The Real cost of the Balili Property

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).


Vince Cinches
Executive Director
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.

Quo vadis?


Justice for Botanist Leonardo Co!

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer:

Top botanist killed in crossfire
By Elvie Roa, Joey A. Gabieta
Inquirer Visayas
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.

‘Too unfortunate’

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.

First shot

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.

Medicinal plants

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

Facebook Page:

Leonardo L Co: In Memoriam


Other News About the incident:

Slain botanist known for his work on medicinal plants

UP botanist, 2 others killed in military-NPA clash in Leyte

Behind Prison Bars: An Interview With Jigger Geverola

This weekend’s post is slightly different from the other stories I blogged about. In remembrance of the then-dictator Ferdinand Marcosdeclaration 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!)

Hugo Chavez and the Skeleton of Bolivar

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela ordered the exhumation of the remains of Simon Bolivar, Latin America’s liberator, in order to put an end to the speculation surrounding the hero’s death. While historians are generally in agreement that Bolivar died of tuberculosis in 1830, others maintained that the hero died of unintentional arsenic poisoning (since this was the standard medical treatment during his time).

Dr. Paul Auwaerter in a University of Maryland Conference argued that  death due to tuberculosis cannot explain Bolivar’s final six months. Auwaerter said that the hero did not exhibit symptoms of TB and may have had arsenic-induced bacterial infection. Dr. Auwaerter concluded that Bolivar “died of chronic arsenic poisoning that led to a serious respiratory illness…and most of the signs and symptoms point to slow, chronic poisoning, the kind that might result from drinking contaminated water.”

Chavez however is convinced that Bolivar might have been murdered, a suspicion bolstered by the many attempts on the life of the most illustrious Latin American military figure. One of the failed assassination plots was in September 1828, a month after Bolivar installed himself dictator of Gran Colombia (the short-lived republic that encompassed a great part of South and Central America). Bolivar narrowly escaped the attempt through the help of his lover, Manuela Saenz.

“They killed him. Here in my heart for years I’ve had the conviction that Bolivar didn’t die of tuberculosis,” Chavez said. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to prove it, but I think they assassinated Bolivar.”

Death by Arsenic

The examination of chronic arsenic poisoning is a well-established method in paleopathology. The Paleopathology Laboratory of the Virginia Commonwealth University, for example, has studied the long-term exposure to arsenic of a Chilean pre-Columban population. The mummies showed arsenic lesions on their internal organs. The nails, ribs, hairs, and skin also exhibited high concentrations of the compound.

In a similar vein, Boston and Ariaza (2009) examined the human remains of the Chinchorro Culture (5000 BP) in the Atacama desert coast of Chile, they suggested that the endemic presence of arsenic may have had a role in the mummification practice of the Chinchorros. To ascertain this, they examined teratogenic arsenic lesions (i.e., cleft palate, polydactyly, syndactyly, spina bifida, club foot, eye malformations, and hip joint dislocation), which are indicative of arsenic poisoning when found together. Although they only found spina bifida, they reported that the “presence of spina bifida in the three valleys suggests a genetic-environmental interplay within the populations.”

I imagine Auwaeter et al conducted a similar assessment to forward the arsenic poisoning hypothesis. Next step is the Hugo Chavez-commissioned DNA testing on Bolivar’s exhumed remains. This is the same procedure that put an end to the controversy surrounding Napoleon Bonaparte’s death. Bonaparte, once thought to have been poisoned by his prison guards, was found to have died of other causes (still up in debate) and not from arsenic poisoning.

Bolivar’s Skeleton

That the exhumation is ideologically-driven is not a secret. Chavez refers to his ideology as Bolivarianismo which advocates for participatory democracy, socialism, and Latin American unity. This is also a homage to the military figure who attempted to unite the entire Latin America against Spanish colonization. It comes as no surprise therefore to see Chavez beaming with pride when Simon Bolivar’s remains were exposed. He exclaimed, “Viva Bolivar! It’s not a skeleton. It’s the Great Bolivar, who has returned…Our father who is in the earth, the water and the air … You awake every hundred years when the people awaken. I confess that we have cried, we have sworn allegiance.”

This was not the first time however that leaders used the past to serve the political purposes of the present. Anthropology, archaeology in particular, is rife with examples that exploit the past for a nationalist project. The eminent archaeologist, Bruce Trigger, noted that “Political unrest, national crises, and rapid economic and social change frequently stimulate interests in a nation’s past, which often is romantically represented as having been more stable than the present and therefore as having more valuable lessons to teach the modern times.”

This is especially true in many places with strong nationalist movements. Archaeologists in Nazi Germany, for example, conducted excavations to prove that Germany was the origin of all civilizations. In the years of Mao Zedong’s rule in China, archaeology was encouraged as long as it supports the government’s theory of a linear evolutionary progression from “primitive promiscuous bands via matrilinearity to patrilinearity; from Savagery, Barbarism, Feudal Society to Civilization and so on–stages first proposed by Lewis Henry Morgan, borrowed by Engels, and systematized in the Soviet Union” (Glover, 2006).

The case of Bolivar’s exhumation is thus not an exemption. The team of Spanish and Venezuelan scientists’ study results might be scientifically neutral and valid in the end. They might even contradict Chavez. But that is not the point. Bolivar’s bones are not just a bunch of arsenic-drenched tissues. This is not just about Bolivar anymore.

Cebuano Left Language: precision and the reinvention of texts

***I found this while rummaging through my email. I wrote this as an undergraduate paper (around 2000) for a class in anthropological linguistics.

ResearchBlogging.orgTranslation is the process of making a text intelligible to a defined reading audience. Mario Pei (1965) argues that technical problems are involved in translation, including among others, how to capture certain nuances in the original language absent in the language used in translation (e.g., slangs and colloquialisms, deceptive cognates, idiomatic expressions, and untranslatable words). This led Pei to suggest that problems in connection with translation are infinite. With the onset of more recent theorizing, the problems related to translation indeed have become more complex. Translation is not simply the rendering of a text from one language to another but is also a process whereby contestation takes place. The act of translating necessitates a recognition that what is being translated is “foreign” and this process undergoes articulation, manipulation, and reinvention of the text in the local culture.

Resil Mojares (1990:75) posits that power relations are also involved in the translation process. Since language is a contested space, the translated texts reflect how these are manipulated and reinvented to suit specific domains. This was shown in many studies on colonial as well as contemporary literature where the text of the dominated are “redone” to fit the tastes of the dominant and/or the dominant’s texts are interpreted into the vernacular to strengthen its ideological hegemony—thereby, tightening the grip on the masses’ consciousness. The recognition that language is an arena of struggle presupposes that it is both dynamic and fluid. bell hooks (1995:299) illustrated how the American Blacks reinterpreted and transformed the “oppressor’s language.” The black vernacular speech “enables resistance to white supremacy” and “forges a space for alternative cultural production and alternative epistemologies—different ways of thinking and knowing that were crucial to creating a counterhegemonic worldview.” Furthermore, Sengupta (1995:159) notes that the role of culture and history need to be emphasized in the study of translated texts since this highlights “the intersecting networks and the manipulations behind a given positioning: of the translator, her or his culture, and the text/culture being translated.”

For Mojares (1990:80), there are distinct meanings of translation in the Cebuano context. He pointed out the following types: a) translation as the act of proposing or imposing, b) translation as the act of quarrying: of appropriating texts, taking them apart, mining them for what is “usable,” c) translation as the act of transferring: of simply recycling, ‘remaindering’ texts from one language to another, and d) translation as the act of hubad. Mojares (1990) notes that the act of hubad “involved not only the act of baring…but, more important, the notion of its consequence, of the beholder or listener becoming knowledge-filled, his learning increased.”

In this context, this paper explores the translation experience of a particular group in Cebuano society. I proceed by examining the translation experience of the mainstream Cebuano Left. For this paper’s purposes, I will attempt to look into their translation experience–more specifically on the localization of some aspects of the national Left ideology.  I believe the translation here presents a tension between national identity construction and local cultural identity.

The Context

The Nationalist Democratic (ND) movement is a Maoist inspired revolutionary movement. Back in the 1960s, the fledgling Cebuano ND movement started out as a conglomeration of youth organizations campaigning for democratic reforms under the Marcos regime. In 1968, four years after its founding congress in Manila, Kabataang Makabayan-Cebu (KM-Cebu) was born. KM-Cebu spread across the major schools in the city, notably University of San Carlos, University of San Jose Recoletos, Cebu Institute of Technology, and the University of the Visayas—and accordingly, membership rose to the thousands.

These youth activists “exerted efforts to plunge themselves into masswork among the workers, like those in foundry shops, and among the peasants,” aside from the usual organizing work among the students and teachers in various educational institutions. According to Kagawasan (1995:4), the underground publication of KM-Cebu: “…during and after the First Quarter Storm of 1970 streamed forth cadres for the different fields of revolutionary work but mainly for building the guerilla fronts in Visayas and Mindanao. From the ranks of the youth emerged warriors, leaders, and servants of the revolutionary movement of the peasants and workers and the armed struggle.”

In the early 1990s, the “movement” suffered serious challenges from within. This was after the Executive Committee of the Communist Party of the Philippines declared a thorough-going “rectification of its past errors” and a “reaffirmation of its basic founding principles.” Armando Liwanag, CPP Chairperson, reasoned out that a rectification campaign is necessary since this would root out the ideological problem of “revisionism,” viewed as the source of the movement’s political and organizational setbacks (e.g., Kampanyang Ahos, a Party-initiated bloody anti-DPA campaign which murdered persons who are suspected as government agents). Revisionism, Liwanag points out, is an ideological disease brought into the Party by petty-bourgeois influences. Nilo de la Cruz (2000:1) however retorted: “Instead of resolving new problems brought about by the all-rounded development of the struggle in the 80’s, it was adjudged erroneous. As if wanting to turn back the hands of time, the CPP leadership prescribed a return to the strategy blueprint laid down in 1968. It was as if the movement, the party and society had gone into suspended animation and never made any progress.”

Thus, the Philippine Left was polarized between two camps—those who saw the necessity of the ND movement’s campaign to weed out “ideological misfits” (the “RAs” or the “Reaffirmists”) and those who rejected this as merely “sweeping statements” (the “RJs” or the “Rejectionists”). These differences culminated in the splitting of its own ranks—leading to the formation of eight other leftist formations. In the Visayas, Luis Jalandoni (1993) reported that “Victor del Mar, former head of the Visayas Commission, was able to get the former Negros regional committee to declare “autonomy” in October 1993.” Victor del Mar later on founded the Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA), which has now an existing peace agreement with the national government.

Although the split is largely a national phenomenon, this has had an impact on how the Cebuano Left imagines its position now vis-à-vis the “RJs” and the pre-1992 (especially the 1980s) days. This newly reconstructed identity is manifested both in the everyday language of the RAs and in official Party declarations. Integral to this new identity is the experience of cathartic moments—in this case, the Rectification Movement of 1992, which reorients and redirects the Left’s praxis through a new lens. Furthermore, a comparison of the pre-1992 and post-1992 slogans would reveal significant differences in terms of how the Cebuano Left defines itself across time.

Constructing Pagsimang and Pagtul-id

How is the pre-1992 days represented? Post-rectification activists tend to see the pre-1992 days, especially the late 1980s, as a period where ideological disorientation abounds. In common activist lingo, the period is called as pagsimang. The root word of pagsimang is simang, freely translated as a deviation from a defined path. Simang, on the other hand, is the antonym of tul-id. Pagtul-id (to straighten, but freely translated also as to rectify) thus is the antithesis of pagsimang. Thus, rectification movement is translated into Cebuano as kalihukang (“movement for”) pagtul-id (“rectification”).

It is worthwhile to note that the 1992 rectification campaign, officially termed in Party documents as the Second Great Rectification Movement, is rendered into Cebuano in two ways: Ikaduhang Malangkubong Kalihukang Pagtul-id and later on as Ikaduhang Bantugang Kalihukang Pagtul-id. In Cebuano, the highlighted words (malangkubon and bantugan) are entirely different words, but in this case both words indicate the word “great.” Malangkubon (literally translated, as “all-encompassing” or “all-rounded”) fits the ND movement’s vision of thoroughly rooting out the “disorientation” in all spheres of revolutionary activity while bantugan approximates the notion of “greatness”. Strictly speaking however, bantugan in popular Cebuano suggests notions of popularity and notoriety.

Pagtul-id is central to the identity construction of the Cebuano leftist. It is characterized as a positive and therefore desirable (i.e., bantugan) goal as well as a systematic and painstaking (i.e., malangkubon) effort of eliminating “destructive” ideological influences brought about by the following factors: a) “residual” concepts and practice adopted from the period of disorientation, b) ideological influence of bourgeois society in general, and c) the individual’s “class origin” (rendered into Cebuano as hut-ong gigikanan).

Since the setbacks of the pre-1992 period are essentially rooted in ideology, pagtul-id is situated within the individual. The adage, Ang pinakatraydor nga kaaway dili ang kaaway sa hut-ong kundili ang kaaway sulod sa imong kaugalingon” (i.e., The most treacherous adversary is not our class enemy but the “enemy” residing within the individual), illustrates the point. Thus, the individual is also a site of contestation (i.e., panagbangi sa duha ka linya—“two-line struggle”). As such, she/he has to undertake a “remolding process” in order to cast away “bourgeois influences” and assume a “proletarian standpoint, viewpoint, and methods of work.” Those who rejected the rectification movement (the “RJs”) are labeled as unrepentant petty-bourgeoisie, as “mga kauban sa una nga wala magremolde/magtul-id” (i.e., former comrades who refused to undergo the remolding/rectification process), or as mga nadunot nga mga kauban (“ideologically-decadent” comrades).

The concept of “two-line struggle” (panagbangi sa duha ka linya) is important in clarifying the concept of pagsimang and pagtul-id. This is basically an extension of the Maoist idea of the “law of contradiction in things, that is, the law of the unity of opposites…” (Mao Tse Tung, 1965: 311). The Cebuano Left sees contradiction as universal and ultimately expressed in the individual’s moda sa panghuna-huna (individual’s world outlook). Consequently, the individual in the context of pagtul-id needs to maintain constant vigilance and strive that the tukma nga linya/tul-id (correct line/”straight”) will prevail over the sayop nga linya/simang (wrong line/deviation). It is not entirely surprising that the Cebuano Left uses tul-id and simang as organizing metaphors in their discourse. These are moral signifiers quite similar to what religious movements use and are embodied in the day to day practice of their followers.

Revolutionary Precision?

The mainstream Cebu ND puts a premium on precision in translating the content of the revolutionary message. Like what the Iloko revolutionaries did , the Cebuano NDs also incorporated (in Leftist parlance, “revolutionized”) and introduced terms formerly confined within English and Tagalog texts. For example, “criticism-and-self-criticism” (CSC) is rendered into Cebuano as pagsaway-ug-pagsaway sa kaugalingon (PPK) or “dialectical materialism” into dayalektikong materyalismo.

Moreover, the concern for “revolutionary precision” leads to the subsumption of certain words within the framework of pagsimang and pagtul-id. Leftist words have distinct meanings and are used in order to realize the Left’s objective of “precision in content.” This is consistent with the Left’s goal of maintaining ideological correctness to veer its direction away from any ideological deviation epitomized in the series of setbacks in the pagsimang period.

However, “revolutionary precision” runs counter to its avowed goals of initiating social awakening (i.e., “arousing the masses”) because it leads to the formation of jargons, not quite understood by outsiders. William D. Lutz (1987:54) remarked: “Jargon can serve an important and useful function. Within a group, jargon allows members of the group to communicate with each other clearly, efficiently, and quickly. Indeed, it is a mark of membership in the group to be able to use and understand the group’s jargon…” In effect, while it effectively transmits “precise” message among Left activists—the problem then is when such message is communicated to the public. For example, personalities from the Left use jargons often. The use of the word imperyalismo (i.e., imperialism) is a jargon that is commonly thrown around and yet incomprehensively discussed. Worse, some speakers shorten imperyalismo into impe, adding on to the problem of communication.

Rally Slogans: National Identity and Local Comprehensibility

One of the characteristics of the rallies is the shouting of slogans while marching through the streets of Cebu. Most of the time, an ajit tim (agitation teams) hails from the ranks of the student youths and the “urban poor.” They are tasked to lead the shouting of the agitation slogans so as to conjure an atmosphere of protest and to break the monotony of marching.

Slogans are usually “borrowed” from the rallyists’ Manila counterparts. While participating in these protest rallies, I always wondered whether ordinary pedestrians understood the message, especially that Tagalog, in Cebuano popular culture, generally symbolizes Manila arrogance . For example, majority of the slogans are in Tagalog while those that are in Cebuano are but translations of Tagalog slogans. Thus, in a rally, it is fairly safe to say that 80%-90% of the slogans are “borrowed” from Manila counterparts. Perhaps this mirrors the general disparity between Manila and the rest of the regions (and thus reflected also in Left language). Alternatively, this may also suggest the desire for continuity among all Leftists in the Philippines.

The Philippine Left needs to generate a national identity necessary for waging a revolution in a culturally diverse and archipelagic country. Without such identity, the revolution would be limited to sporadic regional uprisings aimed at particular ruling families—and not at the “class enemy” of the Maoist imagination. This fits into what Berger and Luckman (1966:40) notes: “…language is capable of transcending the reality of everyday life altogether. It can refer to experiences pertaining to finite provinces of meaning, and it can span discrete spheres of reality…They are “located” in one reality, but “refer” to another.” The Cebuano Left activists therefore, though situated within Cebuano society, aspire for a national identity that may be alien to the “Cebuano” but crucial to achieving revolutionary success on a national scale.

The mainstream Left’s efforts on the need for a national identity can be gleaned in their policy on language. In the booklet Program for the People’s Democratic Revolution (PPDR), section three (3) of the specific program for the cultural field instructs ND activists to “propagate the national language as the principal medium of instruction and communication.” Furthermore, it added that the “national language…shall be given revolutionary content and relate the revolutionary struggles of workers, peasants, soldiers, and other participants of the revolution.” Here, the national language that is to be developed is the same language that the Philippine government is instituting: a Tagalog-based national language—Filipino.

While it is true that the Cebuano Left actively participates in the national identity construction (through various nonverbal means, such as the spread of Left symbols and signs—e.g., rallies, flags, placards, organizational names, etc.), the content and, to some degree, the form is imagined at the national level. In the case of major rallies for example, most of these are nationally coordinated, with the national offices articulating the analysis. The local Left, on the other hand, situates national plans and particularizes these to suit the local context.

Reinventing Rally Chants

Since pagsimang is considered as primarily a negative experience, the post-rectification activists strive to dissociate themselves from it. This is expressed in how slogans are reinvented to show and reinforce pagtul-id and the elimination of slogans associated with simang.

To illustrate, the Bayan Ko chant below (pre-1992 version) is recreated to “fit” within the confines of pagtul-id. The post-1992 version retains almost the entire slogan except for the last line. Post-1992 activists reconfigured the last line into Sa protesta ng bayan, i.e., through the people’s protest, instead of “through the people’s war” to convey a message that the mass movement in the cities is legal and democratic in character. Mouthing “insurrectionary” slogans is inappropriate in the time of “reaffirming” the tenets of “protracted people’s war.” It is common to hear activists saying that these should not be expressed unless it can be discussed extensively. Caution is exercised vis-à-vis topics of revolutionary warfare lest the public might misconstrue rallies as illegal or activities of the “NPAs.” In the context of rallies where awareness raising is sinilhig—hasty and sweeping, words pertaining to armed struggle should thus be avoided. Furthermore, any verbal association with urban-based partisan warfare is deleted and the legality of the protest movement in the cities is asserted.

Whenever certain individuals do mouth slogans considered as incendiary, these behaviors are seen as mga lama sa pagsimang—stains of the period of disorientation—or as a sign of petty bourgeois infantilism.

Slogan 1. Pre-1992 Bayan Ko slogan

Bayan, bayan, bayan ko To my people,
Di pa tapos ang laban mo The fight isn’t over yet
Rebolusyon ni Bonifacio Bonifacio’s revolution
Isulong mo, isulong mo Need to surge forward

Aklas ng Bayan The people’s protest
Isa lang ang kasagutan Calls for an ultimate solution:
Kapag pumula ang silangan When the East is red
Malapit na ang kalayaan Freedom is near,
Kalayaang makakamtan Freedom that will be realized
Sa digmaan ng bayan Through the people’s war

Another case of deletion is the total elimination of the Tubag sa Kalisdanan slogan in all rallies. The “ratatatatratatatatboomboom” at the end of the slogan mimics the staccato of gunfire, indicating armed warfare. This slogan is seen as a product of a petty-bourgeois mindset: impetuous and adventurous yet cowardly in the face of actual face-to-face combat.

The onset of pagtul-id necessitates precision in the mouthing of slogans: simang is associated with armed urban insurrection while tul-id denotes ideas of the protractedness of launching a people’s war.

Slogan 2. Pre-1992 slogan, Tubag sa Kalisdanan

Tubag, tubag, tubag Solution (3x)
Sa kalisdanan To the people’s hardship
Ratatatatratatatboomboomboom Ratatatatratatatatboomboomboom

Slogan 3 however is a different case. While the previous slogans illustrate how ideological and military matters are transmitted into the vocabulary of the slogans, slogan 3 signifies pagtul-id’s “correct” attitude. The cussword in the last line of the slogan is deleted and changed into mga walanghiya! (i.e., persons without shame) instead of putangina (i.e., a whore mother). Though walanghiya basically still is a cussword, it does, to the activist’s mind, capture the “shamelessness” of the neocolonial state’s “puppetry.” In contrast, “putangina” is viewed as dekadente (i.e., decadent)—a characteristic purportedly of the lumpen proletariat—and is not “politically correct” since it tends to denigrate women.

Slogan 3. Pre-1992 Marcos-Aquino slogan

Marcos, Aquino walang pinag-iba Marcos and Aquino are not that different at all
Parehong tuta ng mga Kano Both are puppets of the Americans
Utang ng Utang They keep on procuring loans (from the IMF-WB)
Mga putang-ina! Their mothers are whores!

Rally slogans are central features of any mass mobilization. The slogans change according to how the identity at the present moment is envisaged. For the Cebuano Left, pagsimang and pagtul-id are situated in time. These are conceptual paradigms that differentiate temporal sequences. When one relates a negative experience before 1992, the narrator would say panahon sa pagsimang. Accordingly, the temporality of these concepts is also reflected in how the slogans are reinvented—with pagsimang and pagtul-id as the points of reference.


This paper is in itself an act of translation. This attempts to make a complex and multi-faceted group understandable through an analysis of the Left’s everyday language and rally slogans. It shows how language reflects the varying contexts of the time. The symbols in the language have meaning in themselves and the meaning sets norms of appropriate behavior that reconfigures the mind as well as the body.

Another issue is the tension between national identity and the quest for local intelligibility. The desire for a national identity led to the diminution of local intelligibility—not only because the language used is “foreign” but also because the “indigenized foreign” also has defined “provinces of meaning” (Berger and Luckman, 1966:40). These “provinces of meaning,” in the case of the Left, seem to be exclusively meaningful to people who share the same identity. The locals, whom the Cebuano Left is hoping to organize, are likely to have restricted access to the meaning of the Left’s vast vocabulary. The concern for precision of the translation of the revolutionary message (exemplified in the need for pagtul-id) failed to take into account that one cannot entirely capture the nuances of a foreign text; in a revolution where success lies on popular support, the locals should be considered as active discursive participants and not as passive receptacles of the Left’s symbols.

Yet the relative growth of the Left since the rectification of 1992 poses a theoretical challenge to the hypothesis. If people have restricted access to the Left’s “provinces of meaning,” then what’s the cause of this growing acceptance? Could we further hypothesize then that there are other reasons for political action besides accessibility/inaccessibility to the meaning of Left language? Are there nonverbal cues, or perhaps noncognitive cues, that may transmit meaning as well? What constitutes discourse in the dialogue between the Left and the masa? Or consequently, what is it with the structures in Philippine society that moves people to Leftist political action?

References Cited:

1. Berger, Peter L. and Luckman, Thomas. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Anchor Books, Doubleday. 1966.

2. hooks, bell. “this is the oppressor’s language/yet I need it to talk to you”: Language, a place of struggle,” in Between Languages and Cultures: Translation and Cross-Cultural Texts. Eds. A. Dingwaney and C. Maier. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press. 1995: 295-301.

3. Lutz, William D. Language, Appearance, and Reality: Doublespeak in 1984 in Annual Editions: Anthropology 00/01. Ed. Elvio Angeloni. Dushkin/McGraw-Hill, Guilford, CT. 2000:54-59.

4. Mao Tse Tung. “On Contradiction,” in Selected Works of Mao Tse Tung. Vol. 1. Peking: People’s Publishing House. 1966:311-347

5. Mojares, Resil. From Cebuano/To Cebuano: The Politics of Literary Translation in Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society. 18(1990):75-81.

6. Pei, Mario. The Story of Language. Revised ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1965.

7. Sengupta, Mahasweta. “Translation as Manipulation: The Power of Images and the Images of Power,” in Between Languages and Cultures: Translation and Cross-Cultural Texts. Eds. A Dingwaney and C. Maier. Pittsburg, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press. 1995:159-179.

Mojares, Resil (1990). From Cebuano/To Cebuano: The Politics of Literary Translation Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society


1. Communist Party of the Philippines. Program for a People’s Democratic Revolution. 1971.
2. Nilo de la Cruz. Where Does the Real Problem Lie. 4 April 2000
3. Grasp the revolutionary tradition of the Kabataang Makabayan in Kagawasan. Kabataang Makabayan-Cebu. 1995
4. Jalandoni, Luis. Rectification Movement Strikes Deep Roots, Grows with Clear Direction in Kalayaan. 1993:4-6.

Raging with The Jerks

Growing up, one of the bands that I listen to frequently is The Jerks. Like the fate of all alternative bands during the Marcos years, their albums were seldom found in record stores. Their genius only got passed around by word of mouth and cassette tapes changed hands like contraband. It’s not that The Jerks shunned the mainstream. I believe they’d gladly jump at any chance to change society one song at a time. After all, they’re activist musicians before Rage Against the Machine made raging hip.

Their songs smolder in protest. Take for instance their rendition of Dylan Thomaspoem, Do not go gently into that good night. While the original intent of the poem is to rouse Thomas’ father to continue being the fierce man he had previously been, The Jerks retooled the poem and made it an indictment of a moribund ruling system that brought the nation to “the dark ages, an era of lies.” Chikoy Pura, their vocalist, roars on for the listeners to “not go gently into the night” amidst all the injustices but to resist and do our share in changing society for the better. He implores us to

Rage against the dying of the light
Sing a song about this terrible sight
Rage until the lightning strikes
Go not gently, go not gently, go not gently
And rage with me

From 1979 until now, The Jerks are still raging on. In their facebook group, Chickoy Pura announced a reissue of their 1997- NU Rock Awards Album of the Year and 1998-Katha Awards for the song RAGE. If you want to get hold of their albums, do email them through

Rage Against the Dying of the Light-The Jerks

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more about “Rage“, posted with vodpod

On the Maguindanao Massacre

On that eventful day of November 23, I went cold when I got the news that one of the 57 massacre victims was Atty. Cynthia Oquendo, a fellow activist, friend, and mother. The last time I saw her was when we had a small gathering a few weeks before: sharing a few drinks and friendly banters over sisig and crispy pata with a few college friends.

There was never any indication that that would be the last time I would see Cynthia, no black butterfly hovering around nor stories of goodbyes that in Cebuano folklore denotes a discreet premonition of one’s passing. We were there gathered, partaking of the cozy warmth of shared memories and the usual fare of how-are-yous sprinkled with a dose of political rhetoric. It was a nice albeit short night.

Many weeks later, there she was plastered on the frontpage: her voice muffled forever, body riddled with bullets, covered in dirt, dumped with 56 other bodies in a shallow grave dug using the Maguindanao provincial government’s backhoe. Brutalized. Dehumanized.

I browsed through various online analyses to understand the morbid logic behind these deaths and all other victims of political violence. I wanted to understand because in less than ten years, I have lost friends through a murderer’s barrel, Cynthia among them. There was Marvin Marquez, a youth activist and my son’s godfather, felled by sniper bullets in the hinterlands of Bohol. Another was Rev. Edison Lapuz, a human rights defender and an occasional house visitor, brutally assassinated while relaxing in his father’s house. There were also farmer-leader friends like Mayong Auxilio and Victor Olayvar, whom I met during my days as an agrarian reform volunteer, killed while preaching peasant rights to landless farmers.

Grief did gnaw at the soul for every passing of a dear friend. It made me reflect on this monster of a social structure that breeds and coddles sociopaths.

According to Mike Dobbie of the International Federation of Journalists: The Maguindanao massacre “is a culmination of the decades-long culture of impunity, where it’s been okay to kill journalists and nothing will ever happen — there will be no prosecution, there will be no trial..” Extrajudicial executions have been so rampant that the United Nations sent a team to investigate. In a 2007 report, United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston said that:

Since 2001 the number of politically motivated killings in the Philippines has been high and the death toll has mounted steadily. These killings have eliminated civil society leaders, including human rights defenders, trade unionists, and land reform advocates, as well as many others on the left of the political spectrum. Of particular concern is the fact that those killed appear to have been carefully selected and intentionally targeted. The aim has been to intimidate a much larger number of civil society actors, many of whom have, as a result, been placed on notice that the same fate awaits them if they continue their activism. One of the consequences is that the democratic rights that the people of the Philippines fought so hard to assert are under serious threat.

The murders however went unabated even with strong international and local pressure exerted on the Arroyo government. From January to October of 2009 alone, KARAPATAN, a human rights organization, reported 78 extrajudicial killings of journalists and political activists raising the total to 1,119 victims under the Arroyo administration. For KARAPATAN, the blame squarely lies on the shoulders of the government:

In the first place, the massacre would not have happened had the AFP stopped supporting vigilantes and militiamen which it conveniently appropriates for its counter-insurgency program. It would not have happened had the PNP been serious in disbanding and dis-arming private armies as its billboard at Osmeña Boulevard brags. It would not have happened had the Gloria government junked the rule of the gun and its militarist Oplan Bantay Laya…These practices spawned a culture of lawlessness and worsening human rights violations across the land. Local warlords, like their national counterparts, impose their will as laws over their dominion. Worse, law enforcers, including military commanders, become warlords too.

Analysts point to a ‘weak’ or a ‘failed’ state as the structural cause for these deaths. Local elites like the Ampatuans ensure the political survival of national elites in exchange for largesse from the national coffer. To sustain this parasitism, any threat is muffled with weapons siphoned off from corrupt military brass. News reports relay that the Ampatuans maintain a weapons cache that could arm three full-sized battalions, replete with 60-mm mortars, machine guns, explosives, recoilless rifles, AK 47s, among others.

Truth be told, wherever political dynasties reign, a clan-owned military-supplied armory can surely be found. It comes as no surprise then that the massacre happened during the election period. Elections are often imagined as democratic exercises, instead these have become catalysts for intensified, and often violent, elite competition.

With Malacanang-pampered tinpot dictators spread all across the archipelago, the Ampatuan massacre will not be the last. Let’s just pray that no one we know will be the next victim. Again.