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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.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Unu kaw?

“Unu kaw, usug kaw? Babai kaw? Di ko maunu…” That is to say, What are you, are you a man? A woman? I could not tell, thus said a 50-year old woman occupying the cot next to mine. I am always surprised. I have this imaging of myself as female walking, a pair of lumps on my chest, girl’s doe eyes, girl’s thick mouth, but happens all the time, people in the street and marketplace addressing me as Utuh. So I said, “tomboy ako, Inah.” She nodded in total comprehension, “Ah tomboy huun,” like she gotit right the first time.

Not without my...

CRISIS IS OVER. At least that’s what my landlady said to me as soon as I stepped on to the yard of her house of which I am good tenant after a week of absence. After your rally, she announced, no more kidnapping incidents. The Chief of Police had been fired, a new one has been appointed. And all the while, she added, our mayor was abroad, in Europe, vacationing. 

So that was why he wasn’t there at the plaza, the Lady feeling betrayed and giving him a special citation for not showing up. The rally organizers projected four thousand marchers. Actual show-ups, I’d say, would be a thousand at most if hangers-on and those standing outside corner stores across the streets counted. Most of these hundreds, largely male, stood outside the fenced yard of the plaza, limbs straddling the painted steel bars like dingbats caught in mid-flight by the mid-day sun. 

What put a stop to the kidnappings, Landlady explained, was the coming of former Vice Governor Jikiri, who came to Jolo and went straight to the Office of the Governor bearing a list, the names of suspected kidnappers. That’s how the kidnappers fell, she said, one by one. One of those in the list was the son of a prominent politician; the father had a heart attack when he learned that his son is in the list. He had to be carted aboard a C-130 plane, and later, had to be brought to Manila because the hospital in Zamboanga could not handle the case. A vendor whose daughter had been raped gave me these details. But the tricycle driver who first gave me this news did not name the father. My landlady did. I remember him as the husband of the lady with a pistol who screamed not without my son!!! She would not go home unless she took home with her the darling son who was lined up there among other suspects, and was positively identified by the raped girl, but whom the mayor, in whose office the case had been brought, defended as an improbable rapist because he knows the boy, and knows him to be gay.    

No more dramas in my life!!! is what I have been wanting to scream to the world all this time. Kviranda Akulova, to my surprise, wrote back, promising an English translation of her take on the Pussy Riot for the heroes martyrs western press made of this oh-oh band because I could not understand any Russian, I just understood that that’s what she titled the piece -- No more dramas in my life!!! –. The first time I encountered that line, it was not a Russian but a Colombian speaking. I was talking to Juliana and I asked her if she knew Mujeres Creando and she said of course she does, she did, and that but Mujeres Creando is a couple, so when they broke up, the feminist lesbian collective collapsed, and that she has no problems with radical feminists in the US or Latin America, only that she hates dramas, what she wants is work. LoL, see, that’s what I meant that nobody could comprehend all these years, that in Life as in Work, in the trenches as on paper, sentiments are a bog gitawtoffitt.

To go back to the son and the father, the identified rapist son is the same one who figured in the kidnappings and rape of women in Jolo between 2007 and 2009. The same one the then mayor and now vacationing mayor defended as “bading” to be guilty of rape of women. Hija mia, said this mayor to the girl who filed the case, I know this boy, he could have not been one of the guys, bantut in bata’ yan, the boy is gay. LOL, and the boy’s mother, the one with a pistol in her bag, which she took out and pointed at Cocoy Tulawie for raising a hand threatening to slap her when she rained insults on the molested girl his HR client, hu u? she shrieked at her, in crisp Tausug, rereypin ng anak ku? excuse me, bading yang anak ku para hipuan ka! The girl recanted later, after having been gifted by the mayor and God knows who else with fare money to get out of Jolo.

I don’t think anyone was surprised when the names came out. Rapists roam free, in Jolo and elsewhere. People know them by name meet them on the street befriend and chat with them on Facebook, but to cry rape?   

The rally at Plaza Marina on the 14th of March, for instance, if anyone noticed, was strikingly quiet on rape, as though rape was not an issue. The only speaker who tangentially took it up was the young girl who represented the youth sector, who said that most of those kidnapped were women. She didn’t elaborate, but you knew what she could not and did not mention in her speech. Doctor Ismael was bold enough to make known a plaint long there in the hearts of many, but no mention of rape either. He rued that there was a time when there was the MNLF to defend us and stand by us, but now no more, there’s only us to help us. Nakauna aun pa MNLF mamaugbug katu’, bihaun wayna, kita na hadja in mamaugbug katu’. At the same moment that he was speaking, some of those who still believe in the MNLF were at a conference hall at Mindanao State University, where an MILF peace agenda was in progress, and they complained, this Framework of Agreement on the Bangsamoro disregards everything the MNLF stood for and is out to replace the MNLF why must we rally behind this. A friend in the NGO with an Abandon Jolo policy (maybe at post-FAB it’s not Abandon Jolo, anymore; but hey you get into the bandwagon) was there in the FAB-CAB rostrum, and he could not go out of the hotel to buy a fifty pesos shirt at the jual mura because there’s an order from his office to not stray into the street considering the situation. 

The group that organized the rally named itself BASSAKAO, Bangsa Sug Against Kidnapping and Other Crimes. Rape, you assume is among the other crimes, but even now when the rapist-kidnappers are supposed to have been arrested, some people, when speaking about the crisis, past or present, would still refuse to say rape. They will say problems in our community like kidnapping, extortion, hold-up… 

Nahuli na daw, naipadala na daw sa Zamboanga, Landlady informed me. The kidnapper-rapist son had been apprehended and had been sent to Zamboanga. A friend in Zamboanga instructed me: He will not tarry here in Zamboanga; he will be sent to Manila, for sure. That’s their idea of an arrest. You send the erring son to another city or another country, for a vacation, until the trouble blew over or until people forgot about it. You get them out of the island so that they will not bring more disgrace to the family, to the Muslim community, to the bangsa. Kidnap capital is not as bad as rape capital, is it? But just this morning (26th of March) DXMM has this report that Lanao is the country’s kidnap capital, not Sulu. Honour, martabat, is the key word, and you smuggle these boys out not because peanut vendors are out to fry them alive or the raped girls are arming themselves and out to lynch them. You send them out so that their good-hearted father will not have another stroke.


Citizen arrest

Morning of March 25, a local radio station in Jolo reported of a foiled kidnapping at Martirez Street just right outside Sulu State College. It was a case of Citizen Arrest, the report said. The kidnapper, purportedly, was a tricycle driver who picked up a female student for a passenger from Alat at downtown area who asked him to take her to MSU, but as the vehicle was on its way up Martirez Street, the engine conked out the driver had to stop. When the girl lit and made out like she was to flag another tricycle, the driver reportedly nabbed her. The Martirez guys came to her rescue, the radio reported, and had the tricycle driver taken to the police station. The driver cum suspected kidnapper, whom the police did not name for the benefit of the radio report, purportedly said he intends to marry her.  

Another citizen arrest happened right in front of Plaza Marina, reported to me by my landlady. Vendors nabbed a kidnapper purportedly there to collect a five thousand ransom money. He came at the same spot where he or company collected another ransom earlier when they kidnapped a vendor selling banana cue. This time though, the vendors were ready, suicide mode. They just lifted the big pot hot with boiling oil and splashed the kidnapper with it. The other guy who was with him fled in the direction of the Cathedral so that he ran right into the arms of the Marines guarding the vicinity. 
It is all very confusing. And very funny. The lady announcer advising one and all to always take a look at the guy on the driver’s seat and if he looks like a kidnapper, not to get on to the cab, better safe than kidnapped. 

A day after, the same radio announcer would report that the arrested kidnapper at Martirez Street was lynched by tambays, hangers-on, and that a grenade was found on his person. Then this time they gave him a name, Juls, but for whatever reason, he didn’t have a family name. It was not mentioned either that the driver-kidnapper has no tacked ID on the cab’s front seat. I haven’t found time to ask around the Cathedral because nowadays if you ask street vendors, complain the police people, they’d answer “Inday ku” (I don’t know) like automated machines. And for whatever reason, friends working at the Cathedral didn’t know about the fried man in the plaza or about the other man running into the Marines at their gate.

Ordinary citizens and ordinary tricycle drivers, they tell you, kanila ra yan, sila da in mangidnap sila da isab in magsaggaw-saggaw. It’s all their racket, they set all this kidnap racket up, then set up these friggin so-called arrests. I can’t help but feel sorry for the tricycle driver they arrested at Martirez Street. For all I know he was just distressed the girl will not pay him the projected twenty pesos income. After all they were close to getting to MSU, just way over the SSC vicinity. Lately, or since this wave of kidnappings and rape of women, tricycle drivers are held suspect, and they have been complaining of poorer revenues. Women refuse to ride and after four o’ clock no more passengers to pick.  

I suspect it’s hearsay, B minus movies meant to entertain the duped still in post-trauma confusion while the rapist sons are being led away.

My prayer is, that they amply compensated the lynched tricycle driver.

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 CafĂ© 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.