Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Posted: July 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

I never thought I’d see the day when New York would agree to same-sex marriage as a matter of state policy. Not that in the past it had any moral qualms of its own. As the center of all cities of the world it has done much toward the development of business and the arts. On that note alone, morals for the most part as a driving force don’t always count. The bill—which had a close battle of 33-29—was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on June 24.

Albeit not the first, New York is now the leading paradigm of gay unions, it seems. Everything from LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) issues to mass gay weddings exploded worldwide apparently as a result of New York allowing same-sex marriages. At the home front, Baguio was the scene a few days ago of a mass gay wedding officiated by the Metropolitan Community Church or MCC. A gay pride parade was launched at the University of the Philippines in Diliman last week. Another was recently concluded in New York, in celebration of the new law. LGBTs, en masse, are coming out in the open.

The state of Massachusetts was the first recorded American state to have issued marriage licenses to gay unions. I have always thought it was San Francisco. But then it pays to be erroneously human. Massachusetts’ reasons were none more pragmatic than most burgeoning state economies. It claimed, in relation to a 2008 UCLA study, that allowing same-sex marriage could pump up the state’s economy by a whopping $100 million over three years. Revenues on taxes could go up by a little over $5 million while license fees up to about a million dollars. As far as justifications are concerned, this apparently beats all opposing voices.

Get your copies now in 7-11 outlets!

Maryland was the first to ban same-sex marriages in the United States. California, on the other hand, was said to have invented the term “domestic partnership” in its rulings. Denmark was the first in the world to seriously adopt the term, changing it slightly to “registered partnership” in its same-sex unions. Iceland and Norway followed suit. The French parliament continues to ban same-sex marriages in a very close battle of 293 votes over 222.

Uganda, as reported, was more extreme. Ugandan LGBTs fought an uphill battle recently to scrap the bill proposing the death penalty on the heads of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders.

Gay marriages are not, however, entirely new. It’s hardly surprising to see history’s early records citing the Roman Empire as having same-sex marriages. Cicero was said to have mentioned same-sex marriages in some of his writings as if these were everyday occurrences in the empire. This went on until Christianity became the state religion and as a resulting policy, banned homosexual marriages and topped the ruling with the death penalty. Lesbian unions between very young girls have been known to exist in China during the Ming Dynasty. Such was celebrated with great fanfare. Native Americans value homosexuals as members of the tribe.

The issue of LGBTs has been in the open recently, hence the Philippines Graphic’s interest on the subject. We are here neither to take sides nor pontificate on the morality or immorality of it. That’s for government, churches and even LGBTs to discuss. Rather, it is our mandate to put controversial issues in context with the whole vision of country and our future. LGBTs, we have to admit, are part of that future. They, like you and me, are Filipinos.

It is our belief that an understanding of LGBTs must be reached for whatever reason this will serve the country. The same goes with our overseas workers, the country’s youth, our leaders in government, the media, professionals, etc. Several controversial issues have also propped up in relation to LGBTs, predominant of which are AIDS and HIV (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome and Human Immunodeficiency Virus).

The Department of Health reported this month that most of those who tested positive for HIV “came from Central Visayas.” It’s a startling report where 88% of cases in 2010 came from the said province, as mentioned by Dr. Eric Tayag at a seminar on AIDS in Tagaytay City.

Based on DoH data, males having sex with males is now the predominant mode of transmission of HIV in the Philippines, bearing 77% of close to 500 reported cases in the first quarter of 2011. In past years, it was heterosexual sex. Dr. Tayag mentioned that young males who have been at it, for the most part, do not consider themselves “gay.” Female sex workers and injecting drug users are the second and third, respectively. Mother-to-child and blood transfusion fall in the category of least transmission in the Philippines. Only 20, according to Tayag, were infected through blood products. Tayag, however, raised fears that if HIV infection gets any worse than it is, it might put in jeopardy the country’s supply of uninfected blood.

Overall, there are 6,498 cases of HIV infected patients in the country. But in one report, the World Health Organization debunks this figure, saying the country now has 11,200 undocumented cases of HIV and AIDS in the country. The United Nations peg the age bracket at 20-24, younger and more restless. While in another report, a study revealed that most call center agents are more likely to engage in “risky sex” due to the environment and pressure from peers. OFWs, too, are at risk.

On a more positive note, LGBTs have been contributing much in the fields of media, business, cinema, literature and the arts, among others. Business process outsourcing (call centers) in the Philippines is a booming economic machine worth $11 billion and will employ close to a million full-time employees by the end of 2011. Last year’s OFW remittances topped previous figures at $18.7 billion, a new record by Bangko Sentral standards. Are we to pull the plug on all this because of a serious health risk? We leave that to experts.

LGBTs have suffered much prejudice through the years and it’s about time “straight” people understand where they are coming from. It is for good reason their pride marches are held every year: That society, the church and government lend them an ear. Hate crimes, such as the murders of gays, have recently reached very disturbing proportions. In spite of religious convictions, murder of gays must never be an option.

But LGBTs, too, must understand why “straight” society deals with homosexual behavior the way it does. Fear is the only recourse of people over things they do not understand. Hence, it is incumbent for LGBTs and “straights” to look for a middle ground in order to live peaceably with one another. Both must “police” their ranks all because in the end, we all contribute to the bad was well as good in society.

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JOEL PABLO SALUD is the editor-in-chief and interim literary editor of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications, which include the BusinessMirror.  He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.

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To enshrine José Rizal in myth is probably the worse accolade one could give a real life hero. It’s so unlike Rizal to glory in what is principally make-believe. He preferred to speak the truth, however painfully real, over and above a well-polished, buffed-to-the-grain reputation. Do you think he was the type of guy who’d take a wild crack at being President of the Republic?

Writer and columnist Ambeth R. Ocampo believes Rizal might take a crack at it, but to be elected President is a whole different ballgame. Ocampo tells the Philippines Graphic that with Rizal’s forthright demeanor, many of today’s Filipinos may not look kindly on it:

Rizal will NEVER be elected president of thePhilippines,” Ocampo maintains. “With his temperament he wouldn’t even be elected Barangay Captain because he will not campaign the way politicians do today and will not bend on matters of principle. If Rizal were alive today, he would not be president; they would shoot him in Luneta all over again!”

Writer and historian Ambeth Ocampo (from FB site)

“He will not bend on matters of principle.” This requires an inhuman amount of moral grit and mettle, and no doubt, Rizal had more than his share to wag around. No, he’d hardly make the roster of canonized saints, albeit some do think of him as such. He was a man who wanted to do what was right and fair, and what was beneficial to an overall understanding of what to be Filipino in the context of nation.

All this talk about who should and should not be buried as a hero should take their cue from José Rizal. It should be noted that this country must have a standard when it comes to the subject of heroism. And I’m not talking only of “heroism” on a daily basis, but one that provokes a high standard of aspiration and a sense of nation—without forgetting that heroes, in the end, are no less human than the “hero” next door.

Here’s a peek into the Philippines Graphic interview with writer and historian Ambeth R. Ocampo (at the newsstands next week!):

Philippines Graphic: What would Rizal’s inaugural address highlight if he ever won as President of this country? Please give three issues that would be close to Rizal’s heart and why.

Ambeth R. Ocampo: The main issue would be education, but an education not just to mean classroom education but an education in what it is and what it means to be Filipino, the ethics of being part of a national community.

His next issue would be land reform because it is not emphasized that his heroism was based in the agrarian unrest experienced by his family. He was shot not just for writing two novels that nobody has read, rather his being a guiding force in the Calamba land problem.

What do you think his relationship with the Philippine millitary would be like? Him being a man of letters?

Rizal was basically a man of letters, but he was both a marksman and a swordsman. His relationship with the military would be, as stated above, to encourage ethical notions of nationhood.

Do you think his response to internet social media would be favorable? Do you see him using Facebook or Twitter?

He used the communication instruments of his time, given the same opportunities we have in the 21st century he would use for his ends.

Do you think Rizal will vote for the RH Bill? Please explain whether yes or no.

Rizal was a physician he will decide what is best for the patient. He will not be dissuaded by the rantings of some clerics.

 

How do you think Rizal would respond to media’s reports on his love life? Would he respond in the same manner as President Noynoy Aquino?

Rizal’s love life was an open book. When he lived-in with Josephine in Dapitan, he wrote to his family saying they know his situation and if they can live with it they could stay with him. If not, he would rent a house for them in town. His own words were a warning that he didn’t want to be treated like a child

If Rizal decides to write a novel in our day and age, what do you think would be the primary issue he would tackle?

All the issues he wanted to tackle are in his three books. The Noli Me Tangere talked about the present; the Morga talked about the past; the El Filibusterismo talked about the future. He said all he wanted to say in these three works. The fact that we find them relevant today is not so much because he is prophetic, but rather we have not developed much since his day.

Do you think Rizal would make a good president?

Rizal will NEVER be elected president of thePhilippines. With his temperament he wouldnt even be elected Barangay Captain because he will not campaign the way polticians do today and will not bend on matters of principle. if Rizal were alvive today, he would not be president, they would shoot him in Luneta all over again!

*Watch out for it in the next issue of the Philippines Graphic.

 

 

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JOEL PABLO SALUD is the editor-in-chief and interim literary editor of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications, which include the BusinessMirror.  He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.

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Interview with Pepé

Posted: June 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

As a journalist, there are people I’d give a hand and a foot to interview face to face: Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Hollywood’s Anne Hathaway, Chicago mobster Alfonse “Al” Capone, all the wives of Playboy’s Hugh Hefner, Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, the Archangel Michael, actress Marilyn Monroe, the Apostle Paul and, of course, our national hero José Rizal. The list, as most are dead or alive only in spirit, leaves me with Castro, Hathaway, Hefner’s wives and Llosa.

Members of the Propaganda Movement

José Rizal is a subject worth a journalist’s one-year pay check. Nearing his 150th, I have been running in my head a scene where Rizal and I, coffee mugs in both our hands, with a grand view of Laguna de Ba’I, are discussing the latest in national controversies. I have often wondered how Pepé would react to some of the issues of the day.

(L-R) Jose Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar and Mariano Ponce

Nothing can be so strangely surreal, I bet. And for the sake of that one dreamlike leap into what litterateurs call speculative fiction (aren’t they all speculative?), let’s indulge in some magical realism of our own. Now, don’t get all tight-lipped and prickly, historians and purists. This is simply a work of the imagination, not a diatribe on our beloved and revered national hero. It’s a way of celebrating José Rizal’s 150th birthday, and the Philippines Graphic’s 21st anniversary this June.

Philippines Graphic: Who prepares the breakfast of tuyo in your home? Calamba surely has changed from the days of the Spanish colonialists…

José Rizal: A hundred-fifty years have done a lot to change my province. I’m appalled at the prices of goods, especially tuyo, which I was told can reach nearly a hundred pesos per packet! I’m glad the province progressed from its humble beginnings, but I terribly miss the slow and cool provincial life.

What exactly do you miss?

My trips to Laguna de Ba’i. As a boy I used to sit on one of the logs to gaze deeply into the sunset. I have neither seen nor felt anything so lovely in all my travels: the slight chill, the soft breeze, the scent of the lagoon’s fresh waters, the sight of hills and green plains that frame the edge of the blue-crystal bay. Today, only fish pens litter its waters and God-knows-what-else. It never occurred to me that such a huge body of water could grow dark and murky in just a matter of a few decades.

Is the progress you now see anywhere near the kind of progress you envisioned for the country to have?

As for the idea of progress, I have only my travels to European cities to use as a basis.Barcelonawas above all things a lovely and elegant city, so wasBerlin. What I think is worth mentioning was the fact that these cities worked to preserve their history and heritage. I am all for progress, but not the sort that destroys historical landmarks and cultural heritage of a place. Progress, after all, is a journey toward human and cultural development and their preservation.

To sustain progress, fuel is one of its significant requirements. What can you say about the continuing rise of oil prices?

Allow me to throw back a question: what are you, as Filipino, doing about it? If you think your hard-earned money is worth the conveniences that this kind of progress offers, then I will not stand in your way. But if you think this continuing oil price increase hinders and stains the very progress it promises to give, then, again, what are you doing to change it?

What are your thoughts on graft and corruption in government?

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Do you know why I had second thoughts about revolution? It had nothing at all to do with my wanting Filipinas to be part of the Spanish Cortez. Nothing terrified me more than Filipinos winning the war againstSpainwithout so much as a textbook knowledge on self-rule to guide them. I have seenSpainfight tooth and nail for that veritable chance to establish a republic. If it took Filipinos 300 years to fight off the Spaniards, how long do you think it would take to win over our darkest shadows, our most inviolable secrets?

What about the Catholic Church’s apparent meddling in state affairs?

After centuries of seeing man’s utter ability to make a mess of things, including those in its own ranks, the Catholic Church should have learned its lessons by now.

And what lesson might that be?

That God never dropped or broke a single, fragile porcelain plate in His life? (smile)

What about the Reproductive Health Bill?

Don’t ask me. Ask a Filipina. The present state of the Filipina is the best commentary for and against reproductive health. We should have a national referendum where only the women are required to vote for or against the RH Bill.

What about legal divorce?

Didn’t live long enough to be married long enough.

I’m curious about your idea of the Presidency. I presume you’ve heard about a former president who was said to have spent a million pesos of public funds for dinner at Manhattan’s posh Le Cirque. The said President naturally denied using government money to pay the $20,000 tab. Somewhere in a corner street in New York City, about a year after, a new Philippine president enjoyed only a serving of American hotdogs. Do these things say anything to you about the Presidency?

(Breathes deeply, shows hint of exasperation, then grins) Compared to these two, I’m surely the worst of the lot. It would take more than a gun on my head to make me spend a peseta for tuyo. But that’s me and I’m not President. But if I were President, I’d probably treat the chef at Le Cirque and that sidewalk hotdog vendor to a taste of our dried fish, or tinola.

Do you think you’re popular enough to become President of the Republic?

(Laughs loudly) First, I’m not sure if you’ve read my works. They’re not exactly fairy tale material. La Liga Filipina, for all its lofty principles, didn’t last longer than I had expected. And if my own relationship with my fellow ilustrados inBarcelona andMadrid was any indication of my popularity, well, there’s my answer. Go ask Plaridel [Marcelo del Pilar]. Let me throw my own query: do you really want a president who speaks his mind? Believe me, being considered a national hero is bad enough as it is. Got shot in order to be one, didn’t I? I won’t add to my woes by being President. Besides, my beloved Leonor is camera-shy. The thought of her photos splashed in tabloids, I’m sure, will not sit well with her.

What about the current state of education in the country?

I recall my letter to the young women of Malolos: “Ignorance is servitude, because as a man thinks, so he is; a man who does not think for himself and allowed himself to be guided by the thought of another is like the beast led by a halter.” We learn so we can speak for ourselves, not simply echo the words of others. You want your graduates to perform well? Teach them, and then free them to think for themselves.

Rizal's execution at Bagumbayan (from Ateneo de Manila website)

Having been a national hero for the better part of 150 years, would you give us your idea of real heroism?

Redemption is a product of sacrifice, I once wrote in La Solidaridad. Great and exacting, final sacrifice. No return-on-investments to expect, no other reward except that one chance to die well for country. Every other act is simply bravery.

If you’re given an hour to spend with President Noynoy Aquino, what would you say to him?

First, I’d listen to what he wants to say to me. He probably has more questions than I do. We’ll probably spend the first thirty minutes sharing a smoke or two, and hopefully some local wine, exchanging notes about our ideas on government.

I once said it is a useless life that is not consecrated to a great ideal. It is like a stone wasted on the field without becoming a part of any edifice. That stone, let me add, must someday feel that it is not only part of the edifice, that it is the edifice. The strength of his parents, Ninoy and Cory, didn’t simply rest on their being part of an ideal—they were the ideal. That was what I meant about consecration. The hour Noynoy understands this is the very hour he grows up.

Have you heard about the smoking ban in primary and secondary streets in Metro Manila?

Primary and secondary streets? From where I’m standing they all look alike. But, for the sake of experience, I’m willing to try everything once. Do you have a light?

How did it feel like to face your executioners?

(Lights a cigarette, and puffs…) One only dies once, and if one does not die well, a good opportunity is lost and will not present itself again. That was what I told my good friend Mariano Ponce. In short, it was glorious! You ought to give heroism a try.

 

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JOEL PABLO SALUD is the editor-in-chief and interim literary editor of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications, which include the BusinessMirror.  He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.

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Uganda’s Inquisition

Posted: May 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

If Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill strikes you with the force of a who-wore-torn-jeans-at-the-recent-Oscars TMZ report, then make haste to the nearest albolaryo. Your body may have just been possessed by the spirit of Idi Amin.

The Ugandan Parliament recently plunged into a string of hot debates on the so-called “Kill Gays Bill,” a piece of legislation that seeks to prosecute lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders by legally sanctioning severe penalties, even capital punishment, against LGBTs.

The real question that should be asked is: why in God’s merciful name did some Christian evangelicals inUgandasupport this bill? Since when was gender-related genocide sanctioned by Christ’s New Testament?

Ugandan tabloid and its Top 100 homosexuals article

I mean, I’m all for safeguarding traditional family values and protecting the public from sexually-transmitted diseases, particularly HIV and AIDS, but should Uganda’s parliament sanction a kind of 21st-century Inquisition to solve these?

LGBTs in Uganda already run the risk of facing a little over 10 years in prison for being homosexuals, let alone—if found out—being HIV positive. Parliament may have chosen to junk the provision including the death sentence on LGBTs, but what of the other severe punishments lodged in the bill?

This is more than simply carrying out a “righteous” and “godly” campaign against those perceived to be threats to the traditional family. Apparently,Uganda’s homophobic stance is putting a minority population under extreme duress. Are they seeking to kick start a legal global precedence to state-sanctioned genocide?

For whatever reason, which seemed then to be righteous to Saddam Hussein, the now dead dictator of Iraq once targeted ethnic Kurds and Shiite Muslims during his ethnic purging days. Let’s not even go to Adolf Hitler whose hatred for the Jews remain unequalled to this day. Most of Rome’s ten emperors had raised their swords over the heads of Christians during the great persecution where Christ’s believers were fed to lions, burned at the stake and made a spectacle on account of an emperor’s psychotic episodes than anything else.

The emperor Nero blamed Christians for the unfortunate developments inRomeduring his roll-of-the-eyes, fiddler-on-the-roof days.

Be that as they may, there is nothing in God’s and man’s law to even remotely suggest that Heaven will give its thumbs up in favour of genocide and persecution. Apparently lost in some Ugandan evangelical translation and exegesis of the Scriptures is the value of life.

In the very least, this piece of legislation is appalling and pharisaic in the most unkind and inhuman terms. And Christians inUganda, or everywhere else for that matter, should steer clear from this bill.

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JOEL PABLO SALUD is the editor-in-chief and interim literary editor of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications, which include the BusinessMirror.  He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.

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Cat killers

Posted: May 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

When I first heard the story on the six-thirty evening news, I thought I was with my usual platito of peanuts and glass of iced Coca-Cola watching Criminal Minds 6. A University of the Philippines Physics major named Joseph Carlo Candare had killed a cat roaming freely on the UP National Institute of Physics grounds in 2009, and wrote about his rather spineless exploit on his blog site. Suffice it to say that he was quite proud of his murdering spree, having boasted that this wasn’t the first time he had murdered some cute, furry and hapless creature.

Cat killed by Candera (from GMA News)

Tempted as I was, being a cat lover, to hurl some of the most unprintable invectives on his head, I held back my tongue. Animal cruelty has long since been tagged as a first step to serious cases of some personality and antisocial character disorder, the first door into that dark room of psychotic episodes in adults. And this guy, upon reading his blog, definitely has a seriously large crayon lodged in his cerebellum—that is, if you want to drag the image of Homer Simpson into the picture.

Is there really a link between character disorders and animal cruelty? Studies vary in their conclusions. What is certain, at least in the study made by Roman Gleyzer, M.D., a forensic psychiatrist withWesternStateHospitalinTacoma,Wash., Alan Felthous, M.D., a professor of forensic psychiatry at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and Charles Holzer III, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston—reportedly published the April-June Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law—is that “animal cruelty may be related more to character disorders in general and not very specifically to antisocial personality disorder.”

That’s good news for the young Candare. I think…

You see, character disorder, by description, seem to include, but is not limited to some form of aggression and paranoia, which, according to the study, hardly comes close to serious anti-social disorders. But then again, in light of lines blurred for the purposes of scientific study, who could say that young folk who torture and murder helpless animals wouldn’t turn out in their adult life into cold-blooded psychopaths? Psychology isn’t exactly close, as a science, to what Physics is.

For the human heart to grow warily cold, it takes practice—years of exposure to itsy-bitsy criminal behaviour and getting away with it. In a nutshell, killing a hapless kitten is one thing; killing a kitten and blogging about it could presage a kind of psychosis nowhere near the nostalgia of simply visiting a ward for the mentally deranged.

For parents, watch your kids closely. See how they fare with pets around. Cleaning the poop may not be the thing to look forward to every morning, but heck! it beats having a son or daughter in death row.

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JOEL PABLO SALUD is the editor-in-chief and interim literary editor of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications, which include the BusinessMirror.  He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.

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Think of it: four, five, ten years from now—a world without Osama bin Laden. Let’s not even go that far. Let’s look at the next three years following bin Laden’s purported death in the hands of American intelligence operatives in a compound in Pakistan. Let’s indulge in some fantastical fiction.

Following the death of this terrorist leader is the sudden resurgence of democratic pride in America and among its allies, allowing the efforts of the White House to propagate these ideals overseas to easily expand. The day Tunisia walked across the democratic line years back was the day it all began.

Pres. Obama (From unfcccecosingapore.wordpress.com)

Yemen and Egypt, where al-Qaeda had anchored its intellectual history, hold their first ever democratic elections together with Bahrain and Libya after decades of monarchical and tyrannical rule. Sans the threat of terror attacks, America is able to inject some form of democracy in the Arab kingdoms nearly without a hitch.

The terrorist group al-Qaeda wanes, but tries to recoup lost ground that came with the death of bin Laden. They are, however, hard-pressed in coming up with needed wherewithal to fund an ongoing terrorist campaign.  The secret of bin-Laden’s wealth seems to have been buried with him at sea, scarcely raising the hopes of militant extremists to continue al-Qaeda’s call to jihad. The nine other most-wanted terrorist leaders have been captured, others killed in daring military raids. Further losses finally brought the once fiery terrorist network to its knees.

Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden (From Google Images)

At the other side of the world, Americans come to terms with their role in global peace. Hopes of steering America anew without having to look over one’s shoulder for a suicidal bomber is soon realized. Heightened alert is lowered to a bare minimum with airports once more enjoying some semblance of passenger revelry. World stocks continue to rise as one Arab country after the other dons the democratic garland.

The White House, thereafter, makes a clear declaration to shift its foreign policy. From fighting terror, it now restructures tyrannical regimes into democracies. Campaigns to maintain some form of democratic blueprint into the minds of the Arab public face little opposition from a young demographic sick of the principles inculcated by the al-Qaeda.

More “enlightened” Arab republics spring at last on their feet and open their doors to vibrant Western influences, at least, in matters of trade. Commerce betweenAmericaand the Arab democracies is only the first of many strong reforms blocking any attempt by remaining extremists to resurrect the memory of a dead Osama bin Laden. Homeland Security thereafter takes on a more economic thrust, whileAmerica’s controversial holding facility, Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, is turned into a historical tourist attraction (this is assuming that Cuba, too, like the Arab world, has embraced some form of American democracy in light of recent world events).

The United States has finally recaptured its moment of glory after years of suffering the criticism of a world that had nearly turned anti-American.

(From henryjacksonsociety.org)

There’s a bit of a bawdy catch, however. All these could’ve survived the tongue-in-cheek claims of fantastical fiction if only the body of Osama bin Laden was shown to the public. Sure enough the reasons were made plain: there’s an Islamic burial rite that must be followed. Writer David Sanger of the New York Times even gave a more adroit explanation: “The decision to bury Bin Laden’s body at sea was part of a carefully-calibrated effort to avoid having a burial place that would turn into a shrine to the Qaeda leader, a place where his adherents could declare him a martyr.”

But what about closure? Shouldn’t that have been the primal necessity?

This is not the first time Osama bin Laden had “died.” In the summer of 2002, after an extensive bombing raid staged by US Forces in Afghanistan, rumors of bin-Laden’s death spread like wildfire. As early as December 2001, Osama bin Laden had reportedly disappeared, fueling rumors that he had been killed. On his head then was a $25 million bounty.

These rumors were suddenly overturned as two videotapes supposedly of bin Laden surfaced and were broadcast by the media, particularly Al Jazeera. Experts confirmed it was bin Laden. Two other tapes followed, warning American allies—particularly France—that its friendship with America would cost the nation dearly.

Having said this, apparently, the word of US President Barack Obama is all we have on the death of bin-Laden. Without a body, there could be no closure. A photograph or a video would’ve sufficed, in fact. Alleged photos of Osama’s mangled face were reportedly shown by Pakistan television, according to Gulf News, but hinted that apparent differences appeared. IBN Live reported the next day that a photo of bin Laden circulating in the internet has been digitally altered, hence a fake (http://ibnlive.in.com/news/gruesome-photo-of-osama-bin-ladens-body-a-fake/151046-2.html).

As of this writing, no official photo or video of a dead bin Laden has reached the mainstream media, raising doubts as to the veracity of the claim. The word of US President Obama is all that can be relied upon in this bit of news.

Reality bites, and in this reality we are in, revelry can be bitterly short-lived. Experts said that even as stocks rise on account of bin Laden’s reported death, it is such that “it will not sustain a long rally.” Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi is still at it, holding on for dear life on his sceptre amid bloody opposition. After the death of Seif al-Arab and three of Gaddafi’s grandchildren, the fighting has grown only fiercer.  Egypt and Tunisia may have won against their dictators, but the more gruelling task of rising as a democracy faces them. The United States and its allies are on heightened alert, bracing themselves for what is expected as retaliatory action by the al-Qaeda.

The jihad initially sounded off by Osama bin Laden against the United States years back will reportedly continue with or without Osama’s leadership. Al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, the Egyptian surgeon Ayman al-Zawahiri, is reportedly set to be the successor of bin-Laden. He is said to be the real brains behind al-Qaeda’s terror network. As though these are not enough to make people wary, the public is beset by the lingering doubt that bin-Laden’s purported death may been an honest mistake, worse, a hoax. Should a videotape declaring bin-Laden alive surface, this would boost the confidence of his disciples everywhere, making the remaining hours worst for the world than it actually was before Osama’s death.

This is a case where proof of life could mean our death, while proof of bin-laden’s death could mean a return to the life we all seemed to have lost since that fateful day of September 11, 2001.

*Note: As of this writing, MSNBC News reported that the White House Counterterrorism Unit is still deliberating whether to show to the public an alleged video of Osama bin Laden’s burial at sea to dispel doubts surrounding the al-Qaeda chief’s purported death. My question is: Are they going to show Osama bin Laden’s face? 

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JOEL PABLO SALUD is the editor-in-chief and interim literary editor of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications, which include the BusinessMirror.  He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.

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The stretch of water called the Marilao, Meycauayan and Obando rivers may be many things, but it is not, at least not yet, dead. Well, soon enough it will be, thanks to excrement both human and beastly—not to mention tons of trash and industrial waste—allegedly being strewn all over its waters day in, day out.

Our Lady of Medjugorje

Last week began with a call from my publisher to check out a river that carried the distinction of being one of the most polluted in the world. It’s not a unique distinction, as many know, but notoriety of this kind carries with it all the trimmings of a possible story. Curious as any cat lover could be, I then ventured to take a trip down Bulakan with the Philippines Graphic team to see for myself what the big fuss was all about. Our guide, a friend of a colleague at work, rented us a white-blue boat that would ferry us through ten kilometres of the said river. The boat’s name was Our Lady of Medjugorje.

The Graphic team

On the eve of our trip, I asked my wife Che to prepare everything save the darn kitchen sink only because it wouldn’t fit in the carry-all. She dutifully packed two towels, extra shirts and a blouse, some medical face masks, the digital camera and recorder, a buck knife, sunglasses, scarves and baseball caps. We also brought along pain relievers, soap, drinking water and a bottle of iced tea for me since I find water too bland.

The trip next day took us across Metro Manila from Makati City, entering Malabon then Bulakan through the old Macarthur highway around ten in the morning. We arrived at the North Pinagkabalian Floodgate located on the border of Malabon and Bulakan at about half past the hour. The boat was spick and span and ready to be boarded.

The first thirty minutes took the team along the Binuangan area, where the banks of the river were flanked by houses as colourful as the boats parked along the shore’s edge. The river was spread wider than anything I have seen so far, roughly a kilometre and a half across, quietly rising and falling to the solemn beat of wings of seagulls and sparrows that congregated around the area.

Still clean waters in Binuangan area

The waters heaved in moss-green, bringing with it the clean scent of summer and a dampness that leisurely smoothed out into the vast plains bordering both sides of the gigantic stream. As I panned my camera, I saw a school of fish a few feet from the hurrying boat, some leaping into the air in a grand display of acrobatic skill. For the seagulls, lunch hadn’t been this good.

As the boat scurried past the junction where the waters of the Manila Bay and Meycauayan River spill over each other in a torrential fit, creating what sounded like the rasp of unwelcome waves amid what was otherwise a hushed stream, a change in the river began to emerge.

Children taking a dip in the river

What an hour ago was moss-green had turned disturbingly auburn, darker as a pit razed by fire. The stench that followed had nothing of mere trash in it, leading us to early on conclude that human and animal excrement could be the cause. About ten thousand households line the sooty banks of the river, hovering on bamboo stilts above the water. Our boatman, Mang Manding, said that schools of fish are often found under the makeshift toilets of the houses with mouths opened and prepared for a feeding frenzy.

Farther downstream the water had turned from auburn to pitch black. The liquid was so thick with muck and grime that no ripple was in sight. It bears noticing, too, that trash suddenly came from out of nowhere: plastic shopping bags, rubber slippers, fast food Styrofoam plates and cups, plastic water bottles, discarded toys, torn clothes, and water lilies that grow on the clutch of refuse around them.

The stench was anything but tolerable, forcing us the wear our facemasks. But nothing worked, not even the perfume my wife brought with her in anticipation of the worst. The waters reeked as nothing I had imagined or can foresee, piercing layers of cloth wrapped ‘round my face.

Trash floats on black water

The three sticks of Marlboros which I took in successive gulps didn’t help in ridding the air of the foul odor. It was like treating my self and the team to a horrendous B-movie sans the stop button of a DVD player.

The nightmare begins...

Floating on the formless lifelessness of the stream we suddenly decided to head back to where we first started. I could already feel the spray of malodorous liquid sticking to my hair, face and eyes. The river had all the characteristics of the plague-ridden Nile. This is about the only hell and damnation I could tolerate, I blurted out. That same day, I also decided to get a haircut.

There is something vaguely shameful about a river forced into the verge of death. Its grisly face fails any attempt at wordplay. Anyway, words matter little when lives and livelihood are at stake. Within this particular clutch of earth and sky lie a source of life that has been brutally mutilated and murdered all for the sake of industrial and personal progress.

This river system could have been a wonder and a lure where Sunday boat rides with family and an evening of quiet celebration could have been its sideshow attraction. Renting out the services of a fire dancer is quite unnecessary; the lure of moonlight grazing across the river’s ripples is all that is needed for an evening as spectacular as daybreak at the Hudson or the Ganges.

For now, it gasps and croaks under a weight of refuse too monstrous to deny.

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JOEL PABLO SALUD is the editor-in-chief and interim literary editor of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications, which include the BusinessMirror.  He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.

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