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Archive for November, 2016

Making Things Happen: Tips for an Advocate

Dear Co-Learners, I would like to share with you some simple tips on Legislative Advocacy and Policy Development..

  1. Always question and don’t simply accept things as they are. – Just because a bill has been passed or a policy is issued, it doesn’t mean it’s already perfect. While they must be applied uniformly to be stable, laws and policies must be also be dynamic and responsive to the needs of the times. There is always room for improvement.
  2. Dream Big and Believe – Too many development workers get disillusioned and frustrated. Some easily lose faith and confidence, and turn negative. Try to remember why we are in this kind of work – it’s to make a difference and improve people’s lives. We can change the world and make it better even by doing our own little things.
  3. Small Bites Only – Most people get overwhelmed with the amount of work to be done. You must avoid getting lost in the forest, and simply see the individual plants and trees as they are. Don’t look at the whole wall, but at each brick or hollow block making it up. So it is with legislative and policy work; take the problem bit by bit, one piece at a time. Each issue will have a multitude of possible strategies already which can be separately or jointly tackled.
  4. Connect with people, Engage All – Maximizing partnerships, linkages, and networking are key words here. You don’t need to do it all alone. You may be surprised how many like-minded people as you are out there. Truly listen and know the sentiments, concerns, and suggestions of your intended beneficiary-sector. Also remember that it’s not just the stakeholders you must engage, but also the duty-bearers/govt agencies and institutions, as well as the private sector composed of the business establishments as well as the civil society organizations. Doing this will ensure that once the time comes for implementation or enforcement of the law or policy, all of you will already be on the same page.
  5. Know Your Role – Don’t try to do everything all by yourself. Not everything is within your power or authority. So in line with Tip#5, let others do their jobs also. Keeping this in mind will keep you from stepping on other people’s toes and over-stepping your boundaries. This will also keep you from burn-out and stressing yourself. Each stakeholder has his/her own role to play based on legally-mandated jurisdictions, whether it is legislative, policy-making, or actual enforcement of rules. You can only nudge your champions and supporters in the direction you want, but ultimately it’s their own “diskarte” too.
  6. Cover All bases – As in Tip#3, while it’s better to tackle issues one-at-a-time, each concern can have many strategies and simultaneous efforts. For legislative efforts, for example, always remember that while both House of Congress file bills that become national laws, provincial boards and city/municipal councils can also pass ordinances that are considered local laws. Meanwhile, that should not stop you from enjoining govt agencies to also issue guidelines or rules to facilitate implementation of existing/current programs or services. In addition, it is always best to have the beneficiary-sector speaking in their own behalf so duty-bearers can hear first-hand accounts straight from the horse’s mouth. This is not considered “spreading yourself too thin” since other people are also working and helping.
  7. Maximize Opportunities – This is in line with Tips #4, 5, and 6. You must learn to recognize opportunities for possible engagements. Capitalize on personal interests and agendas of politicians, legislators, and duty-bearers and check if you can align them with your priorities. You can always use another ally or supporter. Be quick also to grab opportunities for showcasing your issue, such as national events or celebrations, i.e. elder abuse-Elderly Filipino week, Responsible Parenthood/RH-National Family Week. These are good venues for generating more dialogue and discussion on your topic or concern.
  8. Develop As Many Materials as you can – There is something to be said of evidence-based policies which makes full use of relevant researches and studies because it helps make your position more credible. Additional IEC materials are always helpful for advocacy and awareness-raising because they help popularize your concern and generates more information and discussion. But be conscious that these are not mere compilations or consolidation of mindless statistics and figures. Your material must be fair representations of facts – objective and neutral, and if possible, able to present both sides.
  9. Drive Home your Message of Urgency and Relevance – The most basic function of your advocacy and lobbying is communicating your message. Whatever the form of your policy document – policy notes, position paper, discussion paper, draft bill or resolution, you must clearly present What Needs to Be Done. Your position or stance on a subject, whether it’s a proposed legislative measure or policy recommendation, must be fleshed out and articulated well in your material. As in Tip#8, it is not enough that you simply compile a bunch of facts and figures, you must be able to argue and peddle your proposal or suggestion with conviction.

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Letter to my Niece

Dearest A,

I am so sorry to hear about what happened in school. Your Tita G and I thought we could help with your homework when you asked us about our memories of our youth. We honestly didn’t think your teacher would give you a bad grade for showing a different perspective. And I thought that was the one of the important lessons from Martial Law – to have the right of freedom of expression and the power of dissent. But I guess the nuns and your teachers at that good Catholic school have succumbed to the very evil they believe to oppose.

The question you presented us was very simple – what did we know of Martial Law; we, the generation who apparently have lived through it as well as the tumultuous Pre- and Post-EDSA 80s. We were kids in the 70s, the height of the 3rd Quarter Storm. Our older siblings were teenagers who suffered the curfews imposed then. Case in point: our residence inadvertently became the FratHouse for Manong Butch’s fraternity brods from Beta Kappa, mainly because some of them got caught by the curfew deadline and couldn’t go home to their more distant houses. I fondly remember Minel, the tall, curly-haired brod whose “macho” motorcycle could not possibly outrun the MetroCom or PC imposing the curfew.

I remember the heated political discussions at the dinner table between Manong Butch and Daddy. With these two, what was happening at our household was a perfect microcosm of how the Philippines was at the time – young people questioning and arguing with The Authority. Daddy would always have his explanations; from the mandatory ROTC, to jaywalking being punishable by singing the National Anthem, or community service consisting of cleaning and pulling weeds at the highway.  This prompted Manong Butch to finally say to Daddy: “lagi ka naman panalo e.” But try arguing with a top-notch litigation lawyer even if you’re a full NSDB (now NSTA) scholar of the DOST.

Yes, education was a priority then, and poor and deserving students were the ones who actually got into the State-funded schools and got scholarships. Science high schools and State Universities were the prestigious institutions one aspired for, not the over-priced, private, Catholic colleges that seem to be given so much preference now by CHED and DepEd. No, the worst thing that could befall young people then was not drug addiction, but becoming an “out-of-school youth”. The basic idea of good parenting was applied under the State’s parens patriae – and that was to keep everyone preoccupied and productive, hence the emphasis on vocational and technological schools. As was required then (and this was before the KasamBahay Law), even our young helpers were sent to finish their schooling. My yaya/playmate, Mati, arrived from the province barely finishing her elementary education. So she went from Rodriguez Elementary to Kamuning High School, to finally finishing a secretarial course at Ortanez University. Manang Fe, Tita G’s yaya, went to Ramon Magsaysay High School, while Islaw, our handyman/gardener and Mati’s brother, was sent to vocational school to learn basic auto mechanics.

But why did Marcos take Meralco from the Lopezes, Jacinto Steel from the Jacintos? Why was there government-held media – from television networks, to radio, to newspapers? Why did Marcos and his government control everything? It was only years later that I understood – when the oligarchs all came back and took control of the vital industries once more. They used to complain of Marcos “cronies”, but these were just replaced by Cory’s “amigas” from the Philippines’ richest families. Things got even worst when the tune of the day became “privatization” during Pres. Ramos’ term. These corporations took over public utilities like electricity, water supply, and telecommunications, and drastically raised prices under the guise of “improving services” when in fact it was all about generating profits. Meanwhile, the poor common tao suffered the high cost of basic utilities and we were all at the mercy of these private sector players. They said basic services had always been expensive to sustain; we only didn’t feel it as much because government used to keep price fluctuations under control since it also owned NAPOCOR, not like today when the EPIRA law has allowed the entry of so many players in the power industry. (And you already know where that lead us, with the current ERC suicide-controversy.)

There must be some wisdom behind those “hostile” take-overs then, and bringing them all under “government-owned and controlled corporations” (GOCCs). Maybe the Marcos Administration had a plan after all, the same way it constructed all those specialized hospitals like the Philippine Heart Center, the National Kidney Institute, the Lung Center, and the Philippine Children’s Hospital. These facilities were supposed to provide quality healthcare which were accessible to the poor. I believe it was the first step to “medical tourism” in Asia. From the profits it could make from foreigners coming in, the needy Filipinos would already be subsidized. These days, these medical facilities are operated as “semi-private” with small if not lessening financial support from the government. Meanwhile, our poorer languish in need of affordable healthcare services.

True, there was something about the media then…but each newspaper clearly took sides, just as the television networks are nowadays. No one is “innocent”. I have observed that once the Inquirer re-surfaced and quickly gained ground again as a primary broadsheet, it had curiously been pro-Aquino, all these years, from the mother to the son. So don’t be fooled by the propaganda that news is supposed to be objective and neutral…it never is.

I have to agree with what Dr. Clarita Carlos stated recently, that there are many stories to tell. There is not just one version of history, as some people would like to portray the Martial Law years as, one that favors the Aquinos and demonizes the Marcoses. How can they accuse others of “re-writing” history when they keep insisting only on “their version” of history and completely negating some other facts and realities? Is that all we want to teach the youth of today – to again swallow hook, line, and sinker of what they are being told? Or do we present to them all the facts and let them decide on their own?

This is where I find fault in all these Catholic schools “forcing” their students to protest. No, the nuns shouldn’t deny it; no mincing words here. They really do compel students to do their bidding. I thought all these ended when Cardinal Sin died since he was clearly a supporter of Cory Aquino then. In my whole class, I was one of three students who didn’t join the rallies outside our school because my parents didn’t allow me to. The price we paid, we didn’t get Loyalty Awards from our school because we failed to have “extracurricular” points based on “socio-civic awareness”. And I thought “Loyalty” was because I studied there from kindergarten to High School. Being a parent now, I understand why my Dad didn’t want us to join. Rallies and protests were standard in those days, but you never know when it could suddenly turn violent or get dispersed at whatever cost. The school or the nuns couldn’t assure our safety really, so I guess my parents thought they were doing what was best for us then. I hear your generation is being subjected to the same influence nowadays, so I guess the CBCP is still hard at work putting you kids at risk.

But may I suggest that you do your own assessment of history by truly studying it. I know Araling Panlipunan and Social Sciences seems to be such a bore to you, but the next time your family takes a vacation, ask your Mom and Dad to take you to some historical places and museums. I enjoin you to visit Malacanang Ti Amianan, the few places which still showcase what efforts there were during Martial Law. No, infrastructure wasn’t just about the controversial Film Center along Roxas Blvd. Check out the Patapat Viaduct you traversed on the way to Pagudpud, the famed San Juanico bridge that connect Leyte and Samar which you only heard about after Typhoon Yolanda, or the WWII Memorial at Mt. Samat in Bataan. Remember when we visited our Alma Mater, UP Los Banos and you asked why IRRI was there? The Philippines offered to host said international scientific research institution because Marcos believed we had the most to gain from its studies – developing those high yield, disease-resistant rice varieties that would ensure Filipinos’ food security. Critics now say it was pesticide and fertilizer-dependent varieties, thus making big corporations richer off the backs of poor farmers. But I believe there was a plan with Masagana 99, instead of what is happening now where we import low quality rice from Vietnam and Thailand, and making NFA sell it to our people to eat.

To be fair, take what your teachers tell you at school, but listen also to other stories. People might say, our family may not have suffered “real loss” during Martial Law. Tell them, they are wrong. Do you think that something was not lost when Daddy and Manong Butch were kept divided all those years arguing about politics? Do you think Manong Butch didn’t lose anything when he studied abroad for so long, away from Ate Rhoda and baby Tudoy, only to return to a closed down Bataan nuclear power plant, the very reason why he was sent abroad to study nuclear safety precautions?

Let’s talk about loss…ever wonder why Ate Annette didn’t finish her original course, Dentistry, and instead graduated Accounting long after Angel was born? After watching my older brothers in UP and keeping them from the protests and curfews, Daddy didn’t think it would be a daughter studying in the University Belt in Manila who would eventually join LFS and become an “urban educator” and “labor organizer” of the CPP-NPA. Our family lost Ate Annette to the Underground for many years. It broke Daddy’s heart and relatives looked down on us because we had a “black sheep” in the family. Never mind that Manong Snokum was gay; he hid it well and never flaunted it. But Ate Annette was an “open secret” with her continuing absence and unknown whereabouts. When she surfaced, it was almost the period of the “Killing Fields”, where CPP-NPA members were killing off their own compatriots. Our parents worried about her and her family when we would lose contact and they would be shuttling from one residence to another.

Loss? Maybe not death or disappearance, but I know what it feels like because Ate Annette was my closest sister then, my idol…Before she ran away, I dreamt about her leaving us and it was a recurring nightmare that brought me to tears. Waking up from another nightmare one night, I crept into hers and Ate Marie’s room and pecked her on her cheek. A few days later she was gone. Daddy was away on an official trip and when he came back, he broke down. That started years of worrying if she had been caught, arrested, tortured, and incarcerated…or worst, killed. Each time Ate Annette would surface, we would all heave a sigh of relief, and then the cycle would begin all over again.

It was only after the Killing Fields, when many of them joined the Administration to work with the government, that Ate Annette made the slow transition into normal life by doing NGO work. I was in college by then, experiencing the aftermath of the EDSA revolution which completely made my future uncertain. 1986 saw me having my soiree cancelled, our one chance to have “socials” with boys, our HS graduation became indefinite as we never knew if those guys between Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo would eventually get bombed by the flying airforce planes and a civil war would erupt, or if we would ever get to college or simply get conscripted into the armed forces.

The years that followed were nowhere more certain. The late 80s were plagued by the indecisiveness of Cory Aquino whose one big accomplishment was changing the names of all important buildings to her late husband’s. Coup d’etats were attempted in 1987 and 1989 by “disillusioned” former allies like Gringo Honasan, or was it because of the glaring self-interest of Ramos and Enrile once again? Meanwhile, your Tita G and I endured getting stranded in UPLB time and again because we couldn’t go home to a coup d’etat-paralyzed Metro Manila.

These days I get so annoyed with all the noise some people are making. Has-been college politicians who turned into lazy senators and corrupt bureaucrats are now active in the social media, the same people who didn’t really do anything, and instead allowed graft and corruption to proliferate because they benefitted from it. I am equally surprised how many legal professionals now question the independence of the Supreme Court and its decision, arguing “what is legal” isn’t necessarily “moral”. I always thought as law graduates we were supposed to uphold the law.

Today, Manong Butch, Ate Annette, and I are all in government. We had chosen to serve in public service against better judgement and against the interest of our own bank accounts. Maybe that is why our family’s next generation all opted to work in the private sector. They couldn’t afford to be as foolish as us….still dreaming we can help the Filipino people and make their lives better.

But you asked about Martial Law and what we know of it. So I brought back some memories for you. Those things are what I remembered. These are my stories and there is no other version to it. This is my truth even if it does not suit some other people’s version of history.

Why Phils Shdnt Have ABstained

16 November 2016

 

HON. PERFECTO R. YASAY, JR.

Secretary

Department of Foreign Affairs

Roxas Blvd., City of Manila

 

 

Dear Secretary Yasay:

On 30 June 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in a historic decision, adopted a resolution (A/HRC/RES/32/2) to establish the first UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity to address the grievous issues of violence on and discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity (popularly known as the SOGI mandate). The resolution entitled “Protection against violence and discrimination based on Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity” had initially been brought by seven Latin American Member States – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Uruguay. The resolution was put to vote after a failed no-action motion brought by Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and adoption of few amendments sought by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) Member States excepting Albania. It was later adopted with 23 countries voting for and 18 against the resolution while 6 abstaining from it, including the Philippines.

Recently, the African Group introduced a hostile resolution against the SOGI mandate before the General Assembly Third Committee in, stating that it ‘decides to defer consideration of and action on Human Rights Council resolution 32/2 of 30 June 2016 on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in order to allow time for further consultations to determine the legal basis upon which the mandate of the special procedure established therein will be defined.

 

The African Group in their statement went on to call for the suspension of the activities of the appointed Independent Expert pending the determination of this issue.’ Among the reasons underlying this call was that ‘non-internationally agreed notions such as sexual orientation and gender identity are given attention, to the detriment of issues of paramount importance such as the right to development and the racism agenda. The African Group also stated that the appointment of the Independent Expert would ‘delve into matters which fall essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of States counter to the commitment in the United Nations Charter to respect the sovereignty of States and the principle of non-intervention.’ Now the resolution will be up for vote on 17 November 2016 at United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the Philippines is again poised to abstain.

 

We write to inform you that the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) believes in supporting the establishment of an Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE). As such, the DSWD strongly urges the Philippine representation in Geneva to vote against the above-mentioned hostile resolution that will prevent the new Independent Expert on SOGIE from performing his mandate.

Ambassador Cecilia Rembong explained the Philippine’s previous abstention because “the mandate holder to be created would by its very nature pursue a set of standards applied to a specific sector when there is no consensus on a set of universally accepted human rights standards.” But consider the following:

  1. The Philippines has signed and ratified almost all of the human rights treaties and conventions. The most basic of these, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) all guarantee the freedom from discrimination, equality before the law, and equal protection of the law. To argue that the above-mentioned instruments do not mention sexual orientation and gender identity explicitly, and to insist that its applicability to SOGIE issues is merely a subjective interpretation or assumption, is belied by the 1992 Toonen vs Australia case, where the UN Human Rights Committee declared that the non-discrimination criteria of “sex” naturally extends to “sexual orientation”.

The international system and key human rights mechanisms of the United Nations have affirmed the States’ obligation to ensure effective protection of all persons from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Note what other international human rights law have to say:

  1. Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 4, Adolescent Health and Development in the context of the CRC (UN Doc. CRC/GC/2003/4, 1 July 2003) –“States parties have the obligation to ensure that all human beings below 18 enjoy all the rights set forth in the Convention w/o discrimination (Art 2), including race, color, sex, disability, birth, or other status; These grounds also cover adolescent’s sexual orientation and health status (including HIV/AIDS and mental health). Adolescents who are subject to discrimination are more vulnerable to abuse, other types of violence and exploitation, and their health and development are put at greater risk.”
  2. ECOSOC General Comment No. 20 (Par.15, Art 2 (2)) prohibits discrimination on grounds as “race, color, sex, language, religion, political, or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status” “non-exclusively”, and interprets “other status” in Art 2 (2) as including sexual orientation, hence:

“States parties should ensure that a person’s sexual orientation is not a barrier to realizing Covenant rights, for example, in accessing survivor’s pension rights. In addition, gender identity is recognized as among the prohibited grounds of discrimination. (Par. 32)”

  1. Committee against Torture, General Comment No. 2, Implementation of Art 2, UN Doc CAT/C.GC.2/CRP.1/Rev.4 (11/23/2007 – “The protection of certain minority or marginalized individuals or populations especially at risk of torture is part of the obligation to prevent torture or ill-treatment. States must ensure that, insofar as the obligations arising from under the CAT is concerned, their laws are in practice applied to all persons, regardless of x xxgender, sexual orientation, transgender identity x xx”

In 2006, in response to well-documented patterns of abuse, a distinguished group of international human rights experts met in Yogyakarta, Indonesia to outline a set of international principles relating to sexual orientation and gender identity. The result was the Yogyakarta Principles: a universal guide to human rights which affirm binding international legal standards with which all States must comply. In essence, the Yogyakarta Principles recognizes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgenderrights within the Human Rights framework and enumerates specific civil and political rights, as well as relevant social, economic, and cultural rights, LGBTs are entitled to. They promise a different future where all people born free and equal in dignity and rights can fulfil that precious birthright.

  1. Indeed there is a dissenting voice about the “universality” of human rights; some countries believe SOGIE and LGBT rights cannot be seen as human rights, or that the LGBT Community is claiming “special rights”. The DFA now appears to join the fray and seems to opine that there is no special or specific human right that can be made applicable only to LGBTs as a sector, hence they are already protected just like everyone else. But if this is really true, why are there numerous cases of discrimination and violence still being experienced by LGBTs worldwide?

 

We cannot back off and wait until we have consensus among States or at least a broader acceptance that LGBT rights violations require a response.  Instead, we should press on – inspite of the controversy, laying out the facts, drawing attention to the suffering, the violence and the discrimination that continues day after day. Our fundamental responsibility is to the victims and to protecting the principles of equality and non-discrimination. The continued opposition on the part of some is regrettable, but it is no reason to abandon these principles, nor can it ever be an excuse for abandoning the victims of human rights violations.

The DFA in the time of the previous Aquino administration raised a cautionary “red flag” and emphasized that the LGBT/SOGIE is a sensitive and contentious issue. It even justified its stance invoking the alarmingly “reasonable” consideration of religious beliefs in policy-making even as our government should be operating on the level of secularism and non-sectarianism.

Ambassador Rembong also states that the Philippines’ vote against L75 was because it attempts to change the essence and message of Art. 1.5 of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action of the World Conference on Human Rights which reads in part: “x xx while the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical and cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind, it is the duty of States regardless of their political, economic, and cultural systems to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

It has been recognized by the international community that human rights violations targeted towards persons because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity constitute a global and entrenched pattern of serious concern.

As the 1st United Nations Secretary-General to make a statement on SOGI issues, Ban Ki Moon declared in September 2010 in Geneva: “Laws criminalizing people on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity violate the principle of non-discrimination. They also fuel violence, help to legitimize homophobia and contribute to a climate of hate…Social attitudes run deep and take time to change. But cultural considerations should not stand in the way of basic human rights.”

He reiterated this in December 2010 in New York, stating: “As men and women of conscience, we reject discrimination in general, and in particular discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. When individuals are attacked, abused, or imprisoned because of their sexual orientation, we must speak out.. Where there is tension between cultural attitudes and universal human rights, universal human rights must carry the day..”

As the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner have both said repeatedly, there is an urgent need to challenge homophobia at its roots – through public education, training and information.

  1. In recent years, many States have made a determined effort to improve the human rights situation of LGBT people. Measures include banning discrimination, penalizing homophobic hate crimes, granting recognition of same-sex relationships, and making it easier for transgender individuals to obtain official documents that reflect their preferred gender. In many cases, training programmes have also been developed for police, prison staff, teachers, social workers and other personnel, and anti-bullying initiatives have been implemented in many schools. But while there is much to welcome, there is also much that remains to be done.

 

Far too many States still retain laws that criminalize same-sex relationships. Far too few have laws that offer comprehensive protection from discrimination. Even less have efficient systems for combating, or even recording, homophobic hate crimes. We need to document this problem and share information with States on a regular basis for discussion and action.

Even the United Nations’ reporting of violence and discrimination against LGBT people has been piece-meal and ad hoc. If we want to address these abuses systematically we need the proper tools to do so. That means an appropriate mechanism, dedicated to the issue, tasked with tracking violations and reporting them to States. We must institutionalize our efforts to address discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We need public education to change popular attitudes

  1. The Independent Expert would focus on urgent, systematic and comprehensive attention to human rights violations, and encourage timely and necessary attention and dialogue between States, UN agencies, and other stakeholders. It is no different from the approach adopted by the UN HRC towards other groups suffering from discrimination, violence, and other human rights violations or abuses like indigenous people, Persons with Disabilities, Older Persons – all of whom have their own dedicated Special Procedure mandate.

The Independent Expert will have strategic roles in raising awareness of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, assessing implementation of existing human rights law, identifying gap and best practices, engaging in dialogue and consultation with States and other stakeholders, and facilitating provision of advisory services, technical assistance, capacity building and cooperation to help address violence and discrimination on these grounds. This is a historical moment that will enlighten the struggle to abolish discrimination and violence against LGBTQI around the world.

  1. The Philippines is a member of the United Human Rights Council (UN HRC) since 2007 with its term ending in 2018.  As a member of this important mechanism, the Philippines has a responsibility to actively participate in universally promoting and protecting the human rights of all people. The Philippines should realize its valuable position and not waste its opportunity to support the global recognition and fulfilment of protections against discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. We must be one of the first to push for continuing dialogue and discussion on SOGIE at the international level, instead of participating in the blocking of every effort to bring clarity and understanding to the issue.
  2. The DFA’s consistent reservation on a definitive foreign policy on SOGIE based on the “lack of a national law that comprehensively covers LGBT/SOGIE rights” is precisely a failure on the part of the State to protect Filipino LGBTs and address their needs, thereby making the Special Procedures mandate proposed during the 32nd UN HRC Session all the more relevant and necessary.  The Anti-Discrimination Bill that seeks to give basic protections to Filipino LGBTs has been filed and re-filed, but has languished in Congress for almost 20 years.

It must be remembered that as early as 2003 the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s Concluding Observations for the Philippines were as follows:

“The Committee urges the State party to take the necessary steps to adopt legislation explicitly prohibiting discrimination, in accordance with articles 3 and 26 of the Covenant. The Committee notes that legislation related to sexual orientation is currently being discussed in Congress and urges the State party, in this context, to pursue its efforts to counter all forms of discrimination. The State party is further invited to strengthen human rights education to forestall manifestations of intolerance and de facto discrimination.” (emphasis supplied)

Meanwhile, as far as national legislation is concerned, there are several laws which already prohibit discrimination based on SOGIE. The Magna Carta of Women or Republic Act No. 9710, makes specific mention of “sexual orientation” as a basis for non-discrimination under Section 3 on Declaration of Human Rights of Women. The Magna Carta of Social Workers of 2007 or RA 9433, specifically provides: under Section 17. Rights of a Pubic Social Worker – “Protection from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, age, x xx”  Similarly, the PNP Re-organization Act of 2008 likewise has a non-discrimination clause based on sexual orientation. The most recent legislation tackling sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) is the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013 which prohibits “gender-based bullying” based on perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity of the child.

For the DFA to reason that such non-discrimination provision in the Magna Carta of Women is such a “broad” principle that must be taken in conjunction with other existing Philippine laws on persons and family relations is a derogation of its innate value and to subsume it under a national law which may in fact be discriminatory. Such is the case of the Family Code of 1988 which looks at homosexuality and lesbianism in a negative light, categorizing it as a ground for annulment and legal separation, and a basis of fraud. While majority of who actually get married are not LGBTs, this type of “labelling” reinforced the idea being propounded by the Catholic Church that “LGBTs are to blame for annulled marriages and broken homes.” Admittedly, such legislations are a form of “institutionalized” homophobia.

  1. While the Philippines touted the gains made by the Supreme Court decision of Ladlad vs. COMELEC during the December 2010 discussion on the UN Resolution proposing to remove “sexual orientation” as another basis for the prohibition vs. arbitrary killings and summary executions, it failed to mention that in the same case, the Philippine High Court also discredited the Yogyakarta Principles, the only international document that recognizes the human rights of LGBTs  and makes the United Nations treaties and conventions directly and specifically applicable to them. In disregarding the Yogyakarta Principles as a valid source of international law, the Philippine Supreme Court effectively left Filipino LGBTs with no specific international standard to invoke in the protection of their rights.

Meanwhile, in 2007 during the CEDAW reporting, the Philippine Shadow Report by EngenderRights, Inc. included the status of Filipino lesbians. The LGBT CSOs Coalition Report and the joint Rainbow Rights Project, Inc. and Philippine Hate Crime Watch submission to the 13th Session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2011 also painted a very bleak picture of the lives of Filipino LGBTs.

  1. Failing to support the new mandate of an Independent Expert on the Protection against Discrimination and Violence based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity will undermine the great strides achieved by DSWD and trivialize its current efforts to fulfil its mandate of catering to the vulnerable and marginalized. The DSWD remains committed in improving the quality of life and providing social protection to marginalized sectors like the LGBT Community who suffer from multiple vulnerabilities given the various social and economic disparities they experience in Philippine society.

In fact, there have been similar efforts from other government agencies like the Department of Education which revised its Child Protection policy and issued DepEd Memorandum Order No. 40 in line with the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013. Republic Act No. 10627 prohibits “Gender-based bullying”, or any act that humiliates or excludes a person on the basis of perceived or actual sexual orientation and gender identity. Meanwhile, Civil Service Commission Resolution No. 01-0940 on Administrative Disciplinary Rules on Sexual Harassment Cases prohibits derogatory and degrading references to an individual’s sexual orientation.  The DFA cannot ignore these achievements and persist in its “strategic silence” policy on SOGIE while other government agencies have made significant progress and many developments are underway in the Philippine context.

As such, we would like to enjoin the DFA in representing the Philippine government at the United Nations General Assembly to make its vote count and not simply abstain as in previous occasions. The Philippines must vote against a hostile resolution which will negatively impact on thousands of Filipinos of diverse sexualities, and instead let the Independent Expert on SOGIE perform his mandate as soon as possible.

 

Yours truly,

 

JUDY M. TAGUIWALO

Secretary

Department of Social Welfare and Development

A Letter to My Niece

My Dearest A,

I am so sorry to hear about what happened in school. Your Tita G and I thought we could help with your homework when you asked us about our memories of our youth. We honestly didn’t think your teacher would give you a bad grade for showing a different perspective. And I thought that was the one of the important lessons from Martial Law – to have the right of freedom of expression and the power of dissent. But I guess the nuns and your teachers at that good Catholic school have succumbed to the very evil they believe to oppose.

The question you presented us was very simple – what did we know of Martial Law; we, the generation who apparently have lived through it as well as the tumultuous Pre- and Post-EDSA 80s. We were kids in the 70s, the height of the 3rd Quarter Storm. Our older siblings were teenagers who suffered the curfews imposed then. Case in point: our residence inadvertently became the FratHouse for Manong Butch’s fraternity brods from Beta Kappa, mainly because some of them got caught by the curfew deadline and couldn’t go home to their more distant houses. I fondly remember Minel, the tall, curly-haired brod whose “macho” motorcycle could not possibly outrun the MetroCom or PC imposing the curfew.

I remember the heated political discussions at the dinner table between Manong Butch and Daddy. With these two, what was happening at our household was a perfect microcosm of how the Philippines was at the time – young people questioning and arguing with The Authority. Daddy would always have his explanations; from the mandatory ROTC, to jaywalking being punishable by singing the National Anthem, or community service consisting of cleaning and pulling weeds at the highway. This prompted Manong Butch to finally say to Daddy: “lagi ka naman panalo e.” But try arguing with a top-notch litigation lawyer even if you’re a full NSDB (now NSTA) scholar of the DOST.

Yes, education was a priority then, and poor and deserving students were the ones who actually got into the State-funded schools and got scholarships. Science high schools and State Universities were the prestigious institutions one aspired for, not the over-priced, private, Catholic colleges that seem to be given so much preference now by CHED and DepEd. No, the worst thing that could befall young people then was not drug addiction, but becoming an “out-of-school youth”. The basic idea of good parenting was applied under the State’s parens patriae – and that was to keep everyone preoccupied and productive, hence the emphasis on vocational and technological schools. As was required then (and this was before the KasamBahay Law), even our young helpers were sent to finish their schooling. My yaya/playmate, Mati, arrived from the province barely finishing her elementary education. So she went from Rodriguez Elementary to Kamuning High School, to finally finishing a secretarial course at Ortanez University. Manang Fe, Tita G’s yaya, went to Ramon Magsaysay High School, while Islaw, our handyman/gardener and Mati’s brother, was sent to vocational school to learn basic auto mechanics.

But why did Marcos take Meralco from the Lopezes, Jacinto Steel from the Jacintos? Why was there government-held media – from television networks, to radio, to newspapers? Why did Marcos and his government control everything? It was only years later that I understood – when the oligarchs all came back and took control of the vital industries once more. They used to complain of Marcos “cronies”, but these were just replaced by Cory’s “amigas” from the Philippines’ richest families. Things got even worst when the tune of the day became “privatization” during Pres. Ramos’ term. These corporations took over public utilities like electricity, water supply, and telecommunications, and drastically raised prices under the guise of “improving services” when in fact it was all about generating profits. Meanwhile, the poor common tao suffered the high cost of basic utilities and we were all at the mercy of these private sector players. They said basic services had always been expensive to sustain; we only didn’t feel it as much because government used to keep price fluctuations under control since it also owned NAPOCOR, not like today when the EPIRA law has allowed the entry of so many players in the power industry. (And you already know where that lead us, with the current ERC suicide-controversy.)

There must be some wisdom behind those “hostile” take-overs then, and bringing them all under “government-owned and controlled corporations” (GOCCs). Maybe the Marcos Administration had a plan after all, the same way it constructed all those specialized hospitals like the Philippine Heart Center, the National Kidney Institute, the Lung Center, and the Philippine Children’s Hospital. These facilities were supposed to provide quality healthcare which were accessible to the poor. I believe it was the first step to “medical tourism” in Asia. From the profits it could make from foreigners coming in, the needy Filipinos would already be subsidized. These days, these medical facilities are operated as “semi-private” with small if not lessening financial support from the government. Meanwhile, our poorer languish in need of affordable healthcare services.

True, there was something about the media then…but each newspaper clearly took sides, just as the television networks are nowadays. No one is “innocent”. I have observed that once the Inquirer re-surfaced and quickly gained ground again as a primary broadsheet, it had curiously been pro-Aquino, all these years, from the mother to the son. So don’t be fooled by the propaganda that news is supposed to be objective and neutral…it never is.

I have to agree with what Dr. Clarita Carlos stated recently, that there are many stories to tell. There is not just one version of history, as some people would like to portray the Martial Law years as, one that favors the Aquinos and demonizes the Marcoses. How can they accuse others of “re-writing” history when they keep insisting only on “their version” of history and completely negating some other facts and realities? Is that all we want to teach the youth of today – to again swallow hook, line, and sinker of what they are being told? Or do we present to them all the facts and let them decide on their own?

This is where I find fault in all these Catholic schools “forcing” their students to protest. No, the nuns shouldn’t deny it; no mincing words here. They really do compel students to do their bidding. I thought all these ended when Cardinal Sin died since he was clearly a supporter of Cory Aquino then. In my whole class, I was one of three students who didn’t join the rallies outside our school because my parents didn’t allow me to. The price we paid, we didn’t get Loyalty Awards from our school because we failed to have “extracurricular” points based on “socio-civic awareness”. And I thought “Loyalty” was because I studied there from kindergarten to High School. Being a parent now, I understand why my Dad didn’t want us to join. Rallies and protests were standard in those days, but you never know when it could suddenly turn violent or get dispersed at whatever cost. The school or the nuns couldn’t assure our safety really, so I guess my parents thought they were doing what was best for us then. I hear your generation is being subjected to the same influence nowadays, so I guess the CBCP is still hard at work putting you kids at risk.

But may I suggest that you do your own assessment of history by truly studying it. I know Araling Panlipunan and Social Sciences seems to be such a bore to you, but the next time your family takes a vacation, ask your Mom and Dad to take you to some historical places and museums. I enjoin you to visit Malacanang Ti Amianan, the few places which still showcase what efforts there were during Martial Law. No, infrastructure wasn’t just about the controversial Film Center along Roxas Blvd. Check out the Patapat Viaduct you traversed on the way to Pagudpud, the famed San Juanico bridge that connect Leyte and Samar which you only heard about after Typhoon Yolanda, or the WWII Memorial at Mt. Samat in Bataan. Remember when we visited our Alma Mater, UP Los Banos and you asked why IRRI was there? The Philippines offered to host said international scientific research institution because Marcos believed we had the most to gain from its studies – developing those high yield, disease-resistant rice varieties that would ensure Filipinos’ food security. Critics now say it was pesticide and fertilizer-dependent varieties, thus making big corporations richer off the backs of poor farmers. But I believe there was a plan with Masagana 99, instead of what is happening now where we import low quality rice from Vietnam and Thailand, and making NFA sell it to our people to eat.

To be fair, take what your teachers tell you at school, but listen also to other stories. People might say, our family may not have suffered “real loss” during Martial Law. Tell them they are wrong. Do you think that something was not lost when Daddy and Manong Butch were kept divided all those years arguing about politics? Do you think Manong Butch didn’t lose anything when he studied abroad for so long, away from Ate Rhoda and baby Tudoy, only to return to a closed down Bataan nuclear power plant, the very reason why he was sent abroad to study nuclear safety precautions?

Let’s talk about loss…ever wonder why Ate Annette didn’t finish her original course, Dentistry, and instead graduated Accounting long after Angel was born? After watching my older brothers in UP and keeping them from the protests and curfews, Daddy didn’t think it would be a daughter studying in the University Belt in Manila who would eventually join LFS and become an “urban educator” and “labor organizer” of the CPP-NPA. Our family lost Ate Annette to the Underground for many years. It broke Daddy’s heart and relatives looked down on us because we had a “black sheep” in the family. Never mind that Manong Snokum was gay; he hid it well and never flaunted it. But Ate Annette was an “open secret” with her continuing absence and unknown whereabouts. When she surfaced, it was almost the period of the “Killing Fields”, where CPP-NPA members were killing off their own compatriots. Our parents worried about her and her family when we would lose contact and they would be shuttling from one residence to another.

Loss? Maybe not death or disappearance, but I know what it feels like because Ate Annette was my closest sister then, my idol…Before she ran away, I dreamt about her leaving us and it was a recurring nightmare that brought me to tears. Waking up from another nightmare one night, I crept into hers and Ate Marie’s room and pecked her on her cheek. A few days later she was gone. Daddy was away on an official trip and when he came back, he broke down. That started years of worrying if she had been caught, arrested, tortured, and incarcerated…or worst, killed. Each time Ate Annette would surface, we would all heave a sigh of relief, and then the cycle would begin all over again.

It was only after the Killing Fields, when many of them joined the Administration to work with the government, that Ate Annette made the slow transition into normal life by doing NGO work. I was in college by then, experiencing the aftermath of the EDSA revolution which completely made my future uncertain. 1986 saw me having my soiree cancelled, our one chance to have “socials” with boys, our HS graduation became indefinite as we never knew if those guys between Camp Crame and Camp Aguinaldo would eventually get bombed by the flying airforce planes and a civil war would erupt, or if we would ever get to college or simply get conscripted into the armed forces.

The years that followed were nowhere more certain. The late 80s were plagued by the indecisiveness of Cory Aquino whose one big accomplishment was changing the names of all important buildings to her late husband’s. Coup d’etats were attempted in 1987 and 1989 by “disillusioned” former allies like Gringo Honasan, or was it because of the glaring self-interest of Ramos and Enrile once again? Meanwhile, your Tita G and I endured getting stranded in UPLB time and again because we couldn’t go home to a coup d’etat-paralyzed Metro Manila.

These days I get so annoyed with all the noise some people are making. Has-been college politicians who turned into lazy senators and corrupt bureaucrats are now active in the social media, the same people who didn’t really do anything, and instead allowed graft and corruption to proliferate because they benefitted from it. I am equally surprised how many legal professionals now question the independence of the Supreme Court and its decision, arguing “what is legal” isn’t necessarily “moral”. I always thought as law graduates we were supposed to uphold the law.

Today, Manong Butch, Ate Annette, and I are all in government. We had chosen to serve in public service against better judgement and against the interest of our own bank accounts. Maybe that is why our family’s next generation all opted to work in the private sector. They couldn’t afford to be as foolish as us….still dreaming we can help the Filipino people and make their lives better.

But you asked about Martial Law and what we know of it. So I brought back some memories for you. Those things are what I remembered. These are my stories and there is no other version to it. This is my truth even if it does not suit some other people’s version of history.

School Spirits: UP Los Banos

I went to UP Los Banos for college not knowing about its great historical significance. I only knew that I was going away to school much like what I see in those teeny-bopper Hollywood movies where there’s a big campus with lots of greenery and I was going to live in a dormitory with other students. People forgot to tell me that with old universities come ghost stories too.

UP Los Banos has a reputation for being one of the most haunted places in the Philippines just like Baguio. But stories of the supernatural doesn’t just stem from its dark World War II past and the atrocities connected with it. UPLB’s proximity to the forests of the Makiling-Banahaw-Cristobal mountain range also lends to some uniquely Filipino “traditions” of other-worldly creatures.

Baker Hall, our ancient campus gymnasium used to serve as a concentration camp of sorts during the Japanese Occupation. Oldtimers explain that many prisoners-of-war were housed in the universities during WWII. Those who couldn’t fit anymore into University of Sto. Tomas in Manila were transferred to UP Los Banos, then simply known as the UP College of Agriculture. A friend once told me a group of them took shelter there during one downpour and suddenly they were engulfed by an unbearable stench as if from rotting bodies. They all scampered away in various directions. Other students said they saw dark figures peering from the windows at night when there was no one else there. Vanguard members, those ROTC officers, who used to do their early morning jogs around Baker Field (UPLB’s version of Sunken Garden) once spoke of encountering a troop of Japanese soldiers in the mist during rainy season as a slight drizzle falls.

At the nearby Men’s Dorm which is actually a co-ed dorm with three of its five units dedicated to girls instead of boys, students report of hearing strange knockings on their doors and underneath their beds, footsteps on the stairs when there’s really no one coming down or going up, and seeing floating candles or black coffins on top of the long study tables in the hallway. I myself experienced weird knocks on my door during summer classes when there were less people in the dorms. My roommate at the old Unit 2 decided to go home to nearby Calamba and left me alone for the weekend. I would hear slow, big-gapped knocking that often comes in two’s instead of the consecutive three’s “real” people are used to doing. Sometimes the door would slowly creak open even when I was sure I pushed it close and locked it. I had to ask my sister Giselle, a graduating High School senior then, to accompany me then or I would go crazy.

When I finally transferred to the slightly “newer” Unit 3 and inherited the “sorority room”, I still experienced getting knocks under my bed even when Giselle, who slept underneath me wasn’t around. Now our double-decks weren’t really connected; they were bolted directly to the cement walls, and even with the adjoining room’s beds, no amount of shaking would make you feel the other person because our beds were “heavy-duty”. They told me I was still lucky because other dormmates complained of getting shaken in their beds as if in a bad earthquake. I would soon learn this was true when years later my other sister, Gayle who was then a freshman, experienced it herself during a daytime nap. She said she had a late night gimmick with her friends and got sleepy during the day. In between classes, she returned to the dorm to catch a few hours of sleep. She said she suddenly awoke because her bed was violently shaking. Gayle came home to Quezon City early that week and even caught a fever because of her fright.

The scariest Men’s Dorm stories by far were narrated by those in the second floor. Beside us in Unit 3 was the old YMCA building which housed only boys. There was also a shortcut trail that lead up to the newly-built VetMed dorm at our back. During one Finals Week, the girls were studying in the hallway long tables when they saw a woman in white pass by the window. They speculated that she was on her way to visit a boyfriend at the YMCA. Some of the manangs snickered and commented why would she go visit him in her nightgown. They suddenly caught themselves when they realized that it was really late at night and that they were at the second floor…which means the lady in white was actually floating by the window. The other girls in Unit 5 said what floats by their window was a woman in black with a really frightening expression on her face. Students connect her with the big tree on that side which also faces the Women’s Dorm. Students residing at VetMed dorm and at SEARCA dorm pass by that stretch of dirt road between Men’s and Women’s Dorm and also report seeing a black lady near that ominous big tree.

For all its worth, even with that low, moaning sound I heard one night I was reviewing for an exam and which made me jump  my bed in one big leap, I was lucky never to have seen anything. A sorority sister who once lived at VetMed Dorm as a freshman couldn’t believe a newly-built dorm could be haunted. Most of us go home to the city during weekends, but a few remain, saving their allowance money or simply catching up with schoolwork. Tracy was a sorority neophyte then and used her weekend to catch up on sleep and rest, besides schoolwork. She said it was daytime and she was sleeping when suddenly the room got all windy and cold even when all windows were closed. She hugged her pillow against her face, afraid to see anything, but someone or something started to pull her pillow away from her. Tracy said she managed to peek at the floor and saw a pair of men’s shoes and dark pants. She gripped her pillow tight and started to pray. After what seemed like a lifetime, everything stopped and it was quiet again. Apparently, there was an electrician who got electrocuted there when the dorm was still being built.

Further off, up the hills beyond VetMed dorm and the Animal Science enclosure, was Cooperative Dorm. This dorm was made up of whole cottages with several rooms and were just for boys, preferably upperclassmen who could no longer be governed by curfews. My friend, Alvin shared the story of one of their fellow boarders. He was a senior, a graduating BS Agriculture major. He was already doing his thesis and was an active member of the campus dance troupe. The  guy seemed pretty well-adjusted when Alvin introduced him to me. A few weeks later, Alvin said they see him as if talking to someone by a tree near their cottage. Later, they said his classmates complain he seemed agitated in class, mumbling to someone about why he is being stalked and bothered. When they confronted him, Alvin said he told them about a pretty lady from the tree who has been following him around, wanting him to join her, and telling him she will never let him go. His family eventually pulled him out of school. Alvin says for his sake, they should have taken him to an arbularyo for a good-old tawas to drive away the unwanted attention from that other-worldly being. We never did find out what happened to him because he was never able to graduate.

Besides Baker Hall, TV shows have featured the mysterious bridge at the back of our Main Library known for its strange shadows and why it unexplainably gets longer and unending when one crosses it at dusk. But there is that shorter, much traversed Palma bridge near the Auditorium  that also has a story to tell. Owing to the big, age-old acacia tree between it and the Auditorium, many students have experienced someone calling them with a “Pssst” as they pass by especially late at night. A small gazebo near it is topped by a statue of a young maiden, supposedly another Maria Makiling figure, holding a traditional clay pot.  Some say this statue is seen holding the pot against one of her shoulders, but when she gets “tired”, she is seen with the pot down, hanging from one her hands. The other bridge along Pili Drive near the Agriculture Engineering and Horticulture buildings is notorious for its darkness and jeepneys avoid driving by it late at night. It is said that “The Graduate” statue has a tendency to come down from his post at the Social Garden and walks along that area. Another short bridge and less travelled one, is the bridge from the Animal Science crossing over to the DTRI building. For those living in Collegeville and Pleasantville subdivisions this is a shortcut which climbs over a short, steep hill to Barangay Putho. I used this alternate route when I was still staying with my aunt and uncle, then College of Agriculture Dean Ruben Villareal. I would walk home and hear footsteps as if following me on the long asphalt road. My cousin Rico had a scarier experience when upon crossing the bridge and passing by the great acacia tree alongside it, he was suddenly bathed in a downpour of sand. Whatever creature resides in that tree, it is quite playful because one time my Mom was driving me back to my uncle’s,  there was a loud crash on our roof as if a coconut has fallen on top of us. My Mom was so surprised, she almost crashed the railing. We stopped a few meters away to check on the car roof and see the damage, but there was no dent at all. We looked around for what could have fallen on us, but there was nothing on the road.

For all her visits to UPLB while we were in college, our Mama had her own share of supernatural stories to tell. This includes that one time she drove for Giselle and her date during a sorority ball and induction ceremony. As in every fraternity and sorority event, the party ended late and we went home in the wee hours of the morning. I was in the car following them with my own date, my brod, Meyrick. At the dorm, they told me about seeing a bunch of people walking along the Anos-Batong Malake area. It slipped their minds that it was around 2 or 3AM, and where could all those people dressed in white, old and young alike, lined-up, trailing each other going off to. They were all headed towards the direction of Bayan-Calamba, but neither Giselle or Mama could see their faces. To this day, we cannot explain it because Meyrick and I didn’t see anything like that on our way back. The roads were simply dark and empty. It didn’t help that along that stretch of the highway was a cemetery.

Reading about Los Banos’ history years later, I found out that one of the worst massacres happened in Los Banos’ “Bayan”. After that famous raid by joint US forces, Filipino ROTC-Hunters and guerillas liberating the internees at the UP prison camp, the Japanese came back with a vengeance and killed about a thousand men, women, and children who did not leave the area after being advised to escape by the joint forces.

Today, I remember UP Los Banos with fondness, a special place where I did a lot of growing up. I consider it a badge of honor to have experienced and survived its famous hauntings during my college years.

School Spirits: CR Stories

Even in our advanced age, my sisters and I still love telling each other ghost stories and every time we all get together, horror movie marathons is a favorite activity. It’s a tradition that every year I get to tell them of a new tale of the supernatural; but on occasion, Ate Annette’s or Giselle’s sharing beats mine –  like the time Ate Annette came back from a stay-in seminar at Clark, Angeles City and complained she got enveloped by a strange, cold embrace as she smoked at their cottage’s veranda, or the time Giselle came back from a flight speaking of a haunted hotel in Riyadh where a stewardess came out of a hot shower and  saw on the mist-covered mirror a traced message saying, “Help Me”.

I had long promised them I’d do a compilation of my stories, so this is a long-overdue piece. Let me begin with campus ghosts.

I first got introduced to school spirits when Mama shared some of her own paranormal experiences. She went to Philippine Normal College (now University) in the 1950s, and like all young probinsyanas, had to live in a ladies’ dormitory. During one of their late night study sessions for exams week, they wanted to buy some balut from the manong passing by. But the nuns operating the dorm forbade them to go down after curfew, much less go out. However, their peanuts and dried fruits supply was running low and studying made them hungry. The more practical among them proposed bribing the dorm security guard, convincing him not to report them to the Mother Superior. Others were more afraid of the other stories circulating in the dorm – of the piano in the cafeteria playing late at night or the typewriter typing and moving by itself in the office. Nonetheless, their physical need for added nourishment took precedence and they trooped down to get their balut. But as they were going back up the stairs, they perceived the dark figure of Mother Superior at the landing. Arms akimbo at her hips, she was staring down at them, her face hidden in shadow. Guilty at being caught breaking the rules, they all hurried up, mumbling their apologies and certain they would get sanctioned. The next day, they all nervously waited to get called to the office of the Mother Superior. But as the day wore on, they all came back from class, and still no notice from the office. Not being able to stand the tension any longer, they went to the office to ask the secretary. She was surprised about their inquiry because Mother Superior could not have seen them that previous night. She had been away on official business for a few days already.

Mama’s second best ghost story was at the school where she taught as a primary education teacher. Unfortunately, it was also where I went for my elementary and high school. She told us of the Faculty restroom at the bottom of the stairs near the Oxford gate. Especially reserved for the use of teachers and other school administrative officials, it was always locked and each one had to get a key to enter. Mama also said it only had a few cubicles, so it can never be crowded enough where one doesn’t know who is in there with you. One afternoon after class, she was preparing to go home and was retouching her make-up in that comfort room. Suddenly, one of the toilets flushed itself. She called out, “Who’s there?” It flushed again, and the door swung as if someone was coming out. Mama didn’t see anyone come out from the mirror’s reflection. “Hello!”, she shouted out again. The toilet kept flushing and the door swinging, but no answer. Mama rushed out of there quick.

Years later, I would hear shared stories about a white lady that the security guards and gardeners reputedly saw walking up and down the corridors and hallways. Upperclassmen would say that the statues of the nun and St. Claire at the side door of the chapel were originally at the second and third floors, but were eventually moved because they were often seen moving at night.

smchsNevermind that there were reports of a white lady or a nun seen at the balcony of our school auditorium by rehearsing performers from the stage. It was our elongated restrooms, lined with multiple cubicles that forever bothered me. Traversing the length of it to find a working toilet with a fully functioning flush or lock seemed like a game show. A classmate once had a terrifying experience in one of them which we were never able to debunk. It was during one of our annual musical presentations – evening events that had all sections of every grade  performing. Since we couldn’t all fit backstage and it was too much of a disturbance to let us back into our seats in the auditorium, we were stuck in the library to wait it out. Some of my rather impatient classmates got bored and decided to play Hide-and-Seek although we were forbidden to race up and down the corridors. The restrooms were never locked unlike the classrooms, so the “it”, our class bully and known braggart started searching in the third floor CR. She swung each cubicle open, confident to catch at least one of her playmates hiding there. As she neared the end, she swung one door and found a nun clothed in black. Our school’s Franciscan sisters wore only white, so this sent her running for the door. She couldn’t help herself and she looked back, only to see the black nun floating, chasing after her. Other classmates told of her rushing into the arms of a teacher, screaming about what she saw before eventually fainting in utter fright.

During religious retreats or recollections commonly required by Catholic schools like ours, we had to be boarded at old dormitories, convents, or retreat houses. Again, the worst ghost stories come from the communal toilet and baths. One version had a set of footsteps heard walking into the CR as a girl was in one of the toilets. She heard the footsteps stop by her cubicle and this was confirmed as she saw a pair of feet under the door slit. The shoes were facing in the direction to her right, so the person must be standing sideways. Something made her look up, and from the top of the door, she saw a woman in black leaning over from her waist, staring at her.

There are a few UP Los Banos versions of these CR stories. One actually involved my sister Giselle. Traditionally, at our co-ed dorm, Men’s Dorm, incoming freshmen almost always get “greeted” by the supernatural creatures our campus is known for. Of course, upperclassmen never tell you about this until after you survive your first semester. Like me, Giselle had the misfortune of frequently needing to use the toilet in the middle of the night.  Her first week in college, she went out of our room and headed for the communal first floor bathroom. She said she found it weird that the bakyas or wooden clogs which were left there for everyone’s use were placed one after the other like dominoes, as if a child played with them to make them into a train.  Most unusual of all, Giselle said, was the fact they were placed, leading up to one of the cubicles. Fortunately, she was too sleepy and not curious enough to follow them into that cubicle or who knows what she would’ve seen.

A girl at the nearby Women’s Dorm, was less fortunate. She wanted to hear an early mass and went to take a shower ahead of the others to avoid the morning bathroom rush. It was still dark and no one was awake yet. She was already shampooing her hair when she felt that someone was waiting outside her cubicle door. She called out but didn’t get an answer. She felt strange with her back turned against the door, so she turned around and looked at the slit at bottom of the door to check. Suddenly, a very black face with red eyes peeped at her from underneath. She screamed, grabbed her towel and ran out of there.

The mirrors at these comfort rooms were also known to be haunted. Girls complained of brushing their teeth or washing their face and suddenly seeing their face change into an old hag, or finding a stranger’s face staring back at them instead of their own.

One thing I learned from those years at the dorm – communal CRs were made for that purpose, jointly using the facilities as a group, lined up and queued. Forget about insisting on your privacy to do your thing. Heaven help you should you find yourself needing to use it alone especially late at night…because you are never alone in there.