About this site

Tumbang Preso (meaning, knock down the jail) is a game of arrests and escapes where each player's life
chances depends on the toppling of a tin can watched by a tag who plays guard.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Cafe Armalite days

Is Sabrina Ikbala Voon Muslim or Not?
Days after she was kidnapped, this question was posted on Facebook. 
You never know, one put in, the times they are a-changin’. The girl is a businesswoman, she sells beauty products. 

One male gossip insinuated that it was the son the kidnappers wanted; but the boy violently resisted while the young mother bravely volunteered herself, in lieu of the son, so it was she they took.
A jihadist argued: kidnapping of jahils (whores), munafiqs (hypocrites), and kaffirs (infidels) is just. But fellow Muslims, no. 

Not Muslim, some bar-going men judged. 

Hands off, dear, a Tausug friend now in the peace-keeping force stopped my rantings. It might not be kidnapping for ransom. What she heard, she said, is it was a custodial fight between two adults, private matter. The boy’s father could not even get near his son, how is that. 

By the time I got to Jolo, I had made enough enough enemies on account of Sabrina’s Muslimhood that I threw Sabrina out of my mind. So much for. I was thinking of Linda and their Café Armalite film, now unfilmed, and who Karen said, was a Muslim and did not wear a scarf. I was thinking of her because a friend said that she saw the news of their release and that the two of them were covered head to foot. Only their eyes could be seen from behind the slits of the black cloths around their faces. 
Be that they did not set the camp to fire.  

Then Linda and Nadjoua, I should know, are no whiny bitches. They get along; won’t do theatrics just because some sword-brandishing Koran-quoting Quasimodo asked them to cover their aurat. Just like that other girl, the one who got widowed after marrying her abductor, I can’t even remember her name now, Jo?, the kaffir engineer in the Ipil caper over a decade ago, whom the Abu Sayaf converted and married. We interviewed that one. At the time we were doing this CATW-HURIDOCS project inventorying human rights violations against women, and big was my dismay because she attested that No, she was not forced; she fell in love, or learned to love his captor now his husband, and that she found redemption or found a truer faith in Islam. She also related that the kidnapper-lover, during the early phase of the courtship when she was still all-resistance, kept on saying what a waste she was, a waste that she had to be a kaffir, a lost woman. 

So when my friend in Zamboanga said later that Sabrina, it turned out, was not a kidnap for ransom case but an abduction for marriage, it felt like Alhamdulillah we will never run out of this. Marriage boom in the country’s kidnap capital!
Question: Who collects?

Gone are the days when

Monday morning, 03 March, a friend in Zamboanga messaged me. Dr. Ikbala has been kidnapped. The incident, it was said, happened Sunday afternoon.  A lady who claims the doctor is a relative belied the news. Yes, kidnappers did enter the Ikbala vicinity, she said, but the doctor refused to go with them and just gave them money. A day later another version had it that robbers and not kidnappers entered the house.  

The headline news on Jolo’s runaway wire that Monday, however, was the Jajurie children, not Dr Ikbala. Three kids from Dr Farouk Jajurie’s household, ages eight, twelve, and fifteen, were nabbed by armed men, along with their driver, as they were on their way to school. On the banner side of the day’s news would be the two salesclerks at Natasha’s ground floor of Helen’s Lodge just right across Rizal Plaza.

On the street, people were abuzz with more news. On the same day that kidnappers or robbers got into the Ikbala house, a policeman had been shot; he just bought a ticket for Zamboanga and had taken a peep at the gym where a pageant was in progress. His daughter was up there and would be crowned Budjang Tiangge (Miss Jolo) later that evening. She would be informed of her father’s death. She stood through it all, in a state of shock, tears streaming down her face as she was dragged around the show. 
Hulah mangih, people whispered to each other. The times are dangerous; evil is aboard. Be careful, be ever careful.

Media is however conspicuously silent. Even the social media people in Zamboanga did not know about it. My sister in San Fernando sat through the newscasts, ABS-CBN, GMA, TV5; there was nothing on Jolo, she said.

She was interested because a daughter was pregnant and wanted to take a vacation in Jolo. The girl is thoroughly ignorant; didn't know a thing about war, about garbage disposal issues, about water supply issues. Whaat??? Oh my God, you have no TV??? Several text messages later she decided she will not get out of the island alive.

I also haven’t told her mother that the death of the policeman here was on account of another man’s daughter getting pregnant. That the boy’s father the shot man’s brother, refused to pay a fine; refused to spend for the wedding, saying it’s the fault of the girl, if girls nowadays were not cheap sluts, so what if she was family to that goddamn island politico (he didn’t say this within anyone’s earshot, I’m sure). So the boy’s father was shot first last year and no wedding took place. This cop who lost a brother therefore decided to bring the case to Camp Crame in Manila, where the generals are; and that was what this trip was all about. So they got two in a row. I have no idea where the boy or the girl is now, but obviously, fines and weddings and blood debts are matters that belong to fathers and elders;  erring kids are not supposed to interfere.

It is all very discouraging. I was not even through thinking over the Bansil sisters when all this got to me. Linda and Nadjoua, who, as town talk would have it, were just in Talipao all those eight months, playing house with the kidnappers. “Nagbaybay,” as they say in local lingo. One of the sisters is pregnant, or pregnant months ago, “matagal na,” according to someone who came from there. The guy who brought the news to Jolo could not tell however which one was pregnant; he had not spoken with the kidnapped girls, of course, as none could get near; they were cordoned off from visitors. Besides, with the both of them covered from top to bottom, who could tell one woman apart from the other.

Then women friends also told me about a Sister Fatima, a nun, who was half-white, very pretty. An Abu Sayaf commander married her, a few years back. She was pregnant when she was released. Of course she left the nunnery and went back to her country.

You just don’t jump into conclusions, no you don’t, they warned me. Don’t I say that it was kidnap, kidnap for ransom it wasn’t; it could have been guyud. We were sitting inside a roadside coffee shop, and a councilor from the municipal hall right across the street is being chatted up by another friend; he is paying for our coffee and the friend is soliciting for our publication, which the girls said, is high offensive lesbian. With their help, we are going to make the March women issue more photogenic.

Guyud, the friend sitting across explained, is traditional Tausug custom of getting oneself a bride by abduction.  

I sometimes cannot believe my eyes how some legends and fantasies about horse-riding men lifting with one hand runaway women still persist. So I said to friends who order me to evacuate, Shucks who wants my head; halaws don’t interest Captain Jacks in the least.

Don’t say that, they say. We don't know who are they; they're no Captain Jacks; they could be neighborhood addicts and they will pick anybody, and soon they will pick anything for a ten thousand or five.

Hilarious. Wouldn’t that democratize kidnapping a bit when traditionally it was only lucrative scourge of the rich? Why, in some shoreline communities, bride price has gone that low. And diyat, the fine for physically injuring another person, can go as low as five hundred, if it was only a tomboy hurting another important tomboy. (Unimportant tomboys won’t haul you to the barangay justice hall.) At the rate we are going, rape should be decriminalized soon.

Just a week back, a journalist friend to Arlene dela Cruz was relating to me what Arlene related to her. That no, the Abu Sayaf did not rape her, they just stripped her naked and threw her into a pit they dug for her, where they hogtied her, and spat at her. That’s what you do to kaffirs. That’s what you do to journalists. 

So I can understand and I thoroughly understand, if Philippine media, taking the cue from Mindanao HR groups and CSOs, had taken on an Abandon Jolo policy. They don’t want journalists? Fine. Let the rotten island rot. They’ll slaughter their own children soon and that will be the day when the place will perhaps be story-worthy.

The first time I heard of it this policy was from an NGO bigwig. Abandon Jolo!, he said. His own organization’s long foray into the field ended somewhat badly, resources captured, the best of his HR people now either settled down or remarried, with one slapped with a criminal case and is now in jail.
This recent wave of kidnappings, I want to tell them, should be interesting because they are taking fellow Muslims, not just kaffir journalists from Manila. For all they know it might be the new class and gender war: two-pronged; one against the elite; and the other against the female sex. See, the Tausug community itself is confounded; wayna, they say, we are a lost tribe if we hurt our own, bang pagkahi ta da in mulahun ta. The girls working at Natasha’s, said a tricycle driver, were Tausugs. He was mumbling to himself as he said so. It's all very well if it's only the Christians they kidnap. Then he checked himself and gave me a second third look.

So I said to my sister, who is neither a journalist nor a sociologist, I don’t really know what’s going on. I’d like to think, like how my Tausug girl-friends think, that the boys just want to marry. There is so much hunger here, so much deprivation. Then Jolo is full of bachelor women, young, pretty, and looking. Then if the men who kidnapped the girls were jihadists, maybe pretty girls selling cosmetics is their idea of kaffir bagu, the new infidels? Isn’t that nice? Muslimhood, ethno-religious identity continuously being redefined and reinvented? The Tausugs maybe extremely ethnocentric and chauvinist; the decades of war on their communities may have made them very sectarian and anti-Christian; but they are not a closed society.

Gone are the days when the only enemy they knew, their idea of a satru, was the Marine soldier and his whore.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I don't care about you
If you get what you want
If they get you
And hand you over to the men
Who elsewise could not get near you.

You are just a piece of meat
No less untouchable
They will clothe you

Like what they did to the others
You will come home changed gagged

You will embrace your sins
You will recite verses for curses


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sabrina Ikbala Voon: Kidnapped!

                                                         photo: doc raden ikbala

A couple of days before the news of the Bansils' release or escape from captivity, out came the news of another  kidnapping, that of Sabrina Ikbala Voon, 28-year old.

After the outpouring of prayers and sympathies, the background check. Is she Muslim? Who is the truer Muslim, Sabrina or her abductors? And then one mouthful: I knew her years back. I met her in a bar. There was nothing Muslim about her, but maybe I am mistaken and didn't really know her.

I hate checking on beautiful girls. But I had to go, and among my finds (this is random and incomplete):

1. she owns a guitar, with her name etched on it, and thinks that life is like playing the guitar; it has its transitions, and the more you listen, the more that you tune in, the sound getting better and better;

2. beauty is her trade and she believes that imperfection is beauty; and that happy girls are the prettiest.

 3. she loves marilyn monroe, who said that if you cannot take me at my worst; then you cannot
 have me at my best;
4. she signs with her name all her art works, including her self-portraits. There is no taking from her what she wears well -- beauty, elegance, and the brightest pair of eyes.

5. She may color her hair red, or yellow, but she is no dumb blonde. (Apologies to dumb blondies, if dumb blondies do exist.)

My suit is: should beauty and vibrance make of a girl less Muslim?

where do you hang out?

Where do you hang out? Mindvalley asks. In my mind’s plateau?

I like the question though. It is interested. So I curtsy and answer: Right now I am at Garden Orchid, all gratitude to the graces of capitalism – whatever that means. I am in no mood to wrestle with the igzakness of words. All I mean is I am enjoying the luxury of a spacious hall, free wifi access, free power charge, without the clerks and the stewards sending me out or pushing under my nose the bar menu. 

Igzak. I first encountered this word from Amrina, semi literate high school graduate who can’t even pronounce Tumba Lata right. Laa-tah, she likes to say, until I had to give up and say, so be it. Laa-tah then. Her mother, who was Day Care teacher of an alternative children’s school where she was enrolled liked to berate her, calling her, not semi-illiterate, mind you, retardate, she would say. My retardate daughter, in local lingo. Retardate kaw! Retardate kaw tuud! I can’t recall if Child Rights were in vogue by then, that was late 1990s, I believe, and incest rape and such were what was looked on as human rights violation (or women’s rights, at the time). 

Ten o’ clock igsak, she wrote. You do not spell-check a word like that. It’s so authentic. And the Tausugs, or the locals, have this way with words, they have a way of picking words from the air and make it homegrown. That’s how we have meyul for mayor, gubnul for governor, abugaw for abugado. Naghapen for what happened. And now, igzak. But the z replacing s is my own interference. I cannot stand sitting by watching when there is so much word game going on.

What is hanging out in Tausug? Naglali. Yari aku ha lawang sin Garden Orchid naglilingkud ha sopa nila ini, nagfi-facebook. Iyan hi Neldy, Tausug researcher, linguist, local historian, in correct word kunu subay pag-usalun when we are referring to the language, Sinug, bukun Tausug. In Tausug tao, in language Sinug. Like Sinama for the language of the Sama people. Okay. No probz.

I bury camouflage my face behind all this. Because I cannot bury my face in the couch. I don’t want to be seen. Stealing info tech access, no cup of coffee to prop me for company; it feels lonesome. Muslim ladies sashay by. The crème de la crème of the Moro intelligentsia. They don’t know me I don’t know them.

I wonder. If there was a third party watching us, would they observe, “they look at each other archly.”

Friday, February 21, 2014

white man in my country

When I first read this piece what I felt was, Fuck. This one hurts.
Then on second reading, it was, Hell, it was a life well-lived! Selling ice cubes is appropriate; it goes with beer and rum. And he was right about rum over piggy-banking; he was right about fries and hotdogs and about bastard fathers; and he was right about dying on some friggin’ plan to retire in a country he long abandoned for what he became. The rest (Jesus, funeral rights, Facebook, one cold heart) is not for him to suffer.

Ed Quitoriano
(a repost from Facebook)

His first love was computers, not new ones but stuff that needed his screwdrivers, solders and wits for resuscitation.  You could see heaven on his face once the dead computer came to life. Then came Ms. J, the biggest love of his life.   

Life with Ms. J was the peak of the happiness that he wished for. All the more the world around him became hazier.  He chose only a few people to connect with and only those he believed could understand him. In fact, he was a person not easy to fathom and I am not one of the few who could.  For almost twenty years we talked without talking, thought of each other without really trying; I, always hoping he got what he wished for.

Ms. J died somewhere in 2008 but not without giving her all to him, including a will to a family inheritance for him to live by in Bohol.  But without Ms. J, he went deep inside himself, harnessing and brandishing his own beliefs and fought for the will as if it were a claim he could make without making friends with Ms. J’s family and friends.   He placed all the money he got for legal battles he could not win until he lost and found himself dejected, always believing that he was a victim of discrimination in a foreign country.

But he never gave up nor dared himself to rethink fully well.  He just pivoted, acquired some rice lands on mortgage, ran a small swine farm and soothed his loneliness with beer and rum.  In March 2011, he met Ms. L through SMS.  She was forty-something then, never married.  She is a teacher, a specialist in braille.

They decided to live together, moved to Ms. L’s hometown and decided to live as man and wife – alone in a rented small bungalow near a jetty.  She went to teach and he to sell homemade ice cubes. He bought three freezers, she a generator after Yolanda struck the power lines.  After work, she would come home to prepare a hundred of ice packs in small plastic bags.  The ice business earned them PHP200-300 a day but not without a daily fight over how the earnings should be spent.  The man won and got the daily dose of beer and rum and the usual drunkenness, vomiting and not knowing where the bedroom is.

For him, the booze was his world away from sadness into a make-believe world of remembering Ms. J.  He loves Ms. L, he would say but nonchalantly also say that he loves Ms. J more than everything else.  He still had Ms. J’s dog with him and her name as password to his email address.   He would play their favourite songs and shed tears in front of his desktop, with Ms. L patiently watching and listening by his side.

Two years of booze and dejection, on the one hand, and the ever-loving presence of Ms. L, on the other, made him decide that 2014 would be different.  He whispered a promise: he would marry her, bring her to his homeland, tour her to Paris and money would be no object.  He said he had stashed some money, big money, somewhere in Switzerland in the care of someone he would divulge.  He also got himself a new passport and was making inquiries with his embassy for the marriage and travel requirements.

On January 10, he passed away, found slumped in front of his desktop with earphones still on.  The whispered promise to Ms. L. came too late.  Even the passwords to his files and pin numbers of his ATM he brought to his grave.

To local people, he was ‘the American who died because of too much drinking without eating.’  But he was also the American who dug an old man and a child from the rubbles during the October 2013 earthquake and the technician who taught neighbours how to convert their motorbikes into power generators during the blackout that followed Yolanda’s onslaught.

A lot of foreigners got married to locals in Bohol but to most people they are all Americans, including Mr. K. But he was not the typical foreigner or the typical Dutchman.  Even during the earthquake, he admonished Ms. L to stop praying to Jesus on the argument that Jesus has nothing to do with earthquakes.  In fact, he could easily get into an argument with anyone if it was about religion, faith and super beings.  He would rather that Ms L watch science documentaries than talk about God. How much he hated Pacquaio, dancing prisoners and Pinoy soap opera for wasting the time of viewers.
At one time Ms. L’s uncle, a 60-something community organizer, offered to give them company. It did not take very long for him to claim primacy of beliefs,  calling him a ‘murderer’ for killing ants that clung to his underwear; or an abuser for shooing his dogs away; or a transgressor for switching on the TV without his permission or for wiping off the stinking vomit from the floor.

He could wage war on anything and everything if it was about what he stood for. He grew pigs and could not stand the sight of a slaughter. He ate crabmeat but could not help calling a cook a torturer for cooking the crab alive and bound.  I too had a bout with him many years ago for suggesting that I should not dare to offer fries and hotdog to my son because I was only the biological father and he was the real father in my frequent absence.

A lot of friends really wanted and tried to understand him, but he chose to be alone.  Ms. L tried her all to bring him to the present in her hometown. She introduced and brought him to parties and reunions with fellow teachers and never for a moment faltered on the husband-wife image and despite the frequent remembrance of Ms. J as the love of his life.   The only moments that she stood up against him were when she demanded he stop drinking, forcibly pulling him to the bathroom. She would beg for him to change his clothes when he took her to school. But he was a fortress of self-choice. He would demand ownership of Ms. L’s time after school, often threatening to complain why she had to work overtime when it was voluntary on her part.

Ms L was in panic when she found him dead.  She had never seen a dead man in her house, much less a partner whose family she did not know and whose friends she would only know from the stories he told or via Facebook.  She was alone with him and there was the basket of fears - of being asked by the police about the cause of death, payment for the morgue, when to bury him and the expenses for the wake and the funeral. 

But to her surprise, people she does not know were forthcoming.  Even the neighbours who kept their distance came forward to console her and offer their prayers – despite knowing that if he were alive, they would not be allowed to pray in his house. Somebody even made sure that a customized casket would be crafted because his size would not fit the standard Pinoy caskets.

Now he has no choice; he cannot prevent people from praying over him or the priest who said mass yesterday.   He and Ms L never officially got married but on his casket Ms L. inscribed “from the loving memory of his wife… sons, daughters, relatives and friends.”  Underneath the casket are his dogs, including Ms. J’s dog.  For them, he is just asleep and they wait.

I owe him, a debt I can never repay.  The last twenty years without communication is something that brings pain, and somehow, the good years before that do not strangely warm my heart.

Goodbye, Kees.