AS THE NATION celebrates Easter Sunday, people are reminded of the timeless concepts of death and rebirth. One lonely voice made this point abundantly clear two thousand years ago – that only in failure do we find victory, only in death do we find renewal, and only in fear do we find courage.

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism’s multimedia producer, Julius D. Mariveles, produced this video/slideshow of the Good Friday commemoration in Barangay Cutud, San Fernando, Pampanga, where thousands of the faithful renew their spirituality in a passionate but highly controversial tradition of blood and pain as a test of faith.

CUTUD VILLAGE, San Fernando, Pampanga – The re-enactment here of the Pasyon, the life and death of Jesus Christ, is a curious mix of old and new, of the spiritual and the worldly. The iron smell of blood dripping from the backs of penitents hangs in the air along with the perfume of the well-heeled devotees and the not-so-pleasant smell of bodies sweating in the heat. In the background, the dramatized screams of agony blend with the not-so-perfect pitch of a villager singing “My Way” on the videoke as Hesus falls on the way to Calvary Hill.

At Golgotha, the penitents make their way to the three crosses on top of a hill, where, by tradition, three of them are crucified in remembrance of a man who gave his life for us two thousand years ago. Surrounding this scene of passion and intense spirituality are icons of a more modern era – merchandising tents of ion drinks and telecommunications companies. Some devotees close their eyes in prayer and wait for the start of Christ’s agony, while the giggling young ones take selfies, unmindful of the contemptuous stares of the old faithful who have come here to reflect.

Vendors also hawk their wares, from caps to hats, fresh coconuts to “ice scramble” and even the bulyos, the flogging instrument used by penitents to bleed themselves. As abundant as the prayers are the cameras – the big ones lugged by major cameramen of big TV networks or foreign correspondents to the ones on cellphones that almost every one whips out at the moment the five-inch stainless steels nails are hammered into the flesh of this year’s Kristo.

At the center of it all is Ruben Enaje who probably holds the record for coming back from the “dead” 27 times in a row. This could probably be the last year for the signboard maker already in his 50s to be Jesus Christ. Last year was supposed to be his last but he agreed to do it again this year after villagers failed to find an appropriate volunteer willing to portray Jesus Christ and agreeing to be nailed to the cross.

People here say there was one who volunteered last year but officials found him to be unfit, unlike Enaje who has no vices or extramarital affairs.

“It is not only a tradition, it carries deep meaning for us,” 57-year-old Cutud resident Rene Malonzo said in the vernacular. In fact for some Cutud residents, the Pasyon is more important than Christmas because “it really traces the life and sufferings of Christ and the valuable lessons that must be remembered by us,” Rene said.

His neighbor, Jun Flores, is not a Catholic. He is a member of the Iglesia Ni Kristo but to him, observing the Cutud rites is also important. “This is part of what we do in the community,” he said, while helping Malonzo point people to the Crucifixion Hill.

While this tradition is frowned upon even by the Roman Catholic hierarchy, it carries a special meaning for those who have been doing it for years, a panata or pledge to usher in blessings for them. One said his father had a stroke nine years ago. Since he started flogging himself during the Semana Santa, no member of his family ever had a serious case of illness.

Another, who brought his entire family to the Crucifixion, said his daughter died three years ago. He, too, was once a penitent but when his daughter died, he became a “tabas” or a person who wounds the back of a penitent.

Most of those who can actually witness the crucifixion within tents provided by the city government are officials and VIPs. Those outside can only hope to see a glimpse of it as they crane their necks or climb parked vehicles to see the driving of the nails into Enaje’s palm.

AGALON SANG KADUTAAN, the title of this slideshow produced by veteran journalist and PCIJ multimedia producer Julius D. Mariveles, literally translates to Masters of the Land. If the title sounds so feudal, it is because the system really is.

AGALON SANG KADUTAAN is a collection of images and information about the people who till the volcanic land of Negros Occidental for their economic and political masters. The sacadas and dumaans, those who work the cane fields of Negros, are bound, not just to the soil, but to the whims and caprices of their AGALON. This feudal relationship easily transposes itself into the political arena, since the masters who hold the lives of the sugar workers in their hands have also used this economic power to build their political base.
The photos are from the portfolio of Mr. Mariveles, a 15-year veteran of print and radio journalism in Negros Occidental before he joined the PCIJ.

 

CUARESMA, or Holy Week is the time when Filipinos reflect on the agony of Jesus Christ. It is also the time when the mamumugon – the workers in the vast haciendasor plantations of Negros Occidental – slip into a suspended state between life and death, a seeming purgatory on earth.

This is Tiempo Muerto, the dead season in the Philippines’ sugar bowl, a period between the planting and harvesting of sugarcane. It lasts from April until August, and is a season that the sugar plantation workers dread more than the typhoons that enter the country also around this period.

Cuaresma, of course, ends with the celebration of Kristo conquering death, heaven imposing its desire on earth. But Tiempo Muerto may soon last more than the usual four months in Negros Occidental with the impending implementation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) in 2015 – if some sugar industry insiders and observers are proven correct.

Should that happen, the province and many of its sugar farmers who ignored the summons of the 1985 sugar crisis to reform, innovate, and be more competitive, would be largely to blame.

AFTA will bring the tariff on sugar imported from the 10 ASEAN member-countries down from 10 percent this year to five percent next year. ASEAN includes Thailand, the second largest exporter of sugar in the world after Brazil.

Yet what could be bitter pill for the sugar industry may actually turn into a sweet treat for most Filipinos who are all consumers of sugar and sugar-based food and other products. What may be Tiempo Muerto to Negros’ sugar producers could even spellTiempo Suerte to most Filipinos who are sugar consumers.

Tariff cuts, scholars say, may cause transitory pain for some sectors but the positive overall effect is to help the economy by lowering prices for consumers, and even cutting poverty incidence by 0.285 percentage points.

In the newest offering of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, senior journalist Julius D. Mariveles writes about the politics of the economy of Negros Occidental, a land whose history, politics, culture, and economy have long remained wrapped around the sugar cane.

Mariveles is a senior journalist who has worked in both print broadcast media in Negros Occidental for over 15 years. He now joins PCIJ as one of its multimedia producers.

 

 

 

 

ON MONDAY, the Bangsamoro Transition Commission submitted to Malacanang the draft Basic Law that would create a new political entity that would take the place of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The envisioned Bangsamoro is the latest, and hopefully, the lasting solution to decades of conflict in the Southern Philippines. After a thorough review by Malacanang, the draft law will be submitted to Congress for its consideration. Once passed by Congress, the Bangsamoro Basic Law would be presented to the residents of the ARMM in a referendum. Only those areas that vote to be part of the new Bangsamoro substate would be included in the new political entity.

MILF 2

All of the various political entities created by the government since the time of President Ferdinand Marcos have generated controversy in a land that has long been afflicted by divisions and mistrust. The persistent suspicion of those who have opposed the previous autonomous regions in Mindanao is that government has bent over backwards to grant Muslim rebels their own Islamic state, one that is governed solely through Shariah or Islamic Law that is enforced by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

For today’s Data a Day:

TRUE OR FALSE: The Bangsamoro political entity will be an Islamic state.

For the answer to that question, visit the PCIJ’s Data a Day site, or come take a look at the PCIJ’s MoneyPolitics Online website for more relevant information.

 

MAGUINDANAO MOSQUE

TODAY’S DATA A DAY question would appear to be a no-brainer. The operative phrase, of course, is “would appear.”

Anyone interested in visiting the offices of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) must go to the ORG complex in Cotabato City. ORG is the acronym for the Office of the Regional Governor of the ARMM. It is a sprawling complex off the main road called Sinsuat Avenue that houses the offices, departments, and bureaus that govern the five provinces that comprise the ARMM.

With that in mind, try to answer today’s Data a Day question carefully:

TRUE OR FALSE: The cities of Cotabato and Isabela are part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or ARMM.

For the answer to that question, visit the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism’s Data a Day site, or drop in at our MoneyPolitics Online database for a healthy dose of relevant information.

 

 

 

by Ryan D. Rosauro

INDONESIA

photo from Indonesian Parliament website

JAKARTA—Indonesians troop to the polls Wednesday to elect members of the national and local parliaments, an exercise that is widely expected to shape the upcoming presidential elections in July.

The turnout of the polls will determine which of the 12 parties running for the 560 seats in the House of Representatives will be able to field a presidential candidate in the July 9 presidential polls. Under Indonesian law, only the parties that get 20 percent of the parliamentary seats or 25 percent of the popular vote are allowed to field presidential bets.

Some 186 million are eligible to vote, or about 74 percent of the close to 250 million Indonesians. At least 88 percent of Indonesians are also Muslims, making the country the seat of the largest number of followers of Islam in the world.

According to Tri Agung Kristanto, a senior editor at Kompas, one of the country’s top newspapers, only two parties “have the capacity to reach the (25 percent) threshold.”

Kristanto said that based on their latest survey, these are Partai Golongan Karya or Golkar, the party of deposed president Suharto, and Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) led by Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of the country’s first president, Sukarno.

Suharto led a 1965 coup that deposed Sukarno from power, installing himself to the presidency until 1998 when he was kicked from office by a popular uprising known here as the reformasi.

Analysts expect the chances of PDI-P winning more seats in the national parliament to increase with the announcement mid-March that it will be fielding the widely popular Jakarta governor Joko Widodo for president.

Kristanto explained that in Indonesia, personality is the principal driver of a party’s chances in the ballot.

Kompas has declined to give the recent survey figures. But in mid-January, a Kompas survey showed that Widodo, more known as Jokowi, could garner 43.5 percent of the vote.

Although Golkar is in the running as a party, its bearer, party chair Aburizal Bakrie, also a declared presidential aspirant, is showing poorly. A far second to Jokowi in popular appeal is Prabowo Subianto, of the Greater Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra), a splinter of Golkar.

Kompas estimates Gerindra’s vote-drawing capacity in the April 9 polls between 10 to 13 percent.

Given the frontrunners of the parliamentary polls, veteran activist Tedjabayu Soedjojono considers the recent polls as “most important for Indonesia’s future.”

Tedjabayu said that the polls is about “continuing the momentum of democratic reforms or sliding back to the Suharto era.”

“We have to give the presidency to a generation which has no connection with the past,” Tedjabayu stressed.

Called the New Order, Suharto’s rule has been marked by massive human rights violations, repression, and curtailment of civil liberties.

Anti-corruption activist Danang Widoyoko said the new battleground in this election is the youth vote.

An estimated 30 percent of total registered voters in Indonesia are first-time voters. But surveys showed that “they are skeptical of the polls,” said Anita Rachman of the Alliance of Indonesian Journalists-Jakarta (AJI-Jakarta).

Danang attributed youth skepticism to the problem of official corruption “which has been making headlines almost every day.” Five days before the polls, the English daily Jakarta Post reported the indictment of former health minister Siti Fadilah Supari for graft.

The case stemmed from an alleged anomalous medical procurement transaction that led to state losses amounting to US$1.33 million. Fadilah is currently an advisor of outgoing president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Not only are the youth unhappy about corruption. Since the first post-Suharto elections in 1999, general voter turnout has consistently declined. In 1999, turnout was 93 percent. By 2004, it dropped to 84 percent, and further decreased to 71 percent in 2009.

Veri Junaidi of the nongovernment group Association for Democracy and the Elections (Perludem), said they will be happy with a 75 percent turnout. “At least the decline is arrested and we begin to seriously make the elections a key battleground for continuing the democratic struggle.”

Several young professionals in Jakarta, who have not been voting since they turned 17, said they are sorry for not being able to vote on April 9. Many of them relocated from the provinces for work but have not transferred their voter registration in the city.

“But I’ll surely make it to the voting center come July 9 to elect the president,” said 37-year old accountant Harry Palapa, an entrepreneur who also works as interpreter on the side.

(Ryan is part of a four-member team organized by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) to cover the 2014 Indonesian parliamentary elections. The PCIJ is a founding member of SEAPA.