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Chickens, Eggs (25 May 1999)
Lessons To Learn (18 June 1999)

Southern Discomfort
by Pearlsha B. Abubakar
Re-printed with permission from
Youngblood, The Philippine Daily Inquirer Interactive, July 3, 1999

I JUST got back from a two-week vacation in Jolo, Sulu. I went there to attend the inauguration of my father's resort, a beautiful lagoon with a small mangrove jungle in the middle. It's about two kilometers from the town.

To get to the beach, where my father has deposited tons of white sand and stones, you have to walk a few hundred feet on a dirt path from the shore. Along the rock-walled coastline are panggongs made of sawali and coconut trees felled to give way to the resort. It's a paradise.

It's really a lovely place, except that when we got there, armed men greeted us at the gate. Another team of Marines escorted one of my father's guests. There was just too much metal glinting in the sun, spoiling the otherwise pristine scenery.

By seven in the evening, the streets were quiet, save for the occasional roar of trucks loaded with soldiers. Indeed, I almost expected to hear another martial law being declared.

Not too long ago, two Spanish nuns were kidnapped near the place and forced to spend an immersion up in the mountains. Although they were later released, my father told me, they did not escape unscathed.

Although he had a strange look in his eyes, I didn't know what he really meant until I began recalling other horror stories he once told me. Knowing my father's hyperactive imagination, I am inclined to believe that some of them are fictional. But knowing Jolo's magnificent history, I am also inclined to believe anything.

Here's one (whether it's fact or fiction, you decide): A man falls in love with a daughter of rich parents. But he knows he cannot have her, so he just abducts her and brings her to the mountains. Then he demands a ransom, which is killing two birds with one stone. For in this society, a female kidnap victim is as good as an empty can. She is virtually useless, impure, unchaste. Her dowry plummets to the price of a soft drink. Her honor is considered gone, even if her kidnapper has yet to make sexual advances. And kidnappers seldom resist the perverse pleasure of rape, if at all.

Our lovestruck kidnapper is no different from the rest, because he tries to rape her at gunpoint. The girl resists and tries to grab the gun. It goes off and the bullet barely misses her left eye. The kidnapper-lover tries to treat her wounds, but she eventually becomes blind.

When a female member of a clan loses her honor, her whole family unites to wine it back. In our society, a family is roughly equivalent to a few hundred households. And by the word honor, we mean about surnames for surnames are more important than first names. When a surname is sullied by some fool, that means war. So in this case, the girl's family wages a deadly vendetta against the kidnapper's family which lasts until this day.

Here's another story: A man named T owns hectares and hectares of land. A warlord named B is interested in acquiring a piece of this property without paying anything. T has a daughter who roams around the place like there's no tomorrow. So one day, T receives a call demanding P7 million for his daughter's board and lodging in the mountains.

Recently I learned that these degenerates have expanded their guest list to include males.

My friend J owns the only computer shop in town. A very nice guy, he helped me print out my thesis. A few weeks ago, he went to visit his girlfriend and didn't come back. Hours later, his parents received a phone call from his kidnappers.

I can't understand why some people have to be punished for either being privileged or being female. Will somebody please put an end to the kidnappings, even if they occur every six months or so? Or if these incidents are just mythical, as some public officials insist, will somebody please stop the joke?

Businesses are dying in our province. Even tropical storms ignore the place. For me this means goodbye to a social life and the prospect of meeting a decent Muslim man. I might just develop claustrophobia, spending so many hours indoors.

Please don't shrug off this problem by saying, ''Nah, you're hopeless. It's your culture.'' It's not. We have a culture more glorious than this. Why have we gone down so low? People from other lands used to trade precious goods in this area, not human lives in exchange for thick, smelly wads of bills.

I long for the days when people could walk the streets unafraid and greeted each other. I long for the days when women would don their gold-trimmed malongs and kumbongs to soirees and exchange banter with famous actors. How romantic everything was during my grandmother's time. But I guess when Jolo burned down in 1974, something precious and magnificent was burned as well.

Of course, the past is past. But if the past is more beautiful than the present can ever be, then something is very, very wrong.

____________________________
Pearlsha B. Abubakar, 23, works as a copywriter for a cable channel.

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