Burma’s boatpeople ‘faced choice of annihilation or risking their lives at sea’
Thousands of members of the Rohingya, a Burmese minority group, are now adrift in the Andaman Sea, with aid groups fearing ‘boatloads of corpses’. They were carried or staggered ashore, some paralysed by malnutrition, others little more than walking skeletons, burnt and dazed from weeks at sea on boats the UN has called “floating coffins”.
not too long ago i was dismayed to find that blogger caffeine_sparks was In a Benigno State of Mind, Benigno referring to blogger benignO, once of Filipino Voices, who is pinoy but based in australia and a notorious pinoy-basher. no, sparks hasn’t turned into a benignO. but she was on the road to?
I returned to the Philippines a year and a half ago full of hope, my mind filled with notions of right and justice. I had not been gone that long, but I was far away enough to have forgotten what it was like, the chaos and the madness. In my mind’s eye, home was a damsel in distress waiting to be rescued. And there I was, her gallant knight. Not all believe themselves to be heroic. It takes a certain kind of conceit and delusion to believe that what one does matters in the larger scheme of things.
Since my return I made a conscious decision to climb down from my ivory tower. Ensconced in the private spaces we inhabit, we can afford to tune out the undesirable public. What we all possess in our private spaces – our families and friends, work – we have in our immediate control. The public – that jungle of common rules, common values and common spaces – are owned by no one and everyone. Here it isn’t easily discernible who are responsible, where our interests lie, what we have at stake and what we can and cannot control. Because the rules that dictate the public are arbitrary and because enforcement itself is arbitrary, it is easy to feel helpless. In such a system it often seems it is each person for herself.
A year and a half ago, I climbed down my ivory tower, afraid of the ugliness that I would see. Called to duty, the knight errant wanted to come to the rescue anyway. And here I am, a year and a half later. I have not quite earned my battle spurs. All I have are a few scrapes. I have had but a glimpse of what teems underneath our public skin. I am at once amazed and disgusted. This is my country. This is my people. This is me.
With one eye to the horizon, I ask myself these days whether these exercises in fruitlessness truly matters. Or that they work in bringing the normative in fruition. I am but a gnat, cowed by the mountain. Perhaps it is me who needs rescuing.
sparks is one of my favorite bloggers. she was in australia taking (if i’m not mistaken) her ph.d. when i discovered her blog in 2007 and it was great when she returned, started teaching in a sosyal university in qc, and blogging on political issues, even attending debates in congress, keeping track of, among others, the RH bill. academic but engaged, how rare, so i couldn’t help commenting and expressing my alarm over the prospect of losing her to another country.
me: i hope you don’t do a sheila coronel. that would be so sad.
sparks: i admire sheila for having stayed so long, despite all she has seen. the last nine years have been tough on many filipinos.
me: i admire more the ones who stay who don’t stop trying, just because it’s the right thing to do. when the good ones go, it makes things worse.
sparks: being filipino is costly, unfortunately. we cannot all afford to stay. if it were only me, i can manage. but i have others to think of who depend on me.
i don’t know what drove sheila to leave. perhaps her heart has been broken one time too many. or because of who she is and her work, it could be she got could no longer carry the burden of death threats.
yeah, not to speak of libel suits. but isn’t that par for the course? anyway sheila left in september 2006, she who founded the philippine center for investigative journalism in 1990 that played a huge part in the downfall of joseph estrada in 2001. she left barely a month after the inquirer broke the news of apo’s jim paredes “giving up on RP” and migrating to australia, which was masalimuot because paredes denied giving up on RP and demanded an apology, even if yes, he was migrating. in contrast, the media did not report sheila’s exit (what does that tell us about mainstream media of which she was a leading light) which was noted only on the internet.
here’s my reaction to both departures that i posted soon after in pete lacaba’s e-group plaridel papers, unedited:
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto: email@example.com] On Behalf Of stuartsantiago
Sent: 27 September 2006 16:03
Subject: [plaridel] Sheila’s (not quite) goodbye
Seems like only bloggers have heard that PCIJ head and Magsaysay awardee Sheila Coronel has left RP for greener pastures. Manolo Quezon’s blog of September 12 had a one-liner about it: “Sheila Coronel becomes an OFW. She will be terribly missed.” and a link to PCIJ’s blog with Sheila’s email from New York.
Jim Paredes migrating to Australia, I didn’t mind much; in fact it
offends me that he’s back already just because biglang me raket na daw uli ang APO, and nandito na rin lang siya, pinatulan na rin niya ang offer ng Pinoy Dream Academy. Ano yon? He did say in that Inquirer article that “I felt I’d already done too much in Manila. I experienced political fatigue. Nothing new was being discussed in Manila. I told my son: ‘There is polarization. There are no new ideas.’ People have become cynical. I had to leave. I needed to recharge. I had a good life. I want to do things in a foreign country. I told my wife I wanted to leave before I got too old.”
But no, someone convinced him that he could make a difference, and naniwala naman siya, I suppose nag-ego trip, Pinoy TV needs him (never mind that showbiz politics is no less toxic than national politics, and nothing has changed since he left). Kaya pala siya nag-hair-splitting ng katakut-takot over that headline. Kung give-up na pala siya sa RP, ano pang mukha ang ihaharap niya sa Pinoy public, ano pa ang credibility niya? Indeed: what might he inspire the youth to dream of, migrating maybe, APO style?
Sheila I mind losing. She’s not the usual OFW, she wasn’t a struggling Pinoy here with a family to feed clothe and shelter. She is a highly-regarded, highly-appreciated, highly-awarded journalist and writer. She had a good life here, she is loved here, she was close to a national treasure in my book. If she was bored na with PCIJ and wanted to move on, surely she did not lack for challenges or new arenas here. She wanted to teach, she could have taught here, opened her own school here…
Yeah yeah I know, iba na ang stateside, iba ang prestige, and besides, she says that RP will always be her home naman (sounds like a migrant to me) and that she hopes to bring back here what she learns in newyorknewyork. It troubles me that she doesn’t say how long she’ll be away. Obviously not for just a year or two, no?
Like I always say when I see precious brains draining away: (batobato sa langit) at least their values and politics, their true colors, which is a large part of the Philippine problematique, are revealed for what they are, and we can do without them for the nonce. Until they see the light, of course, and we can welcome them back with open arms and a heartfelt ‘mabuhay!’
i didn’t get a single response (typical of plaridel) except for a private email from one fil-am member who used to be my brother louie’s student in la salle greenhills, now a history professor in an american university, who defended sheila’s move. emails flew back and forth between us until finally he conceded:
… immigrant guilt: this is a crucial point. I think guilt is a constitutive element of immigrant consciousness. As the old saw goes, you can take the Pinoy out of Pinas, but you can’t take Pinas out of the Pinoy. Even in the most pathetic expressions of disaffiliation (often caricatured in the figure of the balik-yabang who turns his or her nose up on everything pinoy, only to reveal a deep attachment to the country), there is still an abiding love for the nation. But as I said, this love can show itself in many different ways. People like Sheila perhaps are more valuable living there. But who’s to say what effects she’ll have in her temporary exile? (Can you imagine, for example, if Rizal and his generation hadn’t travelled and lived abroad for a while, what a vastly different course our history would have taken? But then again, there’s Bonifacio and Mabini who never set foot outside of the Philippines, though it’s arguable that they wouldn’t have become the revolutionary they were without the influence of people likeRizal).
As for people like me, well, who knows… All I’m saying is that from the point of view of the migrant Pinoy, there is always a moral anxiety about being elsewhere. And it is this anxiety that constantly connects him or her to the country. So when I invoke the “global” or “cosmopolitan” nature of the Philippines, it’s not a salve to immigrant conscience. On the contrary. It’s a symptomatic inflammation of immigrant guilt (and you might grant that the vernacular equivalent of this is good old fashioned utang na loob/hiya).
All of which is to say that I may have spoken out of turn by responding to your note and should have realized that I cannot possibly adequately address the sense of loss you and others must feel from losing someone llike Sheila and others like her. I should have been the one to give you the benefit of the doubt especially since I have a wealth of doubts of my own, no doubt too much to hoard for myself.
last year sheila was home for the u.p. centennial celebrations, but i found out only by accident, can’t even remember how, and she left again with nary a word or foot of coverage by the media.
in contrast jim has been around quite a lot. i’ve seen him on tv taking part in rallies, e.g., with the national artists, and with cnn hero efren penaflorida, and of course the apo was part of the cory’s last rites. i haven’t heard him saying much though, mostly because i’ve stopped listening to him, but apparently he has been tweeting a lot and carlos celdran found his tweets negative and depressing which is why he called paredes a “negatron” on media in focus, and raised the question of why the aussie citizen is back if he doesn’t have anything good to say about the philippines. and so began the twitter catfight:
jimparedes: @carlosceldran I don’t have anc but ppl seem to be tweeting you claim I am an australian. If u did. Take it back.
carlosceldran: @jimparedes OK. No sweat. I take it back. And hey, If you didn’t back out from show @ last minute, you could have clarified it yourself. :o)
jimparedes: @carlosceldran Yes, you are wrong. Am not Aussie. And I’ve spent more time here than in Aus.
carlosceldran: @jimparedes Of course you have lived here longer. Duh. But do have residency in Australia? Can you stay there for as long as you want?
carlosceldran: @jimparedes I was under the impression that you mostly live in Australia and have residency? Am I wrong? So sorry for that if I am.
jimparedes: @carlosceldran When speaking about others especially when they are not present, strive for accuracy of facts.
carlosceldran: @jimparedes Of course, I agree. But with you being in Sydney a lot, it’s easy to have impression that you have Aussie residency/citizenship.
carlosceldran: @jimparedes Besides, why didn’t you go? The producers were really upset that you did it at such the last minute.
jimparedes: @carlosceldran So it was your spin that I backed out last minute?
carlosceldran: @jimparedes And let it be known, ANC came up with the subject about you. NOT ME. That’s why it was important for you to be on the show.
jimparedes: @carlosceldran And so as historian, you felt you could speak about me with authority?
jimparedes: @carlosceldran I have lived here longer the past 3 years than there. Double DUH!!
carlosceldran: @jimparedes And let’s not start again. The show was shot days ago. Before I acknowleged that you were a good guy. Peace out.
jimparedes: You always want to quickly end what you start in the first place.
carlosceldran: @jimparedes Was that last comment about ending stuff quickly for me? You forgot to add my @ name?
jimparedes: @carlosceldran YOu probably made peace because you knew there was gna be a fallout abt what you said in the show.
carlosceldran: @jimparedes OF course I want to end issues and arguments quickly. What’s the point in dragging it on? And I didn’t start it. ANC asked me.
carlosceldran: @jimparedes What fallout? Dude. Speaking of doing research before talking. How about watching the show FIRST then get back to me.
carlosceldran: @jimparedes If you think it was a jimparedes BASH fest, you are wrong. The topic was about positive and negative images in media etc.
carlosceldran: @jimparedes It’s not my spin that you backed out. It was told to us by producers and announced at beginning of show.
carlosceldran: @jimparedes Before you keep tweeting. Watch the show first. Then get back to me. And as for the fallout, as if I care what your fans say.
carlosceldran: At the end of the day, I apologize ONCE AGAIN to @jimparedes for offending him. I am sure we have more in common than not.
jimparedes: I dont need to be right or say the last word. Nuff said Peace carlos! It s christmas
jimparedes: @carlosceldran it s christmas. Lets drop this. We are bigger than petty stuff. Peace. Sincerely!
carlosceldran: @jimparedes Yes! Peace man! But glad we got to talk. I really wish we met face to face. I’m sure we would have gotten along at end. Cheers!
jimparedes: Sorry to disappoint d crowd. There aint gna b a thrilla in manila. Show’s over.
petty stuff? nothing petty about the migration issue. in effect, jim paredes trivializes the momentous life-changing act of migration. he migrated, but not really. he’s a man with two countries, eating his cake and having it too. and feeling entitled, like most visiting balikyabangs, to behave like, and think that, he is still one of us, nothing has changed, he still belongs.
excuse me, but not in my book. that kind of special regard i reserve for struggling pinoys who are forced to work abroad as a a matter of survival and remit their hard-earned dollars home to keep their families alive. pinoys who would come home for good in a heartbeat if only there were jobs to be had here.
for all others, specially public figures, role models, like jim, or sheila, who had a good life here naman (relatively speaking) but who left anyway because it’s not enough or it’s too hard (how NOT zen), well, something changes. sheila no doubt knows this, that’s why we hear nothing from her; she spares us her opinions, even when she visits.
again, in contrast, jim the negatron spares us nothing except an explanation of why he’s spending more time here than in his beloved australia. so what’s up? we don’t deserve to know? it’s his private business? but he feels free to rub it in about what a basket case we are? why the arrogance? it’s not that the criticism is unwarranted or baseless, but that, hey, alam na namin ‘yan, we don’t need you, who turned your back on the country, rubbing it in. as guest, if you have nothing good to say, say nothing na lang.
well, maybe he doesn’t consider himself a guest but still a full-fledged citizen. if so, then what’s stopping him from saying so? dapat kaya niyang sagutin ang mga tanong ni celdran. dapat kaya niyang i-defend his double-life. who knows? we might even understand, give him the benefit of the doubt. but to refuse to explain, as though we have no right to ask, as if we should just be happy he’s back, after all the nega stuff he said three years ago to justify his migration, is simply unacceptable. lalo na’t he has more than 12,000 twitter followers who hang on to his every word and think he is one great pinoy. what a drag disaster!