Monthly Archives: August 2009

“This unbearable distance between us”

Courtesy of good friend Exie Abola, a lovely, literate ode to the possibilities of reading.

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Column: Between Puno and Puno

Published on July 7, 2009. The links to the stories about the dinner with Secretary Puno can be found here. The main part of Chief Justice Puno’s speech can be read here.

Two weeks ago, over a 12-hour period, I found myself exploring the opposite poles of political discourse. On June 23, I was among several journalists who sat down for a freewheeling interview with quite possibly the most successful political operative since the Edsa restoration, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno. The following day, I was among many who heard the country’s leading moralist, Chief Justice Reynato Puno, thunder against the “epidemic of ignorance” threatening that same restored democracy.

I found the contrast most instructive, in large part because I happen to believe that public morality—the standards of conduct and performance we must expect from our public officials and from those who take part in public affairs—requires both competence and character. Good intentions are never enough.

Regardless of what I personally thought of Secretary Puno and his role in some of the political scandals of our time, I came away impressed by his political acumen, his strategic way of thinking about politics. And despite sharing many of Chief Justice Puno’s faith-based principles, I came away determined to measure him according to the lawyer’s standards—none of them faith-based—that he is sworn to uphold.

Between Puno the agent of pragmatism and Puno the prophet of the moral life, I found yet another confirmation that, in truth, morality is pragmatic.

* * *

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Cory’s coming-out speech (at Ninoy’s funeral)

Copied from “Human Society No. 21,” published by the La Ignaciana Apostolic Center on September 1, 1983. The day before, Ninoy Aquino’s funeral had drawn millions of people into the streets. Titled (perhaps by the issue editor?) “New Turn of Events,” this was Cory Aquino’s response to Jaime Cardinal Sin’s homily at the funeral Mass in Sto. Domingo Church, in Quezon City. We did not know it yet, but it marked her assumption of opposition leadership. (In copying the remarks, I retained the misspellings and floating commas.)

I talked to Ninoy for the last time on August 20, 7 p.m., Boston time, which was August 21, 7 a.m., Taipeh time. He told me that he would soon be leaving for the airport. I told him I was informed that Gen. Ver had warned any airline bringing Ninoy in that Ninoy would not be allowed to disembark, and that the airline would be asked to fly Ninoy back to his original port of embarcation.

Ninoy said that they could not do that to him because he is, was, and always will be a Filipino. And he told me that most likely he would be rearrested and brought back to Fort Bonifacio. In that case, he said he would ask Gen. Josephus Ramas to allow him to call me up. If, on the other hand, he would be placed under house arrest, he would call me up as soon as he arrived at our home in Quezon City. Then he told me that if we were brought back to Fort Bonifacio, there would be no need for me to hurry home. Instead, he said I should take my time finishing my packing. And in the event that our children and I would be issued passports, he said that I should take our three older daughters on a side trip to Europe.

Our only son Noynoy and our youngest daughter Kris were scheduled to leave for Manila a week after Ninoy arrived.

At 2:30 a.m., Sunday, August 21, Boston time, the phone rang and my oldest daughter Ballsy who answered it, was shocked when Kyodo agency in New York, asked her if it were true that her father had been killed in the Manila International Airport. They were asking for her confirmation. UPI and AP also called asking for verification; but it wasn’t until Congressman Shintaro Ishihara of Japan called me from Tokyo and verified the shooting report, that my family had to accept the cruel fact that Ninoy had been shot dead.

The children and I cried when I told them of the bad news. After a few minutes, we all knelt down to pray the rosary and ask the Blessed Mother for help.

We arrived in Manila on Wednesday, August 24. I could not believe my eyes when I saw a huge crowd at our home in Times St. waiting patiently in line to view Ninoy’s body. I was overwhelmed by this extraordinary display of love and devotion.

I had asked that my children and I be given a few minutes to be alone with our beloved Ninoy. We wanted to have him to ourselves for a few private, and cherished moments. From that first night of our return to Manila, my children and I continue to witness an even greater display of love, respect and admiration for Ninoy.

Our friends have been very kind and generous to us; but even more comforting is the sight and presence of countless men and women who did not even know Ninoy but are now helping to make our lives a little less difficult by demonstrating to us that we are not alone.

The huge throng that met us the other day when we journeyed from Tarlac to Manila must have numbered in the millions. They had waited for hours and hours under the hot sun and no doubt had gone hungry and thirsty but had patiently waited if only to catch a glimpse of my husband’s hearse.

If my children and I appear to be brave during this, the most difficult period yet of our lives, it is because we know that this is what Ninoy would have expected of us. It is also because of our faith in God, and the belief that he is now helping us in this, our greatest need.

And so today, I wish to thank all the Filipino men and women, young and old, who have demonstrated to me, to my children, to Ninoy’s mother and to his family, that Ninoy did not die in vain.

Ninoy, who loved you, the Filipino people, is now loved in turn.

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Ninoy’s last words

It would be nice if someone can determine exactly when Ninoy Aquino wrote his arrival statement. Was it in Taipei, the night before he returned to Manila? Or when he sojourned in Malaysia?

The full text, here.

PS August 24, 2009: Cory’s response, at Ninoy’s funeral Mass (August 31, 1983).

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Another, more evocative term for “short cuts”

Was just talking to someone about this. Desire lines: a wonderfully resonant phrase from urban planning.

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Column: Ben Zayb and the possibility of journalism

Column No. 100, published June 30, 2009.

In Rizal’s novels, as in the Harry Potter heptalogy, journalists get a bad press. About a hundred years before J. K. Rowling gave us the “enchantingly nasty” Rita Skeeter, Jose Rizal created the equally inventive Ben Zayb. Or, rather, he transcribed the character from real life, Tolstoy-like. A footnote in the Locsin translation of “Fili” introduces Ben Zayb: “A character based on several Spanish newspapermen who wrote in the Manila newspapers, among them J. F. del Pan,  Francisco Cañamaque, M. Walls y Merino, and others.”

If like me you believe that  “Noli” and  “Fili” are a measure of our progress as a nation—if the indictments still sting, the reality hasn’t changed all that much—then the continuing resonance of Rizal’s low opinion of journalists is a matter of great concern. The Ben Zaybs of the profession continue to multiply, like mushrooms after a rain or tweets after a celebrity death.

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Column: Pontius Pilate as editor

Published on June 16 23, 2009. The occasion was also a book launch, but since I had not yet read the book (the groundbreaking Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion), I thought I’d defer comment.

Question: Are (most) Muslims in the Philippines Shia or Sunni? I do not recall this distinction ever being used or considered necessary in any news report about Muslims in the Philippines, before September 11 or even after it. Question: Is “Among Ed” Panlilio, governor of Pampanga, a priest-on-leave? The term—a label created by journalism’s driving rage for simplification—creates the perception that he is temporarily suspended from the Catholic priesthood. Question: Is Brother Mike Velarde’s massive El Shaddai Movement a Catholic or a charismatic renewal group?

These and similar questions would be second nature to a wonderful website I’ve been reading the last several years, if it ever got around to pounding what it calls the GodBeat in the Philippines. GetReligion (at, naturally enough, getreligion.org) is a website dedicated to tracking the “ghosts” of religion in news stories. Often this means taking news organizations to task for misunderstanding stories about religion; many times this means pushing for greater coverage of the way religion shapes the news.

The site gets its name from something CNN political analyst Bill Schneider once said: “The press … just doesn’t get religion.” But I would think the phrase finds additional resonance in the older formulation of “finding” or “discovering” religion. GetReligion is a group blog, and what a group it is. But one blogger stands out: Terry Mattingly, or tmatt as he is more popularly known, is GetReligion’s daily avenging angel. (He may be familiar to some of us as the writer behind the widely syndicated “On Religion” column of the Scripps Howard News Service.)

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The proper task of the critic

Found a note I made just about 20 years ago, in which I copied the definition of “the proper task of the (social) critic,” as defined by J. Peter Euben, a university professor writing for the New York Times, in his review of “The Company of Critics,” by Michael Walzer:

exposing false appearances of his own society and pointing at the systematic abuse of power; giving expression to his people’s deepest sense of how they ought to live, using the common language which he raises to a new pitch of intensity and argumentative power; reiterating the regulative principles by which one might set things right; and insisting that there are other forms of falseness and other, equally legitimate, hopes and aspirations. Such a critic is bound but never wholly bound to the life he shares with others. He is never uncritical of those in power or of his allies whose similar complaints he often regards as wrongly directed or incompletely stated. He is at once inside and outside, a member apart, a critical patriot, civilly disobedient, committed to a democratic politics that is never democratic enough.

Something about this nuanced formulation (a response to Walzer’s idea of “connected criticism”) struck me in the gut when I first read it, years before I became a full-time journalist. Indeed, the phrase “at once inside and outside” stuck in my head, as a noble ideal of writing and a neat summing-up of the writer’s ideal life. I still think the same way today.

Of course, when I first read it, I had no idea that in 20 years’ time I would be able to find the original review online and, if only I owned a Kindle, buy the book off Amazon — “in under a minute”!

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