Friday, April 15, 2016

Bilibid inmate’s art helps support his family

Author’s note before reading: This article isn’t to substantiate anyone’s innocence. Nor is it written to elicit sympathy. This is about art and a man’s coming to terms with his fate in life.

Bilibid inmate’s art helps support his family
by rick olivares

One of the many classrooms of the Alternative Learning System at the New Bilibid Prison is used for electrical class and the art department. On the wall are a couple of dozen impressive paintings of different themes ranging from landscape to religious imagery to people.

In one corner of the room sits Ariel Cabiluna who’s busy at work. None of his works are on display. “They go real fast,” shared one inmate who goes by the name of Boyet. “That’s how in demand Ariel’s works are."

Cabiluna is currently working on a portrait for the Congregatio Immaculati Cordis Mariae (CICM), a Belgian-based Catholic mission that has been serving in the Philippines for several decades now. The portrait features over two dozen of its members. The likenesses and detail is incredible. More so when you realize that the technique that Cabiluna uses is rather uncommon. It’s called pyrography, the art of illustration or design using burn marks created by soldering pens. 

The 40-year old from Talisay City, Cebu, has been working on the portrait for over a month now. It has been time consuming because of the number of people and his attention to detail. When done in a few days’ time, it should fetch for several tens of thousands of pesos. “That should help my family pay for the bills and their needs for a little bit of time,” hoped Cabiluna in the vernacular.

The Cebuano is one of the more celebrated inmates at the Maximum Security Compound of the New Bilibid, not for crime that he vehemently denies to this day (I spoke with 15 inmates and everyone admitted to their crime; Cabiluna is the only one who maintains his innocence), but because of his art. The restorative justice program of the Bureau of Corrections provides inmates a means to earn a living and to support their families outside.

Cabiluna’s claim to “fame” was during the visit of Pope Francis when he created an impressive likeness of the Holy See using pyrography. Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle received the work of art from Cabiluna on behalf of the Pope. Since then, Cabiluna has created other portraits of other notable people including President Benigno Aquino III and Bro. Armin Luistro, the Secretary of the Department of Education among others. 

“When I was still free, I used to drive tricycles or work as a conductor in a jeep,” recounted Ariel. “I used to sketch but I never took it seriously.”

When he was jailed, Cabiluna admitted that in those first few months, his mind was a mess. “My thoughts were constantly about death and I wished I would die. I didn’t know how to get through one day to the next. While walking around the compound, I met a man named Jesus Negro (since transferred to a medium security facility) who was engaged in wood burn art. I was fascinated and asked if he could teach me the craft. Jesus took me under his wing and I soaked in everything he taught me."

It took Ariel five months to learn pyrography. And the skill later greatly helped him care for his family. It is while in jail that he married his girlfriend from Cebu with whom he later had a daughter named Ariana Mariz. The separation tears at his heart but he’s learned to cope after being in Bilibid for almost two decades now.  And through his art, Cabiluna is able to support his daughter’s schooling and her needs."

“When I think about it, if I was outside, I am not sure how being a tricycle driver or conductor can support my family or even send my daughter to school. It’s really ironic when you think about that in here, I learned something that really helps us. It’s a painful trade off. But you learn to cope."

Sunday, April 10, 2016

An afternoon at Single Origin

I had lunch with my friend Raj at Bonifacio High Street. The resto we were looking for, Beso, had closed down. So we chose Single Origin that was the one really busy resto in this side of BGC. 

I had a BLT salad and a vanilla latte for lunch while Raj had a salad of his own. 

Single Origin -- what a weird name though -- has that homey feel. It's spacious and with very good seating that has two areas -- the air-conditioned inside and the outdoor for smokers. Because of the humid weather, it's best to stay indoors although it cooled down towards the late afternoon. It's funny because what was supposed to be just lunch took six hours and 30 minutes! Yep. We were gabbing all afternoon long so that meant ordering a breakfast dough pizza. Anything with arugula I will eat!

The food was good. At least for what we ordered. The service was excellent. The wait staff was quite attentive and very speedy in their service. Having worked in a New York City restaurant where service is king, I can really appreciate that. 

One thing we noticed was that all throughout the afternoon, there was a steady stream of diners. Like I said earlier, it was the one restaurant in this area that was very busy. A crowd must mean something, right?

Price-wise. Expect that you'll spend a minimum of PhP 350 for one meal and a drink. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Raissa Robles launches “Marcos Martial Law: Never Again” at UP

Raissa Robles launches “Marcos Martial Law: Never Again” at UP
by rick olivares

After a false start with a delayed book launch at the Ateneo De Manila University last March 28 due to a bomb threat, journalist and political blogger Raissa Robles’ book, “Marcos Martial Law: Never Again” was finally unveiled to the public at the Balay Kalinaw inside the University of the Philippines campus in Quezon City last Monday, April 4.

A crowd of about a hundred people attended the launch of the 268-page book that is a brief illustrated history of the late former president Ferdinand Marcos’ regime that was beset with human rights violations and corruption. The author, with the aid of husband, Alan who served as editor, made use of books, documents, and official records and transcripts with many key players during those years all the way to the post-1986 Edsa People Power Revolution that overthrew the dictator.

“When I was doing this, I didn’t think it would be a timely project since the late president Marcos’ son, Bongbong, is running for the vice presidency,” said Robles in an interview with “This is but one means of correcting the revisionist history that is going around where people are saying that the Marcos years were a golden age for the Filipino people.”

“I was able to interview all the past Philippine presidents about this issue, former military men, as well as victims and survivors of human rights abuses. It is about as thorough as one can be.”

Robles laboriously and in great detail wrote about the rise of Marcos to the Martial Law years to the ills of the New Society all the way to its end during the People Power Revolution. “It is a timely book as well since it is published on the 30th year after the 1986 Revolution,” pointed out the author. 

Aside from Robles, the book launch prominently featured engineer and social activist Roberto “Obet” Verzola, human rights lawyer and Senator Rene Saguisag, noted writer, poet, journalist, and screenwriter Pete Lacaba, writer-director Bonifacio Ilagan, and Dean Ronald Mendoza of the Ateneo School of Government. Verzola, Lacaba, and Ilagan spoke about their being detained and tortured by agents of the Marcos regime that brooked no dissent no matter how little.

Other prominent people who attended included former Chairman of the Commission on Elections Christian Monsod, political journalist Belinda Olivares-Cunanan, and Cecile Guidote Alvarez, the wife of former Senator Heherson “Sonny” Alvarez who along with her husband fled the Philippines soon after Martial Law was declared. Chito Gascon, former UP Student Council head and current Chair of the Human Rights Commission of the Philippines, was also in attendance.

“It is sad that today’s generation doesn’t know what happened during those dark years,” shared Saguisag who at the height of Martial Law formed the Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity, Nationalism, Inc. that represented the victims of human rights abuse. “I think many quarters failed to communicate that and this is the result. This book by Raissa is a good one to use in teaching today’s generation about what transpired. Or else, as the philosopher George Santayana once said, ‘Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’” 

Robles bared that she personally gave a copy of the book to several of the VP aspirants by going to the Senate. “I gave copies of the book to Senators Alan Cayetano, Francis Escudero, Gregorio Honasan, Antonio Trillanes, and Bongbong Marcos. The only person I was unable to give a copy was to Leni Robredo. And yes, I have signed forms that the Senators received the books.”


A limited “Collector’s Edition” of Marcos Martial Law: Never Again in coffee table-sized book form is available for P2,500 each. 

A “Student Edition” – a black and white version, soft cover edition of the exact same book will be out shortly. For more details and inquiries, please go to

Monday, April 4, 2016

At the Marcos Martial Law Never Again book launch

I was in third year high school when Ninoy Aquino was murdered on the tarmac of the Manila International Airport. That heinous act plunged the country into a dark and dangerous time. I was previously aware of the Marcos dictatorship and its evils. I saw the press censorship. Saw some arrests and those caught breaking the midnight curfew. Rumours swirled of murders, disappearances, and other atrocities. Then brave newspapers began to publish the stories that were surpressed. There was even that Playboy article featuring Imelda Marcos that was banned by the government although copies made their way to people. I began to get involved, first with NAMFREL during the Batasang Pambansa Elections of 1984 and took to the streets afterwards joining rallies and demonstrations. By late 1985, I was heading the Ateneo and UP chapter of the Cory Aquino for President Movement. I was in EDSA during all those turbulent days in late February that led to the fall of the dictatorship. The governments that came after that were troubled, divided, and even ineffective. There have been gains, of course, lots, but somewhere along the way, in some ways, things got worse. 

What I cannot take and will not do so is the revisionist history going on saying that the Marcos years were a golden age. NO. THEY WEREN'T. They were filled and fraught with lies, deception, murder, and greed. Many of today's problems began during those years. It is sad to see many people think that those years were good.

I am most glad that Raissa Robles published Marcos Martial Law: Never Again. It is something that should remind the generations before but inform today's millennials about the horrors of that era and while it is foolhardy and dangerous to think that Marcos' scion is the cure for our ills. The book is hardly the solution. There are others ways of disseminating the information. It does help. Boldly. 

I attended the book launch at Balay Kalinaw in the University of the Philippines Diliman campus. I had the booked signed by Raissa Robles and attended the program; participating in the Q&A portion where I asked questions that weren't answered and offered ideas on what should be done.

By the program's start, the hall was packed (although there were under a hundred people in attendance).
Noel Cabangon was on hand to sing "Bayan Ko".

The great Senator Rene Saguisag was on hand to lend his thoughts and share some war stories of those dark days.

With some fellow street parliamentarians of the 1980s -- Christine Carlos and Chito Gascon.