This is not really about me, but about the people I meet, the places I visit and the stories I want to share.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Gay Rights

Last November 18, I was called to early duty to cover the 10 am filing of a criminal case against officials of Miriam College for allegedly discriminating against an openly homosexual named Marlon Lacsamana. Marlon and his partner (who would rather remain anonymous) had a symbolic wedding last May at the Church of the Order of St. Aelred, an organization known for gay and lesbian weddings. According to Marlon, his contract as a librarian at Miriam was not renewed because of that wedding.
Many people may not be aware that there is a local law in Quezon City, Ordinance No. 1309 which “prohibits all acts of discrimination directed against homosexuals in any office in Quezon City.” The ordinance authored by Councilors Janet Malaya, Restituto Malangen, Ramon Medalla, Eric Medina, Jorge Banal, Diorella De Leon, and Jesus Suntay was passed by the council on September 16 2003. However the law may be considered too generic because all it says, among a few other things, is that the “city government must afford to homosexuals equal protection guaranteed by the Bill of Rights enshrined in our Constitution.” But at least, there is a law which Marlon can hold on to.
In his affidavit, Lacsmana says after officials of the conservative Catholic institution got wind of his homosexual union, he was fired. He says he was told by Associate Dean Rosa Paragas that he was “like a square peg trying to fit into a hole.”
He adds Vice President Grace Aguilung also told him “kung nasa UP sana tayo walang ganito, pero since nandito ka na sana inalam mo muna yung pinasukan mo kung kayang tanggapin ang mga katulad mo.”
When my team went to Miriam College to get their reaction, the External Affairs office just gave us a blanket denial. They claimed through a statement that “Miriam College has always been committed to the values of truth, justice, and respect for persons.”
I must admit at one point while I was waiting for the statement of the college, I got pissed off when a staff of the External Affairs office told me that they would rather not comment on the case because “we feel the media is only being used by Marlon for his case.” But with all due respect to that lady, I told her that “I don’t think we are being used here because the case is a legitimate story and the public has the right to know about it.”
The case right now is under preliminary investigation at the Quezon City Prosecutors’ Office. If it prospers, it could be the test case if bigotry still exists in the country.
(Photo courtesy of Atty. Jayson Lamcheck) Posted by Picasa

Monday, November 28, 2005

Dingalan Bay

It’s been a year now since the first of the three strong typhoons hit the country. And it is a great relief for me to find out that the town of Dingalan in Aurora Province is slowly getting back to its feet. Just a few weeks ago, my team went back to Dingalan to see how the town has recovered from its worst nightmares named Violeta, Winnie and Yoyong. (Actually, typhoon Yoyong did not bring as much rain but it was a supertyphoon, and the winds were just as scary.)
About a hundred people died in Dingalan when typhoons Violeta and Winnie hit last year. We were there to cover those three typhoons and we stayed in an inn for almost three weeks. The whole town can never forget those days when food were scarce because the market was closed. And even my team and I can never forget that incident when we caught a stray pig swimming in the muddy floodwaters just so we can have something to eat for two days. Thanks to the owner of that pig by the way.
But of course, even if it’s hard to forget a very unfortunate incident, people have to move on. Now the town is back to business. Dingalan Bay may not be as popular as Boracay and one may consider it as just an ordinary beach. But the place has so much potential for tourism. For one, it remains unspoilt. And it’s only about four hours from Manila. There are a few cottages lining the beach, two beachfront resorts and an inn near the municipal hall. Not to mention the freshest catch of tuna and salmon in the afternoon and early morning, around seventy to eighty pesos a kilo, sobrang sulit.
The sad thing though is that the town’s parish priest, Fr. Antonio Evangelio says there are reports from the Anti-Illegal Logging Task Force in Nueva Ecija that freshly cut logs are still being transported from Dingalan to Manila. But Dingalan Mayor Jaime Ylarde counters those logs were probably the same ones brought down by the typhoon from the mountains of Sierra Madre last year. Ylarde says the total log ban is still in effect in his town. I hope so, especially since some of the victims of last year’s typhoons are still housed in an evacuation center.
In any case, from now on I hope people will remember Dingalan not as a VICTIM, but as a SURVIVOR. I hope they’ll get a chance to further boost their tourism industry which can in fact rival the more popular beach resorts in the country. The town has become used to cutting trees as its main source of livelihood, but now that mother nature has proven that it has a way of getting back if she’s abused, then it’s about time that the town focused it efforts on eco-tourism.
But I do hope too that Dingalan won’t get too commercialized, to protect its natural beauty. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 10, 2005


Posted by Picasa My team and I went to Masinloc, Zambales to join a protest action by the group Greenpeace International. They recently made news when their ship ran aground Tubattaha Reef off Palawan Island, although they have already apologized for that and paid a hefty fine for it.

Masinloc Coal-Fired Power Plant
This Napocor power plant was the center of action for Greenpeace International’s “No More Coal” project. While on our way to cover the activity, I remembered the Hollywood film “The Day After Tomorrow.” A Greenpeace activist I’ve talked with said the movie may be a bit exaggerated. The entire New York City turning into a virtual North Pole may be highly improbable. But climate change resulting to extreme weather conditions is not impossible. Hurricane Katrina recently struck the United States, and experts say, if we do not act now, things may get worse.

Posted by Picasa Kiwi and German
The group was bold enough to storm the premises of the power plant. They climbed onto the facility and tried to unfurl banners denouncing coal use. Five Greenpeace members were badly hurt in the incident when Napocor employees tried to stop them. The woman is Deb Collins. She’s 51 years old, a grandmother, and yet she volunteered to do such a strenuous act. The man is Jens Loewe, who for a few minutes was immobile since he was allegedly hit by a Napocor employee using a crowbar. The rest of the thirteen activists said they were stoned and a Filipina was hit on her chest. They may have forcibly entered the power plant, but was it right for Napocor people to hurt them? And at one point, we even heard a warning shot.

Posted by Picasa Coal Causes Global Warming
At the time of the protest the plant was even emitting black smoke. Simply put, Greenpeace says too much carbon dioxide produced by coal causes global warming which in turn results to extreme weather conditions.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Posted by Picasa On Mt. Diwata, Diwalwal


A small town of 40 000 people, mostly migrants from Surigao, Agusan and Cebu - all dependent on gold. Small-scale mining has been their major industry since the gold-rush in the area in the 80’s. Diwalwal literally means lawit because old folks say when you reach the place diwawal na ang dila mo or lawit na ang dila mo.
Diwalwal is a relatively quiet town but recently caught the headlines when an estimated 25 miners died on October 25 inside a tunnel allegedly due to toxic gas suffocation.

This is where it all started – a tunnel owned by the family of Monakyo, Compostela Valley Mayor Joel Brillantes. Although their business is qualified as small-scale mining, JB Mining is a major player in the industry. It has an estimated 200 employees. But it lost at least 17 miners (total number of bodies recovered as of November 4 2005) although people in the area believe there are around 50 miners inside the tunnel at the time of the accident.

Baranggay officials are seeking for an investigation of the incident. Mt. Diwata Bgy. Capt. Franco Tito even wrote the President through Compostela Valley Rep. Manuel “Waykurat” Zamora. Tito believes there was foul-play in the incident. He says there are at least two possibilitites:
- cyanide poisoning done by putting cyanide on top of an old tire set on fire inside the tunnel of JB Mining Corporation.
- blasting inside the tunnel. Tito does not deny that blasting is still practiced inside the tunnels which poses a great danger to miners.“Hindi naman namin tinatanggi dito na nagpapasabog kami, ang sinasabi ng gobyerno ilegal kami, ang hiling namin, sana tulungan kaming maging legal,” he says.

Posted by Picasa CLEAN-UP TIME
After the incident, the company suspended its operations. But employees were seen cleaning at the entrance of the tunnel. JB Mining Corporation Vice President for Operations Reynaldo Espanola says “kailangan pa ring kumita ng mga minero namin, kaya kahit paano maglilinis na lang muna sila para may kitain sila kahit stop-operations muna kami sa loob.”
JB Mining also says they are willing to undergo investigation. But the company claims the highly probable cause of the accident is a pocket of natural gas which the miners could have encroached upon. Espanola also claims they have given financial assistance to the families of the victims.

They may have been up there in the mountains, but they also want their voices to be heard. After our report on TV Patrol that President Arroyo has called for an investigation, the people of Diwalwal became furious. They brought the remains of Victor Condeza in front of the baranggay hall. Condeza is a miner who died in another tunnel where toxic gases allegedly leaked from JB Mining’s Sunshine Tunnel. The residents say they do not want Malacanang’s sympathy. They want concrete action from the President whose policy on mining, they say, will eventually kill them. They add, if the President continues with her policy, they will all end up just like Condeza – but this time, dying out of hunger.

Posted by Picasa ALVAREZ FORMULA
Named after former Natural Resources Sec. Heherson Alvarez, this is the proposal of Diwalwal residents offering 17.5 per cent of what they will earn from operating inside Victory Tunnel – the largest tunnel in Diwalwal which has remained off-limits to small-scale miners. Unfortunately, the proposal was junked by the government.

Posted by Picasa VICTORY TUNNEL
This tunnel is under the control of the government through the Natural Resources Mining Development Corporation or the NRMDC. The agency is headed by Art Disini whom I have called up while the residents were protesting in front of the baranggay hall. Disini says the government has plans of putting up a large-scale mining industry at Victory Tunnel He says it can offer jobs to skilled workers in Diwalwal. But the problem is, they can only accommodate 1 500 employees. But what will happen to the other miners who have been dependent on small-scale mining for the last twenty years? Disini says “hindi naman talaga sila taga-Diwalwal, mga migrants na ang karamihan sa kanila.”
The NRMDC says they are still on the exploration stage inside Victory Tunnel. But Mt. Diwata Baranggay Captain Franco Tito is asking, why are there sacks of rocks already piled outside the tunnel? He says “alam na nilang may ginto sa loob, tinitingnan lang nila kung magkano talaga ang halaga ng ginto doon.”

Posted by Picasa ABANTERO
Most of us think that workers in the industry are all called “miners”. But in Diwalwal, there are two classifications of miners: one group is called abanteros – the ones doing the actual work of mining inside the tunnels. They are actually the highly-skilled ones who may be hired by the government when large-scale mining goes full blast in Diwalwal.

Posted by Picasa ATRASERO
It’s weird that Abanteros do not want to carry the rocks they have mined inside the tunnels. The atraseros are the ones who transport the sacks of rocks out of the tunnel. It’s hard to imagine they are subjecting themselves to so much danger and yet the government seems to neglect them.

Posted by Picasa POUND SOME MORE
After the rocks are taken out of the tunnels, they are broken down into smaller pieces using a hammer.

Posted by Picasa BALL MILL
Scattered all around town are ball mills, these equipment are used to process the rocks into a powdery substance called “waste”. When these “wastes” are mixed with water, dusts of gold will turn up after a process called “panning” is done.

Posted by Picasa DIWALWAL TEAM
We were all smiles in this photo taken in front of our satellite dish at the baranggay hall. Yes my team and I were happy because at this time we were told by our office that we can go back to Manila on November 4.
But on hindsight, I felt bad having to leave the people of Diwalwal behind. After living with them for eight days, I can’t help but think of their future. My team had a hard time doing this coverage, we had to sleep on old cots inside the conference room of the baranggay hall, take motorcycles that run like hell, take a bath under almost freezing temperatures and at one point, did NOT take a bath for three straight days. But come to think of it, the situation of the people of Diwalwal is actually worse.
It is a fact that gold is running out in Diwalwal and the people are setting their sights on Victory Tunnel, where supposedly 18 billion dollars worth of gold is just waiting to be mined. But after the mining conference in Manila last month, Diwalwal residents expect that government officials and foreign investors are the only ones who will benefit from the wealth of Mt. Diwata.
Baranggay Captain Franco Tito’s words stuck in my mind: “Pag ang tao dito nagutom, hindi malayong sugurin na namin ang Victory Tunnel.” If that happens, that would mean civilians fighting soldiers of the Philippine Army, who are tasked to guard the tunnel. There are reportedly hundreds of lose firearms in Diwalwal.
For now, residents will continue to live dangerously depending on small-scale mining in Diwalwal. Yes they may all be migrants in the area, but is this enough reason for the government to take them for granted when Victory Tunnel finally opens its arms to foreign companies?

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