Wednesday, April 29, 2015

China's infrastructure-building binge in South China Sea

Note: This photo-essay appeared in a slightly different version under the title 'Infrastructure-building binge in South China Sea' in the 24-30 Apr 2015 issue of the FilAm Star, the weekly 'newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America,' published in San Francisco, CA. This author/blogger is the Manila-based Special News/Photo Correspondent of the paper.

Reefs in the Spratlys that China has occupied.  Infographics by the AFP Public Affairs Office.

“We call on China to stop the reclamation activities and to be mindful of its responsibilities as a claimant state and an important member of the international community,” Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang, Jr. expressed during the press conference held on 20 April before the start of Balikatan 2015, the US-Philippines military exercises.

Catapang showed the latest images of the massive reclamation activities by China in the disputed islands in the West Philippine Sea: Mabini (Johnson in the US Board of Geographic Names) Reef, Chigua (Kennan) Reef, Calderon (Cuarteron) Reef, Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, Burgos (Gaven) Reef,  Panganiban (Mischief) Reef and Zamora (Subi) Reef.  All of these reefs are claimed by the Philippines, and Panganiban Reef is within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Image of Mischief [Panganiban] Reef as of 17 Mar 2015 shows artificial land
formation, dredgers and construction equipment, among others. 
Photo Credit: CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative /DigitalGlobe.

Panganiban Reef is claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, China and Taiwan. “When it was first occupied by China,” according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), “it was completely submerged at high tide. Therefore, it likely does not qualify as an island under Article 121 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).”

The Philippines had vigorously protested China’s construction of structures there since 1995. The “octagonal wooden makeshifts” of 1995 upgraded to “a single, permanent, multi-story building in 1998, and to a “three-storey concrete building” in 2014, AMTI reported.

It is possible that Panganiban Reef has been transformed into a naval base capable of accommodating one People’s Liberation (PLA) Army Navy at a time. “In 2014, Philippine fishermen began to report increased patrols by the PLA Navy and the Chinese Coast Guard, impinging on their ability to fish in the area,” AMTI said.

AMTI noted that images taken from January to March 2015 showed that dredging, reclamation and construction activities have been going on in Panganiban Reef:  “ The southern platform has been further expanded using sand recovered from the reef’s southern entrance. The entrance itself has been expanded to a width of approximately 275 meters [as of 16 March 2015].”

Progress of China’s airstrip construction on Fiery Cross [Kagitingan] Reef as of 
02 Apr 2015.  Photo Credit: CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative /DigitalGlobe.

Except for two rocks, according to the island tracker of AMTI, Kagitingan Reef (Fiery Cross) is submerged at high tide. That has entirely changed after China started reclamation activities in August 2014 although it had been there since 1987 when it agreed to build weather monitoring stations for a UNESCO project.

“Between August and November [2014],”AMTI reported, “Chinese dredgers created a land mass that spans the entire existing reef and is approximately 3,000 meters long and 200-300 meters wide. ... Fiery Cross may now be more than three times larger than the Taiwan-held Itu Aba, formerly the largest of the Spratly Islands.”

China’s construction works on Calderon [Cuarteron] Reef as of 18 Feb 2015.  
Photo Credit: AFP Public Affairs Office.                

Kagitingan Reef has turned into an artificial island. AMTI noted that “China has already constructed in excess of 60 permanent or semi-permanent rectangular buildings along on the northern side [and] at least 20 structures are visible on the southern side of the island.”

China is also building a 3,100 meter airstrip there. According to AMTI, this length of runway “can accommodate almost any type of aircraft [like transport, fighters, early warning and UAVs] that China could want to land [there],”and furthermore, it is also “installing port facilities, which may be capable of docking military tankers.”

China’s construction works on Chigua [Kennan] Reef as of 19 Feb 2015. 
Photo Credit: AFP Public Affairs Office.

A naval base on Panganiban and an airstrip on Kagitingan certainly lend military advantages to China. These could be bullying rams for them press their territorial claims.

In the keynote speech of Ambassador Cui Tiankai at the International Conference on China-US Cooperation in Global Security Affairs in Washington DC on 16 April 2015, he had these to say about their “maintenance and construction work” in the disputed areas:

“... Let me reiterate here that such work is well within China’s sovereignty. It does not impact or target any other country. The main purpose is to improve the functions of facilities there so as to provide services to ships of China, neighboring countries and other countries that sail across the South China Sea. Such services will include shelter for ships, navigation aid, search and rescue, marine meteorological observation, fishery service and many others. Emphasis will also be put on marine environment protection.

China’s construction works of Gaven [Burgos] Reef as of 29 Jan 2015. 
Photo Credit: AFP Public Affairs Office.

“Of course there will be defense facilities. This is only natural and necessary and they are purely for defensive purposes. If these facilities could not even defend themselves, how can they render service to others? If China could not safeguard its own sovereignty, how can it shoulder greater responsibilities for international stability? Therefore, building-up of China’s capabilities in the South China Sea provides public goods to all and serves the interests of maintaining security, stability and freedom of navigation there.”

The anxiety over these Chinese activities is expressed by Catapang: “We also believe that China’s massive reclamation activities will cause tensions among claimant countries not only because it could deter freedom of navigation but also due to its possible military purposes.”

China’s reclamation activities on Kagitingan [Fiery Cross] Reef as of 28 Jan 2015. 
Photo credit: AFP Public Affairs Office.

China has dispatched fleets of fishermen, possibly militia types, to their occupied reefs. It has also driven away not only Filipino fishermen but also those from the other claimant countries.

 “We are saddened hearing the reports that China has driven away Filipino fishermen near these reclamation sites and also in Bajo de Masinloc, denying our people of their own fishing areas which are the sources of their livelihood,” Catapang said.

The environmental toll of China’s reclamations:  “destruction of 300 acres of coral reef systems [that] is estimated to lead to economic losses to coastal states valued at US$100 million annually”, Catapang emphasized. “It is worth remembering that China has tolerated environmentally harmful fishing practices by its fishermen who are now occupying Bajo De Masinloc, a Philippine territory that was grabbed and now being dominated. These bad fishing practices are violations under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).”

China’s construction works on Mabini [Johnson] Reef as of 30 Jan 2015. 
Photo Credit: AFP Public Affairs Office.

Every Filipino should “support the government’s move to protest the ongoing construction works which clearly violated ASEAN-China Declaration of Conduct in which the signatories agreed to resolve the territorial dispute peacefully and exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes,” in the words of Gen. Catapang.

Out there at the West Philippine Sea is the rusting BRP-57 Sierra Madre, which ran aground near the Ayungin Shoal in 1999. It is our unlikely defender of a small piece of our territory despite the taunts of the Chinese Coast Guards.

China’s reclamation activities on Zamora [Subi] Reef as of 30 Jan 2015. 
Photo Credit: AFP Public Affairs Office.

It looks like that’s the best we can do at the moment while we wait for the decision of the Arbitration Tribunal. Hopefully, that will be our slingshot to stop the Chinese Goliath in its occupation of all the disputed rocks, reefs and islands in the South China Sea.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Understanding the turmoil at the West Philippine Sea

Note:  This photo-essay appeared in a slightly different version in the 17-23 April 2015 issue of FilAm Star, 'the newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America' published in San Francisco, CA.  This author/blogger is the Manila-based Special News/Photo Correspondent of the weekly paper.

1785 map titled “Isole Filippine” from the 
Lopez Museum & Library collection.
We children of coastal towns on the western side of Luzon have fond remembrance of China Sea where we went swimming on hot summer days especially during the Easter weekends, and where we watch fishermen coming in from a night out at sea with either happy dispositions (big catch) or forlorn faces (empty nets).

We never called the blue waters South China Sea (SCS), supposedly its correct name.  But these past three years, we’ve been releasing marine turtle hatchlings to the West Philippine Sea (WPS), the now politically correct term.

The territorial and marine disputes at the SCS and WPS have been top news items in recent years. Greatly disturbing of late are reports about China’s reclamation activities there accompanied by photographic evidences of dredging and construction on rocks, reefs and islands in the Spratlys.

For better understanding of the issues, we’ve gone back to the basics. We started with “The West Philippine Sea -The Territorial and Maritime Jurisdiction Disputes from a Filipino Perspective - A Primer” (2013) of the Asian Center and the Institute of Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea of the University of the Philippines. This is available in the internet for downloading. 

The Primer defines the parameters of the SCS and the WPS.  The SCS is “the much broader expanse of water ...a semi-enclosed sea, bounded by China/Taiwan in the north, by the Philippines in the east, and by Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Brunei in the west and south.” Of particular interest are “various geographic features [scattered over the South China Sea], the most prominent of which are known internationally as the Spratlys, the Paracels, Macclesfield Bank and Pratas Island” because “[t]here are overlapping claims by various countries to these features and to the waters and resources surrounding them, including parts of the West Philippine Sea.”
Detail of a 1734 Murillo map showing Panacot (Scarborough Shoal).
From the Biblioteca Nacional de Espana online digital library.

On the other hand, “the West Philippine Sea refers to the part of the South China Sea that is closest, and of vital interest, to the Philippines.”  The naming took place almost three years ago, on 05 September 2012, when President Benigno Simeon C.Aquino III issued Administrative Order No. 29. This was given to “[t]he maritime areas on the western side of the Philippine archipelago which include the Luzon Sea as well as the waters around, within and adjacent to the Kalayaan Island Group and Bajo De Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal.”  The AO says that this naming “is without prejudice to the determination of the maritime domain over territories which the Republic of the Philippines has sovereignty and jurisdiction.”

The Spratlys and the Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) may have caused some confusion to many.  The Primer gives us this clear delineation:  “The {KIG} is a group of over fifty features and their surrounding waters that belong to the Philippines, located in what is internationally known as the Spratly Islands. The KIG is not the same as the Spratlys, however, as there are features in the Spratlys that are not part of the KIG.”

Detail of another 1734 Murillo map showing Panacot (Scarborough Shoal).
From the Lopez Museum & Library collection.

The Philippine flag flies over the KIG. “The islands, reefs and rocks of the KIG are nearest the Philippine main archipelago, and are believed to be both economically valuable and strategically important for purposes of national security. The KIG was formally incorporated as a municipality of Palawan province in 1978 ...  Nine (9) of its islands and reefs presently host Philippine civilians and troops.”   These islands have Philippine names:  Lawak (internationally, Nanshan Island), Kota (Loaita), Likas (West York), Pag-asa (Thitu), Parola (Lankiam Cay), Panata (Northeast Cay), Patag (Flat), Rizal Reef (Commodore Reef) and Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal).

The KIG is a 5th class municipality of Palawan with an area of 85 hectares and Pag-asa Island is the sole barangay. It is populated, and it has a sangguniang bayan.

There are other country claimants in the Spratlys as well as in the KIG.  As of 2013, the Primer lists Vietnam as having occupied 22 maritime features; China, 7; Malaysia, 5; and Taiwan, 1.

Being from Zambales, Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) is important to us because this is the rightful source of livelihood of our fishing villages. They have been deprived of their rights when China occupied this group of rocks.  

“Bajo de Masinlocs is an integral part of Philippine territory,” the Primer asserts, “being part of the Municipality of Masinloc, Province of Zambales. It is located 124 nautical miles west of Zambales proper and is within the 200 nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the Philippine Continental Shelf.”

We have also gone to the exhibit “Common Ground” at the Lopez Museum and Library to appreciate their collection of 21 antiquarian maps drawn by Western cartographers. These consistently included the Scarborough Shoal.  The exhibit reflects the lecture of SC Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio on the “Historical Facts, Historical Lies, and Historical Rights in the West Philippine Sea” where he strongly argued against China’s claims on the West Philippine Sea, which include Scarborough Shoal and Spratly Islands. 

The cartographic exhibit highlights that “for almost a millennium, the southernmost territory of China has always been Hainan Island. Scarborough Shoal never appeared in any Chinese dynasty maps. On the other hand, numerous ancient maps made by foreigners, and later by Philippine authorities, from 1636 to 1940, consistently showed that Scarborough Shoal, a.k.a. Panacot and Bajo de Masinloc, has always been part of Philippine history.” 

The presentation of Justice Carpio on “The Rule of Law in the West Philippine Sea” is a very helpful in understanding the case filed by the Philippines against China with the Arbitration Tribunal.  The four West Philippine Sea Arbitration Updates (May 2013, April, June and September 2014) of the Department of Foreign Affairs, and the paper “Arbitration 101: Philippines V. China” (January 2015) of UP College of Law Professor and IMLOS Director Jay L. Batongbacal track the progress of the case. All of these references are available online.

The first DFA Update described the filing of the case: “On 22 January 2013, the Philippines formally conveyed to China the Philippine Notification and Statement of Claim that challenges before the Arbitral Tribunal the validity of China’s nine-dash line claim to almost the entire SCS including the WPS and to desist from unlawful activities that violate the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the Philippines under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

“This notification initiated the arbitral proceeding under Article 287 and Annex VII of UNCLOS. The Philippines has exhausted almost all political and diplomatic avenues for a peaceful negotiated settlement of its maritime dispute with China.

“China’s nine-dash line claim is contrary to UNCLOS and unlawful. The Philippines is requesting the Tribunal to, among others, (a) declare that China’s rights to maritime areas in the South China Sea, like the rights of the Philippines, are established by UNCLOS, and consist of its rights to a Territorial Sea and Contiguous Zone under Part II of UNCLOS, to an EEZ under part V, and to a Continental Shelf under Part VI; (b) declare that China’s maritime claims in the SCS based on its so-called nine-dash line are contrary to UNCLOS and invalid ; (c) require China to bring its domestic legislation into conformity with its obligations under UNCLOS; and (d) require China to desist from activities that violate the rights of the Philippines in its maritime domain in the WPS.”

The subsequent DFA Updates reported on the progress of the case. In Justice Carpio’s brief summary:  “China has refused to participate; four of 5 arbitrators appointed by President of ITLOS [the first one was nominated by the Philippines]; the Rules of Procedures issued; Philippines filed Memorial by 30 March 2014 deadline – 4000 pages; China given deadline of 15 December 2014 to submit counter-memorial.”  

In his Arbitration 101, Batongbacal wrote of the status of the proceedings as of January 2015.  He mentioned that “China publicly released a position paper [on 07 December 2014] outlining its objections to the jurisdiction of the arbitral tribunal while reiterating that it was not participating in the proceedings.”  He also said that the Tribunal issued its third Procedural Order on 17 December 2015, and gave the Philippines until 15 March 2015 to “submit a supplemental submission on the Tribunal’s jurisdiction and the merits of the case, in particular to address the points raised by China’s position paper. After the submission, China will have a similar period of 90 days within which to file a response.”

Could there be decision within this year? 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Learning visit to Morion-duque

Note:  This photo-essay appeared in a slightly different version in the 10-16 April 2015 issue of FilAm Star, 'the newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America' published in San Francisco, CA.  This author/blogger is the Manila-based Special News/Photo Correspondent of the weekly paper.

Mogpog Mayor Senen M. Livelo, Jr. playing with the Banda de Mogpog during the Good Friday procession.

Our long-planned Holy Week vacation in Morion country, Marinduque, finally got underway when we settled service terms with the private van owner. We were previously booked for door-to-door transportation, i.e., from our residences to final destination in that province, but the Land Transportation Office (LTO) cancelled the permits of these service companies. And all the once-a-day direct trips of JAC Liner have been fully booked too.

We dismissed the prediction of a typhoon hitting the Philippines during the coming weekend. We took off for Lucena City late Holy Wednesday afternoon, and it was a fine weather sailing for the Montenegro Shipping’s RoRo (roll on roll off) ferry across Tayabas Bay to Mogpog.  

By Maundy Thursday, the Coast Guard already kept the sea vessels on port. Many did not get to join the Moriones Festival because all sea travels were cancelled. But those who enjoyed Holy Week in the towns almost got stranded because of supertyphoon Chedeng. Those who made it to the first sailing to Lucena on Saturday midnight got to the Southern Luzon Expressway bound for Manila early Easter Sunday morning. 

Top row: ‘Overflowing’ jeepney: common sight on the road; and Mt. Malindig,
a potentially active volcano, as seen from Poctoy White Beach of Torrijos town.
Bottom row: Cultural treasures include heritage houses like this one in Boac, and
Boac Cathedral, a hilltop fortress built in 1580, the oldest structure in the province.

First lesson learned: there is only sea travel to Marinduque at this time, and any time typhoon signal #1 gets hoisted over Quezon province and/or Marinduque, all sea travels are suspended. This seems to be the ‘normal’ in the lives of the people here. Outsiders do not have any other recourse but to fret and wait for clear weather.

Second lesson: there is no air travel. Alas, the airport is newly renovated but it has yet to bring in the tourists, businessmen and investors.  We heard the despair of two beach resort owners, in Mogpog and Gasan: very low occupancy and no income at all.

The uncertainty of sea transport and the long wait at the Lucena port possibly deterred local and foreign tourists to include Marinduque in their Holy Week plans. The museum people said they missed the big flocks of visitors of past seasons.

Those who dared (despite the threat of getting stranded) had much to enjoy in the island: friendly and hospitable people, green environment, natural attractions, the Moryonan (Mogpog) or Moriones Festival (other towns) and other Holy Week traditions uniquely the province’s own.

This heart-shaped island province lies in the Sibuyan Sea, its size roughly 960 square kilometers. It has six towns (no cities!): Mogpog (where Balanakan Port is located), Sta. Cruz (the biggest), Torrijos, Buenavista (the smallest), Gasan and Boac (the capital), in clockwise order of travel along the provincial highway that strings them like a bracelet around the island.  In a private vehicle, with a brief stop-over in each town center, the complete tour would not take more than three hours.

Our tour showed that agriculture is the main economic activity of the people. Coconut trees dominate the landscape and mountain sides. Coconut is their primary product. The folks say that quarantine was effective (no flora was allowed to come through the port), hence, their plantations were not ravaged by the cocolisap pest that wrought havoc in Quezon, Batangas and Laguna in 2013.

Photo-op with the Giant Morions of Gasan.

We saw rice grains being sun dried on the roadsides, and rice stalks still golden yellow all over the fields after the harvest.  Fishing boats on the coastal perimeter of the island reminded that all around are excellent fishing areas, and fishing is a major source of income.

The commercial life of the province is mainly in wholesaling and retailing, majority of which are single proprietorships.  According to their official webpage, unemployment is high; commercial establishments hire one to four employees only.

There are no SM and Ayala shopping malls, no McDonalds, no Jollibees, not even in Boac capital town. These should not be deterrents to come for a visit.

Mogpog Moryons wear 'bulaklakan' masks.
Probably, it’s the frequent isolation due to unfriendly weather that slows down the economic activity in the province. Its income classification, according to National Statistics and Census Bureau reports, is fourth class.  Yes, Boac and Sta. Cruz towns are first class, but Mogpog, Torrijos and Gasan are third class and Buenavista is fourth class.

But eco-tourism should make up for the lack of city pastimes, high-end pleasures and comfort foods. Marinduque is gifted with fine beaches and islands for relaxation, and limestone caves, waterfalls, hills and the potentially active Mt. Malindig volcano for exploration.

As we went around the island, we saw many directional arrows to falls and caves several kilometers away from the road.  For example, Bagumbayan Cave is 16 kms from Sta. Cruz town center. The tourism brochure says this is a “complex of thrilling passages and chambers, underground river where shrimps and crustaceans are in abundance, various geological formations, a waterfalls chamber halfway through the complex. ...” Great, isn’t it?

Taking a boat ride to one of the Tres Reyes islands (Gaspar, Melchor or Baltazar) was tempting with the white beach of the largest island in view from the road. But the Poctoy White Beach in Torrijos was more accessible, and tt’s a Boracay for the public!

We all came to Marinduque for the Moriones Festival, and we had as well a wonderful learning time of the island’s other Holy Week traditions, probably unsullied by ‘outside’ influences because of its frequent isolation, and the strong folk religiosity of the people.

We gathered thea all the towns staged passion plays in their own fashion: the theatrical senakulo and the Via Crucis, a street re-enactment of the passion of Christ.

Moriones of  other towns wear 'romano' or
'centurion' masks.
Our press card enabled us to get close to the characters of the Via Crucis in Boac. The street drama was under the intense heat of the summer sun, and performance was so timed that the Christ must be hanging on the cross at exactly noon.

The Moriones of Boac were all in this event. Some were floggers of Christ and the two thieves Dimas and Hestas. The whips (pang-hampas) are made of abaca rope strands. The number of strands serves as the counters of years for a Mormon to make the annual sacrifice. If he has served it, he can then replace it with a new one.

This is the second year that Ronald Layog, a local radio broadcaster, played Christ. His predecessor played it for 13 years. Arce Mendea started to play the thief Dimas when he was 17 years old, and he has been doing it for 20 years. Edwin Marquez, nicknamed Tuklaw by his friends, succeeded his cousin as the thief Hestas, and he has been doing the role for nine years. The three carry a heavy cross uphill and downhill of Boac's streets. They fall and get flogged on the way to the Golgotha at the Moriones Arena.

Support cast included Donna who has played Maria for 10 years;Charles, who has been John the Beloved also for 10 years; Teresa, who has been Magdalena for eight years; and Joanna, 26, who started as a Morion when she was three years old, has portrayed Veronica these past four years.

Joanna’s father Renan Montalban was the Longinus in the pugutan (beheading) senakulo.  Although he has portrayed that role in other senakulos, this is his second year to be ‘beheaded’.

The Via Crucis was a Good Friday event; the pugutan was held on the evening of Black Saturday.

A scene from the Via Crucis of Boac on Good Friday.

The pugutan started with a ‘replay’ of the crucifixion of the Via Crucis to show that Longinus pierced the side of Christ with his spear. He was also one of the officers guarding the tomb of Jesus. The pugutan depicts his proclamation of the resurrection and Godhood of Christ, and hence, he was sentenced to die by beheading, despite the intercessions of Claudia to her husband, Pontius Pilate.

The cast included professionals. A regional BIR examiner was Pilate, for example. The cast of the Via Crucis and the senakulo take their roles as a form of religious sacrifice.

To the Moryons of Mogpog and the Moriones of other towns, this fulfils a panata (vow), and they start their sacrifice on Holy Monday. They are fully costumed and masked for the rest of the Holy Week.

The cruel face of the masks is usually carved from dapdap wood, and the hood from santol wood. The Mogpog Moryon masks differ from those of other towns. Mogpog’s are bulaklakan although some are romano or centurion.  In other towns, it is predominantly centurion.  There are women Moriones and children too. The young ones carry on a long tradition of their families.

We watched the Good Friday procession of Mogpog. This was truly a people’s devotional event. There were no fashionistas to steal the scene from the colorful Moryons, and no flamboyant decorations of the carrozas (in fact, some are bare). Some devotees bore the andas of their images on their shoulders too.

Male devotees pull the carroza of the Last Supper in the Mogpog Good Friday procession.

What we truly loved was the sight of Mayor Senen M. Livelo, Jr. playing the processional music with the Banda de Mogpog. “Si Mayor, si Mayor,” exclaimed the watchers as the band passed by on its way to church before the procession.

We put a confirmation inquiry on Facebook if he was really Mayor Livelo in the picture we took. Surprise, surprise, he called us up from his mobile, to confirm. He revealed he is 54, single, and is a musician by heart. This is his last term as town executive.

He informed that his great-grandfather founded the band in 1909. Their ancestral house has been the training ground for the town’s musicians through the years.

Morion-duque, we’ll come back!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Bangsamoro: place and identity

Note: This photo-essay appeared in the 03-09 April 2015 issue of the FilAm Star,'the newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America' published in San Francisco, CA. This author/blogger is the Manila-based Special News/Photo Correspondent of the weekly paper.

NHCP posters (left to right) – woman from Jolo as depicted in Baltasar Giraudier’s Expedicion a Jolo, 1876, 
and an Iranun warrior, as depicted in Frank S. Marryat’s 1848 Borneo and the Indian Archipelago

The name of the proposed political entity shall be Bangsamoro, says the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and its versions House Bill 4994 and Senate Bill 2408, and “[t]hose who at the time of conquest and colonization were considered natives or original inhabitants of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago and its adjacent islands including Palawan, and their descendants, whether of mixed or of full blood, shall have the right to identify themselves as Bangsamoro by ascription or self-ascription.”  So do the spouses and their descendants, but the indigenous peoples (IPs) will have the choice to be Bangsamoro.

“Who are the Bangsamoro” was the theme “The Bangsamoro in National History” forum that the National Historical Commission of the Philippines hosted on 27 March 2015, which happened to be the first anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro (CAB).

Muslim convert actor Robin Padilla like the others who came wanted to know the answer. Padilla succinctly explained why he was there: to fully understand the Bangsamoro and the BBL is just like reading a book, you don’t go to chapter 5 right away, start at chapter 1.  He was more specific: how can I make a movie about the Bangsamoro if I do not know much about it?

Four history scholars provided the historical contexts from pre-colonial times to the present: Dr. Ma. Bernadette G. Abrera of UP Diliman, Dr. Cecilia B. Tiangan of MSU-IIT, Dr. Ricardo Trota Jose of UP Diliman, and Dr. Renato T. Oliveros of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.

Their presentations resonated on what the BBL Preamble expresses as “the distinct historical identity and birthright of the Bangsamoro people to their ancestral homeland and their right to self-determination – beginning with the struggle for freedom of their forefathers in generations past and extending to the present.”

Dr. Bernadette Abrera dwelt on the time when the inhabitants of Mindanao were not yet called Moros. They were already engaged in maritime trade with the Chinese, Arabs and Southeast Asian merchants as early as the 4th and 5th centuries. There were already trade routes on the Straits of Malacca and the West Philippine Sea, coastal ports and market places.  The trade went well into the centuries as told by the accounts of Chau Ju-Kua (13th C) and Wang Tai-Yuan (14th C).

NHCP Chair Maria Serena I. Diokno (second from left) with the panel of history scholars (left to right): 
Dr. Cecilia B.Tiangan,MSU-IIT; Dr. Ma. Bernadette G. Abrera, UP Diliman; Dr. Ricardo Trota Jose, 
UP Diliman; and Dr. Renato T. Oliveros, PLM.  

She described the annual embassies or missions from Luzon, Pangasinan, Sulu and other areas to China in the 15th century. She cited the three datus who went there in 1417 with their wives and 300 families. They were received by the emperor. One of the datus died, was given a royal burial and tomb, and his family stayed for three years to mourn, according to custom.

Her narrative included the active raiding or kidnapping industry, so to speak, either for ransom or for trade, in pre-colonial times.  Captives, like the eight survivors of the Magellan expedition, were sold as slaves. The ‘mangangayaw’ or raiders from Sulu, Maguindanao and Panay, she explained, used fast boats called praus. 

Oral traditions and the tarsilas told of the peopling of Sulu, creation of sultanates, and the coming of Islam:  arrival of Sharif Makdum (1380), Raja Baginda (1390) and Abu Bakr (1450). The oral traditions of the Magindanaoans credit Sarip Kabungsuwanfor bringing the Islamic faith in the early 16th century.

They became Moros when Spaniards arrived. The colonizers named them after the Mohammedan Moors probably because the battle of Lepanto was still fresh in their memory.

To Abrera, an event in 1603 was significant. The Maguindanao Datu Buwisan raided Panay but later went back and entered into a blood compact with the Panay datus so that“they [can] join forces to attack Manila and throw out the Spaniards.”

Dr. Renato T. Oliveros (left), Exec. Vice President of Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, a Tausug, dwelt on contemporary Muslim Filipinos. Dr. Ma. Bernadette G. Abrera (right), History Dept. chair of UP Diliman, talked 
about the early Muslim Filipinos before the Spaniards arrived.

Dr. Cecilia Tangian reminded that there are distinct identities such as ‘Tausug’, ‘Maranao’, ‘Maguindanao’, among others, from 13 ethnic groups subsumed by ‘Moro.’

She took off from Abrera to expand on the Moro resistance to Spanish aggression. The Spanish Moro policy, she said, was to get the Moros to acknowledge Spanish sovereignty over their territory and Christianize them; trade with them but limit their trade to the islands; discover the rich resources for commercial exploitation; and end Moro piracy against Spanish shipping and the Moro raids in the Visayas and Luzon.

She quoted Sultan Kudarat’s speech of 1639 to rationalize the Moro resistance: ““What have you done? Do you realize what subjection would reduce you? A toilsome slavery under the Spaniards! Turn your eyes to the subject nations and look at the misery to which such glorious nations have been reduced. ... Do not let their sweet words deceive you, their promises facilitates their deceits, which little by little enable them to control everything ... thus, the jihad should begin”

The Spanish-Moro Wars that lasted for more than 300 years were intense, she summed up,  comprising “a long bloody story of conquest, collaboration, and resistance” that “highlighted the consistency of the Moro inhabitants’ adherence to the universal ideals of liberty, freedom, self-rule and self-determination.”  The coming of steamships, faster than their caracoas, faluas, joangas and pancos, later hampered the Moro resistance.

 “The Muslim Filipinos had never been conquered,” Dr. Ricardo Trota Jose averred, “despite the series of agreements between Spain and sultans and datus. Spain was unable to place them under jurisdiction even with these agreements and with payments of ‘salaries’.”

Jose narrated how the Muslim Filipinos fared under the Americans from the 1898 (Treaty of Paris) until 1946 and thence to 1968 (the year of the ‘Jabidah Massacre’).

American subjugation came about through diplomatic strategies and military interventions. The Americans stayed away when they were pursuing a war with the Aguinaldo forces in Luzon.  The Bates Agreement on Sulu, and the unwritten agreements with Basilan and Mindanao provided the modus vivendi: the sultans kept their positions, they got salaries but they were effectively under US jurisdiction.

In 1903, the Moro Province was established, the Americans in direct control. The restlessness among the Moros continued. Mailed fist, personified by Gen. Leonard Wood, more troops, were used to integrate or destroy them. The Moros were rankled by the separation of church and state espoused by the Americans because of their Islam way of life.

Bangsamoro history buffs with Muslim convert actor Robin Padilla.

The period 1914-1921 saw the abdication of the Sultan of Sulu, influx of Christian Filipinos to Muslim areas, construction of public schools, and the governance from Manila through the Department of Mindanao and Sulu, initially, then Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes of the Department of the Interior, later.  Muslims were sent to the US to study as pensionados; they would become the Muslim elite.

The Torrens Title system was introduced. Complications arose - it became the instrument of outsiders to claim lands within the ancestral, indigenous domains.

What’s remarkable about Manuel Quezon during the Commonwealth period was his recognition that the Muslims are Filipinos although he was not happy with the sultanate system. There was integration but force was used too. “Land of promise’ was the lure for outsiders from Luzon and the Visayas to Mindanao.  

“There was Quezon’s social justice program,” said Jose, “but in actuality Mindanao and Sulu were marginalized.”

Integration was the government strategy after World War II to bring the minorities into the mainstream but the law was deficient (RA 1888 of 1957), there was no money, and no political will as well.

The so-called Jabidah Massacre of 1968 appears to be the tippling point in the deteriorating peace and order in Mindanao because the call for liberation, secession, separation into an Islamic Bangsamoro was soon sounded

Dr. Renato T. Oliveros recalled a petition from 80 Moro tribes to create a separate state for Mindanao and Sulu on the eve of the inauguration of the Commonwealth on 18 March 1935. 

He then dwelt on the identities of Bangsamoro as place and people, which may not be clear to the stakeholders of the proposed Bangsamoro.  In the case of “Moro” versus “Muslim”, for example, he cites his personal experience being a Tausug on his maternal side. His mother would admonish them if they called her a Moro because it does not reflect her identity as a Muslim woman. The core Muslim identity is lost, he said, in Bangsamoro because it is a collective one for Muslims, Christians and Indigenous Peoples (IP).

He forwarded that there were weaknesses in the negotiations, that there should have been wider representation because of the particular character of ethnic groups, and who have different needs. “There was only a singular group speaking for all,” he said, considering that there are many ethnic groups with identities of their own (Tausugs, etc).

The latest commentary we read focuses on the question of identities as an element of trust with regard to the MILF in the ongoing thrust for approval of the BBL by 2016. Who do they represent? Is this group the voice of all the Muslim Filipinos residing in the proposed Bangsamoro entity? 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Into the Indie-genous World of Kidlat Tahimik

Note: This photo-essay in a slightly different version appeared in the 27 Mar - 02 Apr 2015 issue of FilAm Star, 'the newspaper for the Filipinos in mainstream America' published in San Francisco, CA. This author/blogger is the Manila-based Special News/Photo Correspondent of the weekly paper.

Kidlat in cap and gown (he graduated from UP and Pennsylvania's Wharton School and
bahag (he embraces the indigenous culture of the Cordilleras to this day, having grown up in Baguio City).

Indie-genous from indie and indigenous:  for his being the “Father of Philippine Independent Cinema”, a title given Kidlat Tahimik by his fellow film makers,  and second, for making Filipino cultural threads shine through his unique, playful  and humorous film narratives.

I had two occasions to meet indie genius Kidlat (formally Eric de Guia, 72, of Baguio City): at the screening of Balikbayan #1 Memories of Overdevelopment Redux III on 23 March, and at a forum with film students at the UP College of Mass Communications the next day.

In August last year, during the 10th Cinemalaya Film Festival, Kidlat received the Cinemalaya Gawad Balanghai from the Cultural Center of the Philippines and the Cinemalaya Foundation for his outstanding contribution to Philippine independent cinema.  This was in recognition for giving the “[indie cinema] movement impetus through his pioneering efforts.”

Kidlat turned over Cimemalaya
Balanghai award to Yason Banal of
UP Film Institute for safekeeping.
But before the film showing, Kidlat, “the silent lightning”, struck at the Cinemalaya Foundation. He expressed a strong protest against the new policy of scrapping the New Breed category in the next Cinemalaya film festival, which would mean that new film makers will compete with the veteran directors.  Kidlat symbolically returned the Balanghai award: he gave it to the UP Film Center for keeps, and he will take it back if Cinemalaya rescinds the new policy. 

Balikbayan #1 took 35 years to finish.  Kidlat narrated that it all began in 1979 when his oldest son Kidlat was five years old, Kawayan was three, and Kabunyan was not born yet.  The busy years were from 1981 to 1985.  He said that he came to realize in 1988 that he wanted to be barkada to his sons who were growing up. He decided “to be father first rather than a film maker.”  He wanted focus in his role in family bonding.  Thus, he “hang” his 16 mm camera, so to speak.

He resumed shooting again in 2013. The 16mm technology was out already, and digital was very much in. He felt it was a cosmic chance to finish the film after seeing his son Kawayan with a thick mane and fully bearded, perfect as the new Magellan. He had just come back from the retrospective shows of his films in the United States.

“Magellan was just a prop in the film,” Kidlat stressed. It is Enrique de Malacca’s story: “umikot sa mundo [si Enrique] at umuwi sa kanyang bayan ...he was the first OFW, the first balikbayan.” The film narrative, he jested, was “according to the gospel of Kidlat Tahimik.”

Home to the reincarnated Enrique became an Ifugao village in 2013. Here he is a wood-carver where old customs and values are very much alive.

In good humor, Kidlat said that Enrique made the complete circumnavigation. In his fiction, Enrique was an Ifugao lad who flew to Cebu using his native blanket.  He could have been captured and brought to Malacca by pirates, where Magellan purchased him from a Chinese trader, brought to Portugal and Spain. Of course, he was part of the expedition in search of Spice Islands, and it was his duty to give Magellan a bath!. According to Kidlat’s gospel, Lapu-Lapu, a babaylan, not a tough guy, killed Magellan.  The poor Ferdinand did not complete the round-the-world trip back to Sevilla.

Balikbayan #1 is also about the power of language. Enrique was into translating his native language for Portuguese and Spanish ears. After the long sea voyage, they landed in Limasawa.  Enrique could not understand the Warays there but he understood the rattle of Bisaya words of his tribe mates when they got to Cebu/Mactan.  Language was the key that opened the islands to the Spanish empire. The aside is, of course, the post-1898 experience tells that it was through language that Pinoy culture got Americanized.

The film is a family movie. “The family is in the film,” Kidlat said, “for practicality. The cheapest actors are my sons.”  Kidlat himself portrayed Enrique de Malacca. Son Kawayan played the new Magellan, the other sons Kidlat, Jr. and Kabunyan did cameo roles. His wife Katrin was the original Queen Isabella.  And they were all involved in the production.  Kabunyan did the poster design five days before Berlin.

Kidlat talking about his approach to art.

The musical theme is something familiar to Pinoys:  Yoyoy Villame song of the discovery of the Philippines by Magellan.  Villame, according to Kidlat, in good humor, is the “best teacher of Philippine history” because of this signature song.

At the student forum, he told the students of his indie path: how he made films when his ‘duwende’ wanted him to tell a story.

He said that he had no scripts, no theoretical base, all “kapa-kapa” and “pakiramdaman”. He cites the crazy architecture of his Oh My Gulay restaurant in Baguio, “walang eskuwalado”, and where the Jose Rizal statue has a “bahag” underneath the overcoat.  “Don’t be a square!,” he humored the film students.  “Don’t be a Mother Lily!” in his swipe of Pinoy formula movies; “Don’t be Hollywood!,” a caution on sex-plus-violence to ensure box-office hits.  The indie path, he said, does not lead to PST (patok sa patilya).

Kidlat looks forward to the day when he can teach again. He has proposed to what he calls the “creative colleges” of the University of the Philippines (Fine Arts, Architecture, Mass Communications, Music) to offer a required elective that he will handle, a collective course defined along Sikolohiyang Pilipino or the Pinoy “Kapwa” psychology, where the students will be encouraged to find old core values in defining their methodologies for producing creative works.

Year 2021 will be the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in Limasawa and his death in Mactan.  Will there be official celebrations to mark the quincentennial of the “discovery” of the Philippines?

Who will remember Enrique de Malacca, the first Pinoy who made the first around-the-world journey across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans 500 years ago?

Probably, Kidlat Tahimik will expand or make another Balikbayan film for Enrique!

Kidlat with the image of the propagandist Marcelo del Pilar. He received
the Gawad Plaridel from UP CMC a fewyears ago,