Sunday, August 31, 2008


Being jailed is not new to KMP leader Randall Echanis, 60. His detention in January this year following his arrest in Bago City, Negros Occidental is his third already. It is the prison conditions he is now in that are new to him.

Vol. VIII, No. 30, August 31-September 6, 2008

Being jailed is not new to Randall Echanis, 60, deputy secretary-general for external affairs of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement of the Philippines). An activist for decades now, he had been incarcerated during the Marcos and Aquino administrations. His detention in January this year following his arrest in Bago City, Negros Occidental is his third already.

It is the prison conditions he is now in that are new to him.

Following his arrest on murder charges stemming from allegations that he masterminded a purge within the ranks of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in Inopacan, Leyte in 1984, Echanis –- who was in prison at the time the alleged purge took place –- was detained at the Provincial Jail in Palo, Leyte. In late July, he was transferred to the Philippine National Police (PNP) Custodial Center in Camp Crame, but, only a few days later, was again transferred, this time to the Manila City Jail.

When Bulatlat visited to interview him for this article, he was sitting in a cubicle, one of many in Dorm 3 and other “dormitories” at the said jail. His cubicle is just big enough to fit a bed on which Echanis –- who is of average height for a Filipino -– could not even lie down with his body fully stretched. From his cubicle you could barely see the outside of the jail: poet Amado V. Hernandez, who was imprisoned in Muntinlupa on trumped-up “rebellion complexed with murder and other crimes” charges in the 1950s, was “lucky” he could even see “isang dipang langit” (a stretch of sky) from his cell, because Echanis can see less than that.

The cubicles are either for sale for anywhere between P5,000 ($108.88 at the Aug. 29 exchange rate of $1:P45.92) and P70,000 ($1,524.39) or for rent anywhere from P600 ($13.07) a month. The more money you have, the bigger the cubicle you could get.

Even at these rates, however, the rows of cubicles in the “dormitories” look more like rows of shanties.

Still, those among the 244 detainees in Dorm 3 who could afford to either buy and rent cubicles are better off compared to those who cannot, because the latter have no choice but to sleep on the floor at night.

“If you try to get out of your cubicle at night to use the comfort room, you are sure to step on heads,” Echanis said. “You’d have nothing to step on but heads.”

Quiapo, where the City Jail is located, is one of Manila’s most flood-prone areas, and the detainees are not spared from the troubles that floods bring.

“We get a lot of flood here when it rains hard,” Echanis said as he showed us his pair of rubber boots. “When it floods, those who have no cubicles have to share space with those who do when sleeping time comes.”

In the mornings, the detainees wake up to the fact that they would have no power supply until noon. “They say that it is being done to save electricity,” Echanis explained.

But that is not all that they have to put up with. When the time for meals comes, they have to bear with food the quality of which is unthinkable.

“You really can’t eat the food here,” Echanis said. “I’m used to eating just about anything, but the food here is something you really can’t eat.”

For Echanis, adding to the difficulties that all these bring is the fact that he has been placed in a jail where riots are known to be frequent. He was already there when one of these riots took place recently. “It is a very stressful situation because you can never know what will happen to you,” he said.

His present prison conditions have affected his health, said Echanis, who has hypertension.

The KMP leader said that even during his incarceration during the Marcos and Aquino regimes, he did not experience anything like what he now has to deal with on a daily basis.

A history of activism

Echanis studied at the Philippine College of Commerce or PCC, now the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP), and the University of the East (UE) in the 1960s. It was at the PCC that he got his first exposure to activism. He was later made chairman of the UE chapter of the Kabataang Makabayan (KM or Patriotic Youth).

In the 1970s, at the height of martial law, Echanis took to the countryside where he did peasant organizing work in the Ilocos, Cagayan Valley, and Cordillera Regions.

He was arrested in 1983 and was placed for two years under solitary confinement at Camp Aguinaldo, the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Following his release in 1986 by virtue of then President Corazon Aquino’s general amnesty proclamation, Echanis co-founded the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainee Laban sa Detensyon at Para sa Amnestiya (Selda or Society of Ex-Detainees for Liberation from Detention and for Amnesty), as well as the Partido ng Bayan (PnB or People’s Party).

In 1987 he went back to the countryside and became active again in peasant organizing until his arrest in 1990. Following his arrest, he was kept for a week in a safehouse, where he was tortured. He was eventually transferred to the PNP Custodial Center, where he was detained along with his daughter Amanda, then two years old. He was released in 1992 after the court dismissed the case of illegal possession of firearms in furtherance of rebellion filed against him.

In 1999, during the KMP’s fifth National Congress, he was elected as the group’s deputy secretary-general for external affairs. In 2001 he was elected to the National Council of the First Quarter Storm Movement (FQSM). Since 2002, he has been helping in the GRP-NDFP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines-National Democratic Front of the Philippines) peace negotiations as a member of the NDFP Reciprocal Working Committee for Social and Economic Reforms.

At the time of his third arrest, he was attending a conference on agrarian reform initiated by the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA or Union of Workers in Agriculture).

Deepening social insights

Echanis said his incarceration at the Manila City Jail has only deepened his insights on what is wrong with society and why it has to be changed. Many of his fellow inmates there, he said, are either slum dwellers or farm workers – people too poor to afford legal services. Most of them are in for theft or drug-related offenses. “Through my conversations with them, I have come to know more about the oppression that they suffer from day to day,” he said.

“A lot of them are from the urban poor communities and unable to find decent employment,” he said. “Because of this, they are easily drawn to crimes like theft and drug-related offenses.”

The prison conditions at the Manila City Jail are not conducive to rehabilitation, however, and Echanis said that keeping one’s sanity in such conditions could be a challenge. “Those who are sane could go insane here,” he said.

Still, Echanis has happily not lost his resolve to fight his battles -– be it the fight for his own freedom or the larger political fight.

“My determination to fight, not only for my immediate freedom but for my hasty return to the movement outside to continue my work there, is whole,” he said. “It also helps a lot that there are expressions of support and there are always visits.”

Aside from that, I am also able to follow what is happening outside and this convinces me that we have to work hard toward genuine change in our society,” he added. Bulatlat

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Alexander Martin Remollino

Binigkas sa isang pagtitipun-tipon ng mga mamamahayag noong 3 Mayo 2008, Pandaigdigang Araw ng Kalayaan sa Pamamahayag, sa 70s Bistro. Inilalathala para sa ika-158 kaarawan ni Marcelo H. del Pilar (30 Agosto 2008).

Piping Dilat,
Dolores Manapat,

Nangarap ka ring tumalunton sa mga ulap
ng mga kaisipang "panghabang-panahon"
ukol sa kagandahan,
ngunit nanatili ang iyong mga paa sa lupa
at ipinagpauna mo ang pagtugon
sa mga panawagan ng iyong panahon.
Sa Diariong Tagalog,
sinimulan mong hubdan ng maskara ng karangalan
ang mga kolonyal na awtoridad ng Espanya sa Pilipinas.
Nakipagdasalan-at-tuksuhan ka pa
sa mga puting malignong suot ay sutanang itim.
Di naglaon,
pinakawalan ng mga prayle ang kanilang mga kampon
at sumikip sa iyo ang Pilipinas
at kinailangan mong mandayuhan sa Espanya
upang doon ipagpatuloy ang paghihimagsik ng panulat.
Doon, ang pinamatnugutan mong La Solidaridad
ay namandila ng mga kahilingan
para sa lalong pagkalinga ng Inang Espanya sa Pilipinas.
Subalit nagtaingang-kawali ang Espanya
at ipinagamit mo kay Pingkian ang iyong pangalan
upang itatak sa una't huling pangulong tudling
ng Kalayaan.
Sa dakong huli, ikaw ay nauwi
sa pamumulot ng beha sa mga bangketa ng Barcelona
upang tupukin ang gutom at ginaw.
Nadarang din ang iyong mga baga
at sapilitan kang inihiga ng tisis.
Ngunit, kahit sa pagkakaratay,
walang pahinga ang iyong diwa
at nanginginig ang mga daliring walang-patid ang pagnanais
na hawakan ang pluma.
Paulit-ulit na nalilimbag sa iyong isip
ang tanong na ito:
"Paano na ang Inang Bayan?"
Hanggang sa ikaw, na sakdal ng kayamanan ang diwa,
ay lisanin ng iyong hininga
sa sala de pobres ng isang ospital sa Barcelona.

Piping Dilat,
Dolores Manapat,

Tiniis mo ang buhay na puno ng pagpapakasakit,
at hanggang sa iniaalok na ang pagpapahingalay
ay walang-tigil ang iyong pagbabalikwas,
sapagkat ikaw ay mangingibig
na taos-pusong humarana
sa Mutya ng Katotohanan
gaya ng sinumang tunay na peryodista.
Bagama't panulat ang iyong piniling sandata,
dumaloy sa iyong mga ugat ang dugo
ng isang mandirigmang nakahandang sumagupa,
sa ngalan ng matwid,
"kahit na ang labanan ay isa sa sandaan"
gaya ng sinumang tunay na peryodista.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Centerstage / UPI Asia Online
Alexander Martin Remollino

Manila, Philippines, August 27 — In the debate on whether or not the Moros — the Islamized inhabitants of what are now known as the Philippine Islands — should be granted ancestral domain rights in Mindanao, there are those who have put forward the argument that Christians are the majority in the island. The implication is that since the Christians are the majority in Mindanao, there should be no talk of self-determination for the island's Islamized population.

Such an argument, which is bereft of historical validity, does not in any manner help the quest for what has been a long-elusive peace in Mindanao.

The Moros are now a majority only in a relatively small number of Mindanao provinces, but they were once the majority in the entire island. They had and continue to have a socio-political and economic system, as well as a culture, distinct from that of the regional groups who were eventually Christianized.

It is important to understand that the Moros became a minority in Mindanao through a series of historical travesties starting from the Spanish colonial era.

Though the Spaniards were never able to conquer Mindanao, they nevertheless included it in the 1898 Treaty of Paris, through which the U.S. purchased the Philippines as a colony from Spain, months after the Filipino revolutionaries had proclaimed independence. The U.S., through sheer brute force, defeated the Moro forces who resisted its colonial drive.

The inclusion of Mindanao in the U.S. annexation of the Philippines paved the way, through legislation, for large-scale non-Muslim migration to Mindanao. A number of the settlers engaged in land-grabbing.

Shortly after the U.S. granting of "independence" to the Philippines in 1946, in which Mindanao was included instead of being treated separately, the Philippine government was confronted with a communist-led, largely peasant-based armed struggle. Part of the government's attempts to defuse this struggle was the creation, in the 1950s, of a Mindanao Homestead Program — under which lands grabbed from Moros were given to former Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (HMB or People's Liberation Army) guerrillas who had availed of amnesty.

It is through these series of historical travesties that the Moros ended up being driven to the margins in their own land. To dismiss the Moro people's claim for self-determination with the argument that Christians are now the majority in Mindanao is to deny a whole litany of historical wrongs that need to be corrected.

Recognizing the need to correct these wrongs is the key to the realization of peace in Mindanao.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Centerstage / UPI Asia Online
Alexander Martin Remollino

Manila, Philippines, August 14 — Last Aug. 10 marked the 110th birthday of a great Filipino, Lorenzo M. Tañada — nationalist, freedom fighter, and statesman. It is worth remembering him now not only because we are just four days past a time of year associated with his birth, but also because his life is rich in lessons that would serve us well in this time of crisis.

Tañada, who was born in Tayabas (now Quezon) in 1898, gave a hint of what he was to become very early in his life.

At 15, he dared to publicly speak his mind against an arbitrary proposal by the mayor of Gumaca, his hometown, to close down a parish church. When the mayor, in a town meeting to "discuss" the issue, challenged anyone in the crowd to speak out, it was he who stood up and spoke on stage — a mere boy, and a nephew of the mayor, Deogracias Tañada!

As a student leader at the University of the Philippines (UP), where he took his Associate in Arts and Bachelor of Laws, he showed the beginnings of a lifelong commitment to nationalism.

This was particularly manifested at an Armistice Day celebration during his third year at the College of Law. A cadet major of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) at the time, Tañada was one of the speakers at the affair. When it was his turn to speak, he exhorted the students to take their military training seriously because they, he said, had to be prepared to make the "supreme sacrifice" for their country should the US refuse to grant the Philippines independence.

He went to Harvard University for his Master of Laws, but did not let his US education get in the way of his nationalist thinking.

He was involved in the underground resistance against the Japanese during World War II, working with a group that published an underground newspaper and gathered and gave intelligence information to the guerrillas. After the war, he worked with the People's Court which prosecuted collaborators — among them Teofilo Sison, the third highest-ranking official of the Japanese-sponsored government.

He was subsequently appointed solicitor-general and in this capacity, he fearlessly and competently prosecuted several corrupt high-ranking government officials.

As a senator for 24 years starting from 1947, Tañada authored several bills, a number of which managed to be signed into law, which sought to dismantle the US neocolonial stronghold on the Philippines. He worked closely with Sen. Claro M. Recto, who was a few years his senior, in crafting nationalist legislation. Their legislative thrust centered on national industrialization and independent foreign policy.

Tañada would go on to become chairman of the Movement for the Advancement of Nationalism (MAN), a united front of nationalists from various sectors, in the late 1960s. His increased exposure to grassroots sectors through MAN deepened his ideological footing, so that though he was initially opposed to land reform, he eventually came to recognize it as an indispensable component to any real nationalist program for the Philippines.

He was 74 years old when martial law was declared. Despite his advanced age, he was immediately at the forefront of the resistance against the dictatorship. The legal luminary was among the first personalities to take on the dictatorship, starting out by defending political prisoners in the courts.

In 1978, he became the general campaign manager of the Lakas ng Bayan (Laban or People's Power), a loose coalition of anti-dictatorship forces that fielded a number of candidates for the Batasang Pambansa (National Legislature) on April 7 that year. The Laban slate was badly defeated in a election marred by massive fraud, and Tañada led an indignation rally on April 9 and was detained together with more than 500 others. The image of Tañada peering from a military jeep as he was being hauled away, clenched fist up in the air while shouting "Laban, laban!" (Fight, fight!) has become immortalized.

After the assassination of opposition leader Beningno Aquino, Jr. in 1983, he chaired the Justice for Aquino, Justice for All Movement (JAJA) and, in 1985, he became the founding chairman of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance), an alliance of nationalistic and progressive forces.

He remained an ally of the Bayan forces after the fall of the dictatorship, and devoted his final years to the campaign against US military presence in the Philippines.

It is but proper to remember Tañada at a time like this in the country's history. He is a fine example of the kind of leadership that Filipinos need — especially in these times.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Centerstage / UPI Asia Online
Alexander Martin Remollino

Manila, Philippines, August 12 — The ever-increasing popularity of bleaching creams and skin-whitening soaps in the Philippines brings to my mind what a friend told me a few years back about a question asked by one of her nephews.

The boy is some sort of a child prodigy. He was reading newspapers at three and knew how to operate a computer at four. I have heard him over the phone and he speaks without eating a single word, which was very remarkable for his age. He had won gold medals in past Recognition Days and his teachers had offered to accelerate him to a higher grade level.

All this did not matter to his schoolmates, however. They had been teasing him for having darker skin than theirs, which had caused him to develop an inferiority complex. My friend related that once, when he was five, the child asked his mother, "Is it okay that I'm dark?"

The boy could not be blamed for asking such a question. It is surprising how many dark-skinned adults in this country still think like he did then. They eternally ask God why He had to make them that way, while the more moneyed ones among them frequently rush frantically to stores to buy bottles of bleaching cream or blocks of skin-whitening soap.

Indeed, it is hard to find a country where bleaching creams and skin-whitening soaps are more popular than in the Philippines.

Looking closely, this may be part of the attitude we have taken towards the Americans. Whenever American soldiers enter the Philippines purportedly for military exercises with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), they are generally welcomed with open arms despite decades of documented US military atrocities against Filipino civilians -- including the rape of a young woman in Subic, Zambales in late 2006.

Of course, not all Americans are white. However, it does not take an anthropologist to know that whites are a majority in the US. For Filipinos, America will always be associated with white skin; think American and you tend to think of white, blond men and women.

However, everyone should realize that it is not color that makes a human, but the knowledge of right from wrong and the adherence to right. Therefore, the darkness of skin does not diminish humanity.

Malcolm X, a black man, taught his fellow blacks to stand up for their rights. He was infinitely more human than Adolf Hitler, a white man, who violated the rights of roughly a fourth of the human race.

Oseola McCarty, a black woman, donated most of the money she earned from washing clothes to the University of Southern Mississippi (USM), to fund scholarships for black students. She was infinitely more human than Evita Peron, a white woman, who enriched herself by ravaging her country's treasury.

This leads us back to the five-year-old's question, to which the boy's mother replied, "It's okay, you're still handsome anyway."

She should have gone beyond that. Her answer implies that it is all right to be dark only if you are handsome, and that it is all right not to be handsome as long as you are fair, but not if you are dark. She should have said that color does not matter at all. She should have told him to ask his schoolmates' parents instead why it is not all right that he is dark.