(Excerpted from The Grateful Unrich…: Chapter 10: Vanilla Manila)
Man has places in his heart which do not exist, and into them enters suffering, in order that they may have existence -Leon Bloy
Philippine Airlines Flight 1624 from Bangkok to Manila is worlds away from Mekatha village in Myanmar. The airline enjoys a reputation as one of the world’s finest. Though hardly a jet set connoisseur, I am forced to concur. I take full advantage of the complimentary alcohol, mixing tall dark bottles of San Miguel beer with tiny clear bottles of Jack Daniels. I stash more than a few of the latter away in my overhead Nepalese rucksack for later.
Creeping drunkenness gives way to stony sobriety as I peruse the Bangkok Post. The front page tells of a massive Burmese Air Force bombing campaign conducted in the Ban Mae Sot area yesterday. The realization quickly sinks in that had I left Mekatha just one day later, I may never have seen the inside of this airplane. I wonder about Daisy and her family. I hope that they have survived.
I stumble through Philippine customs and soon find myself tossed out onto the mean streets of Manila in the dark of night. I shun the noisy taxi brigade and set out on foot for the downtown Ermita district- home to a stunning collection of Manila’s cheap hotels. After news of the Burmese bombing and my belly full of bourbon, fear is not possible- a twisted aberration that only ridiculously haunted my former self. Dawn breaks as I round the corner at Bistro Remedios bound for the Port of Manila. Suddenly he appears out of nowhere.
“Give me money!” he demands, wielding his weapon like a professional assassin. “Or I shoot you!” I instinctively jump behind a sign that says, “All-America Ice Cream”, chuckling hardily at the mixed metaphor, while noticing that my left foot has landed in one of scores of open sewer canals that run throughout this shit hole of a city. More importantly I know- as I shake the shit off my Nepalese clogs- I have narrowly dodged the barrel of the plastic space gun which this 4-year-old rag-a-muffin brandishes.
“Too many Rambo movies, junior,” I scold him, as I continue my descent into this colonial legacy of US military occupation- its streets lined with McDonalds and Dunkin’ Donuts, its stores selling Hormel Vienna sausage and Marlboro cigarettes, its bars filled with fat European pedophiles and their 14-year-old native escorts- well-trained by US sailors at Subic Bay Naval Station. A young girl approaches me as I munch down a hamburger for lack of better breakfast fare- my other option was a hot dog. She says, “Me sucky-sucky you mister. Ten dollar.” She couldn’t have been 12-years-old. I angrily wave her away- a child of God cast onto these filthy streets, paved by imperialistic darkness.
I continue towards the Port of Manila, hoping I can find a sympathetic freighter captain bound for Hong Kong or Taiwan or anywhere or nowhere. Alongside the seawall separating this smog-ridden metropolis from the acrid waters of Manila Bay, beneath sadly swooning coconut palms, lie dozens of Manila throwaways- young mothers clutching crying babies, wilted old men clutching liquor bottles and hollow-eyed junkies clutching absolutely nothing. They lay sprawled out like a patchwork quilt upon a single manicured strip of grass- a dormitory for the destitute, a meeting place for those who can not bear the bared teeth of Dole and Del Monte and Pfizer and the other swirling sharks of monopoly capital who run this country.
I walk on through air that now feels like a heavy wet blanket. To my left- perched on a knoll overlooking the bay- I see a heavily guarded building with wrought iron gates coming into view. Beside it is the exclusive Philippines Yacht Club- equally well-fortified. The stony-faced sentries do not blink as I pass. The letters on the building read “United States Embassy”.
Ahead I see a stadium. Throngs of people file through its gates, joining a huge crowd already inside- swaying and clapping in phony unison. On the stage is a mesmerized Pentecostal faith healer/snake oil salesman. I wonder if he gets his check directly from the embassy or if its spook inhabitants use a third party conduit such as Peace Corps or USAID for deniability purposes. The CIA has been orchestrating a counter-insurgency campaign here for decades, targeted at the peasant New People’s Army- a sophisticated socialist bunch which the Western media has desperately attempted to sweep beneath the rug of history.
Just beyond the stadium I spy yet another attempt to Westernize, Christianize and pacify unruly Filipinos. The sign says, “Seaworld”. This neo-colonial effort has not been as successful, since most Filipinos cannot afford the stout admission price. Back to the drawing board Lizard Kings. A double-decker bus- retired from London, home of Queen El-Lizard-Birth- spews smoke as it speeds down United Nations Boulevard. It is bright red with a huge Marlboro logo on either side.
It’s late when I finally reach the harbor. All shipping offices are closed. I decide it is fate and make my way back to Ermita, where the streets are coming alive for another night of heavy groping and commerce. A fifty-plus smiling European man with thick glasses and a polyester blue shirt not quite covering his protruding belly, strides past holding hands with a teenage girl with disinterested darting eyes. He obviously doesn’t get it. These escorts demand 400 pesos a day (around $10). The girls themselves receive only 50 pesos as their cut. In a good month it is barely enough to cover the rent, which has recently skyrocketed under another in a series of IMF-induced inflationary squeezes.
Shooting up junk bonds, he swaggers down Wall Street
Soiling skinny brown sharecroppers palm with limousine fax phone
Sacred earth paved over in neon,
Insurrection at the mall fomented by mauling bear
Tripping over sewer grates, tripping hungry sewer ingrates
Swallowing up countries, feasting on industrial nightmare
Sipping dark child’s blood, snickering old boy’s jokes
Angry sky falling, parking ramp contract, food riots at Safeway not so safe
Smoldering over pork bellies unsold, smoldering sold-out pork bellies
Gunning down resisters, strafing mud huts from a comfortable altitude
Pushing ghetto crack on babies to finance CIA Stinger missiles
Red sun burning, mujahadeen death merchants
Home to roost at White House, very white
Simmering over terrorists unrestrained, simmering unrestrained
Wall Street terrorists
After downing a half-a-dozen or so San Miguels, the old failed men become more generous, as the young sisters who comprise this beautiful mosaic of fortitude and savvy give WWII castaways a shakedown cruise of Manila. The most seasoned escorts come away with whole new wardrobes for their families, toys for their children (many are mothers) and expensive jewelry for themselves. I walk back to my hotel after a brief stop at the Hobbit House- where midget waiters, good coffee and Filipino folk music of leftist bent offer a decent alternative to the sadly comical Ermita bar scene.
Batad, North Luzon
Chris is a veteran transient. This is his second swing through SE Asia, after a disillusioning tour of duty with the British Navy during the Falkland Islands War with Argentina blew his lid. He fancied the idea of living and working on a ship, but when British Naval pilots starting bombing their own ships under orders from officers doing lines of cocaine in the ship’s casino, he thought it a bit odd. Then there were the Thai and Filipino hookers on board- compliments of the US Navy- and the persistent rumors that the war was just a big hoax serving as cover for the establishment of CIA/MI6 heroin trafficking routes through Bolivia- where ex-Nazi Butcher of Lyon Klaus Barbie was now President thanks to a CIA coup.
Chris and I set off for a tiny village called Batad, a good six mile hike into the mountains. Chris has been staying in the village for nearly a month and has come to Banaue for a hot shower and a square meal. We hook up with an Australian named Robert on the bus to the starting point of the hike. We hop off in the middle of nowhere and start up a small overgrown trail towards Batad. The three mile ascent is arduous. The view at the pass is breathtaking. Verdant green hills and valleys can be seen in every direction, painted up and down in a patchwork of perfectly terraced rice paddies. Some call Batad the Eighth Wonder of the World.
The three mile descent into the valley is steep and precarious. We inch our way along a narrow trail, hugging the cliffs and watching every step we take. One wrong move could result in a 50 foot plunge into a ravine and near certain death. Robert is the loud arrogant asshole type. He won’t shut up and is not paying attention. Suddenly he slips and is headed into the abyss. I grab the external frame of his backpack and save his life. He remains silent the rest of the way to the village.
Children are running up and down the pathways which treacherously separate the 2,000-year-old rice terraces that cover every inch of the hillsides surrounding this deep lush valley. Neither children nor parents seem worried that one misstep would mean a funeral for one of these smiling barefoot kids. They grew up as sure-footed as mountain goats. Like Zen warriors, they traverse the paths as if a perfect roadmap of the village is permanently etched in their minds. This is the land of the Ifugao people.
We receive a hardy welcome at Pedro’s Guest House, the only private home open to foreigners staying in the village. The kitchen shelves are lined with bags of rice and cans of Hormel Vienna sausages. Chris immediately begins his search for a bamboo water bong which he made earlier in the week. Manfred- a wild-eyed German homesteader with long wavy blond hair covering his shoulders- is vociferously eating his sausage and rice breakfast. He had come streaking past us on the trail as we entered the valley, screaming and hollering like a madman. He explains that his euphoria was the result of the magic mushrooms he had eaten last night. He finishes his sausage and rice and rolls a gargantuan joint. By the time my breakfast arrives I am too stoned to eat, so Manfred begins teaching me German. I do not learn a word of it.
There is a large group of Israelis staying here. I am uneasy around them. They are arrogant and condescending. I learn that they have just finished a tour of duty with the Israeli military and are here on leave, since the Philippines is one of only a few countries that grants visas to Israeli citizens, due to Israel’s illegal seizure of Palestinian lands. I notice they are teaching the village children Hebrew and discover that they subscribe to the Cabala- a secret Zionist sect that claims to know the secrets of the Bible and deems all non-Cabalists stupid and unworthy. One of the Israelis tries to control my mind tonight as we puff on ganja. I have never experienced this darkness before or since. I use up every ounce of strength I can muster just to fight this vampire off. These people are dangerous.
I begin to believe that their real purpose here is to set up Guatemalan-style model villages in this region of North Luzon province, a hotbed of activity for the communist New People’s Army (NPA)- whose guerillas continue to struggle for the overthrow of the corrupt Philippine US-puppet government and the infamous Thirteen Families oligarchy which controls the economy of this resource-rich nation, along with their multinational banker buddies. Israeli Mossad often works hand in hand with CIA in such counter-insurgency efforts. I believe these Israelis constitute an active Mossad cell.
Nikki is a beautiful Filipino woman, a high-class prostitute working out of Manila’s exclusive Dunhill Club. I talk to her every morning. She is the most interesting person of the motley crew assembled here. She tells me she has accompanied princes to Saudi Arabia, an oil executive to the South Pacific and a corporate lawyer to Rio de Janeiro. Her beauty has been her ticket out of the wretched squalor of Santa Clara- Manila’s poorest slum, where she was born. She is here with a wealthy German doctor who treats her like a slave. On many occasions I want to kill him.
She senses my anger and comes to me for understanding and empathy. She tells me about her barrio and of her son, whom her mother watches while she is off earning money. The German Nazi is uneasy at our conversations. I am moved as Nikki tells me that after her last trip to the Middle East, she threw a party for all the kids in the neighborhood, buying them ice cream, cake and all kinds of toys. She hates her work, but is faced with the reality that prostitution pays far more that any other job in the Philippines. I am increasingly aware that the country’s main hard currency export is not the pineapples or bananas produced at Dole and Del Monte corporate farms, but beautiful women. Nikki dreams of finding a good husband to take care of her family and herself.
Morning comes and I am awakened by a soft voice in the dormitory, which I share with eight other men. Nikki is tip-toeing towards me, a broad mischievous smile on her brown supple face and a cup of steaming hot coffee in her hand. She moves closer and sits down beside me, setting the coffee down and quickly wrapping her arms around me. I feel a sense of gratitude in her embrace, a feeling of amazement that a man could exist who actually understands her predicament.
“Take me with you”, she pleads. “I don’t like him. He treats me badly. I don’t want to take any more crystal. Please take me with you!” Her pimps, she now tells me, keep all the girls strung out on powder and use them as couriers to deal large quantities of drugs at places like the Manila Hilton. The global drug trade is, I am learning, inexorably tied to the global prostitution racket. I tell Nikki I do not have the resources to support her and her family. Though wealthy by Filipino standards, by the time I return to the US, I will have less than $500 to my name. I see her desperation and wish I could take her and her 4-year-old son back home with me to safety. But I cannot. I ponder my decision over Green Revolution rice and Hormel Vienna sausage.
Climbing the trail out of this magical valley where smoke and music mingle under the kind supervision of mesmerizing ancient rice paddies, shy smiling children and a safe feeling only accessible through indigenous tribal people- I am reminded of my smallness. A walk amongst these terraces takes me back to my adventurous childhood, where I hunted rabbits in the middle of blizzards and sledded down death-defying slopes dodging trees, where I felt connected to the earth and was assured of myself and of my safety through a great humility towards the Creator and through an unshakable faith in goodness.
But I carry with me from this valley a sadness, as well. Christian missionaries have arrived to join their Zionist counterparts. So have Dow Chemical and Conagra and Hormel and their agribusiness mutant child- the Green Revolution. Soon the ancient rice seed grown here will be forced out by bio-engineered rice that needs Monsanto chemicals to grow and John Deere tractors to cultivate. These villagers will soon be eating USAID Cargill wheat, transformed magically into Tate & Lyle sugar-infested diabetes-inducing cookies, Frito-Lay saturated fat-plagued chips and other Western garbage bearing heart disease and leukemia. The tentacles of One World Corporate Rule are silently slithering into this rare pocket of sanity; pacification chow to glorify Uncle Sam and keep the NPA from controlling this valley that is theirs by birthright.
The NPA already controls huge areas across the Sierra Madre to the north, causing the Peace Corps to step up its attempts to Westernize the Filipino peasantry. But a counter-offensive has begun. A few Peace Corps personnel were recently kidnapped by NPA forces in Negros and Mindanao. And there is talk that the Alliance for Progress crowd may be soon packing it in throughout the country. I suppose that’s why the Mossad has been called in.
I stop at the pass for a cigarette and to take one last look at the tapestry of bamboo huts and terraces shrouded now in low-lying gray clouds- a perfect sullen metaphor for what I feel will surely descend upon this tranquil village. There will be rain soon, so I’d better get off this mountain. My heart and soul are forever with you who call yourselves Ifugao. May your wisdom prevail over the confusion and insecurity of the powerful dark-hearted men who plot your demise. And may I have absorbed some of that wisdom, so that I am better able to struggle on your behalf for the rest of my life.
I walk all the way to Banaue, forsaking the bus for a walk in the rain. I arrive drenched and ponder my next move while sipping coffee in a restaurant and peering out at the cold mountain rain. The money is running out. Chris told me that teaching English in Japan is quite lucrative. Tokyo is surely a beast, but maybe one that I can slay, while gathering the needed funds for graduate school. I applied in Malaysia for an Erasmus Scholarship to study the Philosophy of Ecology at the University of Montana. Word came in Manila that I received this full-ride scholarship. The entrenched intellectual establishment awaits my penniless arrival with great contempt for my free mind and great hopes for its corruption. It hates me only slightly less than it fears me. I hate it without any fear at all.
I will go into Tokyo- an equally fearful mind-controlled quadrant- like an Ifugao NPA warrior, with the narrowed eyes of a Robin Hood thief. I will shake a good quantity of yen from its mighty pocketbook- filled with the sweat and blood of the Third World- salvaging dignity in a full-tilt battle against this bastion of monopoly capital. Let’s just call it survival, minus the ass-kissing. These travels have filled me with passion and anger and have equipped me with a newfound street wisdom which, if utilized properly, could be very dangerous to the oligarchy.
There is liberation in poverty, a shameless living of life without the guilt-ridden rationalizations that haunt the bourgeois and ruling classes. In poverty irony is transformed from being a mere literary phrase into life itself. To prevail is certainty, to fold a laughable anomaly. Living is survival. It is quite a paradox that the wealthy spend vast amounts of their time suffering, attempting to reconcile their positions of power amidst mass global poverty. They are painfully aware of the bad karma which they continually accumulate, but only at a subconscious level, for if they allowed this knowledge to be with them daily, they would be forced to plunge into the very poverty which they so fear.
Dean Henderson is the author of four books: Big Oil & Their Bankers in the Persian Gulf: Four Horsemen, Eight Families & Their Global Intelligence, Narcotics & Terror Network, The Grateful Unrich: Revolution in 50 Countries, Das Kartell der Federal Reserve & Stickin’ it to the Matrix. You can subscribe free to his weekly Left Hook column @ www.deanhenderson.wordpress.com