#GetLit: Arundhati Roy & Artwork by Political Prisoners

#GetLit

I published my book review for Arundhati Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness earlier this week and if you haven’t checked it out, head on over here. It’s one of those books that you fully appreciate days after reading it, with the big picture getting clearer as days go by. It is a love letter too, an ode to hijras, mothers, freedom fighters, to Kashmir. The world will thank you for reading Roy’s newest book, so you best get on it.

I have been working on it for roughly 10 years. That was when I started putting down things which are in this book right now.

An Interview with Arundhati Roy (The Slate Book Review)

She knows everything from the frighteningly euphemistic military terminology of the region (informers are “cats” and so on) to the natural landscape of “herons, cormorants, plovers, lapwings,” and the “walnut groves, the saffron fields, the apple, almond and cherry orchards.” She looks into homes, into bomb sites, into graveyards, into torture centers, into the “glassy, inscrutable” lakes. And she reveals for us the shattered psychology of Kashmiris who have been fighting the Indian Army and also occasionally collaborating with it.

Arundhati Roy’s Return to the Form That Made Her Famous (NYT Book Review)

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Much of what Roy wrote in the book about the Kashmiris’ struggle for independence and self-determination reminded me of the lumad people. The lumad are the indigenous communities in the southern part of the Philippines, which has been under martial law for about two months now.

If you’re in the Bay Area next week or know of friends in the area, join me at the opening of an exhibit of artwork by Filipino political prisoners to raise funds for victims of martial law in the country.

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The woman in the flyer above is none other than lumad leader, the fierce Bai Bibiyaon Bigkayan Likay. For more on women lumad leaders, check out this post I wrote about them.

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When the external world is teeming with bullsh*t and horrendous stuff (read: MAGAnomics, Trumpism), I usually find solace by going within.

This week marked the return of one of Deepak Chopra and Oprah’s 21-day meditation experience, and I’ve been all over it. The theme for the next 21 days is Desire & Destiny and after only a week of doing it I’m noticing the way I respond to things, and how I’m more receptive to the world around me.

Today’s mantra was Om Bhavam Namah (I am absolute existence. I am a field of all positbility) — it’s not too late to sign up!

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And since we’re talking about internal worlds, here’s one from the archives: The Art of Stillness by Pico Iyer.

I think that everything important in my life has not come through my mind, but through my spirit or my being or my heart. Everything I trust, whether it’s the people I love or the values I cherish or the places that have moved me, have come at some much deeper level than the mind. And I sometimes think the mind makes lots of complications over what is a much more beautiful and transparent encounter with the world.

It’s a struggle to be a Filipino-American these days, y’all.

And although I still balk at calling myself “Fil-Am,” I feel the struggle both ways, in all its multiplicity.

The Philippines seems to be at the mercy of a perplexing president whose politics are at best confounding. Following his declaration of martial law in Mindanao (southern part of the Philippines), he also withdraw from ongoing peace talks with the revolutionary (and underground) government of the country (strongest in the countryside).

And then there’s Trump. Following his announcement to pull the U.S. out the Paris Climate Agreements, the easier option is to throw your hands up and lose yourself in moments like “covfefe.”

Maybe my trip to Mexico City in the next few days is good timing, as all of these things can wear a Pisces down. I’m bringing Rosario Castellanos and Octavio Paz with me, two noted Mexican writers whose work has inspired me. Last night, I was leafing through Paz’s A Tree Within (Amazon | Indiebound) and came across this:

Mis sentidos en guerra con el mundo: fue frágil armisticio la lectura.

(My feelings at war with the world: reading was a fragile truce.)

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Reading as a truce, reading as a tool — that’s what this blog has always stood for. I’ve compiled books to help us through these times, like this list of reading for resistanceI also just reviewed a book on tyranny and offered up my response, based on my experience as an activist. As a Filipino in the face of martial law, here’s my blog’s literary antidote.

Even more timely is an exploration of Alexander Von Humboldt’s life, possibly the very first man to confirm man-made climate change.

In spite of this, I come back to a Alain de Botton on his book about Proust. In one of the chapters, they talk about books and reading. And as much as I love both, for as long as I am tethered to words, I recognize both their beauty and fallibility:

We feel very strongly that our own wisdom begins where that of the author leaves off and we would like him to provide us with answers when all that he is able to do is provide desires… That is the value of reading and is also its inadequacy. To make it into a discipline is to give too large a role to what is only an incitement.

–Marcel Proust

Reading as an incitement, a tool to spur us to action. I think I like that better.

#GetLit: Reading in the Midst of Crisis

#GetLit

The Life & Death of Andrés Bonifacio, with Ambeth R. Ocampo

Book Reviews, Fil/Lit

“History does not repeat itself.
We repeat history.”
–Ambeth R. Ocampo

These lines from Ocampo couldn’t have been more relevant today, as the Philippines is facing yet another political crisis: on May 23rd, President Duterte declared martial law in the southern part of the Philippines (Mindanao), after terrorist groups clashed with the country’s armed forces.

What would have Andrés Bonifacio, hailed as the “Father of the Philippine Revolution” done if he were alive today?

Back when I was in the Philippines a couple of months ago, I picked up Ambeth R. Ocampo’s book Bones of Contention: The Andrés Bonifacio Lectures (Amazon) at a local bookstore. I was immediately drawn to the face of the revolutionary leader against the Spanish colonizers on the cover — austere, pensive, the look of a determined man against his oppressor.

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The book  is a compilation of lectures delivered by Ocampo, a historian and professor in the Philippines. It wasn’t until I started reading that I realized how little I knew of Bonifacio.

Other than his legacy in the revolution, I had little to no knowledge of his life. What Ocampo offered in his lectures was a closer look on not just the life of the Supremo, but on his assassination, the political atmosphere of his time, and how deeply rooted the Filipino elite has been in the country’s politics.

Boy was I in for a surprise. Reading Ocampo is a bit like reading a TMZ version of Filipino history, and a bit like watching a telenovela.

Instead of purely historical accounts, Ocampo delves into Bonifacio’s downfall within the Katipunan which eventually led to his death.  In Opening Pandora’s Box, Ocampo recounts the factions within the revolutionary secret society (KKK, and no, not the white supremacist group).

#GetLit and #ResistTyranny

#GetLit

My experience as a Filipino immigrant in America is quite complicated at the moment, because I feel like I’m beset my fascism no matter where I turn.

This week’s book review on Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century falls short of what I was hoping for, although it elicited a different kind of response for me. Read all about my political musings here, as a response to the book.

On the same day that I published my book review was also the day that Pres. Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao, one of the main islands in the southern Philippines after clashes between an IS-affiliated group and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. A year ago, I wrote against martial law revisionists and the kinds of literature needed to counter it.

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The Consortium for People’s Development-Disaster Response (CPDDR) protests the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao that will likely escalate the armed conflict, and intensify military operations in the region at the expense of civilians and communities.

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If you have any book suggestions on resisting tyranny — do share in the comments below!

One summer day, when the rice lay golden in the sun, startling rumors came to Mangusmana: the peasants in a province to the south of us had revolted against their landlords. There the peasants had been the victims of ruthless exploitation for years, dating back to the 18th century when Spanish colonizers instituted severe restrictive measures in order to impoverish the natives. So from then on the peasants became poorer each year and the landlords became richer at every harvest time.

–Carlos Bulosan, America is in the Heart

I just published my book review for Bulosan’s America is in the Heart at the same time that #OccupyLuisita in the Philippines is happening. The struggle of farmers and peasants has always been an issue, even a century later.

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Militant farmers break down a portion of the wall of the Cojuangco-owned Hacienda Luisita Monday in their own version of “Occupy”, citing a Supreme Court ruling that mandated the distribution of the land. (PHOTO BY DAX SIMBOL, INTERAKSYON)

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If there was anything that I was reminded the most of this week, it’s that repression and oppression only breeds resistance and struggle. That the peace that we truly want is a just one, a peace that is genuine and lasting.

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And if peace could ever come in the form of hip hop music, I’d have to give it to Chance the Rapper for giving me an out-of-body-ethereal-spiritual experience Wednesday night.

I left the Oracle Arena in Oakland feeling at peace with who I am and what I have. Maybe it’s the gratitude, messages of healing and hope he imparted that had me feeling all the feels, but I know that if we were to ever create lasting movements of struggle, music can be another language of resistance.

“Are you ready for your blessings? Are you ready for your miracles?”

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Gratuitous self-portrait. 

 

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April 29 is Independent Bookstore Day!

Independent Bookstore Day is a one-day national party that takes place at indie bookstores across the country on the last Saturday in April. Every store is unique and independent, and every party is different. But in addition to authors, live music, cupcakes, scavenger hunts, kids events, art tables, readings, barbecues, contests, and other fun stuff, there are exclusive books and literary items that you can only get on that day. Not before. Not after. Not online.

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Celebrate this day by supporting your local bookstores — find your local bookstore here.

#GetLit: Carlos Bulosan, Chance the Rapper & Peace

#GetLit

To Break the Wall Between Self and the Future, with Carlos Bulosan

Book Reviews, Fil/Lit

“I will be a writer and make all of you live again in my words.”
–Carlos Bulosan

My introduction to Carlos Bulosan, perhaps one of the greatest Filipino-American writers to have ever lived, is a little late. While most of my peers learned about Bulosan and read his work in college, I finished the book just a little over a week ago.

It is the year 2017, the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency. As the month of April nears its end, many of the preparations in the community are geared towards May 1st, International Workers Day.

I think about Bulosan and his words, and the significance of May Day as I write this. How a book that was written in the 30s of the last century — which detailed the simultaneous heartbreaking and back-breaking struggle of Filipino farmworkers in the Northwest, and Bulosan’s first encounter with fascism — is still relevant to this day.

America is in the Heart (Indiebound) is presented as the autobiography of Carlos Bulosan, a Filipino peasant migrant from the Philippines to the U.S. While many facts in the book are refuted, it nonetheless stands as a testimony and a witness to the early experiences of Filipinos in the country.

The book is a sweeping account of his life, from growing up poor in the Philippines, in a small village in the northern islands. Allos, as he was referred to initially, grew up helping his father farm and his mother vend small goods. At an early age, Allos was becoming more and more aware of the conditions of people like him, which made up the majority of the Philippines — the peasantry.

Most of those who were young and able-bodied, specifically men, knew that in order for their families to survive, they had to get out and look for jobs elsewhere.

In the provinces where the poor peasants lived and toiled for the rich hacienderos, or landlords, the young men were stirring and rebelling against their heritage. Those who could no longer tolerate existing conditions adventured into the new land, for the opening of the United States to them was one of the gratifying provisions of the peace treaty that culminated the Spanish-American war.

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Early Filipino American farm workers, as in this 1936 picture of a musical get-together at Estalio’s labor camp. (Photo courtesy of Rosalie Marquez)

America became a dream for young Allos, and as soon as he was given the opportunity to board one of the ships that could potentially change his life forever, he immediately hopped on.

It’s been exactly one month since I got to the U.S. from the Philippines.

The first few days back almost negated the entire three weeks I was there with my family, in really confusing and frustrating ways. Jetlag and homesickness were daily themes, as my sisters and I tried to console and comfort each other. We looked at photos, relived memories. Each new detail we discovered about our trip brought us immense pain and also joy. We would laugh, and then cry. We made pacts, we changed our plans.

For us, there was only one thing that became prevalent: we needed to be back home as soon as we can, in Pampanga.

I started to think about all the photos I took — most on my phone, some on my Instax. I’m missing a lot of the photos too, and I pray to all the gods that they’re just hiding in bags or notebooks somewhere, not lost.

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Since this trip was our first back as a family after migrating to the U.S. in 2004, it was life-changing. We went to different places, famous landmarks, touristy areas and old spots we used to go to when my sisters and I were younger.

And as I always tend to do every time I feel vulnerable, I started thinking of folks who have stirred me with their words.

In Balucuc, close to my hometown Apalit, we had lunch in the middle of rice fields on a Sunday. I thought of Tomas Tranströmer’s book of poems Preludes.

 Two truths approach each other. One comes from the inside, the other from outside, and where they meet we have a chance to catch sight of ourselves.

— Tomas Tranströmer

I come from a family of farmers, on my father’s side. I remember some days when I’d come home from school with the front of our house turning into a makeshift rice-drying areas, with men raking in newly harvested rice, gently back and forth. I thought of my grandfather.

Our house too looked different. I thought of Teju Cole quoting Marcel Proust, in Known and Strange Things.

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Proust in a letter, “We think we no longer love the dead because we don’t remember them, but if by chance we come across an old glove we burst into tears.” Objects, sometimes more powerfully than faces, remind us of what was and no longer is.

-Teju Cole

Teju resonated with me so much, in so many different times. How funny that you can convey a feeling in several ways, whether that’s in Tagalog or German.

The German word for homesickness is “heimweh.” Legend has it that Swiss mercenaries from the fifteenth century onward, dispersed throughout Europe to fight foreign wars, were hardy soldiers susceptible to few weaknesses. But they missed home with a deranging intensity, longing for the high elecution of their cantons, their clear lakes, their protective peaks. This feeling they called, in their Swiss German, heimweh.

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J’ai besoin de beaucoup de tendress. (I need a great deal of tenderness)

I wrote in a journal, just as I remember Susan Sontag doing in As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh. I was with her when she said that “the ultimate fantasy is the recovery of the irrecoverable past.” Seeing my friends brought all the feelings, as well as a deep well of gratitude for these connections.

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In Baguio, my sisters and I thought of summer vacations when we would indulge in strawberries (the only time we could), go on a boat at the lake, look at our parents at a different light amidst the fog.

Secretly we are all looking for ways to continue our childhoods — the hurt, the pain, the love, the fear, the shame.

— Susan Sontag

img_4684In Boracay, I took photos for posterity more than anything else. Once again, lines from a favorite:

Photography is inescapably a memorial art. It selects, out of the flow of time, a moment to be preserved, with the moments before and after falling away like sheer cliffs.

–Teju Cole

And of course, if there’s one person I should quote when it comes to the art of traveling, it’s Alain de Botton.

A dominant impulse on encountering beauty is the desire to hold on to it: to possess it and give it weight in our lives. There is an urge to say, ‘I was here, I saw this and it mattered to me.’

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I’m still floating, at times dreamily, thinking of home. I guess I’ll never really be able to anchor myself where my feet are planted, because once you know where you’re supposed to be, you don’t stop until you get there.

Postcards from the Philippines

Sunday Spotlight

#SavetheNEA: A Campaign to Save the Arts

Art + Creativity, Call to Action, Sunday Spotlight

As the plane touched down in SFO from Manila on the eve of March 16th, not only did I step out of the plane with a heavy heart, I was also dumbfounded with recent news. Being away from the States gave me the false idea that for a second, I can get away from Trump. But there I was, waiting in line at the immigration kiosk, reading about the orange bloviator’s latest move: eliminating funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, among other agencies.

I was jetlagged, already homesick but most of all, I was angry.

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It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand what all of this means. As Trump moves to present his federal budget, he has chosen to eliminate what constitutes 0.002% of the $1.1 trillion budget. While it may seem inconsequential, losing $300 million is a huge blow to folks, programs and projects which have been traditionally underfunded: artists, writers, magazines, libraries, local television stations, radio programs and other projects.

According to the American for the Arts Action Fund:

1) The NEA is the single largest national funder of nonprofit arts in America. NEA grants help leverage more than a 9 to 1 match in private charitable gifts and other state and local public funding.

2) The NEA also has an exemplary partnership with the states, with 40 percent of program funds distributed through state arts agencies.

3) With only a $148 million annual budget, the NEA investments in the arts helps contribute to a $730 billion economic arts and culture economic industry, including 4.2 percent of the annual GDP and supporting 4.8 million jobs that yields a $26 billion trade surplus for the country.

4) For more than 50 years, the NEA has expanded access to the arts for all Americans, awarding grants in your congressional district and throughout all 50 states and U.S. Territories.

5) NEA funding reaches small, rural towns through its “Our Town” grants and specifically helps our wounded soldiers and veterans with effective arts therapy.

And it’s not only the arts that’s losing funding but also a milieu of other agencies as he, unsurprisingly, increases the budget for defense. John Oliver takes a jab:

As a queer Filipino immigrant writer in the Bay Area, this hits close to home. Not only will opportunities be taken away at expanding the arts and uplifting the voices of marginalized communities, it also has far-reaching consequences across the globe. Case in point: my homeland, the Philippines.

Trump’s proposed increase in military spending comes at the heels of a recent allegation concerning US naval officers in the country:

On March 15, 2017, Admiral Loveless, four retired Navy captains and a retired Marine colonel were charged with corruption and other offenses [in the Philippines]. Among the charges includes accounts of “raging multi-day party, with a rotating carousel of prostitutes” and accepting bribes from Leonard Glenn “Fat Leonard” Francis in the form of gifts, luxury hotel stays and prostitutes. “Fat Leonard” is a Singapore-based defense contractor who has pleaded guilty to defrauding the Navy of tens of millions of dollars.

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So what can we do at this point? The most important thing is to 1) reach out to your local representatives, express your outrage/concern and urge them to fight against Trump’s budget and 2) spread the word by telling your friends/family/neighbor/crush/ex-lovers/others and blast it on your all your social media profiles.

After all, John Keating/Robert Williams (RIP) said it best:

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Read more:

14 Authors on the Life-Changing Impact of the NEA (Electric Literature)
Laura Callanan on Inequality and Art
Fighting to Give Everyone Access to Arts and Culture (KQED)
Mike Huckabee: A conservative plea for the National Endowment for the Arts (The Washington Post)

Filipinos for Export and Their Stories, with Mia Alvar

Book Reviews, Fil/Lit

About 6,000 Filipinos leave the Philippines each day, off to countries around the world in search of better opportunities for themselves and their families. Off to any place where any currency except the Philippine peso is stronger, where dreams of living large are bigger.

In the 80’s, the term “Overseas Filipino Worker” or OFW became a real thing. They were touted as the modern heroes of the country, as they raked in dollars or euros or riyals all bolstering up the country’s GDP. Remittances became a huge boon.

This is the premise of Mia Alvar’s book In The Country: Stories (Shop your local indie store), a compilation of nine short short stories of family, love and migration — and also of neoliberal economic policies.

The book begins with a short story titled The Kontrabida, a word which translates to “villain.” Images of Miss Minchin (from Sarah, Ang Munting Prinsesa) and Angelica Panganiban as Madame (from Pangako Sa’Yo) immediately popped up in my head. I’ve watched enough telenovelas to understand the depths of crazy there is in a kontrabida character, so I was expecting a grandiose tale of the bida or the “hero” at the end of the story victorious, the kontrabida slighted in some way.

But that wasn’t the case in this story. It revolves around a family of three: a son (Steve) who works as a clinical pharmacist in New York City, his ailing father in the Philippines, and his mother the caregiver who also vends household items from their sari-sari store. The best part about it is that you can’t really tell which character is the kontrabida, each with their own ghost from the past.

For years there’d been no question of how much she leaned on me, like any mother on her overseas son. It never dawned on me how much I’d leaned on her: to play her part, stick to the script. Her saintliness was an idea I loved more than I had ever hated him.

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By Jose Ibay

The Nobel Prizes: Peace & Protest

Sunday Spotlight

The Nobel Prize has always fascinated me, even as a little kid in the Philippines. I never fully understood what winning the Nobel Prize meant, but I knew that it was important. I was also slightly amused at the inadvertent wordplay: “Was it noble, or novel,” I heard my lolo muse one time.

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I’ve been anticipating this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature since the announcements began last week. This morning, I manage to rouse myself at 5:00 AM to see who was awarded. First it was shock, then mild confusion — Bob Dylan? I scrolled through my Twitter feed to see what people were saying, and it was a mix of ~finally!~ and “When is Stephen King going to win the Rock’n Roll prize?” I came across Bob Dylan’s Secret Archive from The New York Times and it all started to make sense. The NYT piece alluded to an extensive archive of poetry, songs, manuscripts and other pieces of writing. My favorite line from the article: The range of hotel stationery suggests an obsessive self-editor in constant motion. I’ve never listened to any of his music before but this morning, I fell back asleep to “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.”

The Nobel Prizes for Medicine, Chemistry and Physics were announced last week, with the Peace Prize awarded to Juan Manuel Santos last Friday. Santos is the current president of Colombia. His merits? For continuing the peace process between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

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The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2016 to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for his resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year-long civil war to an end, a war that has cost the lives of at least 220 000 Colombians and displaced close to six million people. The award should also be seen as a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace, and to all the parties who have contributed to the peace process.

While voters rejected the current peace deal by a slim margin, the Nobel nod to Santos’s efforts is not unnoticed. That the Nobel Peace Prize is also “a tribute to the Colombian people, who despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace” gives Filipinos like me hope.

In spite of the international media spotlight of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, what is buried in the news are the peace talks currently happening between the National Democratic Front (NDF) and the government of the Philippines (GPH). Since 1969, a civil war has been raging in the countryside due to a host of issues affecting majority of the population. The goal of the peace talks is to end the armed conflict by addressing the structural problems of the country: landlessness, feudal exploitation, state brutality against the poor and marginalized. (See 10 Things to Know About the Peace Talks)

Now on its second round in Oslo, Norway, a bi-lateral ceasefire between the two forces by the end of October, the release of political prisoners and negotiations on socioeconomic and constitutional reforms are all on the table. It’s also encouraging that the deputy ambassador to the Colombian peace process “gave a concise but extensive sharing including what were the conditions and factors that may have contributed to the rejection of the peace agreement in a recently held referendum, ” a perspective crucial to the peace process.

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NDF Consultants

The Nobel Peace Prize for Santos is a testament to the urgent need for just peace in Colombia, similar to the just peace Filipinos hope to attain. In true Nobel fashion, here’s one of Bob Dylan’s songs.

Far between sundown’s finish an’ midnight’s broken toll
We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing
As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds
Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing
Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight
Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight
An’ for each an’ ev’ry underdog soldier in the night
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

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To learn more about the peace process in the Philippines and to support just peace, check out #justpeacePH.