WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Lost in Obamaland

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HONOLULU (MindaNews/04 April) — Art Enriquez was the incidental guardian angel who ushered me to a different time, a different place. I found him praying quietly just before take off. He was on the seat next to mine on the PAL PR 100 flight to Honolulu that left NAIA mid-afternoon of 29 March. We got the magical island of O’ahu just after dawn, same date. Ground Hog Day. Ten hours to get back to where we can start the day all over again.

Art was just 19 years old when he left home in Manila 42 years ago, on 24 June 1969. He was lucky to immediately find work as a bellhop at the Hawaiian Hilton where he retired as bell captain last year. He’d gone to the posh all-male Don Bosco high school, but he swears he’s uneducated.

“Let’s not talk classroom,” he said as he showed me his shaky penmanship. So we talked about what he’d seen of Hawai’i in the last 40 years. That is a lot of ground to cover, especially for a reflective soul that is Art. I had an education on Hawai’i through the eyes of someone who had an excellent vantage point and who could translate it in a language my psyche would understand.

The gods were smiling.

Come to think of it – this trip has been about the gods smiling even before I started out, but that’s another story to tell.

Five minutes after the “fasten seatbelts” sign went off, the stewardess came by to tell Art he could now transfer to a preferred seat up front, right behind the Business Class section. He offered to continue our conversation. I tried to politely decline as it would mean a USD50 markup, but he insisted on paying just to bring me along. He said he would be much honored for me to accept his welcome-to-the-islands treat. For his hundred bucks, we got to sit nearer the exit where there was so much more legroom. We talked and slept, woke up to eat and stretch and talk some more. At the Honolulu airport he led me to the immigration line, shook my hand, and wished me a wonderful time.

I cleared immigration without a hitch, but my pick up was running three cigarettes late. She was worth the wait. She put me on a stretch limo all the way to the University of Hawaii in Mano’a. Felicia Flores and I go way, way back when we were kids in Antique, a place so geographically like Honolulu. Now enrolled at the EastWest Center at U of H in M, she was the first to respond to my distress smoke signal. I was coming in to Honolulu two days before my hotel booking. Felicia emailed for me not to worry- for the price of a bottle of Johnson’s Baby Lotion original, she would adopt me.

Taking up Philippine Studies now has given my kababata a fresh perspective on Mindanao and how the telling of its story had been and continues to be distorted. She promised to come down on April 2 to hear me speak at the joint conference of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) and the International Conference of Asia Scholars (ICAS) at the Honolulu Convention Center. She said you can’t miss the Center. King Kamemeha’s imposing statue is right up front.

That was some days away yet. Until then, the streets of Hawai’i Five-O beckoned. I walked to get lost so I could walk to find my way back again. I looked up restaurant menus to work out how much I needed to keep body and soul together in this different place, different time. Switching purchasing power mental set, I was quite reassured that Asia Foundation’s Steve Rood won’t have to haul me off from among the homeless folks at the bus stop after all. Ah, well- there’s always musubi, Hawai’i’s version of the Japanese maki. Am told it’s Obama’s survival diet off the vending machines at the 7-Elevens down here. Hey, if it’s good enough for the US Prez, it’s good enough for me. On the walk, I found myself going back to the Barrack now and then.

AFRIM’s Starj Villanueva and MSU’s Rufa Guiam were rooming in with me at the 27th floor of the Hawaii Prince Hotel in Waikiki. By the time they got here to enjoy the view of the Ala-Wai Yacht Harbor, I had almost gone native. Like, as with a native here probably, I found the souvenir shops an exercise at frustration. Everything was made in China! Days later, we came by the Ross discount store to find almost everything made in China, too. Calvin Kleins made in China. I kid you not. Rats. I could always go to China. Oh, okay, it’s a lot colder. I guess I’d rather do my shopping here.

But really, there’s not much here either in terms of tropical island novelty products that we can’t find cheaper in Davao. I’d rather take a long lost walk instead.

Saturday dawned bright and early. Our panel on the challenges of peace and development in Southern Philippines was presenting at 7:30-9:30 am. Steve and Jojo Abinales worked so hard to bring us here. And to the very end, Steve made sure I had my coffee before we faced the audience. Much to our delight, we had quite a crowd coming at such an ungodly hour. I picked out Nathan Gilbert Quimpo and the ever-loyal Filipinist Lindy Aquino in the audience. Federico Magdalena came with his students from the East West Center. Some other academics who came up to ask me more questions later were Virginia Watson of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, Joy Siapno of the School of Democratic Economics in Timor Leste, Oona Thommes Paredes of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Cherry Quizon of Seton Hall University, and Philippine Studies Association president Bernardita Churchill. US State Department’s Kathy Kerr and US Library of Congress Field Director William Tuchrello also touched base for future updates on this particular topic of interest.

My paper traced the evolution of peacebuilding among Mindanao soldiers, giving credit to the efforts of Western Mindanao Command chief Lieutenant General Raymundo Ferrer in creating the groundswell that had resulted to the adoption of the AFP Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) or Oplan Bayanihan. In this forum, I cautioned that the AFP would do well to continue learning from the lessons of the Mindanao experience in operationalizing this paradigm shift to  military operations. I am in fact pleading for the AFP not to abandon the history of this major undertaking it had set out for itself. I do not wish to see it hijacked by the kind of thinktank that has minimal experience on the ground but is proficient at the play of words that produces official policy documents.

Years ago, when I started focusing on the peace building attitude and value change among soldiers in Mindanao, I christened Ding Ferrer as the Vanguard of the Future AFP. Well, the politics of the time is such that Voltaire Gazmin might never ever overcome his personal dislike for Ferrer enough to turn the attention deficit ear. Hence, the civilian leadership might never get to see that the AFP IPSP could be best managed by Ferrer at the helm. Still, and for all that, even in its garbled form, the AFP IPSP proves that the future I was referring to is now. History judges, and it is oftentimes up to us academics to put things and people in their proper perspective.

Am done with the talk. Time to hit the streets again.

(Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail@mindanews.com. “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says).

 

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