Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Joie de vivre

Last weekend, Patty and I decided to join the Saint Jean Baptiste Day celebration, also known as Fete Nationale in Quebec, so we travelled to Montreal to visit our daughter who has moved there to work with the national office of the Canadian Red Cross. A huge throng of student demonstrators welcomed our arrival in Montreal last Friday, part of the large daytime demonstrations opposing Quebec tuition hikes and Bill 78, Quebec’s controversial anti-protest law.
Quebec students marching through  the streets of Montreal last May 20, 2012,
in what has become an almost nightly occurrence. Photo by Graham Hughes-
Canadian Press. Click link  to view "RAW 10,000 Montreal Students Defy Quebec
Anti-Protest Law Bill 78,",
Little did we know that the student protesters have been staging their demonstrations on the 22nd day of every month since March. In the past 15 weeks, these demonstrations have turned violent, especially those held at night. Many observers in Quebec haven’t figured out the larger significance of the protests dubbed as Quebec’s Maple Spring. Some are quick to predict that the protest might create a new generation of leaders that would shape the province, and perhaps the whole of Canada for decades to come, as Quebec’s Quiet Revolution did in the 1960s.

The end of these demonstrations appears not in sight as the students have promised to soldier on with their protests even this summer break. That Friday in the busy streets of Montreal, traffic was snarled as the protest ended at Parc Jeanne-Mance. A group of student protesters was able to make its way to Carré St-Louis by walking up Mont Royal Avenue. The police considered the protest illegal since no route had been provided to them but the protest as a whole was very calm and peaceful.

We finally reached Metro Atwater where we took the subway train to Charlevoix where our daughter was waiting to pick us up. After freshening up at our daughter’s place, we then walked along the Canal de Lachine going to the Marché Atwater, an open market my wife had always insisted that we go to whenever we visited our daughter during her student days at McGill University. This time, however, we took a walk along the banks of the historic canal for the first time.

The Lachine Canal which runs 14.5 kilometres from the Old Port to Lake Saint-Louis used to be the first link in a chain of canals that facilitated shipping between Montréal and the Great Lakes. Closed to shipping in 1970, it was replaced by the St. Lawrence Seaway. Now, the Canal has become a multi-purpose path for walkers and bicyclists, but more than an urban park it bears witness to the importance of shipping, canalization and industrialization in the history of Canada.

Across the Canal to the north is Marché Atwater, an Art Deco building and quaint little farmers’ market where they sell a wide variety of fruits, herbs and vegetables as well as flowering plants, maple syrup, fresh fish and meat, Quebec cheese, and freshly-baked bread and pastries. A pedestrian bridge connects the market to rue Saint Patrick and to a bicycle path in Pont Saint Charles on the other side of the Canal.

We sat on the grass overlooking the Canal as the sun set down on us. The late afternoon breeze provided comfort from the heat as we ate our repast of fresh bread, foie gras and prosciutto ham, and for dessert, fresh blueberries and sweet pineapple chunks. 

Both the Canal and Marché Atwater seem symbolic of the bridge between the past and the future, not merely in Montreal but perhaps of our lives in the larger sense. After all, the purpose of our visit that weekend was more than joining the St. Jean Baptiste Day festivities but also to connect with my wife’s very dear friend in the past and our own daughter Isobel who’s decided to live independently from us. Although for one and one-half years, Isobel was away in Paris to pursue her MBA, her new job posting meant returning to Montreal where she had lived for four years while taking her BA.

The other purpose of our trip was to visit Marina, Patty’s classmate from university, a bosom friend she had lost contact with sometime in 1976 during the early years of repression under Ferdinand Marcos. They were part of a closely-knit group of friends, conjoined by common youthful dreams and ideals, only to be separated by their personal pursuit of the proverbial place in the sun. A member of that group, Rebecca, passed away more than ten years ago in Toronto, with whom we also shared fond memories of friendship.

Through the wonders of the Internet, members of their group started finding each other. Patty had earlier reconnected with Leni, another member of that group, while we were in San Francisco in 2007, and later in 2011 when she visited Toronto. Only a few months ago, Patty finally found Marina on Facebook, and wonder of wonders, to be living in St-Hyacinthe, Quebec, as a member of Notre Dame de Vie, a secular institute that sprang from the Order of Carmel near the ancient shrine of Notre Dame de Vie in Venasque, France in 1932. Except for one, all of them, had crossed the Pacific to settle in North America.
Notre Dame de Vie Institute, St Paul d'Abbotsford, Quebec. Click link to view "Thomas
Merton - What is Contemplation?"
On a sunny but windy Saturday, we drove to Saint Hyacinthe to meet Marina at Hotel de Dieu where she is engaged in her apostolate of caring and ministry to the sick. As a lay religious, Marina says that members of their Institute are allowed to continue with their professions in their various social milieus. Every member, however, is required to devote fidelity to the exercise of their spiritual life: daily silent prayer and periodic return to solitude.

I had also met Marina before as well as the other members of their small group when Patty brought me along with our children during a visit to the Institute in Novaliches where Marina was then contemplating on entering the religious life. That was more than thirty five years ago, the last time we would see her in person.

Marina showed us around the town’s centre, visiting its little market and shops and walking along the banks of the Yamaska River where the more prosperous residents of St-Hyacinthe live in huge houses built along the riverside.

What struck Marina about life in St-Hyacinthe was the townfolks’ seeming lack of joie de vivre, as if they had never found satisfaction in life, which to her meant a deep chasm in spirituality that has afflicted many Quebecois, especially among youth, in the recent years. Their churches, which are really cathedrals in size and architectural grandeur compared to those in the Philippines or even in Toronto, are in fast decline and now mostly likely empty. But this waning participation wouldn’t deter Marina in her apostolic mission; it is just one of the many challenges she must face, she stressed.

Then she turned her contemplation to the problems back home, posing questions like why the Philippines and our people seemed to have never progressed despite all the outside trappings of material growth. Of course, she said, she was referring to the internal soul, the impoverishment of our hearts. Nonetheless, she said, she was truly delighted she could speak in her native Tagalog, complete with the distinct Malolos accent. Sometimes, she found it hard to speak in three languages (Filipino, French, and English) while at the same time processing and deconstructing the meanings of the words in her mind.

Our Saturday afternoon sojourn was capped with a visit to the Notre Dame de Vie Institute’s retreat house in Montérégie, Saint-Paul d'Abbotsford, in the diocese of St-Hyacinthe, about 20 minutes’ drive along green and vast stretches of farms dotted with apple trees, grapes and a variety of berries. The Institute’s house is nestled on the foot of the mountains and has all the modern amenities needed for contemplative retreat—spacious meeting rooms, individual rooms for prayer and contemplation, several bedrooms, and a running brook where you can hear fresh water cascading down from a lake on the mountain top. Marina also introduced us to some members of the Institute who were there at the time—Marion, a former social worker from Montreal, Marie Josie from France, and Josephine who was rushing to go outside to pick some berries for fun from the Institute’s farms close by.

Instinctively, we had sensed Marina has found the ideal life of spirituality in the midst of her new world and community, although she said her search for the truth has not ended. We all concurred that truth could really be anything one stands for, be it justice, fairness, equality or fidelity to God. Truth can be achieved through various ways, from contemplative prayer to vigorous activism like joining protests against tuition hikes or discrimination, or political and civic engagement, with the end result forming part of the larger and immutable truth. With her peaceful demeanour and happy disposition, we believe Marina has already found the truth she was searching for. We parted ways making a promise to see each other again or more often in the future.

Sunday, June 24, Jean Baptiste Day, we drove to Cote-des-Neiges, a working-class neighbourhood in Montreal, where we feasted on our favourite Filipino dishes for lunch at a Filipino restaurant along Avenue Van Horne. On our way to Avenue Van Horne from Route 15 North, however, our car was accidentally rear-ended by a young Jewish man who seemed lost on the road on his Vespa scooter. It could happen to anyone but the good thing was nobody was hurt.

Van Horne is where most Pinoy expats in Montreal gather every Sunday to buy their Filipino groceries and household stuff. Across the street is the Centre Communautaire Philippine, so aptly named FAMAS Centre, where a group was holding a baby shower that afternoon. A middle-aged couple we met who were waiting for their other son who was having a haircut told us of the difficult life in the Philippines which drove them to come to Canada. Now they’re settled in Dorval, a Montreal suburb where they found work in a firm that makes fashion jewellery.

After having our taste of Filipino food and communing with our fellow kababayans, we then proceeded to the more upscale and bigger market, Marché Jean Talon, past Mont Royal and Outremont. Here is the biggest market in Montreal where you could find practically all the vegetables, fruits, herbs and condiments you’re looking for in the world, from bay leaf to parsley, rosemary and thyme which can be bundled together or wrapped in leek to form an aromatic bouquet garni, to different types of eschalote or little scallions to peppers of all hues, big and small, from wild mushrooms like chanterelle to shitake, or from plain tomatoes to many varieties of lettuce. If you love to cook, this is the perfect place to buy produce.

We ended bonding with our daughter atop the Oratory of St. Joseph of Mont Royal, overlooking Montreal’s vast landscape. We also started to wonder about the few changes in Isobel’s life, now that she’s living independently from us: the trip she made to Toronto two weekends ago from Montreal to participate in the GK Global Summit, her engagement in efforts to protect and preserve our fragile environment, the collective community garden she joined to plant and raise organic vegetables, and the decision to forego driving a car by going to work on a bixi bike, the reason she chose her apartment to be closer to work in order to leave less carbon footprint and thus, in her own small way, help save the environment.

Marina and Isobel are many light years apart and actually are separated by two different world views, one, spiritual and contemplative; the other, socially-innovative and less profit-driven. They have certain similarities such as the love for the French language. Yet, they’re two worlds that are connected. The bridge to their separate worlds is the nature of the work and the kind of life they have committed themselves to.

What Thomas Friedman was referring to in his book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, as the balance in life we need and keep in constant struggle, the past or present against the future, the ways of old against the new technology—a perpetual antithesis but a harmonious one in result. We can’t only have one and not the other. This is probably the secret to having joie de vivre or the joy of life, or the joy of everything, or a philosophy of life that matters.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Curbing infidelity

Very early in my legal career, a Filipino woman asked me how she could proceed with a criminal complaint against her husband for having sex with another woman. Here in Canada, the crime of adultery applies to both a man and a woman when either of them has sex with someone outside the marriage. In the Philippines, adultery is when the wife sleeps with another man, and when the husband does it, it’s called concubinage.

My advice to the woman was she could use adultery as a ground for getting a divorce. But she wasn’t interested in divorce. She just wanted her husband brought to justice. I told her she could file a complaint with the police who can initiate the charges against her husband, but cautioned her that while adultery could still be in the books, no one to my recollection had ever been charged with adultery in this day and age.

The Filipino woman insisted that she file a complaint. I accompanied her to the nearest police precinct. The attending police officer was shaking his head in disbelief and had to tell her that they don’t bring charges of adultery anymore, and if they did, they would be swamped with a flood of complaints as adultery, he said, very nonchalantly, was happening left and right today.

Eventually, the woman separated from her husband, and after a year she filed for divorce, not because of adultery by the husband but because of their separation of more than a year.

I am not aware if adulterous Filipino husbands are still charged with adultery or concubinage in the Philippines. But growing up in the country, I had heard many instances when Filipino husbands had been accused by their wives of infidelity and yet had not been hauled to jail for their indiscretion. Quite ironically, I had also heard cases of open marriage where the wives have accepted their philandering husbands and moved on with their marriage, which reminded me of the Republican presidential primary last year when one of Newt Gingrich’s ex-wives alleged that the former House Speaker proposed to her an open marriage as an alternative to monogamy or illicit sex.
Adultery, illustration by psstormsy. Click link to view "Newt Gingrich:
Serial Adultery,"
While modern society still looks down on adultery, it has been expunged in many jurisdictions as a serious criminal offence. It has however retained its legal consequences, particularly in divorce cases. Where there is fault-based family law, adultery constitutes a ground for divorce and may be a factor on division of property or may affect the status or custody of children. In some cultures, adultery can result in social ostracism.

Take the case of former New York Governor David Paterson when he admitted during a news conference that he had several extra-marital relationships. At one point, he said, “I didn’t break the law.” Technically, adultery is still a crime in New York, but in reality, it is rarely or never been enforced. Most charges are dismissed or dropped after the defendants plead guilty to other charges. In New York, adultery is a class B misdemeanor and punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a $500 fine.

Raoul Felder, a well-known Manhattan divorce lawyer whose clients included Rudolph Giuliani, recalled that in over four decades of practice, many an enraged client would demand him to refer their spouse’s infidelity for criminal prosecution. In his office that overlooked the Palace Hotel in Midtown Manhattan, Felder usually offered his standard response: “You’re right. It’s a class B misdemeanour. Come over here behind my desk. Look across the street. Right now, the criminals are hard at work.”

A former federal prosecutor, Felder said that criminalizing adultery has no practical significance. “It’s a celebration of hypocrisy, with a nod of the head to religion over reality,” he said. “Adultery is the last symptom of the disease. It’s not the disease,” he added.

Recently in the Philippines, the House Committee on Women and Gender endorsed for discussion House Bill 5734, also known as the Sexual Infidelity Bill, which would impose stiff penalties on married citizens engaging in sexual intercourse outside their marriage. Under the proposed bill, sexual infidelity is defined as “an act committed by any legally married person who shall have sexual intercourse with another person who is not his or her legal spouse.” Adultery can only be persecuted upon the complaint of the offended spouse.

According to the proponents of House Bill 5734, the current Philippine Penal Code has been more lenient to men and more demeaning to women. Women found guilty of infidelity receive longer prison sentences compared to unfaithful Filipino men. Under the proposed bill, adultery committed by both spouses will be treated as the same acts that make up sexual infidelity.

Representative Josephine Veronique Lacson-Noel, one of the bill’s proponents, said that “the bill aims to protect the institution of marriage.” Whether the proposed law would be an effective deterrent to marital infidelity is a big question mark.

The same question can be asked of Newt Gingrich’s notion of an open marriage – if more people considered such openness as an option – would marriage become a stronger institution, less susceptible to cheating and divorce, and more attractive to unmarried cohabitation?

Of course, Gingrich denied that that he had asked his second wife, Marianne Gingrich, for an open marriage. That was during the time when, as House Speaker, Gingrich was carrying a six-year long adulterous relationship with a Congressional Staffer (Callista, whom he eventually married) while overseeing the impeachment of President Bill Clinton for his affair with a White House intern. As it turned out, Marianne’s accusation shows that an honest open relationship is seen as more scandalous and more politically damaging  than a dishonest adulterous relationship. Eventually, Newt lost his bid for the presidency.

But to Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy, authors of The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures, open marriages can work, and have worked for thousands of couples over decades if not centuries. They said that “much pain could be avoided if couples discussed monogamy as an option during the dating phase of their relationship, rather than assuming it as a default,” that monogamy is not “much of a choice when you are forbidden to choose anything else.” But the way of The Ethical Slut may just be too much for so many of us, especially if we are not raised around the values, customs and culture that allow such marital arrangement. Imagine if this were the primary purpose of the Sexual Infidelity Bill before the Philippine Congress.

In Spanish, the word for wives, “esposas,” also means handcuffs. Maybe that’s why Filipino men tend to keep a tight rein on their wives. The key, however, to loosening the handcuffs of marriage is open communication between two or more open-hearted people. But not Gingrich’s explanation about his alleged discussion of an “open relationship” with his second wife or his attempt in continuing a long-running extramarital affair that did not prevent to raise the hackles of America about the hypocrisy he wanted them to swallow.

State regulation of marital relationships such as the Philippine Sexual Infidelity Bill which criminalizes adultery will not strengthen the marriage or make it even more durable. The most it could accomplish is to scare men out of their wits, but not enough to deter them from testing the minefield of extramarital affairs. Neither open relationships of the Gingrich variety will make marriage last.

Any configuration of human relationships, whether same sex, open, swinging, asexual or straight, should not really concern us, on personal or policy grounds. Civilization or the betterment of society as a whole will not depend on the sanctity of any particular form of marital arrangement, but rather upon honouring the dignity intrinsic to any mutually respectful and beneficial relationship.

Even with laws that both criminalize adultery and make it a ground for divorce to enforce the societal norm of lifelong fidelity, there will always be perils in maintaining a monogamous relationship, and the promise of other options in alternative marital arrangements is equally as scary.

Contemporary marriage revolves around the ideals of emotional intimacy and interdependence, more than simply an economic arrangement or a parenting relationship. It is a relationship that people hope will satisfy their most intimate emotional and psychological needs, which include sexual exclusivity because it is this physical relationship that animates marriage.

The paradox of marriage is that people would almost certainly be happier if they expected less. Not to sound corny or clichéd, the surest road to discord, marital and otherwise, is to expect your partner to complete you, or to make you whole. If only couples could relax or relinquish their emotional hang-ups, marriages could better fend off the havoc of extramarital dalliances, and likely, would also pose no need for them.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The greatest irony ever told

Is there really a “historical irony” in the declaration of Philippine Independence as it relates to the mendicancy of the present Aquino government in asking for U.S. protection in its ongoing dispute with China?

Rodel Rodis, co-convenor with Loida Nicolas-Lewis of the U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance (US4GG), an organization of Filipino-Americans in the United States known to be rabid supporters of Philippine President Noynoy Aquino, wrote in the Philippine Inquirer issue of June 13 about the irony in the declaration of Philippine Independence on June 12, 1898.

The “historical irony” Rodis pointed out referred to the phrase “under the protection of the Powerful and Humanitarian Nation, the United States of America,” which was included in the Act of Declaration of Independence by Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista who wrote and read the said document during that momentous day in Kawit, Cavite. This phrase raised the ire of Apolinario Mabini who later asked General Emilio Aguinaldo to remove it when the first Malolos Congress convened in Barasoain. Mabini objected to the original proclamation which essentially placed the Philippines under the protection of the United States. Aguinaldo, however, insisted that the phrase be retained.
The  Act of the Declaration of Independence was read in Kawit, Cavite on June 12,
1898. Click link, to view "Military
  security complex is creating another conflict," an interview with Paul Craig Roberts
 as he gives an insight on what's  going on  between the U.S.and China in the Pacific.
Here’s the twist. According to Rodis, a former student activist during the late ’60s in the Philippines, President Noynoy Aquino might eventually get this U.S. protection that our forefathers inserted in the Declaration of Independence when U.S. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised military support for the Philippines in its maritime dispute with China. But where’s the irony?

Rodis totally misinterpreted the U.S. support for Noynoy Aquino as ironic. What Aquino really asked the United States was simply to reaffirm continuing U.S. direct involvement in Philippine affairs, something which the Philippine government would fully embrace like a loyal colonial subject. One may call it support or a form of military protection from the United States, but the United States never really cut off the Philippines from its umbilical cord since Spain ceded the islands to the United States for a measly US$20 million under the Treaty of Paris. The U.S. stole the victory of the Philippine Revolution against Spain in 1898, then colonized the islands until July 4, 1946, continued to treat the Philippines as its vassal until compelled to give up their military bases in 1992, and up to the present time, maintain their control of the Philippine military with the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement which the United States wrung from the Philippine government in 1999. In other words, the United States never left the Philippines or gave us true independence when they transferred sovereignty to the Filipino people in 1946.

Nothing ironic in the U.S. promise of protection now that the Philippines is begging for it in the face of an illusory threat of Chinese invasion. The false threat of China’s creeping hegemony in Asia and the Pacific is the necessary justification the U.S. needs to reinstate its presence in the region. The moribund Mutual Defence Treaty between the Philippines and the United States is also even being waved around as the legal authority for American involvement in the South China Sea dispute between ASEAN nations and China.

Just like in 1898, Aguinaldo and his close advisers needed to invoke the protection of the United States as warships from Britain, France, Japan and Germany began arriving in Manila Bay upon hearing of Dewey’s victory against the Spanish armada. Germany’s fleet of eight warships was especially aggressive and menacing, according to one Philippine historian. All these imperial powers had recently obtained concessions from China for naval bases and designated commercial spheres of interest, which bothered the Americans that if they left they might be excluded from the Asia-Pacific trade altogether. Aguinaldo and his men knew that the U.S. would not honour their declaration of Philippine Independence in 1898 but ensured that they would call upon U.S. protection in case the new nation was caught between a bigger conflict with the other imperial powers. Now, what makes this different from Noynoy Aquino’s prayer for American military support should China, an emerging superpower, flex its muscle in the South China Sea?

The efforts of President Noynoy Aquino in begging for U.S. protection are not altogether different with a similar position taken by his mother President Cory Aquino in favour of retaining the U.S. military bases at a time when the Filipino people had already voiced out their opposition. Where is the historical irony in our independence from Spain in 1898 when our forebears under Aguinaldo summoned American protection in the face of other imperial powers lurking on Manila Bay, and today’s comparable plea from President Aquino for U.S. assistance in its rift with China? The analogy is very obvious, but there’s no irony. The similarity though is odious: Aguinaldo and Aquino claimed independence, yet both were asking for protection from the United States. Perhaps, therein lies the irony after all; we proclaim out loud our independence but we cannot help but ask the United States to give us protection.

But what is really behind the shift in U.S. foreign policy to Asia and the Pacific that looks more like an undertow in the ongoing South China Sea dispute rather than an authentic pivot to Asia? The U.S. has justified its refocusing on Asia as necessary in engaging the threat of China in the region. But Trefor Moss, a British journalist based in Hongkong who writes about Asian politics, especially on defence and security, believes this is pure hogwash.

Moss wrote that the rhetoric about the U.S. Asian comeback glosses over the fact that in large parts of Asia, the United States is facing a serious loss of influence. It used to be that Central Asia was the cockpit of U.S. foreign policy but the United States’ post-9/11 gains in Central Asia are being wiped away. The U.S. has failed in retaining any kind of presence in Iraq and is also beginning to draw down on Afghanistan which is likely to be under a Taliban comeback-government as soon as the U.S. military leaves.

The current lease of the U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan will expire in 2014 and is very unlikely to be renewed. Russia already closed the door on the possibility of U.S .Central Asian involvement, persuading former Soviet republic members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) into agreeing that no foreign military base could be established on any member state’s territory without the consent of the other members.

In Pakistan, the United States has already been evicted from the Shamsi airbase, from which it used to launch drone strikes against militant targets in Pakistan’s tribal belt. The imminent U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan greatly diminishes Pakistan’s relevance as a partner; and the United States can’t continue to direct military aid to a country that values China as an ally more than the U.S. itself. Aside from retaining a limited interest in Pakistan’s nuclear security, Washington’s involvement in the country could soon be over.

According to Moss, the United States has effectively been outmanoeuvred in Central Asia by Russia, Iran, China, the Taliban and Pakistani military intelligence, which is a grim development from a security perspective.

Balancing against China in the Pacific by boosting ties with Asian countries like Singapore and the Philippines is reasonable enough, Moss said. But the major threats to American security will not come from the South China Sea. Moss emphasized that war with China is really just a bottom-drawer contingency: it’ll never happen. The real threat to American lives is more likely to emanate from Afghanistan and Pakistan, just as it had during the last decade, or from Tajikistan, whose government is failing to contain a range of jihadist insurgencies; or from restive areas of Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan.

All the talk of re-engaging with the Asia-Pacific only makes for smart politics during a presidential election year and the rise of China is fuelling the imagination of the American electorate. But in eliminating the enduring threat of Islamist extremists, the killing of Osama bin Laden and stationing U.S. marines in Northern Australia for redeployment in the South China Sea won’t make up for the dangerous disappearance of American influence in Central Asia.

Yet, the Philippines has willingly sucked into this U.S. foreign policy shift to Asia as if this is really in the best interest of the Filipino people. President Noynoy Aquino, like General Emilio Aguinaldo in the past, continues to shamelessly beg for U.S. protection against the illusion of threat from imperial powers waiting in the shadows (China at the moment), while he ignores the real danger of what Philippine complicity with future U.S. military adventures may bring upon the country.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

True independence

Celebrations of Philippine Independence Day every June 12 at home have been focused more on fanfare and parades, and here in Toronto, on festive galas and beauty pageants. Many Filipinos tend to gloss over that period of the revolution against Spain that began in 1896 and ignore the complete picture of the continuing struggle of Filipinos for nationhood and self-determination.
President Benigno Aquino III reviews the honor guard in front of the Barasoain
 church in Malolos, Bulacan to celebrate Philippine Independence Day, June 12, 2012.
Photo by Reuters Pictures. Click  link to view "Aquino-Obama Meet to Affirm Neo-
Colonial Ties - Bayan,"

There has been very little mention, for instance, in official Independence Day celebrations of the Filipinos’ bloody struggle against the United States, which ruled the Philippines for some five decades. It is not surprising that Ambeth Ocampo, a Filipino historian and professor, would write that “many Filipinos and Americans are not aware that there was such a thing as the Filipino-American war.’’ The fact is, that war and the pacification campaign from 1899 to 1902 waged by the American government under a policy of ‘‘benevolent assimilation,’’ ‘‘civilising’’ and ‘‘Christianising’’ the Filipinos was marked by torture, cruelty and racism.

It therefore makes sense for every Filipino to fully understand the history of our struggle for nationhood so that it will open our eyes and minds to what actually transpired in history and what could be unfolding before us, instead of being simply caught up in the joy of many or despair of some over the celebration.

The war of Philippine independence against Spain started in April 1896 when members of the Katipunan gathered in Pugad Lawin to declare the country’s independence in what is now historically remembered as the Cry of Balintawak. It was the Philippines’ first public expression of the nation’s aspiration to be independent from colonial rule.

On June 12, 1898, a month after General Emilio Aguinaldo returned from exile in Hongkong and resumed command of the Filipino revolutionary forces, he proclaimed the independence of the Philippines from the balcony of his house in Kawit, Cavite. This was the official date which President Diosdado Macapagal decided to choose in 1962 to celebrate Philippine independence to replace July 4, 1946, the original date the Philippines commemorated its independence from the United States.

These are two contrasting dates of national independence, indicative of how the country was torn between two colonizers—Spain and America. Philippine independence on June 12, 1898, was short-lived when the Americans took possession of Manila on August 13, 1898, during the Battle of Manila Bay—the first hostile engagement of the Spanish-American War. The Battle of Manila Bay was actually an arranged show of resistance since Spain had already agreed to surrender Manila and the mocked resistance would preserve the Spanish sense of honour, and worse, excluded General Aguinaldo’s revolutionary forces. Knowing that the United States did not intend to recognize Philippine independence, Aguinaldo moved his capital in September from Kawit, Cavite, to the more defensible Malolos in Bulacan. That same month, the United States and Spain began their peace negotiations in Paris.

The Treaty of Paris was signed on December 10, 1898, with Spain ceding the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico to the United States for the sum of US$20 million. The Philippines became the first colony of the United States, but the campaign for Philippine independence continued on. On January 23, 1899, Aguinaldo proclaimed the Malolos Constitution and the First Philippine Republic. A month later, the Philippine War of Independence against the U.S. began on February 4, 1899, which would last for two years. Aguinaldo was captured by the Americans on March 23, 1901, and was persuaded to swear allegiance to the United States and called on his soldiers to lay down their arms. The United States declared an end to military rule on July 4, 1901, and America’s colonization of the Philippines would continue on until July 4, 1946, when the U.S. Congress passed the Tydings-McDuffie Law transferring sovereignty to the Filipino people.

Which of these two dates—June 12, 1898 or July 4, 1946—accurately reflects genuine Philippine Independence?

While most Filipinos are always beholden to the United States for its tutelage of Filipinos for self-government, the public education system it implemented during its colonial rule, and the colonial mentality it has embedded in every Filipino’s mindset, the July 4th celebration had always been considered as the Independence Day that wasn’t. Rightly so because the American gift of independence in 1946 had numerous strings attached. The U.S. retained sovereignty over dozens of military bases in the islands, and the U.S. Congress made sure that granting independence to the Philippines would keep it a virtual economic ward of the United States. Furthermore, the Bell Trade Act prohibited the Philippines from manufacturing or selling any products that might “come into substantial competition” with U.S.-made goods and required that the Philippine constitution be revised to grant U.S. citizens and corporations equal access to Philippine minerals, forests and other natural resources.

So in 1962, Filipino nationalists prevailed upon President Diosdado Macapagal to change the date to celebrate Philippine Independence Day to a day which was closely linked with our “revolutionary identity, rather than our colonial identity,” according to Dr. Samuel Tan of the National Historical Institute. Thus, June 12 was chosen when Filipino revolutionaries in 1898 proclaimed their freedom from Spain. Except that this Filipino declaration did not lead to actual independence as the United States annexed the Philippines as its colony.

Why would it matter then if June 12 would be the official Independence Day?

Although it did not lead to independence from Spain, its significance is not necessarily diminished. The Philippine revolution was the first Asian uprising against a foreign imperial power, and the Filipino revolutionary forces would have eventually defeated Spain had it not been for the short-lived Spanish-American War which resulted in Spain ceding the Philippines to the U.S. for $20 million, thus paving the way for American colonization of the Philippines.

If Filipinos were asked today when their country achieved independence, many would vacillate between the historical significance of the Philippine revolution against Spain and their undying fascination with the United States. Filipinos who knew their history would emphasize the process that began with the 1896 uprising against Spain by Andres Bonifacio or the 1898 declaration by Aguinaldo. Some would pay lip service to the July 4, 1946 date, noting its limitations.

Still others would insist that Philippine independence was finally achieved when the Philippine Senate on September 16, 1991, refused to extend the U.S. lease of the Subic Bay Naval Station. Alex Magno, a political scientist at the University of the Philippines, said that in a “psychological” sense, Filipinos were not free of the U.S. until then. He explained that the Senate’s refusal to extend the lease of Subic Bay to the Americans liberated the Filipinos from the idea that Washington was responsible for their fate and allowed them to think as a nation rather than an American appendage. “Until 1991, the ghost of the Philippine-American War still haunted us,” Magno said.

Professor of comparative literature at the University of the Philippines Vivencio R. Jose similarly expressed the same sentiment: “We declared independence in 1898, established a republic in 1899, but in 1991, a certain part of the cycle was completed.” According to Jose, the Senate vote demonstrated a sense of “self-determination” that was missing in the grant of U.S. independence, and it symbolized “the fulfillment of our national aspiration.”

But this sense of the Filipino aspiration to become fully independent from a foreign power would not last long and would be shattered in 1999, seven years after the Americans transferred control of their military bases to the Philippine government. In 1999, the Philippines and the United States entered into a Visiting Forces Agreement allowing American troops under the moribund Mutual Defence Treaty between the two countries to conduct military exercises in the Philippines, but only for short periods. These military exercises overlap one another, with an exercise being started before one even wound down, thus making the “temporary” visit of U.S. forces virtually permanent.
Filipino protesters led by nuns demanding U.S. troops to leave the Philippines
now. Photo courtesy of slavishtubesocks.
The visiting American soldiers are not only involved in military exercises with the Philippine military. The troops are also known to be engaged in the war against terrorism in Mindanao and other areas of the country where local communist rebels are operating. With the ongoing dispute in the South China Sea among six ASEAN countries including the Philippines over territorial sovereignty claims to the Spratly Islands and surrounding waters, the American forces are expected to stay for longer periods pursuant to the U.S. new foreign policy of engaging China in Asia and the Pacific region.

Part of the foreign policy pivot of the United States to Asia and the Pacific, the United States is already realigning its military strength in the region based on its naval facilities in Darwin, off the coast of Northern Australia. Americans would have access to their former Subic Bay Naval Station, either under permanent basing rights or on the basis of the rotating presence of U.S. troops and ships in the Philippines. This would be similar to the old Olongapo set up when the U.S. had full control of the Subic Naval Base and where U.S. naval vessels could go in and out for refueling, repair and redeployment, and as a port for rest and recreation of American troops.

Again, the Philippines is being used as a vital cog in America’s shift in foreign policy and military strategy under the pretext of containing the threat of China’s hegemony in the region. The South China Sea dispute is already drawing the involvement of the United States into the fray, and the Philippines is actively courting (begging, perhaps is the better word) for U.S. military assistance to defend its territorial claims against China in case hostilities broke out.

This brings us to the more relevant question of whether the Philippines has achieved true independence. A question more serious than simply picking a date to commemorate Independence Day. If the Americans were able to snatch the victory of the Philippine Revolution against Spain, it is beyond doubt that the U.S. is again repeating history, thanks to the RP-U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement and the obsequiousness of the present Aquino government who has cast hook, line and sinker to the new U.S. foreign policy of engaging China in Asia and the Pacific region.

Parades, festivals, galas and beauty pageants will not give meaning to our celebration of Philippine Independence Day when the United States continues to mock our aspiration and struggle to become a truly independent nation—the spirit of yearning for self-determination which was begun by our revolutionary forebears during the Philippine Revolution of 1896.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Proud to be what?

Facebook (FB), the most widely used social network on the Internet, is getting closer to its billionth user worldwide. As of May 2012, FB has over 900 million active users, with more than 30 million Pinoy subscribers, the seventh largest in FB’s entire network.

Raissa Robles, the famous or infamous Pinoy blogger who was catapulted to notoriety by her anti-Corona blogs during the impeachment hearing of the Supreme Court Chief Justice, was surprised to find her FB account terminated after the conviction of the Chief Justice last May 29. Only after an on-line petition was started demanding her reinstatement that FB eventually restored her account. Whether Ms. Robles was unfriended due to violation of FB community standards, no one really knows. Despite criticism of FB as being too invasive of personal privacy, this is one matter the FB organization has firewalled, so it seems their privacy is the only one sacred in the entire network.

Be that as it may, sometimes FB users could elicit reactions that are enlightening or revolting, depending on how one looks at them. Take for example the picture below, which seems at first glance like a poster about mixing and matching clothes, but drew out a different and very critical response from an FB friend.

Here’s the response of an FB user to this poster in Tagalog in its entirety:

“Ang tanga lang ng kampanyang ito. Kung hindi talaga tanga, magaling ang nakaisip nito para gawin tayong tanga na tangkilikin ang kanilang produkto at maging proud sa ideya na ang kagandahan at pang world class na Filipina ay parang pagbi-breed lang ng aso.
“Ang husay rin ng pagturing nito sa babae na parang produkto lang na binubugaw bilang palahian.
“Dapat sa inyo binabayo!” (End of quote)

A loose English translation is as follows:

“This is really a stupid campaign. If not stupid, the people behind it are really smart to make us look stupid by buying their products and being proud of the idea that achieving beauty and the world-class Filipina is akin to dog-breeding.
“They’re also clever to treat women as a commodity that can be pimped for mating purposes.
“You should be smashed!” (End of quote).

The poster claims that mixing and matching the Filipino blood with other nationalities is a sure-fire formula to produce a world-class and competitive Filipina beauty. Having a Filipino lineage is something one must be proud of, it adds, because it puts the Filipino on a level-playing field with other nationalities in almost all aspects.

This poster is arrogant and very condescending to Filipinos, insinuating that we need to be cross-bred with other races to become world-class beauties. But it may actually be true among many Filipinos who still continue to regard the “mestiza” as beautiful or the Western standard of beauty as superior to the natural beauty of our native Filipino women. Like Rizal’s Doña Victorina who thought she was more Spanish than a Spaniard that she hid herself behind tons of make-up and heavy European dresses. Or Filipinos married to foreign husbands or wives who would not hesitate to send their young daughters to the Philippines to compete in beauty pageants or become movie stars believing that their progenies are more beautiful and attractive than their local counterparts because of their mixed genes.

It is not an argument against mixed marriage or in-breeding with other races, but to say that our native women can only be considered world-class if they are the result of inter-racial procreation is simply a disgusting idea. Beauty can be world-class whether you come from your native race or from a mixture of races. Beauty is not race-specific.

Sometime ago I was reading a blog written by Raymond “Mong” Palatino, president of the Kabataan (Youth) Party and a member of the House of Representatives in the Philippines, who asked the question: “Are Filipinos Asian?”

While Filipinos are officially classified as Asians, the Philippines being geographically a part of Southeast Asia, calling them as Pacific Islanders is not necessarily wrong or misleading according to Palatino. For a very long time before the Spaniards colonized the Philippines, Filipinos were known as Pacific Islanders. When the Americans came at the turn of the 20th century, they described the Philippines as “orphans of the Pacific,” probably referring to its geographical distance from the Asian mainland.

The Philippine archipelago is a political creation of Western colonizers. When Spain colonized the Philippines, it centralized its cluster of more than 7,000 islands into one nation-state. What would have happened if Spain didn’t colonize the islands? Palatino suggested that Luzon, the largest island could have become a territory of China or Taiwan, while Mindanao in the south could have become a province of Malaysia or Indonesia. Or there was the possibility of a bigger federation of the Philippine Islands, Taiwan and parts of Malaysia and Indonesia.

Oftentimes, most Filipinos both at home and abroad are sceptical of their true identity. Although they believe they’re Asians, many feel a closer affinity to the West, especially the United States. They seem to be prouder of their Western upbringing or being hyphenated American or Canadian than their native Asian roots—a colonial mentality ingrained in the minds of Filipinos from hundreds of years of foreign colonization.

Many Filipinos don’t appreciate or understand the cultural and religious practices of their neighbours in Southeast Asia. Oftentimes, they are unaware of Southeast Asian politics, although the dispute in the South China Sea to some extent has kept them updated with China’s aggressive foreign policy against its smaller neighbouring countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Brunei. Only because the seeming tug-of-war between Chinese and Filipino fishermen looks like an entertaining story to follow.

Rabid to the bones in showing subservience to the United States, their former colonial master, most Filipinos particularly those who have migrated to America would forever swear allegiance to an imperialist America but never to an imperialist China. For them, being pro-American is just as being loyal and patriotic to the Philippines even if America’s military expansionism is clearly evident in Asia and the Pacific region. As one Pinoy-Canadian proudly said, “more power to the USA! I'd rather go to bed with a power that shares my values than one that doesn’t,” meaning, China.

What are we really proud of—to be Pinoy? Or Asian?

When our Filipino boxers or entertainers become world famous, we announce to everyone in the universe how much we are proud to be Pinoys. Whenever Manny Pacquiao knocks his opponent out in the ring, Pinoys all over the world rejoice and celebrate. Or when Charice Pempengco sings on U.S. television or before an American audience, we all love and praise her to high heavens because she’s a Pinoy like us. Even American Idol runner-up Jessica Sanchez who happens to be half-Filipino and half-Mexican, has been fully embraced by Filipinos at home and abroad as one of us.
Proud to be Pinoy - World boxing champion Manny Pacquiao and others. Click
link to view
 "Proud to be Pinoy ka ba?"
But our pride in being Filipino is never linked to our roots from the Malay race, that we are proud descendants of the waves of Malays and Indonesians who first came to our islands long before the Spaniards and the Americans colonized us. We have never regarded our Asian neighbours as kindred in race and spirit. In choosing life-partners or simply on how we look, Filipinos would rather prefer to be “meztisa” or “meztisilla,” not the brown-skinned Malay native. Thus, in politics, we would rather be on the side of the Americans no matter how the latter is loathed and unwelcomed by our neighbours.

What is it really about being Pinoy that we can be proud of? In the next few days our community organizations in Toronto will be celebrating various festivities to commemorate Philippine Independence Day. Most of these festivities will focus on beauty pageants—Miss Philippines or Miss Whatever, Santacruzan, parade of lechons, Independence balls featuring the so-called shakers and movers in the community, musical entertainment, and many others that have nothing to do whatsoever with the independence of our country which we are celebrating.

A smaller group of Filipinos, on the other hand, will be picketing the Philippine Consulate in Toronto on June 11, 2012, to demand removal of U.S. troops who are in the Philippines under the Philippines-U.S. Visiting Forces Agreement. This group is composed of members of Bayan-Toronto, Anakbayan-Toronto, Migrante-Canada, Gabriela-Toronto, Binnadang, FMWM, iWWorkers, ILPS-Canada, and others continuing the Filipino struggle for genuine independence for the Philippines.

If there’s anything every Filipino in Toronto could be proud of this week, this is one shining moment for us—young and old—to join and show not only to the Philippine government but also to Canadians as well and to the world, that as a country, we cannot be truly proud until we have removed all vestiges of foreign control and intervention in our national affairs. But for sure, our ever-loyal and patriotic Pinoy–Canadians in Toronto would probably turn their noses at these young Filipinos and mock their claims for true independence for the Philippines. One thing they would ask is where were these young people when their parents and elders were demonstrating in front of the Chinese Consulate some weeks ago to protest China’s aggressive and bullying tactics in the South China Sea. This to them is the litmus test of genuine Filipino patriotism, even if it means being branded as pro-Americans.