Category: Politics Economics Society

Mercado experience Part 2: Moro Exchange

What’s usually mentioned in Philippine history books or lectured in classes is the Galleon Trade during the time of the Spaniards. But did you know that in the time of the Americans there was the Moro Exchange? And that, in 1908, four years into these successful Exchanges, in the , Cotabato was pronounced as the most peaceful district of the Moro Province?

“The market place is a time-honored institution the world over,” reported The Mindanao Herald enthusiastically, “and in no people does it appeal more strongly than to the Moro. It is to him the ancient forum where commercial and social interests mingle.”…

Responding to the supposed “natural” Moro inclinations toward trade and commerce, on 3 September 1904 the military regime opened the first “Moro Exchange” in Zamboanga…

Originally the brainchild of John Finley, a district governor in Moro Province, the Moro Exchanges consisted of several primary structures specifically designed for commerce, as well as a number of other buildings intended for lodging travelers and storing various commodities. These markets were designed to engender feelings of safety, fairneds, entrepreneurial opportunity, and accommodation for Filipino Muslims and various hill tribes that wished to trade. Anxious to provide a welcoming atmosphere to Moros in particular, colonial administrators made every effort to “give due consideration to the Moslem faith of the Moros” and to “exhibit a fair measure of respect for their religion and their customs” by maintaining “sanitary” facilities and even access to halal foods for devout Muslims. 

By providing a level playing field and impartial means of exchange, colonial authorities proposed to break cycles of class tyranny and eliminate the causes of debt and slavery. “The market had been built for the use of the non-Christian people of the District of Zamboanga,” reported The Mindanao Herald on opening day, “to sell their products at fair prices, which they would be permitted to enjoy themselves, and ‘no Sultan, nor datto, nor panglima, nor person of any sort, will be permitted to interfere with…the enjoyment of…legitimate rights.'”…”Heretofore the inhabitants of the interior of the island have been at the mercy of the Chinese trader for a market for their goods and these, when sold, were seldom paid for except in merchandise at many times its real value,” concluded one article.

Much to the delight of colonial officials, Moro Exchanges received broadly enthusiastic support from Filipino Muslims… Reporting on five distinguished headmen from the Lanao District, The Mindanao Herald stated, “The Moro Exchange seems to have claimed their attention to the exclusion of all else, and they have petitioned the government to establish one at Marahui (sic).”… Probably no governmental policy since the American occupation of the islands has produced such prompt and beneficial results to the native people as the Moro Exchange system,” praised The Mindanao Herald in 1906 while contemplating the great social and economic changes occurring among the Moros…

Established markets in perennially disruptive areas such as Jolo, for example, reported an outpouring of participation and support for the colonial program. “The Sulu Moros are pleased with the Exchange,” acknowledged one American colonialist. “They know that they can come to the Exchange and sell their products for what they are worth.”…

“A very valuable trade has sprung up between Zamboanga and Jolo through the agency of the Moro market in this city,” reported an American from Jolo, and “excellent prices (are) being paid the Joloanos who come laden to our shores with fruits, pearl shells, and other articles too numerous to mention, carrying back to their homes in lieu thereof good coin of the realm.”…in 1913 General Pershing responded to Moro cries for financial institutions by allowing The Bank of the Philippines to open a branch in Jolo. During its first month in operation the institution took in over 60,000 pesos in deposits from anxious Moros.

Making Moros, Michael C. Hawkins


Thoughts while watching an early morning banana boat ride

It was not yet nine in the morning but I guess that’s already late in the day for these beachgoers. I was meeting select people in this coastal village for a discussion about what they’re doing to make their community resilient. For many Filipinos, resilience is equated to “smiling or laughing though the world has crashed around them”.  This attitude is good but…only to an extent. Beyond a certain point, it’s avoidance, of sad realities around them- no basic infrastructures such as water systems, roads, sea walls, and if there are as for instance village health stations, they’re not staffed or equipped. Spending one’s free time on a banana boat is a personal choice, yes. But then the choice each and every Filipino make makes the nation. If everyone of us are on banana boats where does that lead all of us to? Filipinos need to be more conscious when making a choice especially at this time in our development when the nation needs more of it’s people to engage with planners and decisionmakers. We need to spend less time on banana boats and more time in public session halls, lobbying for quality basic infrastructures and services, for talk to be consistent with walk, for change to happen on the ground in the villages among families. Otherwise it’s the same hullaballoo all over again- the next generation inheriting redundant pile of to-dos we procrastinated on that our generation inherited from the last and so forth. Filipinos need to be generous.

This end justified the means

Whenever I see bright red nails it reminds me of the young woman who was part of the team that provided training on Knowledge Management for my colleagues at the field office.  The unit was to pilot test a KM community of practice planned to be further developed into a strategy for the entire organization.  The young woman was there to assist the training team which was part of her role as a coordinator at her organization, and she was my initial contact for the training.

As I had already been collaborating with her and training team as to the details, I knew beforehand that she’s pretty and fair in skin.  Cutely daring was an apt description of her style.  But my colleagues didn’t know that yet.  Part of me was anticipating their reaction knowing that development workers especially those who’ve been long in the field don’t often get to be up close and personal with shall we say the more pleasant sights of civilization.  Women in the field have in general somehow set aside their feminine side, a necessary trade off given the task of dealing with all sorts of personalities not to mention project setbacks and what have you out there.

I wasn’t mistaken.  When the training finally materialized, she came in looking no less like Aphrodite herself, which I expected, her nails in a bright shade of red and a similar hue on her lips the color irresistibly stark on her fair skin. Knowledge Management is rather a technically challenging topic but she at least got everybody’s full and undivided attention on the matter.

Before The Dawn: An Artist’ Journey into Afghanistan

Art serves as a medium to express aspects of life that we can’t fully put forth in words.  Because art essentially seeks the beauty in things, it renders palatable what otherwise are difficult realities.  And because it serves as a screen through which we could observe from afar in the physical or psychological sense difficult subjects, it offers a safe space in which to jump start discussions of these, which is exactly the objective of art:  To bring things into light, toward a fresh perspective of things.

…and scenting

In a previous article, I mentioned about women and leg shaving a ritual that appears to be sustained by the female’s preconceived idea of the male’s expectation that certain surfaces of the female body should be without hair in contrast to the I-don’t-care-if-you-have-hair attitude among men who are in relationships with other men.

In this post, we’ll do smell.  Does smell matter in a relationship?  The actress Jacqueline Bisset has just the response to that:

I could never sleep with someone who didn’t smell right. For me, smell is intoxicating. It’s an animal thing and very, very dangerous.
What’s the ideal odour? I can’t possibly sum it up. Not like perfume, but clean, for sure – I’m not into smelly armpits.
She smiles and sips her peach juice.
When she shares such theories with male friends, she says, they tend to tell her smell doesn’t share the same potency for them.
What? You’re nuts! I find that really hard to believe.
Jacqueline, you’re wrong – men don’t care about that.
Her eyes pop in shock at the memory.

Jacqueline Bisset:  Older women continue to want sex but men don’t want to sleep with them’, The Guardian

Apparently, it does.

I remember having a conversation about smell with a former colleague who was based at our regional office in Bangkok.  When she wasn’t at the office designing and testing IT programs for the organization, she was out visiting program offices in the region training local staff and providing support.  She was sometimes at our international headquarters as well.  Such travels afforded her frequent interaction with people of diverse race and cultures.

During a snack break, she and I initially talked about what people at the office usually talk about when they’re away from their desks — the day’s scoop.  Perhaps we soon realized such was irrelevant to us because then we segued to what men and women smell to each other.

She was quite knowledgeable about the matter and I remember her saying that according to foreigners particularly Westerners Filipinos give off a distinct smell…like, a fish’.  I laughed.  Seriously? I asked her. She said that yes it is. Then two colleagues who were sharing the table with us and have apparently heard our talk pounced in. They had some things to say on the matter of smell too.

What did Ms. Jacqueline Bisset say?  Smell is an “animal thing” and “very, very dangerous” as I found out especially when dissected on the dining table.

Making coffee, shaving legs

I heard it first from Barbara Stanwyck‘s character, a formidable widow in the movie The Thorn Birds.  Somebody brave enough from among her visiting long lost relatives asked her why she hasn’t remarried.  I can’t recall her exact lines but it went something like,

And what? Spend my time making and serving a man coffee again? No thank you. I rather love this freedom too much.

I had a good laugh at that.

The second time, the words were spoken by although she wasn’t ascribing to father. She was telling me about her friend who she hadn’t seen for a long time and unexpectedly ran into recently downtown. Mother learned that her friend is now retired and recently widowed.

“You’re not thinking of remarrying?” Mother asked her.

The friend replied, “and spend the time making coffee again?  No!  I’m rather enjoying my time alone besides I’d like to travel.”

I laughed so hard I nearly dropped the plate I was washing.

I recalled Sarah Silverman‘s character in the movie Take This Waltz who brings home the message about why women who’ve left or freed of their long term relationships react the way they do.

She and her friends were taking a shower after their pool aerobics abruptly ended.  They were having into a rather deep conversation about the men in their lives. At one point Silverman’s character moved to shave her legs.  While doing so, she wonders loudly why she’s even doing it. She replies to her own question, saying she does it for James her husband of 10 years.

“Although,” she adds, “I don’t think James would’ve noticed if I didn’t.”

One of them sighed, “married life…”.

Silverman’s musing about her leg shaving routine sent my thoughts to relationships between men.  The partners don’t shave their legs, or at least that’s what I know.  There’s no pressure to do so. Still they continue to desire each other.  Hair is irrelevant to their desire and love.

So how is it that in “straight” relationships, desire and love are somehow dependent on hair free or smooth legs?

And is it true what Silverman’s character said– that her husband of 10 years wouldn’t notice if she has hair on her legs?  Who’s the woman willing to find out?

Regardless, women’s legs are incredibly resilient– what with 10 years and more of shaving?

Power walking, NGO style


The image reminds me of days, the years I spent in the field, facilitating development for communities.  My look though was tomboy fare: cropped hair, jeans, cargo pants, tee shirts or long-sleeved plaid shirts (defense against sunburn, mosquitoes, and the like), sweaters, and sneakers.  A snack-laden backpack to go with.  Maybe a cap on hot days, but no umbrella, ever.  To protect my face, I brought along newspaper instead which was less conspicuous.  I still got sunburned though, through the years, and have never gotten my pre-development work color back.

The rule in the field is, blend in with the people and your surroundings.  But once, I wore heels the day I was introduced to local partners in my new area.  On entering the room, I saw folks gathered inside trying hard not to show that they were giving me a once-over.  I caught one of them – who turned out to be my local counterpart – raising her brows ever so slightly.  I was prepared to deliver a speech in defense of heels and individuality, but I realized nobody actually openly commented on my heels.

I usually go around the village along with a resident-volunteer or a village official. The local government insisted because, well, for one, the place isn’t exactly snake-free, literally and figuratively speaking.

If I were to add up the miles I walked, I would’ve probably already traversed half the map. In CAR, with villages spread out across mountainous terrain, walking was the only way to reach them. In the Metro, if only EDSA was walkable, I could walk from Cubao to Makati City.

Walking was one of the things I missed when I went to work at headquarters.  But it was good that company policy required HQ staff especially in Program to go on field a certain percentage of the time yearly.  But then when HQ staff visited the field offices we’re brought around in the company car and field personnel in charge of our itinerary preferred to bring us to areas accessible by car which to a former field worker is no fun.  HQ staff were practically delivered door to door.  It made sense though because as outsiders we weren’t very familiar with the areas and no sensible field staff would expose higher-ups to risks. Nonetheless, being in research meant I had more leeway to go around the areas on foot and local transportation and when necessary spend nights there.

These days, as an independent contractor, I could’ve supervise the work from the comfort of my private space from afar but I prefer not to. I still like walking around, like I did when I was much younger. I don’t think I’ll let go of that. To be able to experience the local landscape and listen to locals talk about their lives are for me a gift which I’m open and grateful to receive.