What’s her beef?

The many faces of MMDA Assec. Celine Pialago

Once upon a supercilious moment, Assistant Secretary Celine Pialago, concurrently spokesperson for the front line agency Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), posted on her Facebook page about the burial of a three-month-old baby girl, whose mother, detained and alleged to be an activist, was shown at the graveyard in hand cuffs.

Around Reina Mae Nasino, the grieving mother in personal protective equipment and seen bowing in front of her daughter’s coffin, were uniformed law enforcement officials whose number was described as an overkill by some groups, quickly denied by the Department of Local and Interior Government.

Baby River, then sickly, was separated from her mother by prison authorities. She died of pneumonia. Reina Mae was given only six hours to attend the wake and burial of her first-born who died of pneumonia last October 9.

Only days after baby River’s burial at the North Cemetery, and hours after Pialago’s page was read on the social platform, her comment immediately went viral, with reactions from mostly women sedulously antipathetic.

The echoing suggestion, sarcastic in some, for the former beauty contestant to apologize publicly, did materialize

What did Pialago say, described as callous in this country that professes a closely knit family culture, that earned the discursive rage of thousands who read her post?

She said in English and Tagalog: “Happy Sunday everyone! Walang kinalaman sa traffic pero sa tingin ko kailangan kong gamitin ang boses ko bilang isang Pilipino sa usapin na ito.

“Hindi lahat ng inang nakakulong ay nakapunta sa libing ng kanyang anak. Kaya yung mga sumisimpatya kay Reina Mae Nasino, pag aralan niyo mabuti ang dahilan bakit siya nakulong at kilalanin ninyong mabuti kung sino siya sa lipunan.

“Masyado ninyong ginagawang pang drama serye sa hapon ang paghihinagpis niya. Tigilan niyo!”

Unquestionably, each of the 112 million Filipinos, except those who have not yet reached the age of puberty and capacity for cognition, is entitled to one’s opinion.

Different when one becomes a government official, elected or appointed, when one is supposed to use one’s cerebrum, that part of the brain which controls reading, thinking, learning, speech, emotions and planned muscle movements like walking.

That Pialago days after apologized to Reina Mae Nasino, an urban poor organizer, she made it clear she would not take back her “drama serye” comment, stressing nearly in the same breath that the public should know Reina Mae’s story first before sympathizing with her.

“Nagsasalita ako simula noong nagkaroon ako ng knowledge noong pumasok ako sa Reserved Force (sic). So nalaman ko ‘yung pros and cons, yung pag-handle ng ganitong high profile cases,” she said.

“On a positive note, I want to influence and educate the people,” she said, stressing her comment was her own and not part of her role as MMDA spokesperson.

To influence and educate the public? But do we need that kind of influence and education from someone who does not know what empathy, at the very minimum, means?

This is no brief for the grieving mother – her lawyers can take care of that – but while she is facing charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives, being charged – perhaps the member of the military reserve force, whatever service or branch, may want some refresher – is no equivalent to conviction.

In other words she remains innocent, the charges notwithstanding, until proven by a competent court that she is guilty as charged.

Pialago has apologized, all right. But to quickly make a distinction in the same breath that she wants to educate the public on the kind of a person charged is an overt hypocrisy.

The prisoners rights group Kapatid has said as much when it said Pialago’s statements demonstrated that “sensitivity cannot be taught nor proper manners and right conduct if one is empty-headed.”

Pialago and her underwriters in the cards may point out that Kapatid and the other critics are all leftist groups coming to the aid of one of their own. She should stand back and listen to the chorus of men and women of thoughts and sentiments that one does not have to be a fanatic crusader either way to show some acceptable, human propriety.

One may disagree with the local communists and still remain a decent, an up to scratch human being.

And from an appointed public servant, the least expected of that public servant, whatever the background is in the Armed Forces of the Philippines Reserve Command, is to demonstrate some cottoning to or good vibrations for a mother who had lost her child.

Or, if she had wanted to raise her voice as high as her persuasions and tongue, she should have resigned first from her MMDA post.

The Bodhisattwa’s compassion

Tales and fables are one of the important vehicles which convey a people’s way of looking at things. They are unfailing sources of information concerning their view of life as it is or as it ought to be. Ancient folklore in India has been regarded as one of the most original branches of literature containing some of the authentic revelations of India’s attitude to life and the Indian consciousness. Not the least of these is the Jatakas, a collection of tales the earliest of which are deemed to date back to the third century B.C. These are stories ostensibly recounting the previous existences of the Buddha.

For the modern reader with not even a smattering of Buddhism or its religious theories, there are certain constraints that may stand in the way of comprehending the surface action of the narratives. The overcoming of these constraints, though not the end-all and be-all of reading, is yet necessary as a precondition for a fuller appreciation of these tales. First, there are the fantastic elements. Of course, in fiction, these things are taken for granted. But oftentimes, it is not enough to “suspend disbelief.” One would have to breathe the atmosphere of the story, or really feel its ambience, know its internal laws operative within its own frame of reference. Then, he must understand that the Jatakas tales are told for a definitely didactic purpose, that is, to put across certain principles representing the Buddhist religious ideals. Hence, the moral tag at the end of some of these stories need not cause offense nor leave a bad taste in the mouth. And what should not be forgotten is the fact that the Jatakas is first of all a literary work of the imagination lending itself as a handmaiden of religion. In India, between art and religion, there is not much, if any divorce. As a matter of fact, literature, philosophy and religion are so integrated that one cannot speak of one without drawing in the other.

Different tales from the Jatakas are chosen here to give a representative sampling of the spectrum of motifs that run through the collection.

There is, for instance, the story of the Bodhisattwa who was born as Brahmaddata. He was so upright a ruler that no one could find fault with him. But he was obsessed with the idea of finding someone who would reveal to him his defects. For this purpose, he travelled far and wide. Then along a narrow road he came across the king of Kosala, Mallika by name, who was also wandering about for exactly the same purpose. Their respective drivers asked each other to make way, citing their Master’s virtues as ground for the other’s giving way. King Mallika’s driver recited: “Great King Mallika is rough to the rough,/But to the gentle he returns gentleness,/And badness bestows on those that are bad….” King Brahmaddata’s driver exclaimed: “By mildness alone he conquers anger,/By goodness he repays the bad./By lavish gifts he vanquishes misers,/And falsehood he overcomes with truth….” King Mallika and his driver were convinced of the superior nobility of the king of Banares that they made way for the latter. They went back to their respective kingdoms, spent their lives in deeds of goodness till they attained to Heaven.

Then, too, there is the story of the Bodhisattwa born as Sivi, king of Aritthapura. He was of a generous nature so that he even felt the acts of charity which he did to be not enough. He then conceived of literally giving a part of himself, of his very own physical body. Indra, the king of the Gods, on reading his thoughts, decided to put to the test his resolution. Disguised as a blind beggar, he stretched out his hands to Sivi and asked for one of his eyes. But Sivi, a good man that he was, was only too willing to part not just with one but with his two eyes. For this purpose he called for the service of his surgeon. Afterwards, Sivi retired to a hermitage. Now blind, he wished for nothing but death. Indra came to see him but said he cannot grant his death-wish but that by the very fruit of Sivi’s gift shall his eyes be restored. King Sivi’s eyes grew again in their sockets, the eyes of the Attainment of Truth. Returning back to his kingdom, he preached: “Let no one deny anything that is asked of him. In all mortal beings the finest treasure is self-sacrifice. I sacrificed perishable eyes, and received the Eye of Knowledge in return. Be generous, my people. Never eat a meal without giving away something; let others have a share.”

Another story is that of the Bodhisattwa born as the son of an elephant king. In time he himself became the King of Banares. His name was Chhaddanta. He was noble and justly ruled his subjects of eight thousand elephants. He passed his days in the company of his two queens, Cullasubhadda and Mahasubhadda. Cullasubhadda got jealous of Mahasubhadda, for it seemed to her that the King gave the latter preferential treatment. She then harbored a grudge against Chhaddanta. She went on hunger strike causing her death. But she was reborn as a daughter of the royal family of Maddla. Her name now is Subhada. The king and queen married her to the King of Banares. Remembering all the events of her previous life, Queen Subhada thought of revenging herself against Chhaddanta. She then hired a hunter with instructions to look for a six-tusked elephant (Chhaddanta) and kill him by depriving him of his tusks. King Chhaddanta soon afterwards fell into the trap prepared by the hunter who attacked him with a poisoned shaft. But the King bore his pain and bitterness and anger. From the hunter he understood that all this was the work of Cullasubhadda. He accordingly asked the hunter to saw off his tusks and actually helped him do it. He died shortly afterwards after saying: “Friend hunter, I give away my tusks not because I have no fondness for them but because the tusks of Omniscience are a thousand times dearer to me. May this act of mine lead me to knowledge.” Meanwhile, the queen Subhadda received the tusks together with the news that the elephant king was dead. The tusks emitted six glorious rays of different colors. Then, thinking of him who had been her dear Lord, she was seized with sorrow. Her heart was shattered with grief and she died.

Evidently, the foregoing stories deal with the deepest concerns of the Buddhist faith, the Mahayana ideal of love and compassion, of sacrifice and forgiveness, and of regard for the well-being of others. It is worth recalling that a Bodhisattwa is one who, after earning his right to entering Nirvana, postpones his own entry to it in order to help his fellowmen toward Enlightenment.

Thus, in the tales just related, the reincarnated Bodhisattwa, whether as King Brahmaddata or King Sivi or as the elephant-king Chhaddanta, never attains to Enlightenment for his own sake or for his own self-centered weal. The self-abnegation, or better yet, the self-sacrifice done by making the gift of eyes or by having one’s tusks sawed off to one’s death may appear excessive or even absurd to the modern man’s temper. But these facts of the tales should not be viewed in the light of the Western golden mean. Rather, they should be taken on their own terms as expressions of selflessness, the highest form of love and one of the roads that lead to the Buddhist goal of transcendental wisdom.

In the preceding stories, it can be seen that those who came into personal contact or have direct dealings with the reincarnated Bodhisattwa did not get away untransformed in their moral sense or spiritual outlook. King Malika and his driver learned the superior nobility of returning love for hatred, good for evil, truth for falsehood, and accordingly renounced their more retributive ethic of lex taliones. And it may be said that Queen Subhhada did not die of grief over King Chhanddanta whose death she herself had designed without the inner realization of her heinous deed and the corresponding change of heart.

The Bodhisattwa’s overriding commitment to the redemption of others stems from his deep sense of oneness with all that lives. He knows the law that everything is related to everything else, and with that knowledge salvation for him means nothing if there yet remains a single being still immersed in the ocean of Samsara. One cannot but be reminded here of familiar Dostoevskean statements like: “All is responsible for all,” or “What good is salvation if only one is saved?” Indeed, for the Bodhisattwa, the universal salvation of all beings is the supreme good; and the real task at hand is the attainment of spiritual perfection by first seeking the salvation of others. As a poet puts it, “He findeth not who seeks his own;/The soul is lost that’s saved alone.” Thus, while the Theravadin’s search for Nirvana could easily become a selfish goal of individual liberation, the Mahayana ideal has a social or universal dimension. This explains the apparent extravagance of the Bodhisattwa’s generosity or the seeming nonsensicality of his actions in the tales. And it is within this Mahayana Buddhist universe of discourse that the stories take on their true significance.

A corollary of the Mahayana ideal of spiritual communion of all living beings is the doctrine of abstention from the taking of life. This is the principle of ahimsa, which the Bodhisattwa exemplified in the story of the “Sacrificial Goat.” A goat was to be sacrificed by a Brahmin in a feast for his ancestors. While being dressed for the purpose, the goat recalled that on that very day he would be liberated. This made him laugh loudly even as the sad fate in store for him moved the Brahmin to tears. Asked to explain himself, the goat said, “In one of my past existences, I, too, was a Brahmin. By killing a goat at a feast for the dead, I had my head cut off four hundred and ninety-nine times. This is my five-hundredth birth, and it is the last. As soon as you kill me, I shall be liberated forever. That’s why I laughed. But I cried, too, because the penalty for killing a goat is the same for you as it was for me. I pity you because by taking my life you are condemning yourself to have your head cut off five hundred times. The Brahmin then said he would not kill him and even guard him all the time. But the goat said, ”Weak is your protection, and strong is the force of my deeds.” And, indeed, as the goat was browsing in a bush, a thunderbolt killed him. At this point, while a crowd gathered around the goat, the Bodhisattwa, born as a tree-divinity, seated himself in mid-air and proclaimed: “If only men know that existence is pain,/Living beings would cease from taking life./Beware, beware! Stern is the slayer’s doom.”

What is explicit, too, in the above story is the all too often forgotten truth that man is the decreer of his own fate, the maker of his own happiness or gloom. For the Buddhist, as for the Hindu, this is the law of karma, the inexorable law of universal equilibrium, of cause and effect, of action and reaction, not only in the physical sphere but also in the moral, spiritual or transcendent plane. No one gets away from this since how can one escape from himself? If one has disturbed the universal balance by the taking of life, one is bound to restore order by paying for it in the same measure, if not in this life, then in another. This is the meaning of what in our story the goat meant by saying, “Strong is the force of my deeds.”

The Bodhisattwa also plays other roles in the less serious tales dealing with common problems of life. At one time, we find him as an arbitrator, settling disputes wisely as in the case of the tiger and the lion. The former averred that it was the dark half of the month that was cold, whereas the latter maintained that it was the moonlit half of the month. This Bodhisattwa said, thus: “Be it the moonlit half or be it the dark,/How will it affect the cold, oh foolish ones?/You must know that the cold is caused by the wind,/And so I decided that both of you are right.”

We find the Bodhisattwa, too, as an adviser to a king, warning him against talkativeness. Or we find him as a lion, or a bird. In all these, the words coming off his mouth never ring false or platitudinous. This is so because his statements spring from a deep moral ground and spiritual insight.


Kusug Tausug partylist Representative Shernee Tan-Tambut

Ni Romer Reyes Butuyan

BAGO ang lahat, nais kong ipaabot ang aking maalab na pagbati sa pamunuan ng MAHARLIKA MAYNILA sa unang edisyon ng pahayagang ito at tauspusong pasasalamat din sa pagbibigay sa akin ng pagkakataon na maging kabahagi nito.

Bagama’t patuloy pa rin tayong binabagabag ng pandemyang dulot ng Covid-19 virus, dapat ay magkaroon pa rin tayo ng positibong pananaw.

‘Ika nga ni idol Albert Einstein, “in the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.””

At ang mga katagang ito marahil ang nasa isipan ni Kusug Tausug partylist Representative Shernee Tan-Tambut, na siya rin chairperson ng House Committee on Globalization and WTO, nang ihayag ang pagnanais na higit na maipakilala ang ipinagmamalaki niyang Tausug cuisine at locally-wooven cloth na Pis Syabit

Noong nakaraang taon ay binalak ng kongresista na magsagawa ng festival para itampok ang Tausug dances, food at clothing subalit ito’y hindi natuloy hanggang sa magkaroon na nga tayo ng public health crisis.

Subalit determinado si Congresswoman Tan-Tambut na mai-promote ang mayamang kultura ng kanilang island province Sulu.

Aniya, nais niyang itaas ang public awareness sa Tausug festival food at Pis Syabit kung saan umaasa siyang maitatatak sa isipan ng publiko ang tunay at magandang imahe ng kanilang lalawigan.

Layunin din niyang makapag-ambag sa pagsusumikap na pagsiglahin ang kalakalan at paghahanapbuhay ng kanyang mga kababayan na nasa paggawa at pagbebenta ng Sulu-made goods.

Nalulungkot ang kongresista na mas nabibigyan-pansin ng marami ang hindi magandang insidente, na gawa ng ilang lawless elements sa Sulu, gayung ang katotohanan ay peace-loving people at mayaman sa kultura ang mga Tausug.

Sinabi ni Tan-Tambut na may impluwesiya ng Filipino, Malay at Arabic cultures ang mga awitin, sayaw, pagkain at iba pa ng Tausug, kasama na rito ang kanilang hinabing tela na Pis Syabit.

Dahil nga sa Covid-19 pandemic, at siya naman “in” sa ngayon, gagawin ng mambabatas ang pagbibida sa Sulu festival food at nasabing wooven cloth sa pamamagitan ng social media at mobile communication.

Kabilang sa special Tausug dishes na dapat daw natin matikman ay ang ‘Tiyula Itum’, isang rich green-black spicy beef soup na may lasa ng sinunog na niyog at hinaluan ng exotic spices; at ang ‘Piyanggang Manuk’, na blackened braised-chicken na niluto naman sa coconut milk at iba pang sangkap na matatagpuan lamang sa Sulu. Ang Tausug food ay alinsunod sa Halal procedures.

Ang Pis Syabit naman ay hand-woven, geometrically-patterned cloth na gawa sa silk o cotton, kung saan ang disenyo o detalye ng tela ay base sa kung anong espesyal na okasyon ang paggagamitan nito.

Mayrong ilang local designers ang gumagamit na ng Pis Syabit bilang tela sa kanilang party dresses at long gowns, at bilang accessories naman para sa ilang culturally-minded individuals, gaya ng mabenta sa ngayon na face mask, vest, small handbags, headbands, belts at earrings.

Para sa mga gustong matikman ang Tausug food, inirekomenda ni Tan-Tambut ang ZamBaSulTa Kitchen, na may Facebook account: ZambaSulta Halal Food / Instagram: @zambasulta kitchen at mobile phone 0905-407 1715. Sa mga interesado naman sa Pis Syabit, makipag-ugnayan kay Fahd Schuck sa mobile # 0916 223 5226 at sa Herman & Co. sa mobile # 0917 887 8749, hanapin lamang si Bea Constantino.

Kaya ‘wag nang magpatumpik-tumpik pa… dahil mainam na tangkilin natin ang sariling atin, at suportahan ang ating mga kababayang nagsusumikap sa gitna ng umiiral na sitwasyon.

(Sa sinumang nais magpaabot ng komento, suhestiyon at iba pang impormasyon sa inyong lingkod, maaring mag-email sa rrb0571@gmail.com)

When a Law Enforcer Violates the Law

Eskimo: ‘If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?’ Priest: ‘No, not if you did not know.’ Eskimo: ‘Then why did you tell me?’

— American author Annie Dillard

THE Good Book says in Proverbs 24:11-12, “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?”

And in James 4:17, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

This tells us that the mere failure of someone to do something when he witnesses a sin is being committed is tantamount to committing the same sin in itself.

And what about those who enforce the law and in some quirk of event are the ones who violate it?

The truth is, there are police officers among the rank and file of the Philippine National Police (PNP) who are also criminals in mind and by nature.

Take the case of one police general, whose brother is now embroiled in several alleged wrongdoings as president of Gracel Christian College Foundation, Incorporated.

Gracel is a non-profit, non-stock inter-dominational school supposedly founded from a vision for service to God through the late Mrs. Cecilia Binag, who is a former councilwoman (kagawad) of Barangay Signal in Taguig. The Binag clan claims that God’s Grace was bestowed upon her by the Lord Jesus Christ, thus the name ‘Gracel’ was conceived and the foundation is primarily established by the “grace and truth come from Jesus Christ” in John 1:16.

One of the college staff, Annalie Pagal, who has been working for the foundation for the past 16 years, suffered recently a stroke during office hours, but instead of being rushed to a hospital for immediate emergency treatment, she was unceremoniously brought home to the chagrin of her husband and family.

And this Gracel’s management did without considering how their hapless employee worked so hard for the small salary they gave her for more than a decade-and-a-half.
Pagal, commonly known as “Nurse Anna” to co-workers and patients, started her employment with the Foundation as a nursing assistant with just the measly wage of PhP3,000 in 2004, which gradually increased until 2019 when her compensation was raised to PhP12,500—still below the minimum salary set by the Department of Labor and Employment and legal provisions under our Constitution, and this despite the fact that she often logged in for more than eight hours of grueling work.

And with the recent onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Pagal’s employers didn’t even make any adjustment to help her with the impact of the health crisis that has gravely affected not only our lowly employees but even the whole country’s economy as a whole.

And her recent experience from an uncaring employer became the last straw that pushed her and her husband to do the inevitable—file a complaint against Gracel for unfair labor practice, violation of rules set by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), tax evasion (which they did by disguising as a non-profit organization and in spite of the fact that the Foundation’s owners had raked in millions of pesos in the past several years and flouted their wealth with expensive luxury cars.

The complainant’s filing of charges against Gracel could have been stayed if the Foundation’s management only took upon itself to look after their employees, particularly the victim Annalie Pagal.

But Gracel’s management lacked empathy. What they really have, it appears, is pleonexia, or sometimes called pleonexy. The term originates from the Greek πλεονεξία and it is the philosophical concept which roughly corresponds to greed, covetousness or avarice, and is strictly defined as “the insatiable desire to have what rightfully belongs to others.”

And with all these, what has our good General Cesar Binag done? He hints on being “ruthlessly self-seeking and arrogant with the assumption that others and things exist for his own personal benefit.”

Rich culture’s looking glass

      We pause from the pressing issues of the day and look at some lighter themes, by no means lighter in momentousness.

We take note of nearly two dozen nationally and internationally sponsored literary contests sponsored by patrons of Ilocano arts and culture, including a few for new writers – young or old – or aspiring to become polished writers before long, which reflect a rich culture system of northerners.

      Northerners here refer to those who speak and write Iluko, sometimes spelled out Iloco, who are mainly in the north of the Philippines and are called Ilocanos.

      Others are in the rising megapolis of Metro Manila, some provinces south of the capital, and overseas where many Ilocanos have made welcome “invasions” following the migration of workers to those countries in all but one of the seven continents.

      The wealth of this culture is precise and unequivocal in the themes the sponsors declare in their respective contests: one that mirrors the distinct legacy of the language and the culture of the Samtoys.

      Samtoys is a term from the corrupted “saomi ditoy” – our language here – which has for generations been a euphemism for Ilocanos, or the y-loco people, or people from the rivers.

      The provinces in the north of the country, where Ilocanos have built their homes, are divided, if adorned, by meandering rivers that overflow their banks in the rainy season.

      Many of these are almost dry to their beds in  the scorching summer months of April and May – as those, to name a few, between Pangasinan and La Union which originate from Benguet, between La Union and Ilocos Sur, Abra River or the Lagben River, the Amburayan and the Bued River in La Union, the Badoc River and the Padsan River in Ilocos Norte.

     The sponsored contests make Ilocano writers literally very busy throughout the year – those aspiring to become richer by a few thousand pesos and winning Plaques of Recognition to display in their receiving rooms.

      The contests cover various genres – from traditional poetry to avant-garde poetry to fiction to short stories for children to one-act plays to novelettes and novels.

There are those who believe the harvest in the different Ilocano-sponsored literary contests will form part of what cultural anthropologists may well describe as communicating the experience of the authors through symbols their skills allow them to.

      Whether the contestants write about hopes, aspirations, dreams, grief, sadness, bliss, social inequities, historical fiction and other zones of human experience, they invariably write on the ways of living together as a clan, their value systems, their distinct traditions and beliefs.

      There are those that discuss folk beliefs, stories that take the reader through the rich landscape of the region, love of family and country in the last gasps of a bloody war, gender stories and others that entertain and educate.

      There are stories about deaths in a family, underlining the values of a closely knit, if typical, Ilocano family, about ambition, which is one of the driving forces that push a man to strive for greater heights.

      Then there are those about hostage taking, the destruction of marijuana plantations against all risky odds with the help of a Protestant pastor assigned in the mountain provinces – and many, many more that run through the valleys of human experience.

      There are also stories for children, the easy-to-read paragraphs that encourage a smile on those still forming thoughts about their environment, the people around them, the friends they have, and just about anything that makes a child laugh.

      There have also been several publications – to date, a little over 100 by GUMIL Filipinas – the national association of Ilocano writers founded in 1968 – alone, which does not include the different books published by Ilocanos in Hawaii and those in Greece, either individually or collectively as a group.

And there are books and literary anthologies in English written by full-blooded Ilocanos.

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