BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Letters from Bonn

BONN, Germany – Grey is the color of departure, that short kiss of goodbye, that open-ended farewell. Of fourteen hours of separation. There are no warm hues, no kaleidoscope, no crimson orange sun on the horizon nor are there denim-color clouds above. There is nothing but gray, as gray as the last hour of a rainy day, as drab as the last smoke from a smoker’s burned lips.

The clock reads 8:44 pm but the sun has yet to set.  It is already pitch-black elsewhere in the world but not here in Europe. Yet, the long hours of daylight bring me no warm, especially not today as I stand on the dusty pavement of platform 1 at the Grand Central Station of Bonn and watch the red and gray IC train leave the rustic tracks and disappear toward a place called Hannover. I bade Jes goodbye as he left to pursue a total stranger in that far-away city to talk about photography. 

The departing train leaves those left behind with nothing but the smallest particles of dust, too small to see but large enough to represent the feeling of melancholy on anyone left alone on that empty platform.

What follows after the deafening sound of a speeding train is total silence, a dingy emptiness. And then the footsteps of hundreds of passengers walking toward the rest of their lives as they wait for the next train.

Train stations are a stark metaphor of life. It represents hellos and goodbyes; of endless journeys; of people coming and going, disappearing into different directions. It’s about people moving on, moving away, moving to nowhere or moving to stop again. It’s about getting lost along the way and for the lucky ones, finding their way back or to those who choose otherwise, it’s about choosing to die by jumping off the tracks.

It’s about getting derailed. It’s navigating through the labyrinth of the subway at least 10 feet below the ground.

It was getting dark when I left the train station. It would be the first time on this trip that I would be walking alone on the cobbled streets of Bonn, back to a two-star hotel that had been our home for days since we hopped on the train from Frankfurt.

I managed to make it back to our borrowed room, thankful to my heart for lending some buoyancy when I need it, especially on the heaviest of days.

I spent the rest of the evening packing my stuff while the rest of Germany or perhaps the whole of Europe – in street cafes and bars, over beers and cigarettes  -- watched Portugal battle with Spain on a jam packed football field in Poland.

I was, as always, eager to go and leave again to yet another place and to go back to Manila in a few days.  I could never get used to the coldness and grey skies of Europe, notwithstanding the fact that I have visited more countries in this continent than I have ever done in Asia or America. I don’t really mind the weather. I have a wardrobe to keep me warm for any country on the world map but even the thickest of clothes can never warm the heart. 

And so I bade the cobbled stones and the Renaissance architecture of Bonn goodbye, the blue cheese and the ice-cold beer, the euphoria in the air over Spain’s victory the night before and walked back to the Grand Central Station of Bonn to take the train to where my home really is whichever part of the world I may be. See you in three hours. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The 2012 Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum

BONN, Germany – Journalists, bloggers, media educators, cultural workers and artists from all over the world gathered in this historic city of Bonn, dubbed as the German United Nations City, for the 2012 Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum.

This year’s forum, a congress with international reach which formally opened on Monday, June 25, aims to examine the role of the media wit their images and messages in a rapidly changing world.

Debates and discussions centered on media’s role in contributing constructively to cultural diversity, education, reducing poverty, addressing the problem of global migration, sustainable development and the overall them of making the world a better place to live in.

Citing a recent study conducted by the University of Hamburg, Deutsche Welle, the organizer of the forum, said that while today’s society is overflowing with information that can be accessed anywhere at any time because of the Internet, approximately 850 million people around the world are still illiterate and that most of these people come from “crisis regions and war zones.”

“Even in a highly industrialized nation such as Germany, 14 percent of the population is functionally illiterate,” Deutsche Welle said, quoting the Hamburg study.

During the opening of the three-day Global Media Forum which ends today, June 27, Reinhard Hartstein, Deutsche Welle Deputy Director General said that people should not have the opportunity to become illiterate with the development of the Internet.

He said media has a role in ensuring this.

“The growth of the world depends also on this. Lacking education cause poverty and social injustices,” he said.

He said the challenge to the media is to create images, make all the things public, and to show these educational and cultural differences.

“The media have to have the goal that they improve educational opportunities,” Hartstein said.

Marc Jan Eumann, State Secretary for Federal Affairs, Europe and the Media of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, posted the same challenge

“The challenges of the Internet are all challenges for us. Social media and mobile media are all great opportunities for a great variety of thoughts and information. What we need in a global world is pure information,” he said.

Furthermore, he said that education and literacy go hand in hand and a great challenge that media practitioners all over the world have to face.

“The media is an important partner for this process – the process for raising awareness on sustainability issues,” he said.

Keynote speaker Franz Radermacher, Director, Research Institute for Applied Knowledge Processing and Club of Rome Member, spoke on the much-debated issue of media practice around the globe: Ratings Versus Quality: Media Caught Between Market Success and the Mission to Educate.”

He said that at the end of the day, media practitioners need to look for the right balance between these two seemingly opposing forces.

“Look for the right balance in the different aims that you have to follow. And still communicating essential things to a lot of people. Try to concentrate on what needs to be communicated,” Radermacher said.

The forum continued yesterday with a wide range of topics, panel discussions and workshops on journalism practices and media education.

Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international broadcasting company, is tasked to explain Germany’s role as a “cultured European nation with democratic freedoms based on the rule of law and to promote understanding and exchange between cultures and peoples.”  It offers television, radio and Internet coverage in 30 languages.   

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Incredible India

MUMBAI, India - The first time I was supposed to go to India, I ended up going to  
London, missing a chance to see one of Asia's exotic places. 

I didn't mind the change as London is as European as it can get. Then again, seeing the United Kingdom made me want to see all the more the  
former British colony, especially how Britain influenced the architecture, culture and the people of India. 

The plane touched down at the Mumbai airport in the dead of night.  
Darkness somewhat dampened the excitement of seeing India's most bustling  metropolis. 

Yet the dusty roads, pot holes, slum areas, the filth and trash did not escape a first-time visitor's observation.

Day came, however, and Mumbai's charm was seen in full view The  
capital of Maharashtra, with all of its 15 million people, is a showcase of extremes. 

The rich and the poorest jostle within the city's Victorian fabric -  
Mumbai's city center is a reflection of British rule. The architecture of some buildings shows a blend of Victorian and Gothic. 

The main commuter station, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, for example, brings back memories of London. Also known as Victoria Terminus, the
station is of Gothic architecture. The building has carved buttresses,  spires, domes, and stained-glass windows. Locals say it accommodates half a 
million commuters daily.

Another attraction is Marine Drive, which is a long, curved promenade that is also known as the Queen's necklace because of its shape. 

It is best to see the boulevard at night when it is dazzling with street lights. Locals say it is one of Mumbai's favorite sunset-watching 
spots, similar to Manila Bay's. 

The Prince of Wales Museum is another must-see for the Mumbai visitor.  Also known as the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalya, the museum
houses India's artifacts and treasures. 

No visit to Mumbai is complete without a tour of the Mani Bhavan, 
Mahatma Gandhi's home in the city. One of India's most influential gurus,  Mr. Gandhi espoused peaceful nonviolence as a means to resolve conflict. 

His teachings inspired many world leaders. The house has been converted into a museum and a research center with a library and an auditorium. 

Colaba, or the Gateway of India, is probably the most popular of Mumbai's attractions. It is a reminder of the visit of King George V in 1911. It overlooks the sea on one side and the classic Taj Mahal Hotel on the other. 

It is bustling with tourists almost the entire day. In the afternoon, it stands out in a backdrop of the setting sun that leaves shades of
crimson and orange on the horizon. 

Another site that stands out in the evening is the well-lit Muslim mosque known as Haji Ali. It is at the tip of a causeway and can be 
approached only during low tide. 

Sightseeing is easy but not for the faint of heart. Sunjay, who prides himself as one of Mumbai's best taxi drivers, was a classic example of the "madness" of Indian driving. 

Like the rest of the mad honking freaks on India's roads, Sunjay's driving was no exception; and while I thought Filipino driving was 
terrible, it paled in comparison. 

The roads seemed to be one big chaos as drivers outraced each other.  The lanes, narrow as they are, seemed to disappear most of the time as drivers changed lanes without batting an eyelash. 

On the second day with Sunjay, however, the ride seemed to have become smoother; nothing changed with his driving practice as well as the habits of other drivers - call it assimilation. 

Sunjay distracted my thoughts away from the road. He brought me and a fellow Filipino to the best bookstores in town and drove us to the shopping areas. 

English was hard to come by with Sunjay so it was majority a sign language with mimicked Indian accent to reply with. 

Later on, I realized that not all drivers are the same. Another day of going around town, this time with a chauffeur, proved to be a slow and 
almost boring ride. I missed the nearly car-chase driving experience from Indian cabbies. 

Food and shopping go together in Mumbai. The Jewels of India, one of Mumbai's best restaurants for instance, gave me the energy for going around the city's bazaars, markets and street hawkers. 

The prices and products suit all price and age ranges. Shopping at the Taj Mahal hotel, one of Mumbai's popular hotels, was not a all expensive.

Mumbai's contrasts contributes to its charm. It is as cosmopolitan as 
it can get. There's the glitter of Bollywood, alongside the vestiges of the Empire on one side and the hip and traditional Indian culture on the other, constituting the paradox. 

Any visitor will go home with memories of these two faces of Mumbai, plus the vignettes of life - aftertaste of curry and Lasi drink, suitcase of cheap books, a Mehendi tattoo, and ancient Indian body art.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Mountain Trekking in Slovakia

HIGH TATRAS, Slovakia - "You look near to death," my Slovak friend, looking at me squarely, said, then burst out laughing. I wouldn't have taken such an insult normally, but there, midway through the torturous trek, I did feel helpless and out of breath.

We were making our way through Slovakia's famed High Tatras, central Europe's version of the Swiss Alps. I was walking with all my might, gasping for every breath, struggling like an elderly person to make every step.

For someone not known for her athleticism, this mountain trek was one of the most tiring activities I had ever gotten myself into.

With every step, every trickle of sweat and every muscle pain, I thought of just going back, just forgetting about what's up there, and sit and relax in my cottage.
However, a pregnant woman and at least four elderly couples had overtaken me. My pride kept me going.

It was supposed to be a 15-minute trek but it took me more than an hour to make it to the destination. Accompanying me along the way was a swarm of insects, buzzing about my head.

Logging operations, necessary after a hurricane hit the mountains last year, have made the environment a haven for all sorts of tiny flying creatures. This only worsened my discomfort.

But then I found myself on top of one part of the High Tatras.

Some 2,000 meters above sea level, the view of Slovakia is breathtaking. The city of Poprad stretched out towards the horizon as far as the eye could see. Around me was a landscape of snow-covered mountains, spectacular alpine scenery nestled under a clear blue sky and a setting sun.

Up there, high in the mountains, I forgot my aching muscles and deadly thirst. It was the closest I could get to the heart and the spirit of Slovakia.

The High Tatras mountain range, located in Northeastern Slovakia, on the border with Poland, is the smallest alpine mountain range in Europe.
Tatras waterfall -- crystal clear water tumbling from stark rock walls.

The city of Poprad, an industrial area, is the main transport center to the mountains. It's accessible from almost anywhere in Slovakia and borders Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, making the mountain range a favorite destination of travelers.

The Tatras mountain range is considered a national park, making it tourist-friendly for all kinds of travelers. Modest but decent accommodations and certified mountain guides are readily available at affordable rates.
Cottages, breakfast included, for instance can go as low as about P700 a night.

Pavol Rajtar, a Tatras mountain guide for 45 years now, told me that a trip to the Slovak mountains would cost about half the price compared to the Swiss, Austrian and Polish mountain ranges.

"There are a lot of cottages and one can go everywhere because there are a lot of different treks. There is a cable car, too. There are 360 kilometers of trails," said Mr. Rajtar, a member of the National Association of Mountain Guides of the Slovak Republic.

Every year, he said the Tatras mountains attract two million people, half of whom are tourists and half climbers.

"It is very popular to climb here because of the treks. We have both [treks] for tourists and expert climbers," he said.

Trekkers, mountain climbers and tourists indeed, abound. Some mountaineers had backpacks that seemed heavier than themselves, complete with sleeping bags and tents. They were going further up the mountains.

The ordinary trekkers and tourists, all panting and gasping, had bottles of juice, water or Kufola, a popular Slovak drink.

Some of the men had taken off their sweat-soaked shirts. One woman, in her 50s, arrived topless, shirt tied around the waist and her bra hung over her shoulders, revealing big sagging breasts.

Some took their respite lying on the grass. Up there, nature trippers and city denizens converged.
Landscape of snow-covered mountains: the Tatras mountain range, a favorite destination of traveler, is considered a national park; breathtaking view of the city of Poprad stretched out towards the horizon.

One man, who had just stepped off the cable car, had a huge suitcase with him, as if expecting a bellboy to be waiting in the middle of the damp wilderness.

After a few hours, I called it a day and walked back. The descent, naturally, was a breeze.
The next day, seduced by the mountain's beauty, I went deeper into the forest. I had no idea what else was there to see. The unknown was at once an enticement and a challenge.

Hours and hours of walking and I found myself in full view of the Tatras waterfall -- crystal clear water tumbled from stark rock walls.

The soft and relaxing sound of the water flowing endlessly to a world below was soothing and almost hypnotizing.

A weekend in the High Tatras was too short a visit for me to see all that it has to offer, but it was enough for me to learn something about Slovakia and its people.

As noted travel writer Pico Iyer once said, "the final destination of any journey is not, after all, the last item on the agenda, but rather some understanding, however, simple or provisional, of what one has seen."

Like the High Tatras, the other parts of Slovakia that I'd seen are untouched and unspoiled by tourism and globalization, despite a swarm of travelers. The spirit of the country is strong and imposing yet warm and welcoming to any visitor.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Chasing Mozart in Salzburg

VIENNA, Austria - The chaos at the train station made me dizzy. People, young and old, with suitcases and all, are briskly walking to various directions. The loud, vibrating sound of train engines fills the air.

Everyone seems to know where to go. Everyone, that is, except me. It is 8 in the morning and I am standing on the platform looking for the train to Salzburg, Austria. There are at least half a dozen trains.

It was my last week in Austria. I didn’t want to leave this European country without seeing the famed birthplace of Mozart, dubbed as the world’s capital of life’s finer things such as music, art and good living.

I had just a day to spare in Salzburg as I would have to leave for Manila next day. But if one day was all I had, so be it. I would rather have it than none at all.

And so with my camera, some extra batteries, my journal and enough Euros to survive, I ventured into the small Austrian city of Salzburg.

It was not easy. At the station in Vienna, I was so disoriented I almost missed the train. Everyone seemed to be speaking German. I didn’t know whom to ask for directions.

Three hours and several sighs of relief later, I am in Salzburg, leisurely walking under the summer heat. The first stop is the Mozart family apartment, now a museum full of fascinating artifacts of the composer’s life.

The music genius grew up in this city where he produced some of his greatest music.

The day I visited, the two-storey apartment was brimming with tourists, local and foreign alike. They bought all sorts of Mozart souvenirs – mugs, shirts, chocolates and what have you. For me, it was a CD collection of some of his greatest works.

Salzburg, however, is more than just Mozart’s birthplace. It is magnificently European with its age-old buildings and monuments of superb Baroque, Gothic and Rococo styles.

Behind Mozart’s place is a wet and dry market place. Merchants are busy selling all sorts of goods. 
The strong pleasant smell of flowers wafts in the air. Roses and geraniums in flower pots are in houses and shops. 

A walk in the Residenzplatz, a vast town square surrounded by buildings, one will find artists in every corner. For a coin or two, these creative geniuses are either painting the streets, performing or serenading the world around them. 

The square is swollen with art enthusiasts and music lovers. The soothing sound of violin, harp and other instruments awakes the senses. Small shops selling chocolates, wines, shirts and other souvenirs abound. 

Horse-drawn carriages, taking tourists around the city, seem to transport the people back to the olden days. Church bells are singing. In street cafes, the banter and laughter of Austrians and foreigners alike

How Salzburg became such a city of art and culture may be traced to its multifaceted origin. For centuries, Rome ruled the city, before it was incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian Empire. For short periods, in between, the city also fell under Bavarian and German influences.

Those unenthusiastic with art and history, however, need not immerse themselves into the city’s origins to enjoy Salzburg.

Simply walking around is enough to enjoy what Salzburg has to offer.  The narrow streets have pleasant surprises with their quaint shops or cozy street cafes. There is so much to see for the senses to absorb. There is so much to do to while the time in one place too long. 

And so, off I walked again, trekking with all my strength to another attraction, 
the Hohensalzburg, the castle on the hilltop. 

The view from here, a vista of unspoiled mountains and landscapes, sticks to the mind for a long, long time.

I didn’t go inside the castle because I wanted to spend more time outside. I only went to the marionette museum and for the rest of the time, savored the view of the world below. 

The town and Salzach River are spread below with arresting clarity, making one forget about aching muscles and sore feet due to the trek. 

What better way to cap one’s stay in Salzburg with a sumptuous meal at the café on the hilltop, just near the descending elevator. Here, one enjoys a panoramic view of the city in between bites of Austrian dishes, mouth-watering ice cream or in between sips of wine. 

I allowed myself such luxury because it seemed irresistible. How could I not live like a queen even for an hour when I am in the hilltop castle, in a city of fine living?

Soon, it was time to bid Salzburg goodbye. I have a thinner wallet but there’s no price for the experience that allowed me to savor Salzburg, its people, its art and its splendor. 

The aftertaste still lingers. It could not possibly be better. 

(photo of Mozart from Wikipedia)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Review of Inside the Lion's Den by Juaniyo Arcellana

Ports of entry (and some exits, too)

ZOETROPE By Juaniyo Arcellana | Updated May 07, 2012 12:00 AM
Ports of entry (and some exits, too)

The coffee table book has, through the years, become a genre unto itself, a category of literature that gives equal if not more weight to the visual aspect, thus in the National Book Awards handed out annually by the Manila Critics Circle in conjunction with National Book Development Board, though there’s no best coffee table book, there are however best art book and best design. Inside the Lion’s Den, a glimpse inside Philippine trade gates and their keepers (Europa 2011) by photographer Jes Aznar and writer Iris Gonzales, may strictly speaking fall under the category journalism/photojournalism as it takes the reader deep in the belly of the Bureau of Customs, with a penetrating eye of realism as well as romance.
As in any coffee table book of consequence, design is key, and in this wise Inside the Lion’s Den rarely disappoints with its at times breathtaking photographs of various ports of entry around the country, from the ultramodern Manila International Container Terminal in the capital, to the old Chinese pier in Tawi-Tawi, to the different economic zones and locator ports that dot a conflicted archipelago. Such indeed that the photographs deserve a foreword of their own, written by no less than fellow photographer and Oarhouse head honcho Ben Razon, titled Romancing the Goods, which curiously we missed the first time going through the book, but it’s there, like an overlooked but crucial detail, using as epigraph the definition of the word “arrastre”: the operation of receiving, conveying, and loading or unloading merchandise on piers or wharves. (
To wit, the cover, described in a liner note as “a bird’s eye view of Port Area,” is striking enough, but more than a bird’s vision Aznar’s wide angle camera can in fact convey an all encompassing breadth, and we’re not exaggerating. It’s a revealing picture of an area where hundreds of newspaper workers and stevedores report to work every day, but it’s hard trying to locate Railroad Street or ICTSI in this sprawling neo-impressionist take. Credit too must go to photo editor Sonny Yabao, project co-editor with Michael Marasigan, and you wonder from which high and mighty building was it taken.
As in other coffee table books, the text is usually functional and informative, perhaps even an occasional distraction to the photographs, but Gonzales, business reporter for the Port Area-based Philippine STAR, is in familiar ground, and she puts her keen journalism sense to good use. The narrative may be far from riveting, but the barebones reportage teases by verging on expose, only to pull back from the brink because, ahem, didn’t the BOC bankroll the project, or at least was major underwriter?
Former commissioner Angelito Alvarez wrote the foreword, and the book becomes sort of a legacy of his abbreviated stint in the bureau aptly described as a lion’s den (just as Malacañang is called a snake pit), though there’s nothing Biblical or Bedan about it. Again, to his credit, the pa-pogi is kept to a minimum, the tendency to PR aptly moderated, and what we are given is a sober piece on the reforms he tried to institute after little over a year in office, and the age-old problems of smuggling and corruption, which former according to a note in the book could have been introduced by the Chinese even before they discovered Scarborough Shoal.
In the latter part there are brief profiles of past commissioners and the mark they left on the bureau, including such upright and incorruptible men like Wigberto Tañada and Ramon Farolan, who had to lead an agency not exactly known for its wholesomeness. Common perception is that Customs personnel are next only to MMDA traffic aides and LTO fixers as among the persons to avoid, and the less you deal with them the better. While the book doesn’t overhaul that view, here finally the bureau is given a human face in the mug of a lowly factotum or hardnosed stevedore eking out a living or holding office in a parked container van.
Then again you have to return to the photos, where start and end this den of iniquity that can be so sublime and true: in the Port of Iligan, a jackfruit is unloaded from a rundown jeep with a sign on the estribo that reads, “Bismbillah”; boys down south at mid-dive from a pier; unloading tons of wheat in Subic; banana packers in Davao; putting together pieces of a ship in Cebu; hot cars and heavy equipment for auction under a sheltering sky; pier hands and bureaucrats on cigarette break or else the Monday flag ceremony; opening a parcel at the Central post office; the rank and file unwinding through karaoke and sports fests; officials riding a tugboat to inspect a newly docked ship, the image of Christ a post-it to the side of the windshield.
Aznar also regular contributes photos to The New York Times, the latest of which were part of another collaboration with Gonzales on a freewheeling island tour off the beaten track in Mindanao. The humanity presented here is both humbling and awesome. Razon writes: “One may not necessarily spot the faces of heroes or crooks as often played up in the news and of the agency’s perceived reputation as painted by those on the outside. That is the general simplistic assumption. Instead and for the first time in actual pictures, one comes across visual elements and hints that for the most part help suggest the difficulties and odds facing the men and women of a bureau expected to do everything right and efficiently by their work, and within their limited means.”
Aznar and Gonzales may not yet be in the league of storied collaborators Doreen Gamboa Fernandez-Edilberto Alegre and Anita Feleo-David Sheniak, but they could be well on their sweet way. It would not be surprising if one day they get into documentary filmmaking. What a country — not even in your wildest dreams has Port Area looked like this — what a life. (But where were you looking all this time?)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

In the land of the absurd

It was an ordinary Saturday, another work day in this struggling journalist's life. The nanny was on vacation. But I woke up to find several missed calls on my phone. And then e-mails. It was four days to go before the historic 44th day of Renato Corona's impeachment trial, where in a blue-carpeted chamber, twenty men and women in robes would convict the embattled chief justice  for betrayal of public trust.

This ranking government official asked to see me. He offered to have me fetched by a driver, saying he had important documents to show me.

I obliged after dropping off the little girl in my mother's place. Jes and I drove to that posh village of the rich and famous, the billionaire's club where my car had been banned since two years ago and where even its shadow would be denied entry.

We passed the backdoor and in a few minutes, in between bites of the green mango and bagoong served us, found ourselves staring at Corona's millions of dollar and peso deposits. There it was: the 17-page report from the Anti-Money Laundering Council that a fuming Ombudsman named Conchita Carpio-Morales presented in the impeachment court a few days before.

The story, said the official is that the man did not have just $2.4 million in dollar deposits but at least $3.2 million as seen from this withdrawal transactions.  An analysis of the report, which the prosecution would present the following Monday, also showed that Corona's transactional balance from 2003 to 2011 added up to $11.9 million. How the official obtained the document is obvious.

It was a story with enough news value and I wrote it the way I believed it should be written. Other media outfits carried it. It was the first impeachment-related story I wrote.

However, I had been hooked since day one.

What I found alarming in this whole political exercise is how the king of the yellow army, the man who, in his grand speech when he became president promised that past wrongs would be corrected and that he would lead by example, used all his power to impeach a man who went against his will. And in a stark and telling contrast, this king refused to sign his own waiver for his bank accounts, contrary to a campaign promise he made.

There lies the height of hypocrisy and the ultimate example of a broken promise. It is absurd to say the least. Even the prosecution panel refused to do so. And most of the 188 congressmen behind the impeachment complaint dismissed it as theatrics.

And in what would be another absurd twist of fate, a lawmaker would be revered and respected as among the best in the prosecution because of his "palusot-filled" speech, erasing in people's collective memory that he, according to his dead wife, was a wife-beater. His wife jumped to her death years ago.

Renato Corona and his defense panel gave a good fight and to me, he showed the public how a president did everything in his power to remove him. The votes have been cast and the anointed ones are now counting their blessings.

What is the catch at the end of it all remains to be seen.

I would not be surprised if by some political maneuvering or yet another trick from the yellow army, the Corona-led Supreme Court's historic decision on Hacienda Luisita would be reversed.

And that, in my view, is more audacious that keeping $11 million in dollar deposits and withholding it from  one's statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) because of one's interpretation of the law.

I remember a frustrated female peasant's words one morning in December when we visited Hacienda.

"Ito ang tuwid na daan, hindi namin makuha ang aming lupa." She laughed at the irony and with her sun-roasted hands covered with tattered clothes went back to toiling the grassy patch of earth, here in the land of the absurd.