Credit where credit is due. On 15 April the President commuted the death sentences of more than 1,000 prisoners on death row. She also announced that she would work with congress to repeal the Death Penalty Act. Although she has made a number of contradictory statements on the death penalty, in general Mrs Arroyo has been opposed to it.
The arguments against the death penalty have been stated time and time again, so I won’t repeat them here. The overwhelming theoretical case against the death penalty is strengthened by practical considerations in countries, like the Philippines, with rickety judicial systems and suspect infrastructures.
There was one particularly tragic example of this back in Erap’s time. An execution time of 12 noon had been set for a condemned prisoner. The president decided long before then that he would exercise his right of clemency. However, for dramatic effect and perhaps because he had been watching old Hollywood movies, Erap decided to leave to leave his life-saving telephone call until the last possible moment. At 11.55 he called the executioner. Unfortunately, the number he called was a fax number. By the time the correct number had been found and dialed, the prisoner was dead.
The administration’s progressive attitude to capital punishment (above) is in marked contrast to its indifference to (or even participation in) the epidemic of violent deaths in the Philippine countryside. At least prisoners on death penalty have had the benefit of some due process, in the killing of labor or farmers’ leaders, the victim typically has his head blown off as he cycles home from the market.
Let’s take last week.
Saturday 22 April. A Bayan Muna member and her brother (also a member of the group) were shot dead in General Nakar town in Quezon province. According to Robert de Castro, national deputy secretary of Bayan Muna, the killings were part of the military’s attempt to reach its “targets” under "Oplan Bantay Laya," a campaign to destroy leftist groups within five years.
"This is the last year of that oplan. And in the assessment of the military, they are still way below the target that's why the AFP has shifted to fast-track mode, thus, these new waves of killings."
Far from showing concern about the murders (let alone interest in catching the killers), the military’s initial reaction was claim no knowledge of the killings. Here is Army Maj. Jose Broso, spokesperson of the military's Southern Luzon Command: "Coming from the left, it's probably another smear campaign against the military," he said.
Monday 24 April. Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Peasant Movement of the Philippines) provided the Inquirer with copies of documents that it claimed showed the military were deliberately targeting leftists groups.
Tuesday 25 April. A rural activist was gunned down in a public market in Davao del Norte. His 23-year-old daughter was in a critical condition after being shot in the chest and back. Enrico Cabanit was the fourth agrarian reform activist to be murdered in April alone.
Thursday 27 April. Local Bayan Muna leader Jayson Delen was murdered in Daet and and another member, Jim Mirafuentes, was “tilling his farm in Sitio Matagbac when two of five unidentified men approached him and opened fire”. Their deaths brought to more than 100 the number of militant activists murdered in different parts of Philippines since 2001.
For stories on earlier killings claimed to be by the Philippine military, see earlier posts on this blog here and here.
The Inquirer, to its credit, does try to report the culling that is going on, but even it did not put the murder of Cabanit on its Internet edition.
Apart from straight news stories, there is very little condemnation of this butchery at all. Apart from Bayan Muna leaders, I can’t remember one mainstream politician criticizing the killings. The murders very rarely feature in the acres of commentary in the Philippine press. Apart from the PCIJ, the blogs almost never refer to them. It’s as if no one cares about anything that happens north of Valenzuela or south of Alabang. Hey, why worry about another farmer’s widow and orphaned children when we can put a photo of Many Pacquiao “joining the army" on the front page (the huge photo on today’s Inquirer front page)? Is that really the most newsworthy story about the Philippine Armed Forces today?
If you wonder what the world will be like after Messrs Bush and Ahmadinejad have done with it, the Guardian has an excellent account of life after a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power complex exploded on 26 April 1986. What surprised me was how quickly “nature” moved in, the next winter in fact:
In the winter of 1986/87, there was an infestation of mice because the crops had not been harvested. So the population of foxes increased. Most of them had rabies, and hunters were called to come and kill them. The wild pigs came back first. Then the wolves. Because people were evacuated, thinking they would be gone for only a few days, they left their dogs. But the dogs then crossed with the wolves and were not afraid of humans. It was very dangerous.
Stealing other people’s ideas (and its specific form, plagiarism) has been on my mind recently.
(i) Empress Maruja recently reported an incident of “concept theft” in the Philippine film industry. As I understand it, he and his co-writer pitched a concept for a romantic movie set in Paris to a film studio. The studio said “thanks, but no thanks” but lo and behold, a few months later came up with a very similar plan for a movie, set in Paris, with the same proposed leads as in Maruja’s concept.
(ii) In a case of clear literary plagiarism, wunderkind Kaavya Viswanathan, a first-year Harvard student, received a $500,000 advance for her novel How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life. Unfortunately, when it was published, readers noticed strong similarities with another chick-lit novel.
Kaavya has fessed up:
When I was in high school, I read and loved two wonderful novels by Megan McCafferty … Recently, I was very surprised and upset to learn that there are similarities between some passages in my novel … and passages in these books. .. I wasn't aware of how much I may have internalized Ms. McCafferty's words. I am a huge fan of her work and can honestly say that any phrasing similarities between her works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious.
(iii) Back in our island home, a few months ago the PCIJ was roundly beaten up on the Sassy Lawyer’s blog for using a cartoonist’s work in a publication without his permission.
One could go on with similar examples forever of course.
There are never easy answers to questions of the “originality” of material. How original is a romantic movie set in Paris, or an article like this on plagiarism? Even Shakespeare said “so all my best is dressing old words anew”. The writer of Ecclesiastes (“there is nothing new under the sun”) was probably quoting his granny.
For what they’re worth, here are my views on the three instances above.
(i) I have a lot of sympathy with Maruja and I can understand how galling it must have been to have discovered that a studio that had turned down his idea was proceeding with a strangely similar project. Still, a concept is just that—a notion, not a fully realized work. This kind of “theft” goes on in all industries; imitation is the greatest form of flattery after all. I don’t think we can ever copyright thoughts or ideas. Even if we could, what a nightmare world that would be. That is not to say that the film studio’s ethics were good, because they plainly weren’t. Maruja’s only recourse (it seems to me) is to expose the dodgy business practices of the studio, which he has done very effectively—hey, I’m writing about it.
(ii) As for Kaavya Viswanathan, a sincere apology goes a long way with me, so I’m willing to take her word that her stealing was unintentional. What I can’t forgive her for is for having written such a tacky sounding book in the first place! One of her former teachers probably has it about right:
Kaavya was my student last spring (in a section where I was a TA). I was surprised to learn she had written a book, as her writing was awful-- I had given her low grades on her papers.
I feel bad for her, even though she was always falling asleep in section (as if you don't notice a snoozing person sitting at a conference table for ten). Plagiarizing from chick lit has to be some kind of double whammy against artistic integrity.
The comment was originally on metafilter, but I was alerted to it by Maud Newton, one of my favourite literary blogs.
(iii) I’m sorry if this offends any readers, but my take on the Happy Vergara v PCIJ dispute was that it was a lot of hot and rather pompous air about not much (not so much from Happy as from the gnashing participants in the debate).
The PCIJ was in the wrong. It should have made more effort to ascertain the originator of the cartoon it published. However, Sheila Coronel apologized and that should have been the end of it. I was just amazed at the volume and venom of the comments on Sassy, which just goes to show that this whole plagiarism issue is a very personal one. As far as I am concerned, this was Sheila Coronel, a person of integrity and executive director of one of the few Philippine institutions of genuine and deserved international stature. An organization that has, incidentally, done more to preserve freedoms in this country than all bloggers combined and multiplied a thousand times. I think she deserved more respect than she got frankly.
A BRITISH broadcaster who travelled to the Philippines to be crucified on Good Friday for a television programme pulled out of the stunt in tears yesterday — and blamed God for his decision.
Dominik Diamond broke down and wept after watching nine Filipinos take their turn to be whipped and nailed on crosses and realising that his turn was next. “God wanted me only to pray at the foot of my cross,” he sobbed, sinking to his knees and praying as local people and tourists started to boo.
After pulling out of the challenge, Diamond said: “At no point was it ever conveyed that I would definitely be crucified. At all times in this journey I have been guided by my God in ways I could never have predicted. Having experienced the humility of bearing my own cross through the streets, I felt my God wanted me only to pray at the foot of my cross.”
Sebastian Horsley, an oil painter, was the first Westerner to take part in the Karabrio. He felt that it would be valuable for him to experience that level of pain, for artistic rather than religious reasons.
Horsley was pleased with Diamond’s refusal to go through with the ordeal. “I’m glad he bottled it. I mean, going over there with a Channel Five crew is not right. It got leaked to the press when I did it but I wouldn’t allow any film crews to come with me.
“This is very special to these people. It is something they do to get closer to God, not something that should be cheapened,” he said “I tell you, it really hurts having nails driven through your hands. Your arms are strapped up and they put alcohol on them and then bang in the nail.”
The Big Wide World has an interesting post on the reactions she received as a Filipina with a German boyfriend traveling around the Philippines.
In my month-long travel around the country, people would impolitely assume that I met Thomas through the internet or through some pen-pal community. From Ilocos to Bohol, people would ask if I met him through a chatroom. Where? Could I go to this website? No matter how I explained that we met in the Philippines through work, no body would believe me. A tricycle driver in Vigan directly asked me through what web service did I meet Thomas, immediately assuming that we met through the internet, without even asking me how we met. When I told him that we met through work, my office was two buildings away from his he replied, "Aah...ganun. Anong gamit niyo, Yahoo o Hotmail?" (Oh. So what webservice do you use? Yahoo! or Hotmail?)
In Carmen, Bohol, after camping on top of a Chocolate Hill, Thomas and I bought a coke from the store at the foot of the hill. The store-keeper, apparently alerted of Thomas' presence from the locals the night before, was obviously disappointed that he had company. "Ay, may kasama pala!" She them proceeded to introduce us to her sister and niece, both emerging from the front door with wet hair fresh from the shower. One of the girls came out with just a bathing towel on. Thankfully, Thomas expressed disinterest. Inside, I felt fury and mirth. Mirth because the situation was indeed funny. Fury because the woman was practically pimping her relatives! A look around their community, however, made me understand why they felt that a union with a white man is their only way out.
We had a fantastic Easter break in beautiful Baler. The drive was sort of arduous (see next post) but all our tiredeness slipped away when we saw the Pacific rollers crashing on a beach that stretched as far as the eye could see.
This is the off-season for serious surfers (from October to December the waves are four times higher), which suited us fine, especially as our friends had their 7-year-old daughter with them.
We spent the days half-heartedly attempting to surf, body surfing, and generally larking around in the breakers, and the nights getting pleasantly sloshed, taking in the Pinoy surfer culture, and gazing at the moon. Awooo…
In between we saw the Easter penitents flaying themselves (left), popped into the interesting museum (Baler was the birthplace of President Manuel Quezon) and looked around the church that was the site of the historic siege from 27 June 1898 to 2 June 1899.
The story of the siege reminds me of the Japanese soldiers who lived on in the Philippines after the end of the second world war (what is it with the Philippines and soldiers in denial?). Anyway, not knowing that the Filipino-Spanish war was over and that Spain had already ceded the Philippines to the United States, four Spanish officers and 50 men held on for almost a year, fighting the revolutionaries and resisting several demands for surrender. The church was the last Spanish settlement in Luzon.
When the bugle sounded for the surrender, the men who survived the siege were greeted by revolutionaries with shouts of "Amigos! Amigos!" and were granted safe conduct by General Emilio Aguinaldo.
Anyway, we all loved Baler and vowed to return soon. The place is just at the right stage of development —there are plenty of accommodation options (even during Holy Week), yet outside the town limits life goes on as it has done for centuries.
PS While doing a less arduous kind of surfing I discovered this excellent blog from there.