Tag Archives: Philippines

Some Notes about the Davao Bombing Tragedy

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  1. If you do not live in Davao or were not in Davao during the day of the bombing, do not mark yourself as “safe.” Let those tools be used by the affected people and their loved ones.
  2. Do not share unverified “articles” and rumors about bombings in other places. There is a need to stay on high alert; there is no need to spread panic.
  3. Do not fight people online, whether about the details of the bombing or the decisions of the president in the aftermath–whether or not you agree with him. There are a million other useful things you could do, some of which are:
  4. Check on your Davao-based loved ones. Find out what you can donate, and where. Share posts about visiting AdDU COPERS, especially to your friends who may need psychological counseling after the tragedy. #PrayForDavao. And #PrayForThePhilippines too, because only God knows where we’re headed next as a nation.
  5. Whether or not this was an act of terrorism, do not let it make you hate your fellow Filipinos. Do not hate Muslims or Christians, do not hate anti-/pro-Duterte supporters, do not hate Dabawenyos or Manile√Īos. DO. NOT. HATE. That is how terrorists win–by turning ordinary citizens into unthinking machines of fear and hatred.
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Questions About Heroes

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Yesterday (Aug. 31) was National Heroes’ Day in the Philippines. Coincidentally, I also finished the novella I’ve been working on since October 2014 on the same day. Hooray!

Being high off the triumph and unable to keep my brain from running on ideas, I’ve begun to brainstorm what the next work I set in the same world–namely, an alternate 15th-16th-century Philippines–will be about. One plot thread is definitely about heroes and heroism.

So, related to both National Heroes’ Day and these future works, I have to ask:

  • What makes an ordinary person a hero?
  • Who decides who becomes a hero, and how?
  • What sets heroes apart from ordinary people?
  • Related to the above, what are the differences between mythic heroes and folk heroes? Between National Heroes and modern-day ones?
  • If a hero were in trouble, how much would risk to help them out, if at all?

If anybody, especially someone from the Philippines, has answers to some or all of these questions, I’d love to know in the comments. ūüôā

A funny thing happened while I was at Clarion: On Filipinoness in writing

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Some Philippine mangoes. I wrote a story that made my classmates say, "I'll think of this story whenever I eat a mango." Photo from agritoursph.wordpress.com

Some Philippine mangoes. I wrote a story that made my classmates say, “I’ll think of this story whenever I eat a mango.” Photo from agritoursph.wordpress.com

 

So, one of the grandest adventures of my life ended a few days ago. I’m back home and my jet lag and letting everything soak in and reconsidering a lot of things. I may not have blogged during all my time there like I planned, but I think I’ll be posting a series of blogs processing the experience, instead.

This is one of them.

Just before I flew off to the US, I wrote a post about struggling to come to terms with a heritage I felt detached from. To sum up some parts of it, I was afraid of having to represent the Filipino people while also feeling like the Filipino people have never once represented me. This had much to do with language, familial upbringing, economic class, and what have you. I may have been just a teensy bit afraid that once I got to the workshop, others would expect me to write about being Filipino, just as local writers have expected me to do here (I need not have worried about that).

But something strange happened once I got there, and I guess everyone who leaves the motherland ends up experiencing what I did to some degree or another.

Ready? Here it is:

I never felt more Filipino than when I was living in San Diego.

I cannot count the many times I felt like a small-town girl occasionally muttering small-town phrases and wearing small-town clothes and missing small-town food–and I come from a freaking megalopolis!

And, for some reason, I could not stop writing about Filipinos. Even when I set my story in a secondary world, there was still something unmistakably Filipino about the characters and the world they lived in.

At Clarion, I wrote¬†about two different writers calling to life their ideal mates via their writings (week 2, “The Politics of Ink: A Love Story”, 1319 words); a slave aspiring to be an epic chanter who relates how the mango came to be and ties it with her love of her brother, her hatred of her mistress, and the fall of a kingdom (week 3, “Song for My Brother”, 8062 words); two gay men dealing with the fallout of their relationship as one of them prepares to go to a distant planet to pursue a grant for the study of its creatures (week 4, “The Siren Call of the Rimefolk”, 4653 words); and a small family living in a tropical city stricken by a natural disaster (week 6, “Blushing Blue”, 3107 words).

(My week 5 story was a flash called “The Bride Who Would End the World”–the setting was mostly generic because I wanted to create a new myth tying an apocalypse to a cosmic wedding. Didn’t pan out as well as I hoped, but it’s a first draft written on a cellphone because my traitorous laptop broke down as I was writing the week 4 story).

Whether I stated it outright or not, these stories all had a Philippine base to the setting.

My one-on-one with Cat Valente really helped smooth this out. She explained to me that she herself never felt more like a California girl than when she was living as a Navy wife in Japan.

“Some writers have their own agendas and believe that you should only be writing what they themselves write–which shouldn’t be the case,” she told me. “You can choose to fight against writing about Filipinos. That’s a legitimate choice. But you should also go with whatever lights a fire beneath you.”

And I did. I don’t regret it. Will it extend toward my future work? Who knows?

Other friends of mine who understood my pre-Clarion angst have told me, “What makes your stories Filipino is that you¬†are Filipino. You will carry that with you everywhere.” And they’re right, too.

A¬†classmate of mine said during my final critique session for the whole workshop, “And, I’m sorry, but because you are a Filipino, I read this as an alternative Philippines.”

I should have told him, “Don’t be sorry. That’s really what it is and that’s really who I am.”

In which I battle with my heritage of smallness, pre-Clarion

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*It is not within the scope of this post to define exactly what Filipino culture is, on the whole and overall. I will not attempt it because I do not know and because I may not be able to catch myself from thinking Tagalog-centric thoughts that will discredit the¬†other regions, tribes, and¬†languages. The Philippines is young and its people are trying to discover who we are‚Äēvery much like teenagers. That’s why I suspect that not even the most senior members of¬†the local culturati know what Filipino culture is, and that those who profess to know may be kidding themselves.

**For the purposes of this post, I will be referring to the internationally-known Filipino language as Tagalog, seeing as there is very little difference between the two. I will also be referring to the local¬†dialects¬†as languages for the same reason that I wish as much as possible for a non-Tagalog-centric mentality to pervade this post. And just so we’re clear, a dialect in this context is:

The other usage refers to a language that is socially subordinated to a regional or national standard language, often historically cognate to the standard, but not derived from it.

***Mini Philippine history and culture lecture ahead. Possibly drowse-inducing. You have been warned.

 


 

I.

I have an uneasy relationship with Filipino culture.

The question of culture has been bugging me of late because of my Clarion UCSD acceptance. I am told that the 2014 batch is¬†a very diverse group, very international: apart from North America, my classmates hail¬†from Finland, Spain, Australia, Bulgaria, and Singapore. One has Iranian blood and two have Russian ancestry. This is great when you consider how diversity and inclusiveness are huge issues in today’s international SFF scene‚Äējust consider¬†the Hugo Award nominations hullabaloo¬†and trending Twitter hashtag,¬†#WeNeedDiverseBooks.

I’d be glad to represent Filipinos in the international writing scene some day (sooner than I think, it seems). There’s just one problem: for the last 22 years, I’ve felt detached from my culture‚Äēa foreigner in my¬†own country, an outsider looking in on history being made all around me. I even write about outsiders; most of my characters are loners and society misfits.

As if this weren’t enough, I have been told at local workshops by some veteran writers that my work and my generation‚Äēand myself, by extension‚Äēis not Filipino enough. Before, such a sentiment used to make me seethe inside for three reasons:

  1. These writers were addressing social and educational factors beyond my control;
  2. They were raging not at me, but at my entire generation;
  3. They were mourning periods in time¬†that the elders back in their day probably would not have considered “Filipino enough,” either.

Let’s leave out for the moment how Philippine literature’s “default” mode is¬†social¬†realism¬†and how many “literary”¬†writers do not take the literature of the speculative seriously, even though most of early Philippine literature is full of “highly magical oral-epic tradition.” That’s another essay for another time.

 

II.

I am a middle-class young woman. I went to a progressive all-girls’ Catholic school in Metro Manila, the megalopolis¬†where I was born and raised. I am the eldest daughter of overprotective parents in a patriarchal society. I was not allowed to commute anywhere (whether alone or with friends), sleepover at any friend’s house, stay out later than my curfew (which depended on the function, thankfully), and I was not brought to public markets‚Äēa pity, as these are¬†places I consider as cultural hubs on par with art museums and preserved historical sights.

From my father, I inherited Polycystic Kidney Disease. Our lives have been defined and rearranged by his having had a kidney transplant and my having the stage one version. There are many very unhealthy Filipino foods I was trained not to eat, such as isaw.

My first language is English, much of which I learned from a steady diet of Disney movies and North American and British works of fiction. There was a time when I was eager to learn Nihonggo because of all the anime I watched, and later French (Parisienne?) because of all the French animated films I adored. But I actively refused to learn Tagalog because my older cousins teased my sister and I¬†for speaking English (they did so¬†in Tagalog, naturally). I came to view the former language, ironically, as the language of my oppressors. In later years, I would adopt a halting version of Tagalog with a heavy American accent I tried hard to suppress as a defense mechanism of sorts.¬†Everyone I spoke to in Tagalog was marked as an acquaintance. I suppose that’s why I had few friends growing up, even though¬†my batch at my old high school numbered over 400 students‚Äēand even when I did gain friends, they were very much like me.

This is what I know when I “write what I know”‚Äēand when you consider that the Philippine archipelago has 7,107 islands, 81 provinces, 17 regions, 180 tribes, and over 170 languages, I know¬†nothing.

I am trying to navigate my way around this culture dilemma:¬†I join writers’ workshops because of the opportunity to travel and meet new people and try new things; I got into journalism because a friend told me that this was the kind of job where people¬†grow up fast.

These last three years¬†haven’t been all good. For example, I’ve been literally shoved by the cruelty of strangers in the middle of a parade ground‚Äēand we work in the same company. My hair was once¬†caught and¬†pulled in the crush of the MRT crowds and I was¬†publicly made fun of for crying¬†out in pain.

But the good outnumbers the bad. I’ve finally been to a local festival, partaken of a Cordillera tribe’s ritual, swum atop a sandbar, eaten fresh urchin roe (thanks to the kindness of strangers), worn a hijab in the¬†Muslim city of Marawi, haggled for goods at a public market, stayed out on a¬†boulevard for hours just to catch the sunrise, learned a handful of words in the respective languages of new friends. Every new place I go, someone passionately lectures about the Spanish/Americans/Japanese influences and their inflicted damages on the food, on the buildings, on the land, on the people‚Äēand I will listen, because I am genuinely interested in history.

Yet even after all that, I still don’t know what Filipino culture is. I feel its pull, but it eludes me.

 

III.

You’d think the Philippines a huge country when I describe it, but in truth, we function much like a small town where everyone knows or claims to know each other. It doesn’t help that, due¬†to over¬†350 years under three colonizers, we are the most Westernized nation¬†this side¬†of Asia. How can I hope to represent 95¬†million people¬†of¬†an intensely diverse, intensely colonized, intensely regionalistic nation? I am still learning how to question its divisive modes of thinking!

Barring all these factors, I don’t even know what¬†Manila¬†culture is. I don’t know what the hell being Filipino is supposed to mean‚Äēthough like I said before, I don’t think anyone does.

None of the above should or would have bothered me, but then I chose to pursue writing as a passion (specifically, writing fantasies). No matter what you write, you can’t be an ace in such a pursuit without¬†constantly asking of yourself “how?” and “why?”

None of the above should or would have bothered me, but then I read Nick Joaquin’s¬†“A Heritage of Smallness”¬†under Dr. Ambeth Ocampo in my junior year of college. That damn thing will break you if you let it. And I let it because what it postulated was true: Filipinos of ages past preferred and excelled in the small endeavor, whether this was literature, architecture, business, or industry. And to think that Joaquin wrote that gem in the 1960s!

The task before me and others like me, then, is to build something great. Something built on and with the bones of the East while bridging it with the West.

And now, I’m going to a writers’ workshop in the United States¬†and by God, I am frightened by the possibility of not being true to my roots there.

I believe¬†in¬†people writing whatever the hell they want, but I also believe in peer pressure. Will I feel forced to write “Filipino” stories, which some define as work devoid of colonial influences? Or will I keep making up worlds like I usually do, occasionally borrowing from other cultures not mine, the way Westerners do? What if I fail to speak for my people? Is it presumptive of me to even call the indigenous tribes my people when I only know of the existence of a handful and seen even less individuals up close and personal?

 

IV.

There is a very problematic strain of thinking in talks of nationalism. It frames the Filipino without any influence of the West. Many agree with this kind of thinking, going so far as to protest in front of the US Embassy when Barack Obama came to visit.

I do not agree with this kind of thinking. While trying to reclaim a lost pre-colonial culture, it also rejects everything good the West ever brought to the archipelago. I am talking about the 12 items Nick Joaquin lists in his essay “Culture and¬†History” as the greatest events in Philippine history‚Äēall of them introduced during the 16th century, the beginning of the Spanish era. These are as follows:

 

  1. The Introduction of the Wheel
  2. The Introduction of the Plow
  3. The Introduction of Road and Bridge
  4. The Introduction of New Crops like Corn, Tobacco, Camote, Coffee, Tea, Cocoa, Beans, Achuete, Onion, Potato, Guava, Papaya, Pineapple, Avocado, Squash, Lettuce, Cucumber, Cabbage, Singcamas, Sigadillas, Mani, etc., etc.
  5. The Introduction of New Livestock like the Horse, the Cow, the Sheep, the Turkey, the Goose, etc., and the Carabao as Draft Animal
  6. The Introduction of the Fabrica, or Factory
  7. The Introduction of Paper and Printing
  8. The Introduction of the Roman Alphabet
  9. The Introduction of Calendar and Clock
  10. The Introduction of the Map and the Charting of the Philippine Shape
  11. The Introduction of the Arts of Painting and Architecture
  12. The Introduction of the Guisado

 

And let’s not forget who finally united a whole cluster of different barangays, even if it was just in one island group (Luzon). It definitely wasn’t the datus.

(Side note: Isn’t it fascinating how so many turn to history to find culture?)

However, the Philippines does not owe Spain a debt of gratitude simply because they brought these innovations or even because they named the archipelago after a Spanish king, for better or worse. These are simply facts, and people ignore facts at their peril.

But although we must¬†acknowledge what good came to the Philippines from the West, we most certainly cannot shun our own for the embrace of a foreign culture, even if we do not exactly know what we own if it sat right under our noses. I don’t just mean the different traditions and histories of the indigenous tribes; I also pertain to both¬†the traditions and modernity¬†found in the¬†cities and metropolises, though these have been “tainted” by the foreign.

The cosmopolitan in the Philippines is also Filipino; to reject this is to reject the inherent adaptability of the Filipino people. Alone of all the Spanish colonies, were we not allowed to keep our native tongues though we allowed many Spanish (and Chinese and Arabic and later, English) words to seep into these? Are not the descendants of those who were converted to Catholicism still following the framework of our pagan ancestors when childless wives dance for the Virgin of Obando every May for a baby, when multitudes throw their handkerchiefs at the Black Nazarene every January in the hopes of gaining miracles in the cloth? Did we not completely alter until unrecognizable the military jeeps the Americans sold at the end of World War II, hence the jeepneys we have plying the streets today?

We are so good at conquering the tools of our conquerors, even if we never vanquished the conquerors completely by ourselves; why deny this attribute?

Listen, I’m not pro-Spain or pro-America or even pro-Japan. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate as well as critique the parts of the cultures they brought and continue to bring to the Philippines. I think we are all the better enriched when we get an idea of how much larger the world is beyond the horizon, whether you look to another province or another nation.

The Filipino adaptability perfectly encapsulates something I’ve lately realized: a vibrant¬†Filipino culture‚Äēand culture, in general‚Äēis not captured¬†in any concrete, specific thing.¬†Maybe it is not meant to be captured at all, or at least, not completely and for all time. You can definitely find a people’s culture in their values and in the way they interact with each other and the world. The things these people leave behind are only meant to suggest the dynamism of an entire way of life.

Perhaps our perceptions of culture change with every generation. Culture is not static. Hence, maybe this is why the elderly will always be complaining about the youth and the loss of culture in any period in history, everywhere.

If there’s anyone truly in danger of losing their culture, it’s the indigenous tribes. Many indigenous¬†traditions are dying out because their youth are choosing modernity, education, and work in the big cities (especially Manila). It would be great if we could preserve those, but there are huge obstacles to overcome in the endeavor‚Äēnot least of which is how many seem¬†to prefer squabbling over¬†regional differences rather than embracing them.

 

V.

And so we circle back to literature.

There is¬†a Huffington Post article titled¬†“Are Authors Scared to Write Diverse Books?”.¬†It’s not the best article about diversity in literature out there, but I think it’s a good jumping point.

At first I thought it was going to touch on a history of North American racism in literature, but author Roni Loren briefly examines the poetics behind her own writing while breaking down three fears straight, cisgendered white writers may have in writing a character totally unlike them (LGBT, disabled, Person of Color, what have you).

But when I read the last fear, I realized that the article applied to anyone writing from an outsider’s perspective in anything. The fear was,¬†“If I’m not part of a certain group, do I have the right to write about it?”

I applaud her answer:

 

This topic has varied opinions. Some believe that stories about x group should only be written by writers who are x. I mentioned earlier that we need more diversity amongst published authors, so I see where this idea comes from. And I absolutely agree that there needs to be focus on encouraging diverse voices in the publishing world. (That’s a bigger topic I’m not going to tackle here.) But I don’t think that means that any writer should be limited to only writing about groups they belong to or experiences they’ve personally had (how boring). A rising tide lifts all boats. Let’s all be part of that tide together.

 

By virtue of blood, birth, association, and responsibility,¬†whether I like it or not, I carry the disparate voices of 95 million Filipinos no matter where I go.¬†The danger of speaking for 95¬†million is that foreigners¬†who do not know any better will look to me¬†and others like me¬†as the voices for them all, even though every single one of those 95 million people¬†have experiences vastly different from one another. We are united only by that word‚ÄēFilipino‚Äēand we do not even have a solid definition everyone can accept.

I don’t even wish to speak¬†for¬†all of¬†them, especially the indigenous peoples. That would be presumptive; some of the tribes even have people who¬†can¬†speak and write for¬†them. I will occasionally speak¬†about¬†them, but after all, I am an outsider. I am bound to get something wrong. How then, will I ever be Filipino enough (and uphold that proudly)?

It took friends both Filipino and North American, both living in the US, to point out to me that 1) this is a conversation I’ll be having with myself for the rest of my life, and 2)¬†by virtue of blood, birth, association, and responsibility,¬†whether I like it or not, I am a¬†Filipino no matter where I go. I was born as one, I grew up as one, and no matter what my influences are or how left out of society I feel,¬†it’s going to keep showing up in everything I do and in every imaginary world I create¬†on the blank page, one way or another. This existence I’ve been living is valid, too, and I do not owe my career or my subject matter to anyone, foreigners and Filipinos alike.

I may have lived a privileged life as an English-speaking Catholic school girl from Manila with a kidney disease. Some would even consider that the angst I feel when trying to crack this mold as a First World Problem; it certainly does not compare to a faceless corporation evicting you from your ancestral home or sleeping on cardboard boxes in the shadow of a highway.

But you know what, we all have our issues. Having one issue or other does not determine where a person falls in the much too simple dichotomies of weak or strong, right or wrong, patriotic or unpatriotic. Those are just some of the things that make up my voice and I would rather have this kind of voice than the inability to wield any kind of voice at all.

We can only hope to write about each other with respect. But in worrying about the weight of 95 million other voices, I nearly forgot about the heft of my own voice and the respect I must accord it, too.

Pinoy Otaku Literature

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I liked a lot of things–most of them firmly rooted in pop culture–including anime. When I began to write seriously, I also began noticing how different the plots and characters between the anime serieses I loved and the works of fiction I loved. I even tried to push away the anime influence for a while; and even though I took a seven year break from watching anime, the influence has not left me. Proof of that is how I’ve attempted to alter my drawing style several times in an attempt to alter the trappings of my imagination (though my style still has solid anime-esque foundations nowadays).

Here is my friend, the good-natured, utterly polite (at least in person), and ever-controversial polemicist Karlo David, articulating more eloquently than I ever could, how this generation’s writers and artists can own something as foreign and popular as anime and transform it into art with a Filipino sensibility. ūüôā

A typhoon-aftermath plea from the frustrated powerless

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The world went insane a week ago, and not of the I-don’t-know-what-the-hell-anyone-is-fighting-about sort of insane. It’s the aftermath of a Category 5 storm kind of insane.

It happened not so long ago that you feel as if you can still reach out into the river of Time and snatch at that one pristine day before the madness. To undo devastation, to relive a peace it will take years to rebuild.¬†Maybe that’s the result of being of the generation familiar with Ctrl + Z command, I dunno.

My job requires me to be familiar with every angle of the news down south. I can’t escape it. The TV is on 24/7 and it is most of the time tuned to the coverage in Tacloban, though I wish it would also focus a couple of shots on other places, such as Coron, Guiuan, Boracay, and Cebu to name a few places. But I don’t call the shots here.

This is why, for the last few days, my friends have wondered as to my emotional decisions and verbal comebacks. I’m saturated with news of the devastation. My family has done its part with donations and volunteering at relief ops, but I feel that it isn’t enough. Then again, would anything come close to counting as “enough” in a situation such as this?

But this is not about me. It’s about the storm survivors weeping because of what befell them (and can anyone honestly say they wouldn’t do so in their shoes?). It’s also about so many of those sitting in the safety of their own homes and workplaces – so far away from what is now being called ground zero – not knowing which of the news items are false and which are true. Not knowing means such people cannot better tweak their relief efforts to the needs of the needy.

I don’t know whom to believe and it is maddening, because everyone from CNN anchors to local reporters to politicians big and small to ordinary people volunteering in Leyte to the survivors themselves each have a different view of a situation so massive, I don’t think anyone can begin to wrap their heads around it without needing to sit down and stare at a wall for a while. Not knowing in this case is brought about by everyone saying contradicting things. Everyone saying contradicting things means there is no concerted effort, no organization.

Some would argue that organization should be the last thing on the mind for these people, but maybe, just maybe, if someone in Manila or in any of the affected provinces had a clearly-defined plan and manner of execution, things would start to look a little better.

I have yet to hear of such a person with such a plan. But in the name of fairness, you have to hear them all out and make the best of what you can with what you do know.

I heard this one somewhere, and I will repeat it here. Now, unlike no other moment in history to come before it, the eyes of the world are on the Philippines. Now is the time for the Philippine government to prove that it truly has the interests of the very people it should protect at heart, to show that it is remorseful for all its past mistakes and transgressions.

I don’t mean to grandstand or to point fingers. I have been thinking of how to approach this matter for a while now, and I figured it should be in some manner that will help rather than hinder, just as some posts compel some people to argue in the comments rather than be out helping in any way they can. I still don’t know what that approach should be, but this right here is from my heart, born of six days of monitoring the news.

I won’t pretend to know what they specifically should and shouldn’t do, as I am not there. But people are suffering on so many islands in the Central Visayas, and some survivors are saying that help hasn’t even arrived yet. To the men and women leading my country’s government, particularly to those who could and should be doing better, please take initiative. Please think out of the box. Please organize yourselves. Please go beyond all that red tape and see that the survivors get their food, water, places to sleep and keep warm, and body bags for their dead.

The world is watching. Don’t wait for those of other nations to lead you. You have to lead them. You have to take their criticisms constructively and act in accordance. Show all those down in the Visayas and around the nation that we can lead ourselves and that we are capable of at least propping ourselves up on our elbows.

This will be the last time I post anything here about the matter. It is time not to go into polemics or to call each other names. It is time to do, and do more.

Why Mayor Estrada Is Wrong on Hong Kong

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THIS.

The Society of Honor: the Philippines

Subtitled: Filipinos Should Not Move to the Back of the Bus

As is often the case, kindly bear with me as I wander through some facts and acts, and examine things a bit, before arriving at a conclusion.

I‚Äôm sure most of you are aware of the background of the incident commonly known as the ‚ÄúBus Massacre‚ÄĚ. Eight Hong Kong tourists were killed on August 23, 2010, when an angry Filipino, holding the tourists hostage on a bus, opened fire on the hostages as Filipino police, trying to apprehend him, charged the bus.

The case has festered for three years because Hong Kong demands apology and remuneration from the Philippines while President Aquino holds to a ‚Äúno apology‚ÄĚ position. It is about as intricate as an issue comes. It reflects cross-cultural dynamics, national sovereignty, legal issues, and a lot of human emotions.

A Quick-Study of the Situation

Here is a…

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