Book Review: "Human Face" by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Ma. Ceres Doyo's Human Face

Defiance is what characterizes Ceres Doyo’s columns, which are compiled in her recent book Human Face: A Journalist’s Encounters and Awakenings. The truth as Ceres sees it. What stand out in her stories are the sociopolitical realities confronting the people she has met. (Disclosure: Ceres Doyo and I were founding members of the Women Writers in Media Now [WOMEN] in the ‘80s, women writers who defied the Marcos dictatorship and wrote without fear.)

Flowing with realism, honesty and near-poetic passion, Doyo’s description of the 2000 disaster at the Payatas garbage dump, where floods buried hundreds of the poor families in an avalanche of garbage, is heart-rending: “A small man in black T-shirt and slippers was standing alone by the chapel entrance, watching. Are they yours, I whispered. He nodded. I stood beside him. Then he began to sob softly. I squeezed his shoulder and turned around to wipe my face. I could not picture anything sadder.”

There are also exhilarating stories about how people, including the indigenous tribes who are close to her heart, fought for justice. Doyo confesses that her account of the death of Kalinga tribal leader Macli-ing Dulag, which was published in Philippine Panorama in 1980, marked the beginning of her career as an investigative journalist. That story also won for her the Catholic Mass Media Award in 1981, with Pope John Paul II giving the award himself. She was also interrogated by Philippine military officials because of this article.

These are essays lead us to people with brave hearts.

How can one not be moved by her column (May 2007) on Lola Masing, a Filipina comfort woman who was only 13 in 1942 when Japanese soldiers broke into her house and took her away to be a sexual slave. The soldiers beheaded Lola Masing’s father when he tried to save his only daughter. Lola Masing says in a statement, “As a surviving victim of war I can only offer my experience to serve as a lesson for all governments and the international community that wars bring only violence and women become the most violated human beings in times of war.”

Author Ma. Ceres Doyo (Photo courtesy of Ma. Ceres Doyo)

Doyo’s essays lead us to people with brave hearts, such as Chino Roces, President Cory Aquino, Sister Menggay of the Aetas, Nelson Mandela, Jesse Robredo, Mother Teresa and many more. In many of the situations she relates we are transported in time, seeing what is really happening. We become part of the “human face,” seeing the conditions, feeling the compassion and the anger towards injustice.

Human Face is a collection of gutsy reportage, what Letty Jimenez Magsanoc called “suicide journalism” during Martial Law. Ceres Doyo was among those who challenged censorship and refused to buckle under military interrogation, charges of libel and continual harassment. Human Face is the work of an outstanding woman writer.

Fe P. Koons

Fe P. Koons

Fe P. Koons is a freelance writer in Carson, California. She writes for Philippine Mabuhay News, Philippine Tribune, Asian Journal and Weekend BALITA. She is a founding member of WOMEN (Women Writers in Media Now) based in Manila, Philippines.