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

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Shaving My Head

 Just like some marine soldiers here in Basilan, I’m thinking of having my head shaved. Kalbong reporter? Why not? I’ve done the same thing in the past when I was with IBC 13.

This conflict in Basilan is taking too long for the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to fix. The military and the MILF have signed a joint resolution to exercise maximum restraint as the incident is being resolved peacefully. So far, so good.

A group composed of government and MILF representatives are set to arrive here in Basilan for a thorough and supposedly impartial investigation into the July 10 encounter in Albarka town. They will attempt to investigate on what really happened there, was it a pure ambush of marines who were just searching for Fr. Giancarlo Bossi? Or in a way, was it provoked by the military?

We all know by now that Fr. Bossi has been released. The parishioners of the Italian priest in Zamboanga Sibugay have already heaved a sigh of relief. The Bossi family back in Italy are just waiting for the homecoming of the “gentle giant.” Everybody is happy. Or so it seems.

Here in Basilan, everything is still uncertain. Fourteen marines and five from the MILF have already died in that bloody encounter. Now do we want more casualties?

Nobody wants war. As they say, in war there are no victors, only victims. Though maybe there are actually winners in war - private contractors who provide arsenal for the military, especially those who provided the marines with dud bombs used by poor soldiers in the July 10 encounter.

Government spokespersons are saying they have no plans of staging an all-out war against the MILF. But their words are different from their actions. Or nananakot lang kaya sila?

Malacanang has announced that the arrest of the perpetrators of the killing and beheading of the marines will be purely a police matter. And that if military operations will be needed, it will be selective, meaning they will be zeroing in on their targets to avoid any collateral damage. But really, is that possible?

In the meantime, fear sets in among residents as the soldiers and the MILF position themselves, and their ammunition, in certain areas in Basilan. And we in the media who are covering this conflict are kept in the hanging.

Can’t we just have peace here and let the police do their jobs of arresting the MILF and at the same time, appeal to the group to bring the accused to the bars of justice?

If war breaks out here in Basilan, chances are, this may spill over to other provinces as well. There are talks that the MILF may stage diversionary attacks, probably in Central Mindanao where leaders of the separatist group are based.

Do we actually want President Arroyo having that guilt-trip on Fr. Bossi once more? Do we want her telling the priest “more people were killed after your release?”

I understand there are grieving families of the slain marines in Luzon. But there are also weeping families of MILF fighters here in Mindanao. Add to this the sorrow of the family of the imam who was also killed during the firefight.

Some marine soldiers, including officers in Manila who are facing rebellion charges, have shaved their heads. Either they protest the way the government handles the Basilan conflict or sympathize with the families of the 14 marines.

I’m thinking, I might just shave my head too to sympathize not only with the marines, but also with the MILF. It may also be my own way of protesting against a possible extended coverage of a war based on a wrong premise – that Fr. Bossi was held captive on the island.

Of all stories, I hate covering wars and conflicts. It tortures me mentally and physically. Unlike natural disasters, wars are created by men, not by God. Typhoons and earthquakes are inevitable, wars and conflicts are not.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Painting Another Picture of Zamboanga Sibugay

The calm waters of Sibugay Bay and the quaint living of Sibugaynons were rudely awakened by the abduction of Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi in the coastal town of Payao.

Suddenly, the province of Zamboanga Sibugay made it to the headlines on June 10 as a dangerous place for foreign missionaries.

But in the middle of the rescue operations and strong military presence in the province, a 56-year old world-class Sibugaynon painter quietly inches his way to becoming a National Artist.

The provincial government of Zamboanga Sibugay has been pushing for the conferment of a national artist award for Ibn Saud Salipyasin Ahmad, a native of Kabasalan town.

A closer look at Saud’s paintings shows fine lines from his meticulous process of layering at least two colors. To create his watercolor masterpieces, Saud first paints on white paper two layers of different colors using a fine brush. Then using the same brush dipped and rinsed in water, he gently erases the second layer of paint to create lines which reveal the first layer. This process results to alternating colors of thin lines and subdued shades of colors.

All forms and figures in his works undergo the painstaking process of layering different colors. No wonder it usually takes him months or even years to finish a masterpiece, some of which were worth millions of pesos sold to rich art patrons in Manila.

Saud says he started his affair with art at the age of five when he would spend time watching movies in the 1950’s at the clubhouse of the Americans in his hometown. This was during the colonial period when Americans controlled the rubber plantations in the Kabasalan. “I used to watch The Three Musketeers, Tarzan and Durango Kid there, then I would go home and draw the images from these films that I have in my mind,” Saud recalls.

Saud started to perfect his distinctive style of intricate watercolor painting in the 1980’s. He may not have had formal training in painting but he took a drafting course at the Zamboanga School of Arts and Trade in Zamboanga City. From then on, his unique designs have brought him to different countries such as the United States, Germany, Italy, Austria, Singapore.

Saud’s style is perhaps an amalgamation of the diverse cultures that revolve around his life in Kabasalan. He is actually a Kalibugan – a mix of local Subanen tribe and traditional Maguindanao Muslim. He thus draws inspiration from local customs and native rituals creating works of art that reflect Zamboanga Sibugay’s multi-faceted character.

His family however are no ordinary Muslims. He says he comes from the Royal House of Salipyasin and he was recently conferred the title of Sharif Datu Manukur.

Islam is one of the major influences in Saud’s art. One of his paintings is entitled “Thanksgiving” – wherein men are seated on the floor, feasting on a lavish banquet on a long table. He says, “lalaki lang kasi hindi pwedeng makasama ang ibang babae,” reflecting a typical Muslim custom where men and women do not normally mingle with each other.

Women however also figure prominently in Saud’s paintings. He usually depicts women with long black hair, wearing traditional clothing, and suggesting a mysterious look. He says he is very particular when it comes to painting women’s eyes which speak of different emotions.

Aside from his exhibitions in various art galleries around the world, Saud also takes pride in having his watercolor entitled “Soulmates” exhibited at the National Museum.

The pride of Zambaonga Sibugay unfortunately is at the crossroads of his career as a painter. He has been thinking of quitting his elaborate painting style which has taken its toll on his vision as he now wears eyeglasses with a grade of 350. He admits, “sometimes I just feel like retiring.”

But Saud has to continue his art, at least for the moment. He is currently preparing for a scheduled exhibit this year where he is expected to come up with more of his artworks, thus bringing honor not only for himself but for his home province of Zamboanga Sibugay as well.

Perhaps as Saud becomes more and more popular in the international art scene, he would provide a better meaning to the word "Sibugay" which originated from the local phrase meaning “come closer my friend.”

Sibugaynons are fervently hoping that with people like Saud, friendly tourists and investors - and not kidnappers - will come closer to their land.

(Note: This article appeared on ABS-CBN Interactive a week after the kidnapping of Fr. Giancarlo Bossi. To date, the military says there are strong indications the Italian priest remains in the hands of his kidnappers somewhere in the province of Zamboanga Sibugay.

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