POSTSCRIPT / January 16, 2007 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Press Club sells family heirloom to raise funds

SELLOUT: A number of lifetime members of the National Press Club are grieving over the removal and sale of the Manansala mural on press freedom dominating for half century the wall of the NPC bar and restaurant in Intramuros.

Club officers have sold for P10 million that oil painting of National Artist Vicente Manansala done over several lawanit boards. The buyer was identified as Heritage Arts and Antiques, a gallery owned by one Odette Alcantara.

The unannounced sale depicts, to some members, the sellout of the very soul of Philippine journalism — the same transactional evil portrayed in the Manansala mural.

It is also a red flag that the long-mismanaged club may have been reduced to selling family heirlooms, so to speak.

Most press club habitués hardly paid attention to the faded mural, but it was always there as a quiet reminder that true journalism is not for sale. Now that the masterpiece itself had been sold, everybody gaping at the blank wall is missing it.

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NPC SIDE: National Press Club president Roy Mabasa told the Manila Times last Friday that the sale of the mural, which had been there since 1955, was approved by a general assembly vote during the club’s anniversary last Oct. 27.

He said the gallery that bought the Manansala was represented by one Mario Alcantara. But no one in the club could say for sure where the pieces of the dismantled mural were being kept.

The sale, Mabasa added, was approved by the NPC board. The decision to sell was made reportedly after two restorers examined the mural and gave a P2.5-million estimate for its rehabilitation.

“The mural was already torn in spots; it was warping and some portions threatened to fall dawn,” Mabasa was quoted as saying. When the buyer came to pry it off the wall, the back was reportedly crawling with termites.

The mural was damaged decades ago in a fire. It was partially restored in 1980, but the pale, smudgy result failed to recapture the original.

* * *

CULTURAL DIVIDE: A reportorial job with lessons for journalists is that of Elnora and Jefferson Calimlim, Filipino doctors in Brookfield, Wisconsin, who have been sentenced to four years in jail and probably will be made to pay damages. Not yet citizens, they may be deported.

The Calimlims were charged after Erma Martinez, their Bicolana maid of 19 years, disclosed that they kept her in seclusion and paid her below the legal minimum wage. (She was earlier identified as “Irma” but her passport showed the new spelling.)

Would the case have ended differently if they were tried before a Philippine court instead of an all-American jury? Would the reporting in media have been angled differently?

The law is the law wherever one finds himself. But I wonder if viewing the case from a different perspective, from another side of the cultural divide, could have made a difference.

* * *

CALIMLIM UPDATE: A Capampangan friend, Dr. Miguel Galang, has been sending me news reports on the case. His latest dispatch is a fair wrapup written in the Wilwaukee Journal Sentinel by Vikki Ortiz, who I understand is a FilAm and may have a better appreciation of the cultural nuances.

In the latter part of her 3,500-word report, Ortiz wrote:

In the Philippines, the use of servants is culturally accepted. Domestic workers are hired, sometimes several per household, to handle everyday tasks from cooking meals and washing clothes to caring for children. Filipinos affluent enough to have maids generally provide them with separate living quarters and expect to call on them at any time. The pay is low — typically about $3 a day.

“Maid culture is most common in countries with extreme disparities between the rich and the poor, as in the Philippines, where nearly 80 percent of the country’s population is unemployed. One out of every seven people leaves the country to make money.

“Most of them take jobs as domestic workers around the world, pumping $8 billion a year into the struggling Third World country. The Filipino government credits these workers with keeping the country afloat.

“In turn, many Filipinos consider the idea of hiring maids who send money home a positive thing. To hire a Filipino maid and bring her to the US is an act of allegiance to the home country.

“Because of this mind-set, the Calimlim case has been difficult for the local Filipino-American community to understand.”

* * *

SYMPATHY: “On a hot July evening on Milwaukee’s northwest side, more than a dozen local Filipino-Americans crammed into the Philippine Community Center. The purpose of the meeting was to ask the Calimlims’ attorneys how they could help. Even people who had never met the Calimlims wanted to defend the family and explain Filipino culture to the larger Milwaukee community.

“Some said if they hired a maid from the Philippines, they would pay exactly the same thing. Others didn’t understand why the Calimlims went to such lengths to hide Martinez, but they didn’t believe doing so made them bad people. Still others questioned whether Martinez (the maid) was exploiting the Calimlims for money.

“Most agreed that the trial didn’t allow enough explanation of Filipino culture and tradition.

“ ‘Americans, they probably think it’s slavery, but back in the Philippines, you’re doing (the maids) a big favor,’ said Raymond Ballecer of Milwaukee, whose family had two live-in maids in the Philippines but does not have maids in the US.

“Michael Fitzgerald, Elnora Calimlim’s attorney, listened to the group’s concerns, then offered advice. He told them to write letters to US District Court Judge Rudolph T. Randa.”

* * *

SENTENCING: “Elnora and Jefferson Calimlim leaned back in the leather defendant’s chairs. It was Nov. 16, 2006, six months after a federal jury found them guilty of harboring an illegal immigrant for financial gain, conspiracy to harbor an illegal immigrant, forced labor and attempted forced labor.

“Prosecutors had recommended just under six years in prison. Because they were not US citizens, the Calimlims also faced deportation.

“More than a dozen prominent members of the local Filipino American community packed the courtroom’s wooden benches in support of the Calimlims. Many had also attended a ‘Mass for Unity and Healing’ in August, which attracted hundreds who prayed for the Calimlim family.

“For the previous nine days, members of the Filipino community had prayed over the case to the Virgin Mary. And more than 100 local Filipinos signed a letter sent to Randa begging him to be lenient.”

* * *

MAID’S NEW LOOK: “Randa entered the courtroom and took his seat next to the American flag. Moments later, the heavy door to the courtroom opened.

“Martinez walked in sporting a new look. The stiff, pink knit blazer and pinstripe pants of her last court appearance were replaced by khaki pants, a white blouse and a black leather jacket. She carried a Louis Vuitton handbag and wore black sunglasses on top of her head.

“She held the hand of a woman hired by the prosecution to comfort victims during trial.

“Martinez trembled as she told the courtroom that the case ‘broke her heart into a million pieces’ that she ‘didn’t know how to put back together.’

“ ‘I don’t know how to say it. When I was with them, I just had to do the job that had to be done. Follow the rules. I was waiting for my green card. The green card they promised to me,’ Martinez said.

“She said she trusted the Calimlims and didn’t know they were lying to her from the start.

“Martinez, who has been granted a rare visa for victims of severe trafficking cases, will be eligible to apply for a green card in three years. She said she had a new job in Chicago, at a Sephora cosmetics store.

“Martinez said she still loved the Calimlims. She never wished for prison, deportation or the stress the case had caused them. But she wanted more than what she had. ‘I was waiting for that freedom,’ she said.

“After Martinez spoke, Randa sentenced the couple to four years in prison each. The judge has not made a decision on restitution. Prosecutors have recommended back wages of $704,635.”

* * *

GOOD JOB: Retired Gen. Reynaldo Berroya appears to be doing a good job as chief of the Land Transportation Office.

Comments that the LTO is being “militarized” are misplaced. To enforce the law and the rules against unregistered vehicles, for instance, it is best to have a seasoned law enforcer to get things done right.

Berroya has put in place an information technology program to streamline the LTO’s major functions. Officers are equipped with Blackberries and similar personal digital gadgets,

It is thus easier for enforcers to access database showing without loss of time whether a vehicle is registered or not, or even reported missing or stolen. They do not have to go to or radio the main office to do this.

The LTO now has a traffic violation system (TVS), a wireless application that enables an LTO apprehending officer to verify information regarding motorists or motor vehicles that violate, or are suspected of violating, road safety or traffic rules.

* * *

INNOVATIONS: Berroya’s innovative programs are enjoying a measure of success. Latest statistics from the Philippine National Police-Traffic Management Group (PNP-TMG) show that carjacking incidents have decreased by 16 percent in 2006 compared to 2005.

Of course the credit is shared by the PNP for its intensified police operations, along with the cooperation of the civilian community for reporting car thefts.

Berroya is deep into the process of ridding the system of fixers, fake license plate makers, smoke belching vehicles and errant public utility vehicles.

His life as a soldier-turned-public servant has attracted some movie producers thinking of the next box-office Pinoy epic film. High drama had marked nearly every waking moment of Berroya since his days as a reformist soldier and controversial police officer.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 16, 2007)

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