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Opinion

#HINDIdependenceday – Can we repeat something we did 122 years ago?

History doesn’t repeat itself, we repeat history.

It’s my favorite quote by historian Ambeth Ocampo which, to me, simply means that if we do not learn anything from history or our past, we are bound to repeat it. Tragically or ironically or both, we Filipinos seem to have the collective habit of repeating the ‘bad parts’ of our history.

Take yesterday for example, our “Independence Day” commemorating the proclamation of independence by Emilio Aguinaldo 120 years ago. To be clear, that “independence” was from Spain which had colonized and ruled our islands for almost 400 years. We say and put emphasis on “independence from Spain” because shortly after that proclamation at Kawit, Cavite, we came under American occupation and colonization.

Ironically, the Act of Declaration of Philippine Independence contained the following:

“And having as witness to the rectitude of our intentions the Supreme Judge of the Universe, and under the protection of our Powerful and Humanitarian Nation, The United States of America, we do hereby proclaim and declare solemnly in the name by authority of the people of these Philippine Islands,”

Our history textbooks call this “benevolent assimilation”, the US subjugating our islands, robbing us of our independence, pillaging our natural resources and murdering thousands of our forefathers. Ironically, again, the same history textbooks fail and are even completely silent about how the US occupation was facilitated by our past leaders, led by the man who made the proclamation 120 years ago. He did not only proclaim our so-called independence that was “dependend” on a foreign power, he also proclaimed himself “egregious dictator.”

Which brought us to yesterday’s June 12, 120 years later independence still continues to be something complicated for our nation, succinctly captured in this photo by Christine Avendaño for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, taken before Rodrigo Duterte delivered his Independence day speech:

In the ordinary course of things, the photo would have been just one of the many that will serve as a memory of today’s programs. However, in the context of what has happened and what is happening in terms of the Duterte administration’s ‘pivot to China’ vis a vis China’s occupation of territories in the West Philippine Sea, one cannot find it hard to say that we, at the very least our leaders in government are repeating history once again.

We commemorate our ‘independence’ with all the formalities, speeches, parades, photo-ops, holidays, the whole official brouhaha, yet we find our so-called leaders embracing foreign powers that threaten our security, plunder our resources and steal outright from our citizens. We have a representative government yet its Chief Executive has acted and continues to do so in the fashion of a dictator. Dissent and criticism is dealt with violence, political persecution and oppression.

Like Aguinaldo before him, both leaders are surrounded by representatives of the ruling faction of society who has taken turns plundering our national coffers to protect their business interests, propagate themselves in power, collaborate with foreign interests setting aside and perverting the causes for which the Revolution began: freedom to steer our national destiny, taking our place in the family of nations and serving the common good so our people would prosper and our citizens are able to take on the pursuit of happiness.

120 years on, it is clear that the ‘independence’ we commemorate, despite the material and visual trappings, the parades and speeches, remain shallow and wanting. 120 years on our national project remains a complex and complicated work in progress. 120 years on we find ourselves repeating the shameful and disgraceful events of our history. 120 years on, can we not for once repeat something else? Can we not repeat that glorious act we took 122 years back? If you our history, you’d know what I am referring to.

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Daily dose

Lumads speak out against ABS-CBN’s “Bagani”

The moment I saw the preview on TV a few weeks back, my interest was piqued which was a first considering that I’ve never really liked or followed any of the local TV series’ based on Filipino folklore/history/culture/mythology from both ABS-CBN and rival network GMA 7. I am of course referring to the newest offering by ABS-CBN the now controversial ‘Bagani’ – billed to be ‘drama fantasy series’ conceptualized from elements of Philippine history.

The first criticism thrown at ‘Bagani’ was the casting of actors and actresses that had Caucasian blood to play characters that were supposedly from the pre-colonial times. It is inappropriate and awkward to see fair-skinned actors playing characters that were supposedly dark-skinned. Using make up to darken their skin just made the whole thing worse.

The second and more profound criticism against ‘Bagani’ is the misappropriation of the word used as it’s title. It turns out that the word ‘Bagani’ is of Manobo origins and has a deep meaning for the Indigenous Peoples. To explain further, I borrow the words of several individuals who are from the IP community.

First up, is Melchor Umpan Bayawan, a staff at the House of Representatives, hails from Mindanao and is himself a Manobo:

TO MARK ANGOS, THE WRITER OF THE ABS-CBN, BAGANI TELESERYE TO BE LAUNCHED ON MARCH 4, 2018 LET ME SHARE A SHORT BACKGROUND ABOUT THE BAGANI FROM A MANOBO PERSPECTIVE IN MINDANAO Bagani are tribal defenders of their territory or ancestral land. They are not selected by anybody to become a Bagani, but they are anointed by a spirit called “Mondaangan.” A group of Bagani is composed of seven (7) men; always ready for a fight to defend their community. They devote themselves to Mondaangan who watches-over them, but they submit to the authority of their chief Datu as the head of the community. Most of the time they fought against individuals with bad intentions and group of people that creates trouble to the community – the “Mongayow.” Each Bagani brings with him a weapon, iether a sword (polihuma), bow and arrow (pana), spear (pongassu) coupled with a wooden shield (kaasag). Before they go to face an enemy, it is their practise to do a ritual to pay respect to Mondaangan and request to bless their weapons. It is said that Baganis with the blessing from the Mondaangan posseses fierce looking face with blood-red eyes. It is a blatant disrespect committed by this writer; taking advantage of our culture and traditions for thier selfish interest. May a devine retribution befalls on you!

Next is Melissa Claire, a Lumad from Davao City:

AN OPEN LETTER TO ABS-CBN AND THE PRODUCTION TEAM OF BAGANI: As a Lumad, I take offense in the use of the term ‘Bagani’ as the title for your upcoming teleserye that doesn’t even pay proper homage to our real Baganis. It is an outright disrespect to our history and culture when the use of this term contradicts the very essence of what it means to be a Bagani. Being a Bagani does not only mean ‘to have exemplary fighting skills’, but to be able to defend the people from colonizers and entities who are robbing us off from our identity. An identity that is attached to our lands, culture, and heritage. So when you use the term Bagani for a teleserye that is devoid of historical and cultural context, you are actually lambasting the memoirs and integrity of our warriors. The writers of the said teleserye (headed by Mr. Mark Angos) cannot hide under artistic license, or the claim of fictionality, because they are using a part of our culture for different agenda. This is a classic example of cherry-picking cultures for the sake of profiteering at the expense of revising our narratives. This does not mean that one cannot take inspiration from diversity. But I deem that there is a proper way to do it. Big corporations such as ABS-CBN are capable enough to do extensive research for productions that are inspired from indigenous stories or as how Mr. Angos puts it, ‘Philippine mythologies’. For others, this may seem to be a minor error. But it’s already 2018 and Lumads are still victims of cultural misappropriations. Shows like this—especially those that are broadcasted nationwide—perpetuates the continuous trivialization of our history and narratives. It furthers the haze that prevents Filipinos from knowing and relating to the different ethnolinguitic groups of this country. I stand that if ABS-CBN continues to air the said teleserye on March 4, THEY MUST REFRAIN FROM USING THE TERM BAGANI AS ITS TITLE. However, it would do more justice to all Filipinos that THEY HALT THE AIRING OF THE SAID TELESERYE AND OVERHAUL ALL ITS ELEMENTS INCLUDING THE CASTING , THE PLOT, THE PHILOSOPHY/IES AND LENS/ES USED FOR THE STORY.

Lastly, Ferdausi Saniel Cerna, a Lumad living in Butuan City reminds us all of a provision from Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act:

Just a reminder: SECTION 32. Community Intellectual Rights. — ICCs/IPs have the right to practice and revitalize their own cultural traditions and customs. The State shall preserve, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures as well as the right to the restitution of cultural, intellectual, religious, and spiritual property taken without their free and prior informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs.- IPRA

For its side, ABS-CBN has claimed that it’s not trivializing any tribal groups and that ‘Bagani’ “takes place in an alternate fantasy universe unrelated to pre-colonial Philippines.

‘Bagani’ has premiered today, March 5, 2018. Should ABS-CBN heed the call of IPs and make changes to the show? How this controversy will play out remains to be seen.

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Daily dose

Open APIs – A proposal to monitor fake news

Around the world, ‘fake news’ or disinformation is of the newest phenomena that has causing problems. Russian propaganda has messed up with the US elections which most likely have given Donald Trump the Presidency while here in the Philippines, die-hard supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte has succeeded in hijacking the public discourse with its army of online trolls. Congress has already conducted hearings, debates continue to rage on in academic circles, the public space and on social media sites. What can we do?

Tom Wheeler, a former Chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission has a proposal:

The government should require social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to use a similar open application programming interface. This would make it possible for third parties to build software to monitor and report on the effects of social media algorithms. (This idea has been proposed by Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian Google employee who helped organize the Tahrir Square uprising in 2011.) To be clear, the proposal is not to force companies to open up their algorithms — just the results of the algorithms. The goal is to make it possible to understand what content is fed into the algorithms and how the algorithms distribute that content. Who created the information or advertisement? And to what groups of users was it directed? An open application programming interface would therefore threaten neither a social media platform’s intellectual property nor the privacy of its individual users.

The question is, would Facebook, Twitter and other social-media entities open up?

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Opinion

Politics & Religion – INC Leader’s Appointment as OFW Special Envoy

Without doubt, the appointment of Iglesia ni Cristo’s Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo as a Special Envoy for OFW concerns has stirred debate and controversy. Immediately, the topic of ‘separation of church and state’ is raised by both critics and neutral commentators. So it’s important to know what ‘separation of church and state’ really means and if indeed it has been violated by the INC leader’s appointment to a considerable position.

To answer this question I refer to my favorite expert on the Constitution, Fr Joaquin Bernas, SJ. He discussed what “separation of church and state” meant in a column that appeared on the Philippine Daily Inquirer in March 2010:

It is sometimes thought by some that separation of church and state means that church people should not get involved in the hurly burly of public and political life. In other words, they should confine themselves to the sacristy. But to understand the subject properly one must begin with what the Constitution says. The constitutional command says: “No law shall be passed respecting an establishment of religion . . .” Immediately it can be seen that the command is addressed not to the Church but to the State. It is the State, after all, which passes laws. The fundamental meaning of the clause is the prohibition imposed on the state not to establish any religion as the official state religion. We are familiar with the background of this prohibition. Under the Spanish Constitution of 1876, Catholicism was the state religion and Catholics alone enjoyed the right of engaging in public ceremonies of worship. While the Spanish Constitution itself was not extended to the Philippines, Catholicism too was the established church in the Islands under the Spanish rule. As the established church, or the official church, Catholicism was protected by the Spanish Penal Code of 1884, which was in effect in the Philippines. Thus, of the offenses enumerated in the chapter of the Penal Code entitled “Crimes Against Religion and Worship,” six specifically and solely referred to crimes against the Catholic church. We know that one of the immediate effects of the advent of the American constitutional system in the Philippines was the denial to the Catholic church of the privileged position it occupied under Spanish sovereignty. The Philippine Bill of 1902 “caused the complete separation of church and state, and the abolition of all special privileges and all restrictions theretofor conferred or imposed upon any particular religious sect.” The separation, in fact, came earlier than the Philippine Bill, which merely repeated the provision relative to religion in President McKinley’s Instruction, which, in turn, merely implemented Article X of the Treaty of Paris. The constitutional command, however, is more than just the prohibition of a state religion. That is the minimal meaning. Jurisprudence has expanded it to mean that the state may not pass “laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.”

Also known as the ‘non-establishment clause’ it simply means that the government cannot pass a law that establishes an official religion or laws that favor any and all religions. Does the appointment of INC Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo as Special Envoy for OFW concerns establish Iglesia ni Cristo as the official religion? No.
Does the appointment favor Iglesia ni Cristo over all other religions? Not necessarily. There are other religious leaders appointed to various government positions and functions which are perfectly legal. Unless of course Manalo was appointed with the specific mandate of serving only OFWs that belong to Iglesia ni Cristo or he starts to behave and carry out his position catering exclusively to his INC brethren. In other words, the appointment is not unconstitutional. Technically speaking.

The controversies dwell on the politics aspect of the appointmen which was made in the aftermath of Duterte’s ordering of a deployment ban to Kuwait which in turn was made in response to the latest case of abuse suffered by Filipina maid Joanna Daniela Demafelis. Her dead body was found in a freezer a year over from when her family last heard from her in 2017.

Some would agree with Malacanan’s argument that Manalo was appointed because of the international network established by Iglesia ni Cristo’s global expansion program establishing congregations throughout the world wherever Filipino expatriates are found. INC is now celebrating its 50th year of global presence. Knowing that timing is everything in politics, it’s easy to say Malacanan has impeccable timing.

INC has welcomed the appointment, painting it as a recognition of its tireless efforts in helping Filipinos abroad. However, it cannot be denied that this assistance effort goes hand-in-hand with its global evangelical mission. That in giving assistance to Filipino abroad, it offers the opportunity of winning them over to join their congregation. In this endeavor, the INC is relentless. It is also in this vein, where concerns about giving the INC an advantage over other religions comes up as raised by Randy David:

Mr. Manalo’s new role will no doubt involve frequent travels abroad, something he has been doing as INC head. While the position carries no compensation, it is hard to imagine that the job will not entail expenditure of public funds. The law prohibiting this seems clear. “No public money or property shall be appropriated, applied, paid, or employed, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, sectarian institutions, or system of religion, or of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher, or dignitary as such, except when such priest, preacher, or minister, or dignitary is assigned to the armed forces, or to any penal institution, or government orphanage or leprosarium.” (Art VI, Sec. 29 [2], 1987 Constitution) Even if the government refrains from allocating public funds for Mr. Manalo as he goes about performing his work as special envoy for overseas Filipinos—precisely to avoid violating this legal restriction—one can still argue that his official diplomatic appointment gives undue preference to his church. While other churches are not explicitly excluded from reaching out to Filipinos abroad, the official appointment certainly lends to the Iglesia Ni Cristo a special cloak of authority that belongs to officials of the state alone. And, this is so not just in relation to foreign governments, but, more particularly, when dealing with offices in the Philippine bureaucracy that have anything to do with the concerns of overseas Filipinos. We may have no reason to doubt Mr. Manalo’s readiness to serve the interests of all overseas Filipinos, irrespective of their religious affiliation. But, surely, there is something fundamentally wrong, and perhaps unconstitutional, when one church is placed in a privileged position to promote itself by virtue of the special access to the civilian bureaucracy that is conferred upon it.

Another important question: is Mr Manalo properly equipped for the role that is essentially diplomatic in nature? Being the head of a religious group with a global reach is one thing, dealing with foreign governments in an official capacity is a completely different proposition. With the intricacies of diplomacy and international relations, with all of its protocols, customs and even traditions, one cannot help but wonder what’s the reaction of the Diplomatic corps be like? How many other career diplomats have been by-passed by the appointment? These questions I leave to the experts.

Lastly, the appointment cannot be isolated from the open secret that politicians regularly seek the support of the INC because of its block-voting practice and in return, individuals it endorses gets appointed to various government posts. We go back to Randy David who has pointed it out clearly:

The Duterte administration seems to take this game a notch higher. It has dropped all pretenses concerning the link between religion and politics. Short of actually establishing the INC as its official church, this administration makes no attempt to hide the fact that the Iglesia, which supported the President in the last elections, is its favored church. Both seem determined to keep this partnership strong and enduring.

Mr Manalo’s appointment is unprecedented, while there have been other INC members, some with rank within the congregation, that have been in various government posts, he is the first Executive Minister to hold one. The implications on the inter-play between politics and religion would be profound. Note that a year from now, we will be electing 12 Senators that will shape the fate of the Duterte administration.

Disclosure: The blogger is a convert to the INC. His views and opinions are entirely his own.