Sunday, December 28, 2008


You should automatically redirect to

Just a warning.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I've just started migrating from here to my new-and-improved blog at, which is part of my master plan to build a personal site where I can house a photography and multimedia portfolio, and host this crazy flash package I'm going to build in Egypt (more on this later. at the new site).

I've been able to import all the posts and comments from the new site, but I haven't yet gotten the tags to transfer right, added all the plug-ins I want, or customized the theme.

New project for the week: learn CSS.

When I'm a little happier with the look of things, any attempts to visit this site will automatically redirect. (how big a disaster can one little line of PHP cause? We'll see!)

Until then, update your bookmarks & hang on to your hats.

Monday, December 08, 2008

What kind of sociopath steals somebody's glasses?

I went to a truly beautiful party at the Capoeira Angola Foundation last night -- capoeira, live bossanova and samba, Veracruzan dance. By the time midnight rolled around, the party had kicked off, and people were busting out the kind of crazy cumbia and samba moves where you find yourself being flipped over and swung around the room.

So I stripped myself of wallet, keys, phone, glasses and anything else that could conceivably fly off my person while this was going on. Gathered all my stuff up, put it in my bag, and...I think you can see where this story is going.

I was in a place that felt safe, where nearly everyone knew each other. So I wasn't worried about my things, except to make sure my bag was up on a shelf where nobody would accidently step on it.

But when I was ready to go home, my bag wasn't where I'd left it, and neither was another woman's. It was 2:00 am in West Oakland, and my credit cards, id, bus pass, cellphone, ipod, glasses and keys were gone.

I couldn't even get home, because my bicycle was outside, locked-up with a key I no longer had.

The only wordly posessions I had access to were the clothes on my back and the contents of my jacket pockets -- three crumpled dollar bills, and half a pack of somebody else's menthol lights.

Everybody was suitably upset and concerned, but at that point, there was nothing anybody could do. A friend who lives in a (lightly) converted warehouse nearby let me crash in his room, and left me with a laptop and a cellphone so I could start canceling all my accounts. I got some fitful sleep in a very cold room, then started trying and trying to get in touch with my roommates so I could get back in the house, copy some keys, and commence with damage control.

Finally, around noon I got through. And then, all alone in this maze of a warehouse, I had to figure out how to get back outside.

Two doors, and guess which one I chose? That's right -- the one that would lock behind me before I realized I was in an enclosed parking lot, which couldn't be exited without a key. (Fire hazard? Perhaps.)

At that point, it didn't even matter anymore. I just climbed the fence, dropped down to the street on the other side. But wait, you have to really picture this: high noon, West Oakland, crazy-haired white girl wearing knee-high boots, a 3/4-length black coat, and the same clothes I went dancing in and then slept in. A blazer driving by slowed waaay down to watch. The security guard in the next lot over started to stir.

I just looked him in the eye, said, "I assure you, there's a perfectly reasonable explanation," and carried on.

There are points when life gets so absurd it's almost beautiful. I walked through blocks of vacant lots and falling down houses on my way to the #15 bus, coat and scarf flying in the breeze, feeling absolutely damage proof.

Fuck the world. I got bus fare and smokes.


Coming home, it was almost jarring to be back in my room with its clean sheets and fancy laptop. Right away, I had to run out and copy my roommates keys,tear apart my room to find the spare key for my bike lock, and see about replacing my phone all without the benefit of cash, credit cards or a driver's license.

I mostly got it done. The phone company owed me an upgrade, so I wasn't out much for a new phone, but I was nearly thwarted by company policy that prohibits personal checks without a driver's license (I had my passport, but this, evidently, was not good enough). The biggest thank you of the day goes to the kind, kind T-Mobile employee who decided to charge my new phone to his own account, and let me reimburse him with a check.

By 5:00, I was ready to head back to West Oakland and collect my bicycle before it too could be stolen. And then, I got an email from the Oakland Police. My bag had been found, on the 900 block of West Grand. My phone, wallet and ipod, of course, were gone. But my ids, credit cards and keys were all there, and I could pick it up downtown.

As frustrating as the whole incident was, this meant there was probably little chance of identity theft, and that I no longer had to worry about the consequences of an unsavory character coming into possession of both my house keys and my address. The past 20 hours have been pretty unpleasant, but I didn't lose anything irreplaceable, and it seems like the theft won't continue to haunt me.

So hopped on the BART, and went to the property room in the police building. Sure enough, it was my bag. The whole thing was bizarre. My shabby cloth wallet was gone, as were the few dollars that had been in it, but someone had taken the time to remove all the cards I had in the wallet (even the business cards wedged in the inside pocket that are really hard to get out) and put them back in my bag. My headlamp and knit headband were gone, but only one of my gloves.

What baffles me, though, is that my glasses were missing. I mean, it's a nasty thing to do, but I understand when someone would steal a cellphone (though the joke's on whoever tries to sell my busted-up, malfunctioning handset). But who the fuck steals somebody's prescription glasses? It's not like they were gucci frames, and I have a pretty unusual combination of vision problems. I can't imagine they could have any value to anyone other than me.

It's funny too, because of all the things I lost, the glasses are both the biggest hassle, and potentially the biggest expense. (The ipod was an older model). I have vision coverage, but I'm not sure I can wait the two weeks the University Health Center takes to make me a new pair. I have an appointment tomorrow to go in, get my eyes checked, and throw myself on their mercy. In the meantime, I'm alternating between sunglasses and a broken pair I just unearthed, that's missing the left lens (which, fortunately, is my good eye).

And that's where the story ends. I left the police station, took the bus back to West Oakland to pick up my bike, and rode home.

In my sunglasses.

Monday, November 24, 2008

UN Human Rights Committee finds the Arroyo government guilty of human rights violations

More than two years after the families of two murdered human rights activists filed a complaint against the Philippine government, the UN Human Rights Committee ruled the Arroyo government is guilty of violating the activists' right to life, and was negligent in providing remedy after they were slain.

Eden Marcellana, photo courtesy Karapatan

On April 21, 2003, human rights workers Eden Marcellana and Eddie Gumanoy were salvaged* under the watch of Arroyo's pet General Jovito Palparan, well known in the Philippines as "The Butcher of Mindoro" because of the appalling number of activists murdered in areas under his command.

Despite eyewitnesses testimony that the two activists were kidnapped by former rebels now working with the military, the Department of Justice dismissed a complaint filed by the activists' families. More than 5 years later, the case in the Philippines has not progressed.

Unfortunately, this new UN decision won't result in any disciplinary action against the Arroyo government -- it simply requires that the Philippine state provides "effective remedy." (In other words, initiate a criminal investigation, which it so spectacularly failed to do in the first place.)

Given that not a single perpetrator of a single extrajudicial killing has been held accountable for murder since the Marcos era, I can't say I feel terribly hopeful. And the last major UN tongue-lashing to Arroyo -- delivered by special rapporteur Phillip Alston -- didn't really solve anything.

But still, anything that exposes and embarrasses Arroyo on the international stage is a positive step, and activists hope this ruling may strengthen the case for Arroyo's impeachment.

Now if the US would just stop propping up her government...

*Salvage: Filipino slang for the rather common practice of murdering activists and leaving their shattered bodies to be found by the side of the road. A close relative of 'disappeared,' but with its own unique horrors.

I can't find a copy of the UNHCR decision online, so I've uploaded them as jpgs. Click on the thumbnails to view full size images. The decision is well worth reading for a detailed summary of the murders, and an overview of the ineffectiveness of the judicial system in the Philippines. It's worth noting, also, that while the government challenges whether this case was legitimatly brought in front of the UN, there's no refutation of the actual accounting of events.
I created a pdf of the document as well, which I'm happy to forward to anyone who's interested.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Censorship in the Mission

This mural, on 24th St in San Francisco's Mission district, is one I've often noticed and liked. Painted by the group Homey (Homies Organizing the Mission to Empower Youth) it unfolds across 117 feet of concrete, showing people challenging the barriers --cultural, societal and physical -- that oppress and divide them. But I never really knew anything about its history.
Today, I learned the panel above originally depicted these figures bursting a Palestine-shaped hole through the wall, and that the woman on the bottom was first painted with her kuffiyeh covering her face.

When the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council and the local office of the Anti-Defamation League caught wind of it, they pressed the San Francisco Arts Commission to have the mural changed, and managed to suspend the community beautification grant that funded the project until Homey agreed to compromise on their design.

What does it say when nice, liberal San Francisco is comfortable with public art and public discourse that challenges the legitimacy of the wall on the US-Mexican border, but censors any similar challenges to the wall between Israel and Palestine?

[In other news, right after I started typing this, a car window got smashed right below my bedroom window. My neighbors ran the guy off, but this is at least the second time this week. The neighborhood has been crazy lately]

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Pumpkin Festival

I went to the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival this afternoon. It was a nice escape from the daily routine, but the whole affair had an "end of the Roman Empire" vibe I found a little hard to shake.

Scenes from the Pumpkin Pie eating contest.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Human bone found in Bataan Camp

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer:

Human bone in Bataan camp
by Nikko Dizon
LIMAY, BATAAN—Braving rains, a fact-finding team Tuesday dug up a yellow rubber slipper, a laced shirt and burned fragments of what they suspected was a human bone in an area where a former detainee said he saw people being tortured by soldiers. [more]

and more

and more

I don't even know what to say. So I'll quote UP Professor Roland Simbulan, from an interview I did in Summer 2007:

“There were human rights abuses before. Illegal arrests, torture, detention. But what is different now under Arroyo is the extent of killings of political activists. In fact, there’s an ugly joke going around that they don’t anymore have to feed them. Because during the Marcos time, and Ramos and other administrations, they would arrest an activist, or torture him at the most. But at least they were alive, they kept them in detention later to be released. But now, they’re not arresting them anymore. They just kill them. There’s not even a formal charge against them. They just abduct them, and perhaps they would try to extract as much information from them, and then they kill them. Some of their bodies or corpses are not even found. So that’s the difference, the gravity or the volume of people who are being killed. It’s very alarming."
It's not completely impossible this is some sort of elaborate hoax. Not completely.
And I'd very much like to think so, and that Karen EmpeƱo and Manuel Merino are still safe and alive somewhere in the mountains.
But it doesn't seem likely. By the most ridiculously conservative numbers, there have been at least 200 extrajudicial executions since Arroyo came to power. By the greatest estimate, over 1000. And I personally know multiple people who have been kidnapped by paramilitaries, taken to camps in isolated areas and subjected to brutal torture.
So there's no real doubt in my mind that Manalo is telling the truth. I just hope that this time, this one time, some of the blood sticks on somebody's hands.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Crew slideshow

My multimedia slideshow on the Jack London Aquatic Center's crew team for Oakland youth is not up at

More to come...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

VP Debate collage

Multi-media collage I built (using other people's photos and reporting -- it was a mostly successful collaborative excercise). It doesn't fit too well in this column, so click on the box at the lower right (with the arrows) to view full screen.

Vuvox is my new favorite toy.

Rice crisis revisited

UPDATE: You can view a slideshow of the pictures below. But you'll still have to actually visit the set to read the text.

Back in June, when I first started taking pictures of the rice crisis in Mindanao, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do with them. Since, for the moment, the answer seems to have been "nothing" I thought I'd at least put them all up publicly (Some of the pictures, and most of the text haven't been up before).
The full set is now up here
There's quite a bit of explanatory text along with the photos. One of these days, I do still intend to put this all together, but for now time seems hard to come by.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Lazy Sunday

After days spent immersed in the arcane minutiae of municipal bond markets, it was nice to take a short day assignment that basically involved hanging out with kids in a neighborhood park.

(Of course, I do still have to write the bond piece.)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Obama-McCain debate

I went down to the corner store to watch the presidential candidates debate. It definitely gives some interesting perspective to watch McCain and Obama talk about Wall Street bailouts, corporate taxes and ethanol subsidies while a middle-aged woman tries (and succeeds) to cajole the clerk into extending her line of credit so she can buy some cheese and crackers for dinner.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

File this under "apologizing for not posting more."
I've recovered from being ill, but I'm still scrambling to get caught up on work.  (I'm running around so much I've started referring to my apartment as my "alleged home.")
Still from an audio slideshow about Jack London Aquatic Center's crew team for Oakland girls.

I'm working on a JSchool project to launch a community news site for North Oakland, which is sucking up a lot of my energy right now. When we get the site launched, I'll start linking to articles, and some of my multimedia pieces about Oakland will start seeing the light of day.

In the meantime, I'll post when I can, and even if I'm not blogging, I do upload photos to flickr pretty frequently.

Monday, August 25, 2008

I've been horrendously sick the past several days. I was more or less bedridden beginning Friday, and though I'm definitely on the mend -- and today have been able to go about most of my business -- I'm still feeling a bit shaky.
I got a whole battery of blood-tests done to see if I carried something exciting back from the tropics. I'm still awaiting the final word as to whether this was a generic- or name-brand- illness, but in the meantime, I'm just grateful I got over it so quickly, and I have a new (and inevitably fleeting) appreciation for every moment absent of excruciating pain.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Adventure Tsinelas

After 6 months, 6 countries, 2 conflict zones, 1 hand restitching, and who knows how many miles walked and rivers forded, I decided it was time for a new pair of sandals.

I'm finding myself a bit sentimental though. The old pair and I have been through a lot together -- from the floods of Manila to dirt-track crossings between Shan State and China -- and despite their girlish exterior, they've always served so well that I dubbed them the "adventure sandals."

I thought they deserved some kind of memorial. Goodbye Tsinelas. Goodbye Asia. Hello grad school, starting again tomorrow...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Portrait from Agdao Market

This is a woman named Lita Midrano, who I spoke to this June, on the day rice prices broke 50 pesos per kilo in Mindanao. Midrano complained the subsidized rice provided by the National Food Authority for p18.50 a kilo was very poor quality, but she still waited in line for hours, because she couldn't afford not to.

She was angry, and along with other mothers and grandmothers in line -- women old enough to have lived through decades of war in Mindanao -- she started talking, half joking and half serious about rioting and revolution. How high, I asked, would the price have to get?

“With rice a reaching 50 pesos per kilo, we’re already getting very angry,” she told me. "But before getting angry and starting a war, we have to eat. And so we wait in line.”

Friday, August 15, 2008


Back to California, after a long, parched, uncomfortable but uneventful flight. I'm worn out, but happy to be back in my room, watching desperate flight of the last (I hope) of the ants that had taken up residence in my computer.

Notes from Manila:

It's been a brilliant exit from the Philippines.
Absolutely torrential rains, and a completely flooded out street. (On the plus side, you know who your real friends are when you kinda really need someone to go out into the flood and find a taxi for you so you don't have to take your bags to the corner in the rain).
I'm flying Philippine Airlines, which has its very own international terminal. Meaning, no mitigating factors for the PAL experience. Over an hour wait to check in. Nowhere to get a magazine apart from the Christian Bookazine Corp. , and you can't even buy a bottle of water past security to take on the flight.
And then the power goes off. They've got some kind of generator, but it's still incredibly dim, and apparantly bathrooms are not a priority area. Best of all, the fancy, "hi-tech" sensor-controlled toilets and faucets do not function, and have no manual back-up (except for the charming attendent who ran out to get dippers full of water).
The power's come back, hence the wifi. But, ach, it's like packing into three hours all the things I hate, but will invariably feel slightly nostalgic for, about the Philippines.
Next stop, San Francisco.
[editors note: true to form, the touted free wifi does not actually work. So this won't actually go up until California]

Saturday, August 09, 2008

It's been a fairly grim week. So hot I miss the rain. 2 journalists have been shot, one fatally. The Dengue fever season is in force, and it's seems to have even reached into my home -- the friend who lives in the next room over has been prostrate this week, with all the symptoms of dengue, having to go to the hospital for repeated blood tests. The only consolation is knowing that if he had contracted one of the really dangerous strains, he'd already be dead. Instead, the worst seems to have passed, but it's frightening, and not least because I live in the same conditions, getting bitten by the same mosquitos.

This is not to say I'm living in a state of misery. I get out, even have the occasional productive day, but I've been feeling a little, shall we say, distracted...

Friday, August 01, 2008

Monsoon Blues

View from my roof yesterday
It can be very, very difficult to get anything done when leaving the house involves wading.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

So, as promised I put up more photos from the SONA counter-rally. But I'm feeling thin on thoughts, or at least coherent ones.

A full-text of Arroyo's speech can be found here. There's some debate about whether or not she actually believes the rosy statistics she quotes. I'll leave that to the psychoanalysts.

I'd love to see an in-depth analysis of which subjects she chooses to speak about in Tagalog, and which in English. She seems to confine the folksiest parts, about her great concern for various types of poor people to Tagalog, while using English to talk about policy.

As far as the protests, it's hard to know what to say. Clearly, people are angry. But not angry enough to stand together. The rally was actually composed of two parts: an RA section and an RJ section, with a fence and a police line between them.

(For those unfamiliar with the byzantine twists and turns of the history of the Philippine left, I'd reccomend Alecks Pabico's article "The Great Left Divide" . But to make a long story short, RA 's are those who ReAffirm Marxist-Leninist(Stalinist)-Maoist principles as defined by the Communist Party of the Philippines -- including protracted people's war --and RJs are those who ReJected them in favor of a wide variety of political stances ranging from orthodox Leninism, Trotskyism, Social Democracy, etc. This debate split the left in 1992, and to put it mildly, the two factions don't get along with each other.)

So far as I could tell, there was no conflict between the two groups yesterday, and it was possible to move from one section to another, but there were two competing speakers on two competing stages, talking about the same issues but each with their own constellation of supporters and party flags and banners around them.
It can be very hard to see any way forward.

Monday, July 28, 2008


While President Arroyo gave her annual State of the Nation Address, and estimated 13,000 protesters held a march and counter-rally, denouncing low wages, the risingcost of living, and denouncing Arroyo's record on human rights and civil liberties.
Additional images here, and more photos and thoughts tomorrow.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Economic crisis keeping kids out of school

The Philippine government just released its report on school attendance for 2006-2007, revealing that 17% of primary-school-aged children -- which is to say 2.2 million of them -- are not in school.

In 1999-2000, before current President Arroyo, the corresponding number was 3%.

Numbers have plummeted under Arroyo, as has real per-capita spending on education, making the Philippines one of the lowest spenders in the world.

Unfortunately, the numbers are likely to be even worse for the current year, as the economic situation worsens. Public education is not free here -- families are responsible for school fees, uniforms and school supplies -- and registration season corresponded with the height of the rice crisis, forcing many families to choose between feeding their children or putting them in school.

Here,* school teachers in Carupay, Zamboanga del Norte, explain the situation in their own school, and the difficulties facing even children whose families manage to pay the fees.

President Arroyo, putting her Phd in economics to good use, recently conceded that the rising costs of food and energy may be keeping kids out of school.

Her solution? Asking schools not to require uniforms.

Read this great (as usual) PCIJ piece for links to the report and more information...

*some technical issues in the middle due to software problems. I'll correct them if I can solve the original issue...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Little Friends & Foes

This is my bathroom lizard in Mandaluyong. They seem to come standard issue in houses here, but I feel this is a particularly outstanding example of the species. Now that we've gotten accustomed to each other, we respectfully greet one another every morning when I go for my tabo-tabo.
On the other hand, I seem to expend an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to keep ants out of my sugar.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

This cloud of smoke is not a trick of the camera or a momentary phenomenon. This is what Jakarta is like, all the time, indoors and out. I never thought I would enjoy breathing the sweet air of Manila, but here I am. I seem to have returned from Indonesia with a mild respiratory infection, though it's clearing up now that I'm back in the Philippines. I hate to think about what happens to people who live their permanently!

Now if I can figure out how to keep my feet dry here, I'll be set.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Lapindo Disaster

Ibu Kurniati
On May 28, 2006, Ibu Kurniati's world exploded.
"For us, it was like a small apocolypse. We saw huge fires, and the hot mud, and the strong smell of gas was everywhere,"

The previous day, natural gas prospectors Lapindo Brantas hit something soft while drilling nearly 3 km below the surface in East Java. When hot mud and toxic gasses began gushing out of the hole, Lapindo and local authorities were unable to stem the flow, or to organize an orderly evacuation. "It was total chaos," recalls Korniati.

Two years later, the situation has hardly improved. The mud continues to flow, and has repeatedly breached embankments put in place to contain it. Sludge has oozed over fields, factories and villages, and into canals and groundwater, displacing more than 11,000 people.

Hundreds are still in a nearby evacuation center, which Korniati likens to a prison, living without private quarters, lining up three times a day for food that is often rotten.

Before the disaster, Korniati ran her own small business as a food vendor, but now she's forced to depend on her children for support. Many, she says, have it even worse, turning to begging, prostitution or suicide. "The mud ruined everything."

Lapindo denies responsibility for the eruption, ignoring independent geological surveys and blaming an earthquake that struck Java on May 26. However, it has offered limited compensation to villagers who agree to release the company from further liability.

Unsatisfied with this deal -- which offers compensation only for loss of material property -- Kurniati and other villagers continue to agitate for a more just settlement. They've occupied the local parliament, blocked the highway and staged a hunger strike -- succeeding in getting promises, but so far nothing more. "They give lots of promises, but what they promise never comes. They just give us words. Until my hair turns white, they'll never be realized."

The whole situation is more disgusting, and more complicated, than I can fully explain. Go here and here for more information. Despite all the setbacks, though, the people seem determined to keep fighting.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


One of the quite nice things about this visit to Indonesia is that I'm on a pretty loose schedule, and have time to do normal touristy things like visit temples.

We even got up at 4:00 in the morning the catch the sunrise at Borobudur (and thus miss the heat and the crowds). It was quite lovely, and I didn't even spend too much time geeking out about localization, religious syncretism and the diffusion of Indic culture in Southeast Asia.
Irham, Jakarta
Bush has never been a popular figure in Indonesia -- a Muslim country with a strong history of anti-imperial struggle (notwithstanding of course, its own colonial adventures in East Timor and Papua) -- and his re-election ensured that dislike of Bush would extend to the American people.

Recently, though, it's once again become cool to be American. "From Amerika? Barack Obama, Ya!"

What can I do but smile and shrug my shoulders?

Monday, June 30, 2008


Kicking it old-school with Dr. Cullinane in the VIP lounge at Cebu-Mactan airport.

Sadly, here in Manila, where I'm waiting for my flight to Jakarta, the accommodations are a bit more basic. But I can't win every time.

It's been a short & sweet visit to Manila. Catching up with friends, visiting archives and libraries here, and making arrangements for my longer stay next month. Not overly much to report. (The greatest excitement for me was the scandalously cheap prices at the National Historical Institute. Their press once published bound collections of materials from the Spanish period, but hardly anyone here reads Spanish anymore, so they practically give them away. I returned to my friend's in Mandaluyong laden with rare books from the 1930s and '40s, laughing about how their patrimony was being sold to foreigners for a few hundred pesos.)

I'm still working with my images and recordings from Zamboanga, and I'll try posting a few little slideshows in the next days, pending broadband availability..

Monday, June 23, 2008

I've been a bit out of touch - internet access has been either difficult or unappealing lately, and my phone got stolen on the boat from Cagayan to Cebu, so twitter's out for now too.
But I just figured I'd drop a line. I'll be arriving in Manila Wednesday night, and should have better access.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


The "road" to Carupay. More on this later...
I'm back in Cagayan de Oro, leaving for Cebu tomorrow evening. It was another eventful trip, but I'm too burnt out to write much more. So consider this the not-dismembered-in-motorbike-crash-or-kidnapped post, and I'll fill in the details tomorrow.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Breakdancers, rocking it for the camera on Dipolog beach.

I'm leaving again for the mountains early tomorrow morning. This time, I'll be well and truly off the grid -- 12 km hike in, no cellphone signal -- so I'll be out of touch for at least the next 2 days.

Geeky digression: the only Tagalog word, to my knowledge, that has become completely integrated into English is bundok, aka Boondock, which means mountain. During the Philippine-American War (and ever since) the mountainous hinterlands were tactical centers for resistance. When asked where the rebels were, locals would respond "sa bundok," which entered military slang, and from there vernacular english.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Bridge Unbuilt

*[Slightly under-edited sneak preview of a much larger project]*
Barangay Miatan is located deep in the hills outside of Katipunan, Zamboanga del Norte. The entrance to the barangay can be reached only by foot or the most rugged of motor vehicles, a long trip along jaw-rattling dirt and gravel roads lined with paddies where farmers transplant rice by hand and plow with the help of caribous.
Reaching the center of the community is even more difficult. A dilapidated pedestrian bridge is suspended over the Dicayo river. The only other option is straight through the river.
We came up in a decommissioned military jeep, and only just made it across. About a third of the way through, water started flooding in through the door, nearly reaching my seat and sending me scrambling to keep my camera and computer dry. Halfway across, the jeep stalled, and I thought for a minute we were going to have to swim, until the motor coughed back to life.
Remote barangays like Miatan have suffered the brunt of human rights abuses from the government and military. During the Marcos regime, this small Subanon community of 240 households was home to a military detachment, whose abuses drove many to the hills or the city. Women were harassed, locals recall, and farmers treated like slaves.
The situation improved somewhat after the fall of Marcos, when President Aquino made moves to demilitarize the countryside -- but the hills of Katipunan remained hotspots of insurgency and retaliatory military strikes.
In 2003, local peace consultations began, with the support of the Revolutionary Workers Party - Mindanao (RPMM), a Marxist rebel group. The RPMM promised to lay down their weapons if the government would take steps to meet the needs of impoverished barangays in Mindanao. A ceasefire was negotiated, and by all accounts the RPMM has held up their end of the deal.
In exchange, the government was supposed to fund development projects identified by communities themselves. After local consultations held in 2005, the central government promised 5 million pesos for infrastructure projects in each barangay involved in the peace process. The people of Miatan decided their first priority was to build a submarine bridge across the Dicayo. The bridge is a key element in their other plans as well, providing a farm-to-market road to expand economic opportunities, and making it possible to develop Morias falls as an eco-tourism destination.
Three years later, the money still hasn't come. "The budget was suddenly gone," says Haydee Lodovece, head of a local people's organization. "Five million is five million. It's not easily forgotten."
People here have a way of laughing when telling these kinds of stories. But it's clear they're frustrated, especially as they find themselves squeezed tighter and tighter by the rising cost of food and fuel. By neglecting to meet their commitments in the peace process, the government is playing a dangerous game. Unrest in Mindanao has always been, fundamentally, about the central government's failure to deal fairly with the people. Every time this happens, peace workers say, it gets harder and harder to bring people together to talk about peace.
With less food on the table every day, says Ike de los Reyes, an RPMM leader, the poor are more inclined to return to armed struggle. Peace talks have not brought them enough to survive. "The people," he says. "Cannot lose anything but their sufferings and their hunger."