Betrayal More Than Unrequited Love

Guest Post: Author – Anonymous

Tonight, as I write this note, the moment is still fresh and vivid, so is the feeling. In this the same hotel room that it happened, I took the courage to enter its door – it still has the same windowpane soaked in the rain that felt the cold night; still the same bed that impressed the warmth after; and still the same mirror that  witnessed the utter confusion. It happened again, tonight; but I was never exactly the same person who entered the doorsteps of this prison. I am now a different person. The person who is progressively accepting his reality because no matter what, I have to choose where I want to be.

I know it’s been more than a year; it’s been more than a year since the last time I felt I was caged in a dark prison, wanting to help myself escape from my haunting reality. Something happened and the feeling was enormously confusing as you were turning the lights off and whispered the unsolicited words I never thought that will come from you, two words that I never imagined that will change my life – a total revamped, “Be Yourself.” I was paralyzed for a second. I did not know what to do whether to give in and take it as the best advice someone could give or to resist because I fear. However, I chose the latter, I decided not to bargain for what the circumstance was trying to bid because I have nothing to tender yet. And I think, I made the best decision not to gamble. I had to preserve myself.

The next day after, I sat in a problematic position still thinking about what happened the other night. I asked myself whether to applaud you for noticing the reality I have been living secretly or should I destroy you into pieces so that no one will ever know the furtive me. Then, you woke up, you had to go. The four-day show was over.

I brought you to the airport, stormed through obstacles and anxious whether you were able to catch your flight. And we made it. As we were sitting in the cafeteria, I was trying to count every minute of that moment and asked myself many times, will I ever see you again? Yet I kept it to myself, because I know we will. I assured myself that I still have years coming not to make it happen. Then, the time has arrived, you had to depart, you gave me an embrace, and that feeling of confusion struck again. You said goodbye.

I received an international call from your father, he was checking if you were safe. I said yes. I did not even realize that the four days will break my insurance for who I thought I am.

Days, weeks, and months have passed and still I was reminiscing every nostalgic moment we had and your interesting stories. Everything was perfect. You were perfect. You said you were going to Southwestern Europe to chase your dreams and make it happen. I supported you, all the way, as a friend. I did all my best to help you in your endeavors –I did it because it was my choice and you never demand for it. I gave it freely.

For more than a year, our all-nighter conversation continued, probably checking what we are up to in life or by simply talking about the good times we had. You promised things and I believed them because I had no reasons not to. There was a time you deliberately ignored me for a month, because you were afraid that I was falling in love with you. I tried not to open up everything because I know I will receive rejection. For that span of 30 days, I had sleepless nights, continuously questioning what I did wrong. Then I asked myself, is it a crime to be who I am? I was steadfastly looking for my true self. I thought someone will be with me the moment I was willing to open my eyes and I thought it was you. You said words that made me feel it was mutual. And I was wrong. I realized that I was seeking for something that only myself can give. I was blinded that it was going to be you who will rescue me even for the sake of friendship.

A misunderstanding happened – you valued your ego more than anything in this world. I judged you for that and I strongly think you deserve that judgment. There were moments that you value your ambitions more than the friendship. I cannot even fathom how you value and hold on too much into something you have never had yet. You apologized, not because you meant it but you said you rarely do that because you have an ego. What kind of person are you? I felt that you used me for your personal whims and selfish ambitions.

One night, I decided to send you a message confessing what I feel yet your reply was a mockery. You proved yourself that you are a selfish, conceited and judgmental individual. You questioned why I had to believe every word you say. From then on, I no longer know what to believe about you.

I blame myself for over-giving, maybe because subconsciously I was asking for your approval and attention. I tried too hard to be appreciated by the person who never appreciated me to begin with. I know after this, I will be whole again and I will take your last words as my greatest revenge.

Let Go

I realize that we should never put expectations on people. People make promises not because they intend to break them (but as a form of reassurance); it’s just that sometimes there are volatile circumstances and they can’t anymore.

We can’t always expect things to go our way, that’s the thing that we have to manage on our own; sometimes it makes us wallow in self pity.  We get addicted to that kind of ambiguity, sadness, regrets, loss and uncertainty. We often ask, why do feelings need to be so complicated sometimes?

In the end, no matter how much we want to keep something that makes us happy, we learn to let it go naturally. Until the next thing comes along.

11 Instagram Photos That Show Life’s Uncertainties in Perspective

In life, we learned to chase our dreams. We were once asked when we were young, what do we want to become someday, we uttered words without hesitation and proudly answered. Some of us wanted to be a teacher, doctor, policeman and even president of our respective nations. The innocence in us gives no doubt that there is a bright future ahead. And the reasons we provided were noble, coated with pure altruism.  

And believe that for as long as we pursue our dreams relentlessly, they will come true. We realized that reaching our dreams and goals weren’t as easy as staring on our favorite stars on a clear calm sky nor appreciating the formation of clouds. We have learned that life is full of risks and uncertainties we can’t predict. 

Though sometimes unsure to where we are headed. We continue to dream on because those dreams keep our life worth living. There are moments we question our ability in making them happen; and decided to settle for what we have in the present. 

We keep our faith as our strongest resort. What keeps those dreams alive is our faith that it will happen. Faith that manifests in our words and actions. However, we should never settle with faith alone, couple it with hardwork and perserverance; because dreams remain dreams if we won’t work on things to make it our reality. 

And realize that there will be people who would inspire us to keep on believing in the dream. Sometimes, we are so enamoured with the idea that our dreams are who we are. However, dreams are meant to be shared with the genuine people who surround us. In smiles, there are dreams; in despair, there are dreams waiting to be restored. They are not meant to be kept for ourselves. In reaching them, we must learn to give.  

In times of adversity, we learned to continue moving forward. There are times that life could give us the worst offer it could give; enough reasons to blame why it becomes unfair. But we were able to accept things as they are and move forward. Sometimes, the more we often question things, the likelihood we don’t get answers we seek. In life, the things we are so keen to know about comes out naturally by the time we are ready enough to hear the answers.  

Because we know that there will always be sunshine after the storm. We learned that no matter how hard life is; seldom we get used to it and appreciate that challenging the obstacles make the battle worth fighting.  

Then we pause for awhile and be reminded that there’s nothing wrong to stop.Let’s wait for the green light before we buckle up again and continue with our journey.  

Because there is value in waiting. Often times, we become so impatient and we consider things to be instant. We forget that the things worth valued are the ones we have steadfastly worked for filled with passion and enthusiasm. In waiting, it helps us to understand that nothing in this world with value comes in a glimpse of an eye. Sometimes the things that easily come may easily go, so think twice.  

We learned to challenge our realities and chose the life we think we deserve. Amid life’s troublesome road, we have chosen the path we think can give us peace and solitude. We refused to accept life’s chaotic uphill battle but it didn’t mean we were soldiers of cowardness. Sometimes, we were just brave enough to challenge them, even if it means being alone.  

Yet our journey in this world never ends unless it means going home. 

Photos used in this article are owned by the author.

Instagram: @rjamesbarrete

 

Challenges to the Bangsamoro project.

After the long 17 years of struggles and negotiations, the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) have finally signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) that seeks to end more than four decades of Muslim secessionist movements and violence in southwestern Mindanao.

Will the Bangsamoro agreement bring peace to Mindanao? (Photo from Rappler.com)

Will the Bangsamoro agreement bring peace to Mindanao? (Photo from Rappler.com)

The framework agreement on the Bangsamoro has four annexes, each one tackling normalization, revenue generation and wealth sharing, transitional arrangement and modalities. These describe and justify the Bangsamoro as an identity, a territory and as a new political entity. However, despite the best efforts by the Bangsamoro people and the Philippine government to reconstruct the political system in Mindanao, the framework has vulnerabilities that might impede its success.

Inclusivity and factionalization. Amidst development in the peace process, not everyone is in favor of the deal. Other militant groups such as the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) led by Nur Misuari and the Abu Sayyaf have been excluded from the talks. The Philippine government continues to fight armed splinter groups in the south and the prevalence of factionalization could arise among rebel groups in Mindanao. While the MILF negotiation with the national government seems to be in the pace of success, some of its members who favored an armed struggle for independence left and assembled a separate group called the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) that has been recently involved in minor skirmishes with the Philippine military.

The negotiation process has heavily relied on Malaysia as its mediator which opens speculations whether the Bangsamoro government will give up its claim over the separate issue of territorial disputes over Sabah.

Capability and resources. As part of the agreement, the new political entity will be granted authority to govern its financial resources and levy taxes appropriately as prescribed in the agreement. The new Bangsamoro government will also receive 75 percent of taxes collected in the region, those revenues from metallic minerals and some control of fishing territories.

However, the question of proper mechanism and dynamics to properly run the entire financial administration and funding is vulnerably at stake. Although it can’t be assumed that the substate is not capable at all to conduct all the financial management it requires, there is a need to build its capacity and knowledge in handling public financial resources as it now involves the quality of governance in the Bangsamoro.

Police power and territorial jurisdiction. The supervision and training for the police forces in the Bangsamoro state remains problematic and unclear, especially as regards to where police power should emanate. Should the Bangsamoro region possess its own police power over its territory or should they still be subjected under the national government’s direction?

This requires a long term development program for the Bangsamoro to strengthen its police forces; and the issue of loyalty prevails if there will be two national police forces to be established.

Equal representation. In this “transitional democracy” to be handed to the Bangsamoro people, there must be solidarity among all Filipino people. They must be on the same page with regard to ending the conflict in the southern Philippines.

The peace development process includes a plebiscite once the Bangsamoro Basic Law has been passed by the middle of next year or even earlier, where the current residents of the “envisioned core territory” will be asked to ratify the Bangsamoro’s establishment. Former government negotiator Marvic Leonen, who is now a member of the Supreme Court, said that the plebiscite is what differentiates the newly signed agreement with the 2008 Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain initiated by the Arroyo Administration. That agreement was struck down by the Supreme Court.

As the Aquino administration pushes for the new Bangsamoro region in 2016, the only way to make this new beginning worth striving for peace and development in Mindanao is the trust that the Filipino people would grant the current administration. This is going to be a long process, and nobody denies the difficulties.

Originally posted: The Observers

Beijing and Hong Kong’s pan-democratic movement.

by RJ Barrete

The on-going campaign in Hong Kong to achieve genuine democracy seems to be on a snail pace, if not at a dead end. Despite massive clamor for electoral reform, the campaign’s success remains uncertain.

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Hong Kong is a special administrative region part of the People’s Republic of China | Photo: University of Nottingham, UK

Aside from universal suffrage, much of the campaign for genuine Hong Kong democracy focus on the nomination process for the city’s chief executive. Beijing consistently insists on its own interpretation of the Basic Law, which argues that the chief executive must be an “individual who loves the country and loves Hong Kong.” This biased interpretation, however, has led to a string of pro-Beijing chief executives that always favors the central government, ostensibly to avoid tensions.

In 2013, Li Fei, chairman of Beijing’s Basic Law Committee, announced a select group of Hong Kongers will filter nominations for the position of chief executive. This is despite vigorous campaign from democratic activists– called the “pan-democrats” in Hong Kong– who advocate a fair process wherein all voters would be able to have a say in the nomination process.

Article 45 of the Basic Law provides that the ultimate objective is the selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures. Pan-democrats question the composition of the nominating committee, however, since they are almost always composed of pro-Beijing members.

The problem is that Hong Kong is not an independent political entity. As a constituent dependency of the People’s Republic of China, it cannot simply adopt national election models without Beijing’s approval. This why the central government has always insisted that it has the authority,and even the right, to guide Hong Kong’s political maturity. In practice, therefore, any democratic reforms must emanate from Beijing; and in the event that Beijing decrees these reforms, there would be implications on the pan-democratic movement.

Any democratic reforms that are gained through Beijing’s blessings could be seen as a result of the central government’s largess, not of the Hong Kong people’s sovereign will. This will further legitimize Beijing’s reign as the highest authority in Hong Kong’s political affairs– a potential challenge to the notion that, as per the Basic Law, the city should always remain a democracy.

Now, will the pan-democrats be willing to accept such a political relationship between the city and the central government? As things stand, it will absolutely take time to rebuild trust between Beijing and the pan-democratic movement.

At the end of the day, genuine democracy will remain a dream for the people of Hong Kong unless Beijing becomes willing to trade its ace and acquiesce to the pan-democratic movement. But is the movement ready for the political consequences of Beijing’s approval?

Originally published: The Observers

UNCLOS, China, and Myanmar’s ASEAN chairmanship.

by RJ Barrete

The South China Sea dispute has been an international concern that is becoming a global flash-point. The tensions in the disputed areas continue to aggregate as claimant nations show no signs of finding an effective resolution to the overlapping claims.

China's actions in the South China Sea have raised alarms in the region (Photo from The Guardian)

China’s actions in the South China Sea have raised alarms in the region (Photo from The Guardian)

The issue of ownership and sovereignty over the maritime areas boils down to the vast natural reserves and resources around the island-chains. Beijing claims the largest portion of territory, with its so-called “nine-dash-line” that stretches hundreds of miles south and east from the southern province of Hainan. The Chinese government consistently claims its rights based on historical evidence, and has regarded the islands as integral part of China since it issued a map in 1947 to justify its claims. However, Vietnam ardently disputes China’s historical account and argued that the islands are entirely within its territory since the 17th century.

On the other hand, the Philippines invokes a mixture of history and geographical proximity to the Spratly Islands as the major basis of its claim. Other countries like Malaysia and Brunei also lay claim to territory in the South China Sea on the foundation of economic exclusion zones (EEZ) as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas (UNCLOS). However, what sets Brunei different from other claimant is that it does not claim any of the land formations.

Relevance of UNCLOS. While the fundamental issue in the South China Sea is one of sovereignty, UNCLOS has no provision on how to determine sovereignty over offshore islands. Since there is no treaty that upholds a balanced and peaceful process regarding the sovereignty claims, concerned countries must look to the rules of customary international law on the acquisition and territorial loss for guidance .

The existence of UNCLOS is critical to the disputed area because it establishes a legal framework governing all maritime concerns, and that it binds all states involved to carry out its provisions in good faith. Now, what are the provisions enclosed in this legal framework that is critically significant to evaluate the actions of the claimants that should be in accordance with international law? First, the UNCLOS sets out what maritime zones can be claimed from the mainland of the states bordering the sea, and what rights and jurisdiction coastal states and other states enjoy in those maritime zones. Second, it sets out which off-shore geographic features can be subject to sovereignty claims. Third, it sets out what maritime zones can be claimed from offshore geographic features; and, lastly, it established rules on how to delimit maritime boundaries in situations where overlapping maritime claims begins to manifest.

China’s Reassurance and Resolve. China’s policy toward the South China Sea dispute remains fundamentally unchanged. It had consciously tried to reassure its neighbors that, amid its booming economy, it will take a peaceful process on the issue; however it has recently made itself clear that it is determined to uphold its claims in the maritime areas. Despite these reassurances, however, the international community is disappointed with the seeming disconnect between China’s words and actions. In 2013, China’s new leadership under President Xi Jinping sent out a clear and consistent two-pronged stance about the disputes: While China’s intentions are peaceful, it will respond assertively against any perceived challenges to its claims. Beijing maintains that it is committed to maintaining stability in the South China Sea– adhering to the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties and resolving disputes on a bilateral basis– but would maintain vigilance on potential disturbances of some countries for their own interests.

China’s reassurance, however, was still coated with ambiguity as their words were obviously opposite of their actions – when they started series of aggressive measures. The most recent upsurge in tension has coincided with more posturing of military power, putting the Philippines and China in a maritime stand-off. In July 2012, China formally created Sansha City, an administrative body stationed in the Paracel which oversees Chinese territory in the disputed area.

The Next Flashpoint? Located 105 nautical miles from Palawan island in the Philippines, the Second Thomas Shoal could be the next flash point in the South China Sea. The Shoal, 15 kilometers long and 5 kilometers wide, is also known as Ayungin in the Philippines and Ren’ai Reef in China. It is considered a strategic gateway to vast deposits of oil and natural gas in the Reeds Bank and is claimed by the Philippines as part of its 200 mile EEZ.

Beijing asserts that it has indisputable sovereignty over the shoal and any attempts on the part of the Philippines to intensify its so-called illegal presence run counter to the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties. Beijing also insists that Chinese vessels to has the right to protect China’s sovereignty by sending patrols around the area, and that such right is beyond reproach.

The Philippine government had earlier filed a case with the United Nations to bring its territorial dispute with China to UNCLOS arbitration tribunal – an action that has drawn support from the United States, a treaty ally of the Philippines; the European Parliament; and other Asian countries like Japan and Vietnam. Manila’s move brought forth anger from China as it opposes any multilateral discussion on the dispute.

Philippine Defense. The Philippines has stated that it would approach the issue from three prongs – political, legal, and defense. Manila aims to transform the South China Sea, which it has unilaterally renamed the West Philippine Sea, into a zone of peace, freedom, friendship and cooperation. The Philippine government sees an alternative solution through multilateral channels.

For its part, the American government does not take an official position on competing territorial claims but firmly stands against coercive actions by China to alter the status quo. The Mutual Defense Treaty between Manila and Washington does not include an “automatic retaliation” clause, making security guarantees a little ambiguous. Still, Washington’s indirect support for Manila is perceived by China as an act of intimidation. This appears to have nurtured a sense of mistrust that could escalate if not managed properly.

Beijing’s Aggressive Foreign Policy and Its Implications. President Xi’s leadership appears to have embarked on an ambitious diplomatic offensive. We know that China is poised to overtake the US as the world’s largest economy, and is aiming for a new kind of great power relationship with the superpower. It is aggressively using its economic and military muscle to boost its say in the global order. It appears that China’s goal is to be a blue water maritime power.

As the world’s biggest trading nation and one of the largest sources of outward foreign direct investment, Beijing has been deploying its vast economic arsenal. At the Boao Conference in 2013, President Xi told world leaders that China would be importing goods and services worth $10 trillion in the coming five years, and that its FDI is tipped to amount to $500 billion in the same period. China has been projecting power through economic heft, improving its international status in terms of progress and development. According to recent reports, part of the reason why the European Union (EU) might have second thoughts about punishing the alleged dumping of Chinese products was the booming growth of Chinese FDI in Europe. China’s business activities are becoming the backbone of Beijing’s pivot to America’s backyard strategy.

A breakthrough to resolve the conflict in the South China Sea, however, remains unclear and that conflict management will be the focus to avoid military skirmishes and potential conflict in the coming years. China manifests lack of enthusiasm for any kind of code, making its actions unpredictable.

Myanmar's ASEAN chairmanship could be crucial. (Photo from France24)

Myanmar’s ASEAN chairmanship could be crucial. (Photo from France24)

Meanwhile, Myanmar’s chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year is something that the international community should watch for. Beijing has great economic and political leverage over Myanmar. As the dispute remains unsolved, the ASEAN’s objective to present a united front will continue to be put under strain. This poses a challenge to the organization’s objective to maintain centrality in the regional security building process. Its leaders will have to struggle with the growing number of barbed problems created by, as the ASEAN chair recently put it, an increasingly complex geopolitical environment.

Originally Posted: The Observers

5 Things To Remember About Diversity

We often think how humanity would be like in the absence of conflict, where pursuit of harmonious society is never just a dream that everyone wishes for but a reality for humankind. However, have we even asked ourselves as part of this system, what have we done right to achieve this?

I lived for almost a month in a foreign land, with 32 wonderful people from 17 nations – with them they bring their rich culture and traditions and their belief system that I have never heard before. However, what makes our differences worth the celebration is the connection despite diversity. Here are the 5 things why we should celebrate diversity.

“Now we can’t distguish who is who – no race , no religion,just humans. All are equal.” – Hend Sallam

LIFE. Your realities are never the realities of others. It is sometimes our personal perceptions that create our reality. We are not in the position to dictate how the reality of others should be like. In this life’s existence, we meet a lot of people – so deeply listen with their stories, just listen and when you are done listening, try to understand and if it poses you questions never hesitate to ask. There are times when the answers we hear are not enough or the sense of dissatisfaction becomes our argument, hold back, it is their reality not ours.

FRIENDSHIP. Having thousands of friends could be an achievement, but having good ones to keep is a treasure. Was there a point in our lives when we asked ourselves, who our friends are? Sure, we set standards and it varies – but what makes friendship lasts are the moments you have genuinely lived together and the nostalgic memories that bridge boundaries.

RELIGION. In a society where we perceive we belong, acceptance and appreciation are our greatest allies. Nonetheless, even in the environment we thought we own, sometimes it disowns us, not because we don’t deserve it but because of the perceived notion that being different needs a cure. In this world, we were made to believe that religion is the most powerful guide to be a better person – we were taught to pray, praise our gods, and live by our teachings and because of this, an embedded belief that the things we do are the absolute. Sometimes, we tend to forget that others have their own ways too – and human nature dictates that being behind is deemed unacceptable. If the basic teaching of religion is to do good, I firmly ask the question, what happened to us?

CULTURE. Traveling could be your greatest teacher to appreciate culture – at first curiosity strikes you. Traveling alone and living with a “new family” you have never known before gives you another aspect of life. You are forced to examine both your own culture and the culture you’re being immersed in.

LOVE. Love is always unexpectable and often times, it gives you a thousand questions and even answers you’re not ready to hear. We may have lived in a liberal society or in the most conservative one, but who are we to judge? Some said, societal restrictions and limitations can reduce the pain of being hurt, some even said love starts after marriage. We live in a very diverse world, some could be together, some may not but at the end of the day it is our choice to challenge our realities – we take risks, but that’s how life should be. We win some and we lose some.

The Aquino’s test of leadership

Let’s mention it, 2014 is here and Filipinos are certainly hoping for a more stable and successful year for personal aspirations – an annual common drive for our countrymen to be motivated and bring their social and economic mobility to a higher ladder. This characteristics of positivism and anticipation of good things are never exclusive to Filipinos alone – rather stemmed to human beings as comforting mechanism and living by the cliché, “Pag May Bukas, May Pag-asa”.

Living in a democractic and developing society surely helps our people to maintain a life of being hopeful because things are in process and moderation, but this does not exempt the leadership of public officials in power. Hope can only do so much as to hope is nothing without progression.

Aquino Clan

Way back in 1983, former Senator Benigno Simeon “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., who was assassinated at the Manila International Airport , formed the leadership of the opposition to the government of then president Ferdinand Marcos. He received popular support from the Filipino people as he fought for freedom and sovereignty of the nation against the authoritarian government of the Marcos regime marred with extreme corruption, political repression and human rights violations.

In 2009, former President Corazon Aquino, icon of people power in the Philippines and around the world, died of colon cancer. The whole country mourned for another leader’s death , one who contributed to the nation’s fight for freedom during the Martial law against the Marcos government. She adopted a policy of national reconciliation that freed more than 500 political prisoners, including the top leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines during her presidency; pushed for labor-intensive projects and forwarded trend of setting targets for poverty reduction and unemployment. The gigantic support turned into tangible recognition of Filipinos that crowded her death and memorial at the Manila Memorial Park.

All of these celebrated leaders will never be forgotten. The compelling reason why PNoy run for office and got elected  could be the easy recall of the contributions done by his parents who  massively contributed to the reformation of the Philippine polical system. I I reckon that the Filipino people do not deserve his kind of leadership. After his mother’s death in 2009, politicians urged him to run for office. People again showed support and the influential clout of her sister in show business were again grand.

I am not a critic of the president or a follower of his “promising” taglines “Pag Walang Kurap, Walang Mahirap and the vague illustration of “Tuwid na Daan”however it has been three years yet things are still the same for common Juan Dela Cruz. Surely, when he stood at the podium during the campaign period, he mesmerized the electorate with his resounding slogans, offering a new kind of leadership – to let culprits of corruption be punished and give justice to the people as we value public office as a public trust. After three years  passed, I try to recall PNoy’s exclusive political brand as to what his parents  achieved and delivered to the entire nation . Two things transpired – (1) a justice provider to pave way for empowerment and sustainability and (2) a leader who does not possess a decision-making capacity.

These accusations of his leadership are never fictional but factual. The previous year was indeed fatal for the whole country – Zamboanga standoff, Bohol earthquake, pork barrel probe, and the devastating super typhoon Yolanda, tragic as it may appear for the victims and survivors of these unwanted scenarios for the Philippines, this could be an opportunity for the president to bring his leadership to another level.

During the Zamboanga crisis, it was reported that Junior AAFP officers were unsatisfied with PNoy’s take on Zamboanga standoff, group of Reformed Office Union of AFP aired out sentiments caused by countless failures of the government to respond to the Zamboanga siege by the group of former Moro National Liberation Front Chairman Nur Misuari. It took five days for PNoy to fly to Zamboanga for him to check the status of the siege first hand on ground.

The most catastrophic event of last 2013, on the other hand, was when typhoon Yolanda ravaged the Visayas region and other provinces and islands – thousands lost their homes, loved ones and livelihood, causing a total economic breakdown for areas severely hit by the typhoon. This event turned out to be a blame game or worse a soap opera in the making as polliticians divulge themselves into dramatic course of questioning accountability between Romualdez and Roxas because the system has failed. Without a doubt, the system has failed. PNoy blamed the response of the local government in the face of the typhoon’s unprecedented destructive power, appearing to ward off international criticism that the national government dragged its feet in hastening aid to the disaster zone. Aquino once told reporters, “We had a breakdown in power, a breakdown in communications… a breakdown in practically everything.”

One thing, in a country where everything is in the process of development, I consider the presence of assistance in its local units – benevolent in extending help from the national government, constant cooperation and most importantly perceptive of its functions.

In this country where political association seems to be the be-all and end-all in keeping our duties – progression will always be in the state of hope.

Originally posted at Philippine Online Chronicles.

Photos via President Aquino’s Facebook page. Some rights reserved.

Inside the World of Yakuza: An Interview with Anton Kusters

Anton Kusters is a Belgian photographer (and graphic/web designer), who currently feels most at ease expressing himself in a visual way through photographs, words and even videos.

‘I live for the journey, and hope I can still make a few of those, given this precious little time I get to walk this earth. And of course I hope I can share my stories…’

Kusters is the first Westerner who gained access in the world of Yakuza, the most notorious organized criminal group in Japan. But how did he able to enter the Yakuza world?

‘We were patient and negotiated for a long time to gain trust and access. My brother (who lives in Tokyo and speaks Japanese) and I talked for about 10 months with Souichirou, our contact and member of the Yakuza family I hoped to photograph. It was definitely not easy, but there were some crucial things that helped gain the necessary mutual trust to actually start the project. First and foremost was the fact that I set out to make a documentary story, not a journalistic one. That and also the fact that I wanted to take my time – two years – to photograph them so that I could learn and try to understand the Japanese culture and by extension the Yakuza sub culture, made a huge difference to them. Once they realised I was not a reporter looking for a quick sensational story, but that I was an artist looking to show what I felt being witness inside an unknown closed world for a longer time, and creating a photo book and an exhibit out of it, they slowly started seeing that my approach was different. After ten months of negotiating, we gained access and I started making images.’

YAKUZA_Anton_Kusters

Nitto-san sits in the back of a car en route to the Niigata prison to pick up two yakuza members, who would be released from prison that morning. (C) ANTON KUSTERS

‘The most unforgettable experience would definitely be the funeral of Miyamoto-san, one of the senior bosses of the family, who died of a stroke. I went to visit him in the hospital – he was in a coma, never to awake again – and paid my respects. In turn, the family asked me to attend the funeral, which happened the next days. It was an intimate buddhist ritual that normally I would never have ever been allowed to witness, be part of, or let alone photograph.’

kusters odo yakuza tokyo

Funeral of Miyamoto-san, one of the senior bosses of the family. (C) ANTON KUSTERS

‘I don’t think I would like to catalog the experience (or parts of the experience) of photographing the Yakuza as “good” or “bad”… I would rather state that I experienced many things, and that I am grateful for all of them… I had the chance to witness an extremely closed organized crime family, learn about a totally unique and new subculture (at least to me), and I was able to gain respect and trust from them, simply for one thing: my artistic expression…. to this day, I feel like grateful for this chance I got. Besides that, I’ve also learned a lot in regards to human interaction and foreign culture, and I’ve become so much closer to my own family and friends along the way.’

YAKUZA_AntonKusters

Yakuza recruits line up at the beach every morning to have a moment of meditation before they start their daily training routine of close combat fighting, bodyguard training, and knife practice. (C) ANTON KUSTERS

‘It is not my place as a photographer to judge the Yakuza. They are criminals for sure, and they know that themselves also. But this is not the point here. They chose their path in life, and that is their business, not mine. They are also human, just like everybody else. My photos do not intend in any way to pass judgement upon them, be it good or bad. Any interpretation of my images one way or the other, is in the eye of the viewer, and the eye of the viewer only… as it should always be.’

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Members of the Shinseikai family stand guard outside a restaurant where the bosses are eating dinner. (C) ANTON KUSTERS

‘In this project I do not force an opinion on my viewers through my images… as in life I try hard not to judge…. because who am I to judge another human being? And yes, indeed… maybe the viewer is left with even more questions than he/she had before seeing this work… I know I often am… the world to me seems to be not black & white anymore, but many shades of grey. In short: I cannot say if I see goodness in them or not. I can only see that they are human.’

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Yamamoto Kaicho, a number two boss, lies as master Tattooist Hori Sensei completes his full body tattoo. (C) ANTON KUSTERS

Kusters said that this project is special because it brought his family physically together. ‘This project is special to me because the reason I started it…. which was a tiny personal reason: I wanted to be able to visit my brother more often in Japan… My sister and my mother live close to me, but my brother lives literally 9300km away… And this project brought us physically closer together. Family is always a good reason to start a project…’

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Traditional Japanese tattoos, often seen on the bodies of the yakuza, are done manually with several sharp, inked needles. (C) ANTON KUSTERS

‘I learned a lot about how to collaborate with my subjects (not just the Yakuza, but my subjects in general). I learned how to work together, how to give back, learned how to gain and keep trust from the people I photograph, and most of all, learned how to be patient and open-minded as much as I can.’

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Men shower in an Onsen, a typical Japanese bath house, after playing in a golf tournament. Some bath houses in Japan deny access to those with tattoos, in an effort to stop yakuza from frequenting them. (C) ANTON KUSTERS

Kusters is now on his next projects, dealing with two stories. ‘Two stories: one dealing with the Holocaust called “Heavens”, and one dealing with being homesick and finding where one belongs, called “I Was a Dog”… www.antonkusters.com

Personal message for the blog: ‘Be patient, know what you want, be patient, work very hard, and be patient. And most of all, when you want to jump, don’t let fear hold you back… you WILL land safely, whatever happens… trust me.”

Follow Anton Kusters photography by visiting his website www.antonkusters.com

Resiliency over Adversity: A month after Yolanda

Yesterday, as we approach Ormoc City the damages done by Yolanda was beyond my expectations. Coming from the Visayas region it was more heartbreaking to see your people trying to rebuild what they lost (more unexplainable feelings when I hear stories about the death of their families, relatives and friends). Some said, they already accepted it, however at least they should find their bodies. Approaching to Tacloban from Palo, Tananuan and Tolosa was more extremely devastated. As of now, I reserve my judgment on how the President defines ‘normalcy’. I know it is really hard for the victims to start over, but to witness them trying to move forward is just so uplifting. It’s been a month since Yolanda yet some areas still look like war zones. Let’s not stop helping our fellow countrymen. More than immediate assistance, a simple show of sympathy, not pity is what they need. Let’s build a better Tacloban.

Seriously, this place turned out into something I only see in movies. Burning of debris everywhere to serve as source of light, police and military checkpoints, devastated buildings and homes, people seeking shelter on streets, unwanted smell of air because of dead bodies and foreign teams into assessment of recovery.

This is a new starting point for the people of Visayas and the government. We’ve invested so much to industrialization and commercialization and lost track of agriculture – something that the government should take into account for rehab and reconstruction.

I do not know if people here receive enough but I must say, they need more.

A boy plays sepak takraw in SOS Village as his father watches him.

A boy plays sepak takraw in SOS Village as his father watches him.

A shipping line ashores the coast line near Tacloban City that ravaged the houses near the shore.

A shipping line ashores the coast line near Tacloban City that ravaged the houses near the shore.

A man who works again as tricycle driver in Tacloban City.

A man who works again as tricycle driver in Tacloban City.

Homes turned into pieces of debris near the shore line of Tacloban City.

Homes turned into pieces of debris near the shore line of Tacloban City.

Children play near devastated area in Tacloban City.

Children play near devastated area in Tacloban City.

Residents selling products from nearby provinces to earn income to survive.

Residents selling products from nearby provinces to earn income to survive.

A man cleans the walls of Sto. Niño Parish.

A man cleans the walls of Sto. Niño Parish.

Portrait of Christ on dumped baskets.

Portrait of Christ on dumped baskets.

A room in a residential house damaged by Yolanda in Sampaguita St., Tacloban City.

A room in a residential house damaged by Yolanda in Sampaguita St., Tacloban City.

An old lady sits outside her house remembering Yolanda.

An old lady sits outside her house remembering Yolanda.

A young boy sells his goods while a man stops over at the shed that says: "I LOVE TACLOBAN"

A young boy sells his goods while a man stops over at the shed that says: “I LOVE TACLOBAN”

Photos taken via Instagram: @rjamesbarrete

Follow me on Twitter: @rjamesbarrete