Need to Place 1521 in Proper Context

February 4, 2018

Funny, but when somebody asks me for the date of the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan, the Portuguese explorer who led a Spanish expedition that eventually reached the archipelago that would later be named Philippines, I remember the late Boholano novelty singer Yoyoy Villame. Or at least the first line of his popular song, “Magellan,” that says: “On March 16, 1521…”
We are now in the year 2018, which means that in 2021, the Philippines would be celebrating the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Magellan’s expedition in Limasawa and weeks later his death at the hands of Mactan folk led by the chieftain Lapulapu. That year plotted the shift in the direction of the islands’ history.
The year 2021 is therefore important for both Spain and the Philippines that is why preparations for its coming have already been mapped out. A group called the Filipinas Quinta Centenario (FQC) is leading the celebration in the Philippines. FQC representatives met with officials of the Cebu Provincial Government recently. The group’s local counterpart is the Sugbo Quincentenario.
Activities for the fifth centennial will kick off next year, said Joaquin Rodriguez, the FQC president, as Magellan’s expedition began on Aug. 10, 1519 in Cadiz, Spain. It took Magellan’s fleet, which started with five ships, almost two years of rough travel to arrive in Limasawa. Set to be invited for the 2021 event, which will have Cebu as the main venue, are Pope Francis and the Spanish king.
Since this would be a major event, something Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale said would boost Cebu’s tourism and its new-found thrust on faith-based tourism, I also hope that the organizers would not forget to place the activities in their proper context. For example, the focus on “Christianization” could be shaky considering that the islands only embraced Catholicism starting in 1565 when they were subjugated by the conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Fr. Andres Urdaneta.
Yoyoy Villame’s song has the phrase, “when Philippines was discovered by Magellan,” an accepted notion (the Philippines being “discovered”) before historians dug up archives for information on pre-Spanish Philippines. As they say, the victors are always given the chance to shape the history of a place to their own liking and Spain did just that throughout its rule in the country, portraying the communities they conquered as primitive.
In this context, the natives who certainly already possessed their own beliefs and culture in 1521 must not have even understood and may have even frowned on the Spaniards’ Catholic rituals (the masses in Limasawa and Cebu and the teachings told to them) and preachings. There is no evidence decades after the remnants of Magellan’s fleet were driven out of the islands that the natives have become Christians and adhered to Catholicism.
Finally, the controversies. Tracing the route followed by Magellan using the description by the Spanish chronicler Pigafetta is tricky. Where the first mass was held, for example, has two claimants, Limasawa and Butuan, and has not been resolved with certainty.–February 2, 1959 (also published in my column in SunStar Cebu)


Trolls and Surveys

January 27, 2018

I always thought the story told by our teacher in our elementary days about the Dutch boy who put his finger in a leaking dike was a fable like the one about the foolish emperor who thought he was wearing the most exquisite garment when he was actually naked. But not until Google told me the Dutch boy story was a short story within an 1865 novel written by the American Mary Mapes Dodge, who never went to the Netherlands until her novel was published.
The short story, titled “The Hero of Haarlem,” told of a boy who lived in Haarlem, a place that obviously stood in the way of water that was walled. One time, he saw a leak in the dike and put his finger in it to prevent the leak from growing and the dike from breaking. He stayed there all night until adults found him and repaired the leak. Thus was coined the phrase, “finger in the dike.”
I was reminded of the story while noting how the trolls of the DDS (Duterte Diehard Supporters) kind are valiantly plugging leaks in the dike (translation: President Rodrigo Duterte’s popularity) to ensure that the administration won’t be swept away by the rampaging waters (translation: either an angry people or putschists). It is a recognition of the importance of the “dike” to the government.
I have been observing the movement of DDS trolls since during the campaign period in the 2016 polls until now. In the few months after Duterte assumed office, government didn’t seem to need the campaign period trolls anymore because of the inherent popularity a new president possesses. In this age, a leader’s popularity is measured by firms like Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations (SWS) via surveys.
Then the second half of last year happened, when surveys showed a dip in the president’s popularity and acceptability. We all know what happens to unpopular presidents (remember Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s new term starting in 2004?). That surely had the administration’s strategists going in panic mode. Admittedly, the Duterte administration has many opponents silently waiting to pounce.
That was when the trolls surfaced again with a vengeance. Whether organized by government functionaries and funded by public funds or not, the movement of the trolls have become observable. Where before the comments section at the foot of negative stories about government officials and policies published in both legitimate and social media became enclaves of Duterte administration critics, that is no longer so since Duterte’s dip in surveys in the second half of 2017.
Particular attention may also have been given to the conduct of surveys by Pulse Asia and SWS. I won’t say schemes were hatched but subsequent surveys show that the leaks in the dike have already been plugged.
Which brings me to a question thrown at me in a forum about how the media, both the “controlled” one and the so-called “mosquito press” contributed to the demise of the Marcos dictatorship. My answer was, not much. People may refer to media reports but in the end they make their own conclusions about the government.
If government negativity continues to grow, a million trolls couldn’t arrest the fall of an administration’s popularity. They could even cloud an administration’s appraisal of the people’s real sentiment.–27 January 2018, also published in SunStar Cebu

The weirdos

January 24, 2018


Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said the House of Representatives, after declaring itself a Constituent Assembly (Con Ass, with the stress on the Ass), will proceed with Cha cha (Charter change) even without the Senate, which has refused to join the House’s “nonsense” unless it (the lower chamber, no pun intended) agrees with its (the upper chamber, again no pun intended) contention that the Senate and the House should vote separately on any decision made.
“Mora ma’g dili abugado ni’s Alvarez,” a colleague quipped. I nodded my head and said, “Abugado na siya but he’s also a weirdo when it comes to advancing his personal ambition. He simply didn’t want his term to end in 2019.
Okay, he is a lawyer. But on this, Sen. Panfilo Lacson (he’s not a lawyer; he’s a Philippine Military Academy graduate) is more of the lawyer. “For their own sake (he is referring to the congressm… umm, House members), they should not allow themselves to look pathetic and, worse, ridiculous.” Lacson floored Alvarez with this argument: when the Con Ass, again the stress is on the Ass) submits its work to a plebiscite, it would need money. Where would they get it? From Congress, of course. Congress, as in the Senate and the House.
No, Alvarez and his chuwawaps in the House may not look pathetic. They’re just weirdos. And there are many of them in the Duterte administration, starting from the one at the top. But let us not go there for now.
Last week, weirdos at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revoked the certificate of incorporation of the online media outlet Rappler, claiming it violated the constitutional provision mandating that media outlets must be owned 100 percent by Filipinos. The decision was made five months after Solicitor General Jose Calida (another weirdo) wrote the SEC asking it to investigate Rappler. Weird?
Not much. But here’s the really weird one. Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre (another weirdo) followed up SEC’s move by ordering the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to investigate Rappler for possible violation of the constitution. What did the weirdos at the NBI do instead? They summoned Rappler chief Maria Ressa to answer a cyber-libel complaint for a May 2012 story published in Rappler. But the Anti-Cybercrime Law was enacted in September yet.
What did freedom fighter and lawyer Rene Saguisag say? “One may not violate today a penal law to be enacted tomorrow.”
Over at the academe, weirdos of the University of Sto. Tomas Alumni Association Inc. (USTAAI) created an award called Thomasian Alumni Awards for Government Service whose only criteria for inclusion is that you are a graduate of UST and you are in government. UST promotes “Veritas in Caritate” or “Truth in Charity.” Among those who received the award were Sen. Joel Villanueva (hmmm…), Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin (hmmmm…) and Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Margaux “Mocha” Uson (another weirdo).
Uson is a Duterte administration propagandist, accused of spreading fake news and spews profanities in her blog. She is leader of the Mocha Girls (yes, the Mocha Girls). Yet, there is this “Thomasian core values of compassion, competence and commitment. Weird.–January 24, 2018, also published in SunStar Cebu


Not a Red Fighter

November 14, 2017

I don’t personally know the former priest Rustico “Tikoy” Tan. I only saw him once when he was still a practicing priest in the ’80s, and we didn’t even talk much. But I remember him for surfacing as one of the National Democratic Front (NDF) negotiatiors during the peace talks with the government of then president Corazon Aquino in the late 1986 and early 1987. Those were heady days for the revolutionary movement in Cebu and was adjudged a mistake by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) years later, as it exposed many of its local cadres.

A headline on the arrest in a Cebu newspaper labeled Tan as a New People’s Army (NPA) member, something that I don’t think he was. In the revolutionary movement, there is a difference between armed elements and organizers. Tan is known to be have been mainly based in the urban areas while Red fighters, save for armed city partisans that are not many, are based in the countryside. I think he is an organizer, not a fighter. Also, I thought all along that Tan had gone back to the mainstream. If he is in his 70s now, then he probably already did so. This seems to ba a case of his past hounding him.

For reporters, it is probably good to note that not all who are in the underground are NPA members. The NPA is the armed wing of the CPP. Its formation is in keeping with the armed struggle that the party is waging against the government. The other CPP cadres are organizers either in the countryside or the urban areas, recruiting to the underground the masses of workers and peasants, youth and students and the middle class and forging alliance work with the national bourgeoisie and rich peasants, and even with  enlightened comprador bourgeoisie and landlords. Others are engaged in forging alliances with politicians.–November 14, 2017


CPP’s 2nd Congress: My Thoughts

August 14, 2017

The biggest story to come out from the underground is the successful holding by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) of its second congress in 2016. The first congress, as we all know was held eons ago, or when the party was founded in 1968. That congress laid down the ideological foundation of the revolution and elected members of the Central Committee, with Jose Ma. Sison (a.k.a. Amado Guerrero) as founding chairman. Consider that the party will be celebrating its 50th year of existence next year and you will realize how long since the first congress was held. In the intervening years, many central committee members either were martyred, arrested or laid low.

While the holding of the second congress is most welcome, I still believe that it should have been held in the late ’80s before the party split into the Reaffirm and Reject factions. That was the time when new ideas from “ideologue-cadres” surfaced, or when a “hundred schools of thought” contended, sort of, after the Marcos regime was toppled and the party failed to capitalize fully on the 1986 Edsa people power uprising. I read the “Communique  of the Second Congress of the Communist Party of the Philippines” published in the website Philippine Revolution Web Central and I noticed nothing earth-shaking in its content except for the replenishment of the Central Committee membership with the introduction of the proverbial young blood.

This is because the congress was held around two decades after the Reaffirmists succeeded in fending off the challenge of the Rejectionists and “reaffirmed” its adherence to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism as the ideological foundation of the revolution. It was not surprising that the congress would reflect that adherence and come up only with peripheral changes to answer minor needs. Even the claim of “presenting a clearer picture” of the revolution’s strategy and tactics can only be a reaffirmation of the old one considering how repetitive CPP’s stand is on many issues. But the congress did consolidate the party’s gains after the tumultuous split and expresses its readiness to continue the struggle in the decades to come up.

The biggest achievement of that congress is, of course, the strengthening of its leadership. The election of new Central Committee members, half of which are “young and middle-aged cadres” means that the days of having the party run either by remnants of the Central Committee elected in 1968 or their appointees is over. That I think is the context of the resolution giving “highest honors” to Sison for his “immense contribution to the Philippine revolution.” While Sison still leads the revolution in spirit, the actual running of the party is now in the hands of the new party Central Committee, Political Bureau and Secretariat. Let us see how the new leadership will fare amidst the challenges of continuing the revolution in a different milieu from the ones prevailing in the late ’60s, under the Marcos dictatorship from 1972 to the 1986 Edsa uprising, and the tumultuous ’90s.–August 14, 2017

PHOTO: from the Philippine Revolution Web Central wbsite


Will This Be for Keeps?

August 14, 2017

I’m reactivating–again–this site after a short talk with my son and my wife, both of whom wanted me to open a Facebook page where I can post my SunStar Cebu columns and other views. I told them I have a blog and they mocked me because I haven’t been posting anything here in a while.

I am in the process of creating an FB page, but I will be using this blog to post anything, then post these on the FB page that I will be creating. Quite a plan. But will it be for keeps? I don’t know. Time will tell.


Meeting Harry Fenton’s Kin: Dirk Barreveld letter

March 20, 2015

Here’s another letter from Dirk Barreveld, an update on his upcoming book on the Cebu World War II guerrillas. There are interesting infos here. I received this on March 16, 2015:

“Thanks for the nice piece last December about my Cushing-book. The book comes out on May 19, 2015 in the US and in Europe and on May 28 in Australia. You can find details about the book on the website

“Recently I came across some information I am sure you are interested in. You know if you write a book and it is finished it does not mean the story ends there. Often information keeps on dripping in long after you did cut off your investigation.

 “During Christmas I had a few discussions with Steve Trent Smith, the author of “The Rescue.” I am sure you know the book. I know Steve for long. He brought me into contact with Anna Pearman. Anna is the daughter of Betsy, the wife of the late Harry Fenton (Aaron Feinstein). The former co-commander of the Cebu Area Command. In other words she is the step-daughter of Harry Fenton.

 “Betsy married Harry in 1939. They had two sons Steve and David. At the time of Harry’s execution (1943) Betsy and her two sons were prisoners of the Japanese. The ended up in Santo Tomas internment camp. They survived the war and Betsy remarried in 1945 an American sailor by the name of Pearman. They moved to the US where Anna was born. Betsy passed away in 2010, she was in her nineties. David died last year, but Steve is still alive.

 “Harry’s grandparents arrived from Polish Russia in the late-1800’s. His father was a milliner in Schenectady. Harry graduated from Schenectady High in 1925. He was very active in music, singing, oration, and theatrics in high school and college. He was also a record-setting sprinter on the college track team. Harry attended three years of medical school in Ireland, before quitting in 1934. At some point he enlisted in the U.S. Army Medical Corps and was sent to the Philippines. He became a popular radio announcer in Manila. In 1939 he married Betty. In 1940 he moved to Cebu.

 Some of Frank Cushing’s family is living on Guam. A son of Charlie Cushing lives in Chicago. I think one of the most interesting of the brothers was the heroic, dashing Walter, about whom little has been written. I could not find any trace of him (so far).

“All this information is not in my book, I was not aware of it during writing.”