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Friday, November 23, 2012

Chapter 25 - Sta. Maria Range

Chapter 25
Sta. Maria Range

     FFrom afar Sta. Maria range is such a beautiful mountain. Totally uncorrupted, vast verdant, thick green forest, pristine crystal clear glistening waterfalls, home of wild life and endangered species; fauna and exotic wildflowers like orchids and sea urchins are all there. Silhouetted by cloudy skies, its panoramic grandeur  evoking awe and enchantment is seen  at its very best  early morn. What a magic its creator’s hand weaved placing such wonder this part of archipelago. A promising poet in fact accounts its beauty in one poetic piece.. No hunger, no fighting, no disease.
 Never mind treated in vernacular, you can sense how he capture it all: (English translation in the Notes . . .  .)

Ode to Mt. Sungcal

Ang sikat ng araw ngayong umaga
Sa puso’y naghatid ng pag-asa.
Napatititg ako at namangha
Kay ganda pala ng liwanag nya.

Mayamaya’y bundok binalot ng mga ulap
At napakaganda ang pagkagayak.
Sa tuktok nito’y may liwanang
Paranga kumakaway tumatawag . . . .

             And in Visayan, relating the importance of people empowerment:

Ang tingog sa katawhan paminawa
Walay mapaingnan apan naghuyaka
Daghang dalan, lay kasiguruan
Kawang na lang unya tanang lakang.

Duyog na, duyog na
S’ya kanimo naghulat.
Duyog na, duyog
Ang kalingkawasan mao S’ya.

             No pollution. All you hear are sweet chirping of birds, gentle rush of cascading waterfalls and cold breeze of wind lovingly caressing your face tossing your strand of hair up in the air. People are one, no division and sharing its bounty and natural resource ad infinitum.
            But that was long ago before Martial Law specifically even before the Apo held the reign of power. That time its rich forest range and watersheds were under constant control and protection giving life to the people from its perimeters down to Higaonon tribes thriving along the river and the Dumagats of the low lands. Its waters flowing steadily all the way down to Macajalar Bay in Cagayan de Oro and Iligan has been devoid of impurities allowing people along the river banks wash their clothes and swim merrily just like any living fish frolicking in its fresh water. Promenaders and gawking tourists passing Carmen bridge could not help sometimes but admire and thank God that they are not living in far away Manila where river could hardly move because of filth, toxic materials and garbage dumped by manufacturing firms and industrial establishments at will showing the ineptitude of the government in instituting desired mechanisms of preserving fresh air in its surroundings.
            The status of Sta. Maria however now is completely different. How it has been exploited to the tilt corresponds to what is the state of Mindanao in general. Recipient of various investments from Davao to Iligan especially Misamis Oriental has been emitting toxic wastes despite serious efforts exerted by respective companies in filtering out poisonous elements contained in their garbage. And the irony of it all, while foreign investors sprout out like mushroom in this backdoor of economic development of the country, the government through PHIVIDEC for instance, an acronym for Philippine Veterans Industrial Development Incorporated, offer package of services that could hardly make Juan de la Cruz happy. Just think of the low cost industrial site, deep blue sea for their boats and tanker other than possible dumping ground of their wastes, and machination displacing manual labor to name a few. Worst, many farmers have to give way their lands under pressure to a price not even acceptable in a market. Thus, the Magna Carta and the Department of Agrarian Reform mandate of preserving prime agricultural lands were put to waste. Prime agricultural lands are those lands that are economically viable for agricultural development irrigable and or near source of water. But no agricultural enclave, it would destroy the vision of the government in developing the country, so they said. Such partial outlook of development has prompted one researcher studying the issue to ask? Industrialization or Agricultural development- For Whom? Why not allow agricultural enclave to be developed in the Industrial Estate in the first place when there are many prime agricultural lands within. Why Taipei, Taichung all the way down to Kaoshiung, the Industrial City of Taiwan have rice fields in between big buildings sprawling all throughout the cities making a perfect blending of agriculture and industry. Why even rice fields are developed under their bridges. But they are Chinese of different culture, breed and work ethics. That Taiwan is practically even smaller than Mindanao in area. Right. But they too, like Filipinos, are also eating rice. Don’t they?
            Such  unexplained partial school of thought on economic development has led to serious problem hovering like Damocles blade over the head of the people in Mindanao from restlessness, impending division to secession. Reuben Canoy of the Mindanao Independence Movement writing several books and maintaining well-received radio broadcast “Perspective” has been anticipating that time would soon come when Mindanao would be independent, a moment of truth when people of the island would finally enjoy the fruits of their hard labor running their own affair most likely better the way Central government of Manila is doing.
            “It’s just most unfair you know allowing the government continue exploiting the island’s natural resources siphoning the lion share leaving merely the crumbs to Mindanao,” many secessionists and MIM members griped.
            Nur Misuari of the Moro National Liberation Front has also been waging war against the government and when even out from the country has managed to maintain the momentum pressing Lakay Apo and Meldy to implement Tripoli Agreement they forged in Middle East. Among others it calls for recognition of several provinces notably those Muslim held territories from Cotabato to Maguindanao, Zamboanga to as far as Palawan, Marawi of Lanao to Jolo and all that. But whether their efforts would be vindicated is yet to be seen. Filipinos in general are not for division of their sacred held territories. They’ve been through years and ages protecting their country against foreign invaders from Spanish conquistadores, Americans and Japanese giving birth to heroes like Lapulapu, Raja Sulaiman, Andres Bonifacio, Jose Rizal, Gabriela Silang and many others. Whatever happens that we are squeezing each others’ throat when the beloved country Philippines is the only remaining treasure we’ve got? Where’s our sense of history as Uncle Sam might castigate us how fast we easily forget it. Containing internal restlessness in Mindanao undoubtedly seems a far reality. What were once just few resistance thriving has led to other equally if not more dangerous group like an Abu Sayyaf fanatics engaging in kidnap and ransom employing high tech hardware and weaponry threatening the government of beheading their victims, a bad example of barbarity that would most likely invite resurgence of Christian-Moro hostilities. Probably, leaving the problem of Filipino Muslims at home would help solve their problems. But there seems to be strong leverage up specially the oil-rich Middle East supporting the secessionist movement in Mindanao. In the words of Peter Gowing, a specialist in Muslim-Christian conflict author of several books like Island Under the Cross.
            “The problem of Mindanao is just a picture of two cocks wanting to slash each other’s neck to death under the protection of two equally powerful group,” he said in lecture in San Andrew’s Theological Seminary in Manila.
            “Indeed why could not a Muslim live side by side with a Christian when they’re both Filipino of the same race sharing the same space, breathing the same air. Indeed, why not? It’s a question of history specifically understanding of history’” a Muslim scholar would say.
            Muslim has been there in Mindanao you know ever since before a Christian set his foot in the island. Their forefathers had successfully protected it against the foreign invaders notably Spanish and Americans.
            “In fact, you would recall that Shariff Makdum had propagated Islam many centuries before Magellan planted Christianity in Cebu in 1521,” history books would tell us.
            “Therefore, had Magellan came late to the Philippines say two hundred years later than when he actually did in 1521, Philippines would have been an entirely Islamic country,”  said Peter Gowing.
            “Why in the world then that we have to project Philippines as the only Christian nation in Asia discrediting such historical reality,” Muslim scholars would complain.
            “They’re right,” Episcopalian Missionary historian William Henry Scott would concede.
            Even student of church history would say that actually even St. Francis Xavier, the Spanish co-founder of Society of Jesus and an apostle of Indies having done missionary journeys in Goa, Ceylon, East Indies, Japan and China journeys way was late than Muslim scholars did for the country.  Assuming even that ours is a Catholic country and that we shun divorce yet but look how querida system is almost institutionalized in the country worst actually than divorce. For while divorce allows the divorcee to enter another legal marriage, a philanderer in querida could have as many mistresses his libido safely tucked under his belt allowing him to. And anecdote was told about a tourist liner ship arriving the port of Manila.
            A captain was caught to have said “Welcome to the Philippines!”, Pearl of the Orient Sea but as soon as the boat docks the port, he blared back in the megaphone advising the passengers to hold safely their bags, there are too many robbers around loitering.
             Even big buses, you would read holy words like “God bless our trip, God is my co-pilot, the Lord is my Driver and all that.” But on the other side is an alarm, “Watch for pickpocket!” Another equally amusing story was told of a priest giving homily inviting concerned churchgoers who have been living a common-law couples to avail on-going Pre-Cana seminar for a mass wedding later.
            “What God put together, let no man put asunder. Than once a man and a woman agreed to avail sacred matrimony, they’re no longer two, but one,” the good priest said. Wanting that all living together would be included he calls for a count-off. The response was generous elating the priest until no one suddenly raised their hands. Then out of blue with reservation, the lady stood up and direct her question to the priest still on the rostrum asking: “How about us father. When would we get married.” to the delight naturally of the mammoth church-goers. Good grief.
            If there is one serious damage inflicted on Mindanao gradually bleeding her to death is no other than the protracted war, civilian war, silent war and all that referring to internal strife between the communists and the military. For many years, many of its villages were ravaged and pillaged displacing thousands of civilians in the process depriving them of peaceful and descent living. Even cities in the streets are not spared. Bombs find their way exploding in jeepneys, movie houses, apartments and surprisingly even churches giving untold suffering to the families.
            One such grenade exploded during an Easter Sunday dawn procession at Iligan city killing a number of Catholics. San Pedro Cathedral of Davao too suffered the same predicament. Ambuscades seem to be also fad of Martial Law even later after it was lifted. Too many casualties featured in broad daylight ambush yet turning upside down the practice before staging ambush in the cover of darkness during night time. National highways of Misamis Oriental-Agusan Norte route to Agusan de Sur-Davao City were once sites were repeated carnage occur. Bachelor Buses were sometimes stopped and military passengers were forced to go out and there in the eyes of helpless civilians were liquidated. Such incidents occurred in dangerous Lagonglong-Subongcogon-Balingasag-Salay routes. In Agusan Sur, the favorite site of ambush is in San Andres Bukid near Bunawan where the rebels under cover of pineapple plantation  and tall grasses along the road had killed many military at will burning even their armor cars like hammer and tanks. Fairies and anitos were not spared. The caves, hills, and mountains, trees and rivers give way to the destruction as an offshoot of sporadic skirmishes between the military and the rebels. Fr. Driarco one time sunk in his sofa thinking the wanton destruction of the surrounding as an effect of war. He even sulked hearing from a friend who invited him to a birthday celebration that the celebrant is yet to come to grace the occasion tended to him yearly by Lito, the eldest son of Nong Tomas who after entering San Miguel, Surigao del Sur as faith healer doing missionary work has not returned back home since 1981. Birthday celebration is even observed until today by Lito whose family thrives on furniture industry. A song “Mindanao” capture the lamentation of a Filipino sincerely waiting for peace in Mindanao, Fr. Driarco wrote:

Why Oh Mindanao you’re bleeding to death?
From people of the same race, nation and creed
When all this senseless bloodshed end?
Tell me brothers aren’t we’re  supposed to be friends?
Why suffering reaching this far
Over the decades of  fighting going on
unabated staging this wrong war?
When would real peace and justice truly   reign?
While there’s still tomorrow or everybody else gone  into their graves
 leaving nothing except   grief and   hatred, emptiness, division, confusion and greed.
Look what we’ve got all through these years?
Deafening silence  after all been gone  back to the bosom of mother earth
Look how its hallowed grounds morphed  into fertile soil soaked in bloodshed
graveyards of your beloved  sons and daughters.
Laid down all arms, she just  needs break
That if we allow her to live forever in peace unmolested
Learn living serenely nurturing with respect  her environment
Happiness all to gain  nothing to lose but your fears and pain.
How many more bloodshed there would be?
Death on your hallowed  ground  buried
How many more innocent  children would grieve
From the love and care of  parents gone too soon.
Why outrage lord over love that fast instead
Where  bullets fly high as an alternative
When true peace truly reigns
Look Mindanao,  despite Mother Nature too long  suffering
Has been caring, securing  us from harm nurturing  till the end.
. . . . . . . . . . . .

            Sta. Maria range’ travails in closer perspective is what  Mindanao predicament in macro. Today the threat is still alarming. Scrupulous illegal loggers have their day full engaging in callous and wanton destruction of forest products pirating their loot out of the country of course under the protection of powerful personalities in the bureaucracy. To think that there has been log ban brazenly sabotaged by these crocodiles and vultures of development is not just an outright insult but also big slap of Juan de la Cruz’ face.
            Meanwhile, a national daily carries a report that Fr. Rutas killer, one of few secular priest deputized by the Department of Natural Resources is living like any freeman roaming around in this mountain unmolested. It’s quiet an ironic indeed that while Sta. Maria range is declared as National Park, people of dubious identity find themselves completely at peace with her generosity. Words have it that the government hired services of the Americans to secure everything there is left of the mountain range. How so? Why where is the community, the first and last vanguard of natural resources? Presently, this beautiful mountain is on its own way recovering from destruction though piecemeal forest cover beginning to prosper save on the base where  kaingineros’ slash and burn farming practice, like cancer, have their day full or they would die starving. 
            “Thanks at least Multi-sectoral Task Force were doing their job protecting the environment,” Fr. Driarco sighed with bated brief.
            Taken in its entirely, this mysterious mountain is definitely a perfect place to live even just for a while. It’s tall rain forest provides privacy and protection. Farther in the heart of the mountain is a bunker and maintaining well-received radio broadcast ‘Mindanao’ has been anticipating the time would soon come when the  island would be independent, a moment of truth when people of the island would finally enjoy the fruits of their labor running its own affair most likely better if not best from those the way Central government is doing.
            “It’s just most unfair you know allowing the government continue exploiting the island’s natural resources siphoning the lion share leaving the crumbs to Mindanao,” many secessionist and MIM members griped.
            But whether their efforts would be vindicated is yet to be seen. Filipinos in general are not for division of their territories. They’ve  been through years and ages protecting their country against foreign invaders. Whatever happen now that we are squeezing each others’ throat when the beloved country Philippines is the only remaining treasure we’ve got. Where’s your sense of history as Uncle Sam would say.
            Surprisingly too, a small plane could be seen passing over its mountainous ranges in many several occasion during night time.
            Father in the heart of the mountain is a cave where a trail of forty degrees leads there. To any group wanting to hold very confidential and special sessions, it’s the most practical place to stay. The higher hierarchy of the NPA just didn’t pass any other opportunity than deciding it as venue of their 13th Plenum.
             It’s been Ka Lino’s hideout and the rest of other cadre offering them desired accommodation for recuperation. In short, the cave is a mini hospital, conference venue and camp rolled into one. All the big guns in the movement and from Manila would be coming over for the occasion. They would be clandestinely moving the afternoon and in the evening under cover of darkness. Each participant is required to wear his security pass and catchword to be accommodated. For an outsider reaching the area is like passing through the proverbial eye of the needle. Snipers, landmines, water; fruits laced with poison above all, serenity of the area is gripping making each footstep an ordeal along the trails specially. How they were secured by the NPAs is no accident. The effort was deliberate. It’s a place where they could have temporary freedom away from the noise and destruction of city life.

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