kalingas for titles to their ancestral land, Dulag was said to have replied, “You ask us if we own the land. And mock us, ‘Where is your title?’ Such arrogance of owning the land when you shall be owned by it. How can you own that which will outlive you?”


Yesterday was the death anniversary of Macliing Dulag, a tribal leader who was among the countless murdered during the Marcos years.  He led his tribe and organized other indigenous tribes in the fight against the World Bank funded project to build the Chico Dam which would have ended the way of life of indigenous Mountain Province people.

Here is a link to an article from GMA News.

In the same article the name Manuel Elizalde Jr came up.  He gained notoriety when he “discovered” the Tasadays in Mindanao.

Odd Earth Day Suggestion

Just a quick  one.  This morning a representative from an environmental group was on the radio giving out suggestions for Earth Day.  She rattled of the usual things like share a ride, change to energy-saving lightbulbs, etc.  But then her last suggestion took me aback.

She said if you are buying plane tickets ask the airline to charge you the extra fee for the environmental clean-up work that airlines do.  Duh?

Volcanoes and Ulcers

When I was doing a course on African Literature many centuries ago under Susan Evangelista (a brilliant teacher who happened to be born in the US, married a Filipino, came to live in the Philippines and learned the local language and culture — ok, that was too long for a parenthetical remark!  Isn’t anyone editing this thing?), we discussed a traditional poem called “A Baby is a European.”  At that time I have to admit I was terribly naive and ignorant – or just stupid I suppose (or more stupid then).  I knew very little about imperialism outside of my own country’s experience.

In other words, I had no idea what the poem was about.  But it made me laugh.  It took me a long time and a lot of reading other poetry and some European history to place this poem in its proper context (or some context).  Eureka!  It was funnier than the first time around!

Fast forward to April 2010.  For over a week now world news – even as reported by Al Jazeera! – has been mostly about the volcanic ash clouds from Iceland.  You would think the rest of the world had been frozen, or set to pause like on a dvd player (or blu-ray for you rich kids), and that nothing, oh, nothing else mattered but the woes of poor airline passengers in Europe!

I can understand the inconvenience.  Worse if you were stuck in crowded airports with your small children.  I can imagine the disappointment, the hassles, all magnified by the uncertainty of the situation.

Let’s pull back a bit shall we?

Has anyone died?  Was there massive destruction of property even?  Baggage lost or misplaced perhaps, but really, tell me how bad has it been?

Here is a link to an article from the BBC about the destructive power of this volcanic eruption: “Iceland volcano not  in big league, say experts”

When Mount Pinatubo  in the Philippines erupted in 1991, we in Manila – many safe kilometres away – were treated to an alien landscape – ash covered cars, roads, everything!  The ground was soft and white, I suppose like newly fallen snow – but I wouldn’t know, I’ve never seen snow fall. Sunsets became more spectacular, as if to make up for all the horrors that befell those who were directly affected.

Around the volcano it wasn’t a dreamland.  People were evacuated to safety long before the biggest eruptions started.  If I recall correctly, tens of thousands of people had to be moved out of the danger zone.  Six lives were lost at the time.

The destruction that followed did not end when the volcano had calmed down again.  The indigenous people who lived around that mountain were permanently displaced, many resorted to begging on city streets, some reaching as far down as Manila – reduced to a life that was completely hostile to them.

When the rainy season arrived massive mudslides with volcanic debris swept away houses and farmlands, and in some tragic cases, lives were lost.  Once fertile lands were destroyed.  When the rains and the floods had subsided what was left was eerie to behold.  There was a photograph I remember where the only thing that stuck out of the ground was the cross on top of a church.

One good thing I remember came from that catastrophe.  The US Military Bases in Olongapo and Angeles were finally abandoned after many decades of protests from activists and human rights movements.  Not even a thank you, goodbye.

I ramble.  I meant to say something about this poem and about suffering, something about perspective and sense of helplessness.  But I think I got lost along the way.  So here, then, is one version of that traditional African poem I thought was very funny the first time I read it. (“European” is completely interchangeable with whatever you may think fit.)

A Baby is a European

A Baby is a European
he does not eat our food:
he drinks from his own water pot.

A Baby is a European
he does not speak our tongue:
he is cross when the mother understands him not.

A Baby is a European
he cares very little for others:
he forces his will upon his parents.

A baby is a European
he is always very sensitive:
the slightest scratch on his skin results in an ulcer.


ET Found Home

I wasn’t born here. Everything was alien to me when I first arrived. Check that. I was the alien.

I gawked at the strangeness of the world I had come upon. From high up in the air curious circles dotted much of the landscape. Gold brown fields appeared like carefully braided locks of hair. Then the mountains came into view, majestic and ancient, bounded by deep blue waters.

When I had the chance to meet the inhabitants of this new world I was even more dumbfounded. Some walked with unimaginable weights on their heads, like TV sets and sofas. Some sang at the drop of a hat even in crowded trains. Others greeted me like a neighbour from a common village. Wonder and unexpected connections nearly every day.

And then there were those who sensed the alien blood in me. They must have felt the intrusion of the shadow around my feet, saw my unusual gait, shape of eyes, my hair. These folks made me aware of the blast of winter air, made me shiver. I knew I was unwelcome among them.

I had arrived the very same year this country survived its first democratic elections.  The whole world was in awe. Mandela, de Klerk, and Tutu quickly became household names. Boundaries were broken, new bridges spanned old differences.

That was then. These days different names are hitting the headlines. Malema, Terre’Blance. Cracks that were perhaps smoothed over are showing again. Seeping smell of blood.

They say this is a land of possibilities. It was possible in 1994, why not now? What has changed? What has remained the same?

Sometimes it takes an outsider to see the difference, or what hasn’t changed at all.

Within a few years of my staying here I was, at least on paper, declared a citizen, and very much to my surprise.

Yet deep inside I know I’m still an alien. Some people I happen to bump on the street still remind me of that every now and again. The shadows are there.

The odd thing is that I’ve come to love this strange land like my own distant home. I can’t imagine leaving it, good or bad.