You take memory. Put it in a box. Shake it a bit. Open the box. Whisper into it. Close it up and shake it some more. Open the box. Take it apart. Look for the memory that seems to have disappeared. Now start writing what you remember, what should be remembered, what will always be remembered, and then make a new box out of air.
My country of birth has an incoming president who won by garnering less than 40% of the votes. It can be said that over 60% of the voting population did not choose him, and when he gains control of the country this many people will be watching his every move, hoping all their fears be proven wrong. More than a month away from being sworn in, he mouths the same things during his notorious campaign. The ghosts of those killed by the so-called Davao Death Squads (documented by international agency Human Rights Watch and the country’s own Commission on Human Rights) will continue to haunt him until justice is done.
One thing that seems to have forced even his own supporters to declare disagreement with him even this early has to do with the remains of the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos. The incoming president apparently sees him as worthy of being buried at the Heroes’ Cemetery. The public – perhaps more aware of that dark part of the country’s history – has started various campaigns to fight this utter disrespect for the countless victims of Martial Law. One of the campaigns is on Change.org. Here is the LINK. Please consider signing it and then sharing the petition link.
In showing my support, I am posting this poem which appeared in my book ALIEN TO ANY SKIN (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2011). My poem is nothing compared to what the people of the Philippines suffered under the rule of the dictator, his family, and various cronies.
Tracks on Grasslands
It begins with that one step. A boot
on the slenderest blade
of grass. The faintest
crunch of bright green veins
nearly invisible to your eye.
But it happens. That breaking.
It happens again and again
as you move on, forcing down
other blades of grass,
leaving your tracks,
making a path of near
you think is yours
And when you encounter
thicker grass that dare
to keep you out,
you make them sing
with that sharpened edge.
You do this in the dark.
You do this mostly in the dark.
Cha: an Asian Literary Journal has picked up another one of my pieces.
I wrote “Knife Cut on Leather” some years ago and didn’t quite know what it was or where I could send it. So it lay in hibernation until I joined a private online discussion group whose generous but critical members (critical and supportive in the best way I can imagine) told me to forget what to call the piece. It was apparently complete as it was and I should let readers decide what to make of it.
Please read and tell me what you think of the piece.
But it seems the trolls have spawned and one discovered my blog. Last week, thudding about, spitting odd and flammable words, this troll sent me a number of “comments” in the form of lectures in “how dare you” tones because of a poem I wrote for Palestinian Hunger Striker Samer Issawi. The twisted logic could have made the most intricate pretzels, but I have given up eating pretzels when I found out that my favourite ones were made in Israel.
Are you claiming that Israel has an institutional policy that aims to kill civilians? Let me simplify it for you. Israel kills civilians as a byproduct of legitimate military operations that seek to neutralise terrorists and their infrastructure. When Israel undertakes military operations, for example, Operation Pillar of Defence in Gaza recently, it makes hundreds of thousands of computer generated cellular phone calls warning Gazans of an impending attack and warning them to take cover. It drops tens of thousands of leaflets in targetted areas also warning civilians, it hijacks Gazan television, radio and internet to warn civilians and it Roof Knocks, drops a non-lethal shell on a targetted building. It makes a very loud sound and serves as a 10 minute warning to get out of the building. In Operation Pillar of Defence between 50 and 94 civilians died out of a population of 2.3 million who live in the most densely populated area on the planet- literally.
HAMAS on the other hand states quite clearly in its Charter that it aims to kill not only all Israelis but every Jew on the planet. Then, having expressed their intention repeatedly, they purposely attack civilians.
Do you see the difference?
I will spare you the racist remarks he threw my way. I just feel very sorry for him. He obviously loves his guns. He must sleep with at least a dozen so that when he gets woken up by the cooing of doves he can quickly silence them. I hope I don’t hurt his feelings. Such fragile creatures need a special kind of love.
Hatred and prejudice, among a lot of other things, are taught. It takes a lifetime to unlearn them. One has to start somewhere. I don’t take this comment lightly.
I always leave a door, or at least a window, open. One never knows what the next breeze may bring.
Trawling around the internet, I bumped into this image that made me laugh:
Sorry for shouting there. But these firms ignore the basic rights of indigenous people all over the world. Here is a quote from another website – I hope you go and read the whole article. It falls short of naming all the greedy mining companies and specific Philippine government officials though.
Mining operations and applications are in Abra, Benguet, Apayao, Kalinga, Ifugao and Mountain Province. Jaime said that mining corporations have also entered the coastal areas in Ilocos region. She added that the mining projects will eventually poison the Abra river, a major river system in the north. “Mining TNCs have destroyed the mountains, the rivers and the sea,” Jaime said.
Besides mining, there are existing and proposed dam projects in the Cordillera.
“The whole of Cordillera region is being sold out,” Jaime said.
In Cagayan Valley, there are two FTAAs covering more than 20,000 hectares of land and eight MPSAs covering more than 21,000 hectares. Jaime said among those affected are the Bugkalot and Ilongot tribes in Nueva Vizcaya and Quirino, the Agta, Aggay and Ayta in Cagayan, Quirino and Isabela and the Igorots who were displaced from Cordillera and have settled in the provinces of Cagayan Valley.
“These Igorots are again facing the threat of being driven away by mining,” Jaime said.
In Central Luzon, there are 18 MPSAs and 5 EPs mostly in Zambales province. Indigenous tribes such as Ayta, Dumagat and Igorot are most affected.
Jaime said mining TNCs are also targeting Mindoro and Palawan. More than 99 mining applications cover more than 51 percent of Mindoro and Mangyans comprise 21 percent of the population in the province. In Palawan, meanwhile, 14 towns are covered by existing operations and mining applications. There are more than 280,000 indigenous peoples subdivided into six groups.
“Foreign large-scale mining would wipe out indigenous peoples in these areas. It is tantamount to ethnocide,” Jaime said.
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.
The cover-up of Bush-era crimes is taking a shocking but not unexpected turn. A fateful move has been made and it is certain to backfire.
A prisoner who was horribly tortured in 2002 until he agreed – at the demand of Bush torturers – to say that al-Qaeda was linked to Saddam Hussein is suddenly dead. Several weeks ago, Human Rights Watch investigators discovered the missing inmate and talked to him. He had been secretly transferred by the administration to a prison in Libya after having been held by the CIA both in secret “black hole prisons” and in Egypt.
Under conditions of extreme torture, the prisoner, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, agreed in 2002 to supply the Bush-ordered interrogators what they sought as a political cover for Bush’s marketing of the pending war of aggression against Iraq. Mr. Libi agreed to tell them whatever they wanted in exchange for an end to the torture. The now famous Torture Memos providing legal cover for the torture were written at the same time starting in the summer of 2002.
Libi’s tortured and knowingly fabricated testimony was the source of information used by Bush to sell the war to the U.S. Senate, and the source for Colin Powell’s bogus and lying presentation to the United Nations in 2003.
Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice are now running around saying that the torture regime “protected the country from terrorist attack.” But the torture was used for the personal political goals of Bush and Cheney: namely, to sell their Iraq invasion to a very skeptical and disbelieving country.
Having been discovered by human rights investigators two weeks ago, Mr. Libi’s story coincided with the release of the Torture Memos and the growing clamor for criminal prosecutions of Bush officials.
His testimony is the smoking gun that would reveal that the torture regime was not for “national security” but for the personal political aims of Bush and Cheney.
He was Exhibit A in the indictment that alleges that tortured confessions and the contrived legal justifications of torture set up by Justice Department lawyers in July/August 2002 were central to the launch of the war against Iraq.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died and tens of thousands of U.S. service members have either been killed or badly wounded in a war that was based on lies fortified and promoted by the most sadistic torture.
No apologies. No legal action. Anything goes. Whatever you did in the past is water under the bloody bridge.
US President Obama’s statements regarding the CIA’s treatment of “terrorism suspects” is simply disgusting however you look at it. It is consistent with what previous US administrations have done in the past century to people within American borders and those living in different parts of the world. Can you hear the sound of rattling bones?
It seems forgetting is a disease that quickly latches on even the most seemingly pro-human rights political leaders of the world. Is the time for dreaming and hoping over?
Imagine if the same policy were used throughout the world. Orwell’s Animal Farm comes to mind.
Obama accused of “condoning torture”
17 April 2009
US President Barack Obama has been accused of “condoning torture” following his announcement that CIA agents who used harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects will not be prosecuted.
Amnesty International has called on the US administration to initiate criminal investigations and prosecutions of those responsible for carrying out acts of torture, including waterboarding, in its “war on terror”.
“President Obama’s statements in the last days have been very disappointing. In saying that no one will be held to account for committing acts of torture, the US administration is in effect condoning torture,” said Daniel Gorevan, of Amnesty International’s Counter Terror with Justice campaign.
“It’s saying that US personnel can commit acts of torture and the authorities will not take any action against them.
Taken for a ride: This award winning documentary needs to be seen again.
From a recent Associated Press report we find this:
Many detainees locked up at Guantanamo were innocent men swept up by U.S. forces unable to distinguish enemies from noncombatants, a former Bush administration official said Thursday. “There are still innocent people there,” Lawrence B. Wilkerson, a Republican who was chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, told The Associated Press. “Some have been there six or seven years.”
Wilkerson, who first made the assertions in an Internet posting on Tuesday, told the AP he learned from briefings and by communicating with military commanders that the U.S. soon realized many Guantanamo detainees were innocent but nevertheless held them in hopes they could provide information for a “mosaic” of intelligence.
“It did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance,” Wilkerson wrote in the blog. He said intelligence analysts hoped to gather “sufficient information about a village, a region, or a group of individuals, that dots could be connected and terrorists or their plots could be identified.”
Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel, said vetting on the battlefield during the early stages of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan was incompetent with no meaningful attempt to determine “who we were transporting to Cuba for detention and interrogation.”