Archive for August, 2008

Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” tells of a utopian city of complete peace and joy and harmony. Everything in Omelas is beautiful, everyone is happy. The catch is that the whole society’s happiness rests on the intense suffering of a scapegoat –a young child who must be kept locked up, living in darkness and filth, never to know the joys of living in Omelas.

I’ve been reminded of this short story by the ongoing discussions regarding feminism and capitalism. As an economic system, capitalism generates different levels of benefits for different privileged sectors of the world population. But these benefits are built on the suffering of a great many others.

But it’s knowledge that we fail to absorb. Or maybe it’s knowledge that we continually suppress.



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Today, August 30, 2008, marks the 25th observance of the International Day of the Disappeared.

The group Karapatan has released a 2007 Year-End Report (pdf) regarding human rights violations by the Arroyo government. In 2007 alone, there have been:

  • 24 victims of enforced or involuntary disappearances
  • 36 victims of frustrated political killings
  • 69 victims of extra-judicial executions
  • 55 victims of torture

These are just the documented numbers, and just for 2007.

Linda Cadapan, mother of community activist Sherlyn Cadapan, who was abducted together with fellow-activist Karen Empeno in 2006. In late 2007, a witness who escaped from military custody reported meeting Sherlyn, who said that she and Karen had been tortured and raped by their military captors

Linda Cadapan, mother of community activist Sherlyn Cadapan, who was abducted together with fellow-activist Karen Empeno in 2006. In late 2007, a witness who escaped from military custody reported meeting Sherlyn, who said that she and Karen had been tortured and raped by their military captors. Photo from Arkibong Bayan

Karapatan has the following recommended courses of action for those in the international community, especially those in the United States:

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The discussions on feminism and capitalism have been intense and somewhat discouraging (if you’re following the feminist blogs, you know where to look). So I need good news, and am thankful for this.

I shared a letter earlier this week from a young Filipina teacher who was teaching music theory and guitar performance to students from a lower-income community in the Philippines. Just a small problem, they could not afford guitars.

Problem solved. People responded to her internet plea (unlike the company that promised to donate instruments. hmph). The students have their guitars! Maybe there’s hope for all of us.

Did you see the students’ faces? I could almost hear the beautiful music.

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justicewalks’s moving reflections on her coming medical procedure (h/t bint) had me contemplating my own body. Specifically, the four-inch scar that runs from by bellybutton down my abdomen. I thought that the scar had long healed.

When my personal care physician here in the US first saw the scar, she asked if I had a c-section. So I told her the story of when I had surgery at age 16 to have an ovarian cyst removed. Of how my physician mom was allowed to sit in on the operation as a courtesy, and how she requested the surgeon do a horizontal incision for faster healing.

And how the surgeon shook his head, said “Girls should not wear bikinis,” and sliced my belly with the scalpel.

To this day, my mom shrugs the incident off. The surgeon was old and old-fashioned, and isn’t it great that I didn’t have cancer anymore. Well, sure. And I didn’t wear bikinis either. I stopped thinking about it.

I was surprised when my personal care physician shook her head in disbelief. “Wow,” she said. “That doctor is an asshole.” Continue Reading

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Eugenia Baja’s family began to receive worrisome text messages towards the end of 2007. First, the 25-year-old Filipina domestic worker in Riyadh said she could not send money for Christmas. Then in January 2008, Eugenia pleaded to her brother, “Please help me. Please find me.”

Eugenia texted that she felt cold all the time. Hungry. She did not know what was being done to her. She felt like she was losing her mind.

Then in February came the news that Eugenia had died in a Saudi Arabia hospital of an unspecified illness. The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs later changed the story, saying Eugenia committed suicide by banging her head against the bathroom tiles in her employer’s bathroom. But Riyadh autopsy documents listed her cause of death as an ulcer, and noted that her body showed signs of starvation.

Eugenia was one of the 3,000 Filipinos who leave the country every day to work overseas. An estimated 75 percent of them are female, making Filipinas the country’s largest export. People like Eugenia are also the country’s most lucrative export, generating remittances of over US$15 billion in 2007.

This state-sanctioned labor migration is therefore a key component of the country’s economic development program. Despite the fact that too many women are coming home in caskets.

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This is for readers in the Philippines. Or maybe you’re not in the Philippines but can think of a way to help. Excerpts from a letter from a young teacher and community activist:

Dear Readers,

I am currently teaching a guitar class at the U.P College of music as part of my thesis. My students are members of the Gawad Kalinga Project Laura in Commonwealth, an underprivileged community. I have 11 students in one class, their ages range from 6 to 57 years old. Quite the challenge I know. But the bigger challenge is, not a single one of them owns a guitar.

We hold our classes 2 hours a day, once a week. The first part would be for music theory, the second part would be it’s application on the instrument, which we do by taking turns and passing around my guitar. We’ve been doing this for 7 weeks now since we started last July 3.

We sent out a letter as early as June 19, 2008 to an identified sponsor, requesting their company to lend us guitars. We promised to take care of them and return them after our classes were done. It took weeks before they actually responded. They mentioned they will “release funds” and they will send us 8 guitars, (tsss.. 11 nga yung studyante ko eh, grr..) but they didn’t give us an exact date. Maghintay lang daw kami, my adviser said.

So that’s what we’ve been doing, waiting. The first few weeks, I thought it would be okay to do without the guitar because I’d be introducing the elements of music. But now that we’ve reached our 7th week, with still no sign of the guitars. . .

My students are good students. They are very receptive to the musical concepts I’ve been teaching them. But shempre lahat naman ng klase ng learning hindi complete unless you are able to apply it.

Last Thursday I felt as if someone ran a knife across my chest. when one of my students said she’s been practicing the strumming and chord positions at home. I asked if she knows someone with a guitar, and she said “nag-drawing lang po kame sa papel mam.” [“I just drew the frets on paper, mam](argh! I felt so bad)

But I had to be optimistic for them so I said, “That’s good! Natutuwa ako at nakakahanap kayo ng iba’t-ibang paraan para matuto, hayaan niyo dadating na yung gitara niyo, antay lang tayo.” [I’m happy that you are finding different ways to learn. Just wait, the guitars will come.] I say that every meeting, and I don’t think I can keep showing up empty-handed. . .

So this is where I am humbly asking your help. I need to borrow 8 nylon-stringed guitars from anyone willing to help–anyone with a big heart and ready to receive lots of good karma from the universe. Out of the 11 students 3 of them are already covered so I only need 8 more. Please, it’s for a very good cause. Don’t worry, I assure you, they are good people and they will take care of your guitars. I would make sure that each one of your guitars will be returned to you unharmed by Sept. 30, or even earlier, as soon as my students get their guitars from our sponsor.

The main objective of my thesis is to help their community by uplifting their self-esteem and instill confidence in them through music and performance. Because learning and performing music provides opportunities for students to let down their inhibitions and be able to express themselves freely.

By helping them realize their musical potential and perform together as a group, they would develop a sense of unity, foster cooperative spirit and strengthen their relationship as a community.

With your help, they could very much achieve this and so much more. Please. . .

Sincerely, Thea Tolentino

Maybe you have a nylon string lying around that you can share for a few weeks? E-mail me directly and I can send you Thea’s info.

Building community through music. Sounds like a beautiful project.

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In the early 1990s, seventeen-year-old Nancy Navalta burst into Philippine track and field, running the 100 meter dash at 11.44 seconds. It’s an even more amazing feat considering how green she was. Nancy had no training. She just ran on sandy beaches with a sack of rocks slung over her shoulders.

Newspapers lauded this daughter of a fisherman, this girl who went from being a stonepicker from Luna to star athlete. Her early wins made her eligible to join the national training program. Some commentators began to talk about the Atlanta Olympics.

Nancy never did get to Atlanta. The idea that a female newcomer can run so fast, coupled with features like her “flat chest,” “muscled physique,” and a “wispy mustache” raised suspicions that Nancy Navalta was male.

“Nobody noticed me when I was losing,” Nancy later said in a 2004 interview.* “But when I started winning, they began questioning my gender.”

She was forced to undergo medical tests. Then came the Philippine Sports Commission ruling that Nancy is “genetically male.” Continue Reading

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