this pebble sits ordinary in isla verde,
nudged slow by waves,
eroding into sand.
if instead i had found this elsewhere.
the surface would’ve been
of a distinct weathering,
from constant friction
with a slingshot leather.
While browsing the internet, I chanced on a science news article on the genetic susceptibility to schizophrenia among Han Chinese. The Nature article revealed two independent studies that identified “sections of the human genome that, when deleted, can elevate the risk of developing schizophrenia by up to 15 times compared with the general population.” I won’t go into the details of the article because, aside from my lack of expertise on the subject matter, the popular version of the two articles is good enough for non-technical readers like myself.
This blog article however will share a cultural correlate to the science news article. While mental diseases are biological, these are expressed in specific cultural and historical circumstances. I take the medical anthropologist’s cue therefore of differentiating disease, which is biological, from illnesses, a cultural concept. It is within this light that I share my maternal relatives’ reckoning with pagkabuang (roughly translated as insanity). All behaviors or mental states that deviate from the “normal” is considered buang in Cebuano. Psychological illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, dementia, etc, are all subsumed under this general word category.
The family lore goes that at least one member, usually male, of every generation will succumb to a mental illness. I don’t know if there’s a biological basis to this story or whether a professional diagnosis was availed of (except for one), but as far as my mother is concerned, our “schizophrenia” simply runs in the blood–no need to question it, you just keep the grip on what’s real and what’s not and you won’t lose it. This story has been used as a warning to all my relatives to not overdo things or do drugs, because “we got craziness in our blood,” one slip and off we go to Lalaland. Like us, my mother’s generation too had been told time and again to fear this supposed “genetic tendency” and thus must learn to negotiate life’s challenges with calm and ease. I believe this is not simply an old wives’ tale that older relatives concocted to keep us in check. Aside from the logical fact that they could’ve just scared us off with the usual monsters and the roasting pits of hell, my maternal relatives saw how a grandfather, an uncle, and two cousins were blighted by this illness.
The origin of the “schizophrenia” myth started with the unusual death of my mother’s maternal grandfather who was shot by Japanese soldiers in the dying days of World War II. When the villagers heard that the soldiers were on patrol, they fled to their mountain hideout except for Lolo Pedro. The soldiers spotted Lolo Pedro on top of a coconut tree cursing at toratora or zero fighter aircrafts flying overhead. He also brought with him a long stick to swat at these flying jetfighters, flaying at them everytime they passed by the coconut tree. He was an easy target for the patrolling soldiers. They trained their rifles towards Lolo Pedro, placed him in their rifles’ crosshairs, squeezed their triggers, and took the crazed man down from the tree.
You see, the tiny island of Po’o at that time was right smack in the middle of the largest naval battle in world history, The Battle of Leyte Gulf. This was the naval war when Allied forces first witnessed Japanese toratora planes diving straight at enemy warships and gunboats. The Allied Forces however routinely defeated the Japanese forces in less than a week. For older island residents, the impact of this war was such that time and history were only divided into three episodes: before the war (wala pay gera), during the war (panahon sa gera), and after the war (pistaym). Personal events, like birthdays, are remembered more along this organizing principle of time than the actual dates.
The war was a shock to many island residents. From a sleepy fishing village, the place had been converted into a battle zone. The villagers were rounded up and their movement monitored and restricted. Many were subjected to abuses. Rumors reached that children were flung to the air and then stabbed with bayonets. Some of those who escaped the encampment were pursued and killed. A relative of mine, who was then a child, escaped a gruesome death when she pretended to be dead after getting stabbed with a bayonet. With her guts spilling out of her abdomen, adult relatives sneaked the child out of the island on a canoe. They traveled a full day to the neighboring island of Leyte where she was nursed back to health.
Those who escaped the Japanese garrison fled to mountain hideouts. While there, they lived a semblance of a normal life, far from the reach of the occupying forces. My late maternal grandfather, a Chinese immigrant tailor (whose timberland-owning family scampered out of China because of the Nationalist Revolution of Sun Yat Sen–yet another interesting story to pursue!), remembered sewing clothes from coconut fibers for the refugees (see photo on the side to give you an idea). The violence spiraled that whenever there was a chance for retribution, the island residents grabbed every opportunity for revenge–Japanese soldiers, who survived the naval battle and found themselves beached on the island, were routinely attacked and killed.
If you’ve been to the island of Po’o, you would not imagine that this place had once witnessed so much bloodshed. Your day starts with a rooster’s call and ends with the warmth of bahalina down your throat. Yet World War II was a crazy time. And, apparently, we still feel the insanity of war in our “genes.”
While leafing through the collected works of W.H. Auden, I chanced on a short poem that is very apt to the times we are in. Last year, we saw dictators fall one after another in the Middle East and, in the case of the Philippines, the ongoing trial of ex-Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo over the plunder of the nation’s coffers. Human rights advocates in the Philippines are also glad over the trial of top military officers for cases of human rights abuses. As mentioned in our previous blog, there were a total of 1,119 victims of extra-judicial killings under the ten-year Arroyo regime. Time Travelling is thus one with the Philippine nation in hoping that justice will be finally served.
Epitaph on a Tyrant
Perfection of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
–January 1939, W. H. Auden
Today’s post will feature a guest blog by Vince Cinches, anti-coal campaigner and executive director of the Central Visayas Fisherfolk Development Center, Inc. (FiDeC). Vince outlines the environmental and human costs of the plan of the Cebu provincial government for a coal ash disposal facility in a timberland area (Balili property).
THE ECOSYSTEM OF DAMAGES
Central Visayas Fisherfolk Development Center Inc.
The reason why we in FIDEC, an institution created by and for the fisherfolks in Central Visayas, is opposed to the use of the Balili Property as a disposal facility for coal combustion waste is because coal ashes will poison and degrade the integrity of not just of the immediate marine ecosystem but the waters surrounding our island. This will therefore affect fish habitats, and fish population, on which most of the residents in the area are dependent for food and livelihood.
This negative environmental impact will not just limit itself to Naga, since fish catch in the municipality also supplies the needs of other towns. According to BFAR, 51% of our daily animal protein requirements come from fish, and that fishing is next to farming when it comes to the number of people being directly and indirectly employed.
Additionally, scientific data shows that coal combustion wastes or coal ashes, have high concentrations of 17 heavy metals including arsenic, selenium, mercury, cadmium, chromium, lead, antimony, thallium, molybdenum, vanadium, nickel, and cobalt as well as boron, sulfates, chlorides and other salts.
Last December 2009, together with our country’s leading toxicologist, we sent to the Philippine Institute for Pure and Applied Chemistry (PIPAC) coal ash samples from the areas where it was dumped indiscriminately, which is beside water sources, residential areas, rivers, farm areas, schools, and even beside health facilities. The results revealed the presence of four heavy metals that include lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury. These heavy metals are known carcinogens, causing permanent damage to the central nervous system, lung cancer, and mental retardation among others.
Compared to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, exposure to coal combustion wastes is more dangerous a hundred times over.
As a logical consequence, the operation of coal-fired power plant in the area will not just impact our climate and health, it will also dump toxic wastes that will compromise the integrity and security of food resources. Among the animal species, fishes are the inhabitants that cannot escape from the detrimental effects of these pollutants (Olaifa et al., 2004; Clarkson, 1998; Dickman and Leung, 1998).
Last 2005, together with marine scientists and scuba divers, we conducted a Habitat Assessment with the objective of “inspecting marine flora or fauna within Naga waters fronting the plant and use the assessment to provide baseline information of the underlying coastal situation for other proposed power plants providing that they have the same preconditions as the present Naga power.”
The area surveyed measured at an estimate of 400m parallel to the shore and at about 200m across. Point transect was done in two sections, one at 30 feet (10m) and one at 20 feet (7m) where a 50m transect line was laid and read at every 0.25m. Temperature was also monitored from the surface level and at every 10m.
According to that data output, “the result obtained was homogenous all throughout the surveyed area. Sediment consisted entirely of silt that measured at an average of 10cm in depth. Marine flora is monospecific to the seagrass Halophila sp. Marine fauna was also limited to mud dwelling or burrowing invertebrates such as crustaceans and gobies. A lone Holothurian (sea cucumber) was also recorded at a depth of 20ft.” Visibility as observed was at 2ft or approximately an arms length at a depth of 10ft presumably due to heavy siltation. In terms of physico-chemical assessment, temperature did not vary as much.
Low marine diversity in the area may have been caused by excessive siltation as expressed by the locals. It is but natural however, that extreme thermal conditions cause more damage if not total destruction to the marine ecosystem. This is true to all areas affected by thermal pollution such that at normal conditions, water temperature only varies between 80 degrees to 87 degrees F. This is very alarming since the change in degree of temperature that occurred during the El Nino does not even compare to the water temperature discharged from the Naga power plant. During these episodes, any normal observer can literally see “smoke on the water” (2005 Habitat Assessment, September 4, 2005, Cebu Alliance of Renewable Energy (C.A.R.E.) Additionally, fish are widely used to evaluate the health of aquatic ecosystems because pollutants build up in the food chain and are responsible for adverse effects and death in the aquatic systems (Farkas et al., 2002; Yousuf and El-Shahawi, 1999). The studies carried out on various fishes have shown that heavy metals may alter thephysiological activities and biochemical parameters both in tissues and in blood (Basa and Rani, 2003; Canli, 1995; Tort and Torres, 1988).
If the Balili Property will be utilized as a dump site for coal combustion wastes, toxics and heavy metals from this property will not only jeopardize the mangroves but will also bio-accumulate in marine organisms such as fish, crustaceans, sea cucumbers, among others and will go up higher in the food chain, until it reaches us. . The toxic effects of heavy metals have been reviewed, including bioaccumulation (Waqar 2006; Adami et al., 2002; Rasmussen and Anderson, 2000; Rani, 2000; Aucoin et al., 1999).
Now it seems that mercury and other poisonous elements will be dumped directly into our waters, courtesy of the provincial government’s ridiculous intention to turn the Balili property into a coal-combustion waste facility. As we know, heavy metal contamination may have devastating effects on the ecological balance of the recipient environment and a diversity of aquatic organisms (Farombi, et al., 2007; Vosyliene and Jankaite, 2006; Ashraj, 2005).
The natural aquatic systems may extensively be contaminated with heavy metals released form domestic, industrial andother man-made activities (Velez and Montoro, 1998; Conacher, et al., 1993).
The fate of the Balili property is not just up to the court. It is also up to the people who at the end will suffer the effects of climate change such rising sea level and extreme weathers, as well as food insecurity, and unsustainable future, ridden with diseases, sickness, and death.
From the Philippine Daily Inquirer:
Top botanist killed in crossfire
By Elvie Roa, Joey A. Gabieta
First Posted 03:36:00 11/17/2010
ORMOC CITY—One of the country’s top botanists and two of his companions were killed in a reported crossfire during an encounter between the military and communist rebels in a forested area in Kananga, Leyte, on Monday.
Leonardo L. Co, 56, a specialist in plant taxonomy and ethnobotany who was serving as biodiversity consultant of Lopez-owned Energy Development Corp. (EDC), was gathering specimen seedlings of endangered trees with a five-member team of civilians when he was shot, according to Manuel Paete, EDC resident manager.
Paete identified the other fatalities as Sofronio G. Cortez, a forest guard of EDC-Environmental Management Division, and Julius Borromeo, a member of the Tongonan Farmers Association (Tofa).
Insp. Jedol Camacho, Kananga police chief, said Army soldiers belonging to the 19th Infantry Battalion (IB) reported to the police that they had encountered unidentified armed men in Barangay Lim-ao in Kananga.
He would not say if the bullets that killed the three civilians came from the firearms used by soldiers. A police investigation was still ongoing, he said.
“It was a legitimate military operation. But we are very, very remorseful over what happened,” Lt. Col. Federico Tutaan, commanding officer of the 19th IB, said in a phone interview.
Tutaan said his men were in the area to respond to a report of the EDC about the presence of New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in Sitio Upper Mahiao of Barangay Lim-ao.
“It was just too unfortunate that our men, the NPA members and the civilians were in the same place at the same time,” he said.
Co’s brother-in-law, Darwin Flores, said in a phone interview on Tuesday that the family would like to know what really happened.
“I understand that they were given clearance to proceed to the area,” said Flores, whose sister Glenda is married to Co.
He said he was informed that there was an existing security protocol between EDC and the local military.
“Definitely, we would like to know if there were lapses. And if there were lapses in the security protocol, those who were responsible should answer for it,” Flores said.
State of shock
Paete said Co’s two other companions, Policarpio Balute, a member of Tofa, and Roniño Gibe, a contractual forester with EDC’s corporate social responsibility department, survived the crossfire. Gibe, however, was in shock and was admitted to the hospital of the Ormoc Sugarcane Planters Association.
EDC had hired Co as a Binhi project consultant to conduct a study on tree biodiversity in the area and to collect seedling specimens of wild trees for replanting, Paete explained. Borromeo and Balute served as his guides.
According to its website, EDC is implementing the Binhi project, which focuses on prime endangered Philippine tree species, to bring back vanishing trees that are highly valued and those that are native to the country.
In an interview, Col. Allan Martin, deputy commanding officer of the 802nd Infantry Brigade, said the soldiers who figured in the encounter were now “restricted” to their camp in Barangay Aguiting in Kananga. “There is now an investigation regarding that incident,” he said.
The soldiers, led by Lt. Ronald Ocheamar, figured in a 15-minute gun battle with seven armed men at about 12:15 p.m., Martin said.
During a press conference, Tutaan admitted that one of the soldiers fired the first shot because they were at a vantage point overlooking the area where they saw a man dressed in black jacket holding a long firearm.
Tutaan also refused to blame anybody for the deaths of the civilians. “I am not saying it was a lapse,” he said, noting that the area has thick forests and only patches were visible.
Tutaan said Co and his team were not visible to the soldiers.
Co, who was also the president of the Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society, served as a museum researcher at the University of the Philippines Institute of Biology (IB). He was the de facto curator of the Jose Vera Santos Herbarium, according to Dr. Perry Ong, IB director.
He was known in the Cordilleras for his work in helping communities systematize the knowledge of traditional healers about medicinal plants for their own primary health care.
As a staff member of the Community Health, Education, Services and Training in the Cordillera Administrative Region (Chestcore) based in Baguio City since 1981, Co had helped list 122 medicinal plants in the region with their scientific and common names.
The list also included illustrations so anyone could identify the plant. Descriptions of the plant included habitat, distribution, parts utilized, indications, directions for use, dosage, and precautionary notes on toxicity and contraindications.
In 1989, Co published the book, “Common Medicinal Plants in the Cordillera Region: A Trainor’s Manual for Community-Based Health Programs,” in collaboration with Chestcore.
The book was primarily designed to help communities tap their traditional medicinal plants to treat some common diseases without relying too much on prescription drugs, which are not readily available.
He also authored “The Forest Trees of Palanan, Philippines: A Study in Population Ecology.”
Although a serious botanist, who always carried a bag in which to preserve plants he would collect anywhere he went, Co was also remembered for his humor.
A joke his former colleagues in Chestcore still remember was about how he defined plagiarism and research. Co had said: “If you copy from one source, that’s plagiarism. If you copy from many sources, that’s considered research, which can even pass off as a thesis or dissertation for some graduate degree.”
Flores disclosed that Co had told his wife that he would prefer to be cremated and have a brief wake.
Co’s body was expected to be brought to Funeraria Paz on Araneta Avenue in Quezon City Tuesday night. On Wednesday, it will be transferred to UP Diliman where a tribute will be held.
Flores said Co wanted to have some of his ashes scattered in Palanan and around a tree in UP Diliman, and the rest to remain with his family. With a report from Maurice Malanes, Inquirer Northern Luzon
Other News About the incident:
This weekend’s post is slightly different from the other stories I blogged about. In remembrance of the then-dictator Ferdinand Marcos‘ declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines, Time Travelling is featuring an interview of Jigger Geverola, a post-dictatorship political detainee, who has been languishing in prison since May 2004 on charges of rebellion and arson. The Philippine military claims that Jigger Geverola is a high ranking officer of the communist guerrilla movement.
More than 6 years ago, he was caught together with Ronald Sendrijas while visiting his parents in Argao, Cebu, Jigger’s hometown. Sendrijas was later released after spending years in jail but a few months after his freedom, unidentified assassins gunned him down–a fate shared by many activists and journalists in the Philippines these days.
Students of the University of San Carlos in the early 1990’s however remember Jigger Geverola more as a tireless student activist. With a calm yet determined demeanor, he was a frequent discussant in student fora and was articulate in bringing student issues before the university administration. Jigger was also a favorite photo icon during rallies for the local press: he was always seen on the news waving a flag on roofs of jeepneys or exhorting fellow protesters to continue with the march. This concern for social issues suited well with the courses he took during his college days. A sociology/anthropology major, Jigger was (and, I believe, still is) well-versed in the discourses on development politics, sociological/anthropological theories, and the like. For him, however, academic learning was stale compared to his involvement in the everyday politics of the Filipino people–where issues of corruption, land monopoly, and imperialist globalization are lived and are not mere academic concepts.
Without further ado, here’s Time Travelling’s short interview with Jigger Geverola, 33-year old activist and political detainee, from behind the prison bars of Lahug, Cebu City:
Time Travelling: What got you interested in social issues and activism?
Jigger Geverola: I was brought up by a loving, young, poor peasant couple at a small and mountainous barrio in Argao, Cebu (central Philippines). My father started tending the farms at an early age and my mother came from a middle peasant family. They were able to reach high school but were not able to proceed to college. They were tenants in a small parcel of land and, to complement the family budget, they did odd jobs in the towns and cities and also did seasonal farm work. I remembered that our situation was really dire.
As the eldest of 3 siblings, I helped in the farm and household chores. I was assigned to tend the farm animals we had. Although life was hard, this very conditions of poverty strengthened the family bond. Industriousness was encouraged and so was austerity. Then in the 1990’s, due to a combination of perseverance and luck, my parents were hired in a local mining firm which alleviated our economic situation. For this reason, my parents were able to send me to University of San Carlos to take up BS Chemistry and then I shifted to AB Sociology/Anthropology.
With this background, it was easy for me to comprehend the local issues inside the campus and connect this to much bigger and broader social concerns. I strived to mould and hone my viewpoint, stand, and perspective through political education, group discussions at the round table (a site where university activists gather), integration with the peasants and workers, joining mass actions, and engaging in organizing work. These activities helped in raising my level of militancy.
Time Travelling: What made you decide to join the revolutionary underground movement?
Jigger Geverola: I decline to have an answer on this topic. This may prejudice the ongoing trial of trumped up cases filed against me.
Time Travelling: How long have you been in prison? On what charges? Did you experience torture?
Jigger Geverola: I have been incarcerated for more than 6 years already. Initially, I was falsely charged with four counts of murder, frustrated murder, and two counts of arson. But through court battle, the charges were downgraded to two simple rebellion and one arson charge.
I didn’t suffer any direct physical torture, but psychologically/mentally, yes. During the time of my captivity last 26 May 2004, I was blindfolded, underwent continuous interrogation, and was deprived of a lawyer’s assistance for almost 48 hours. They repeatedly tried to incriminate me and some legal personalities to the underground and armed revolutionary movement. I vehemently denied all of their accusations. At that moment, in spite of all the psychological stress, I was well-prepared and ready to face the consequences. I was very composed and present-minded. I did not feel any fear. All I did was accept, afterall, acceptance is the name of the game in this situation.
Time Travelling: What is life like for a political detainee? How do you fight boredom? Do you have regrets?
Jigger Geverola: For me, boredom is just a confluence of all negativity and pessimism. It is manifested also in the inability to accept the realities of life and putting too much expectations on one’s self. I simply fight boredom by appreciating anything that happens around me. I set routine activities for myself, even the smallest things are planned. I also find ways to exercise and get some sweat. Most importantly, I strive to maintain a positive attitude and I always keep a smile while avoiding their watchful eyes at the same time (i.e., referring to the guards).
I do not feel any remorse at all. I take this opportunity to deeply discover and search the inner depths of my soul, explore my spirituality, and know more about myself (my character and personality).
Time Travelling: Has your prison experience changed your political beliefs?
Jigger Geverola: Of course, it did not. I am strongly convinced on the correctness of the national democratic struggle, aspirations, and perspective. The recent worsening global disorder, the chronic national socioeconomic crisis, and the egregious exploitation of the basic masses justify the need for more extensive, intensive, and comprehensive people’s collective action and struggle.
Time Travelling: What do you think of the current Aquino administration? Given that the current president is a son of a political prisoner, do you think he’ll grant you release? If ever released, what are your future plans?
Jigger Geverola: Benigno Aquino III‘s administration still represents the ruling class and the oligarchy in the Philippines. Like his mother (i.e., Corazon Aquino), he is also bound to fail in transcending his landlord class interest. The current regime remains subservient to the dictates and policies of foreign monopoly capitalism. This regime will try to differentiate itself from the previous Arroyo regime by portraying itself as more democratic, less corrupt, transparent, and pro-people government. But there is nothing new to expect. It is just the same dog with a different collar.
Not only as a son of a former political prisoner but as the highest executive official in the land, Aquino can grant the release of any political detainee by recognizance. Unfortunately, Aquino opted to follow the judiciary department and let the case roll at its own course (i.e., which in the Philippines is very slow). Indecisiveness has been Aquino’s number one weakness.
Yet I am optimistic that sooner or later i will be free again, a much stronger and better person at the end. It is early to call what will happen in the future. I believe I can draw a lot of lessons from my vast, golden, and meaningful experience. There’s still a lot of unfinished business that I have to attend to, puzzles to be solved, and missing links to be addressed–especially in matters of family, university education, and spirituality. In other words, the battle is still there and I will confront this head on.
Time Travelling: What is your message to your fellow activists?
Jigger Geverola: This is my simple message to the activists: MAG-ARAL, MAGLINGKOD, MAKIBAKA HUWAG MATAKOT!!! (Study, Serve the People, and Struggle Fearlessly!)