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When religion is abused

April 13, 2015

WE are already familiar with the problem of secularization. That’s when God is set aside not only in society – as in business and politics – but also in one’s personal life. This is the anomaly besetting many developed Western countries that are entering what is known as post-Christian or post-religion era.

That means religion is already considered as passé and obsolete. Any mention of God is likely met with a laugh, a derision if not an open hostility. In these places, men are convinced there’s no other source of light, wisdom and guidance than their own selves, their own ideas and devices.

Under this category, we can cite isms like atheism, agnosticism, relativism, skepticism, deism, etc.

But another anomaly can also be found in the other end, precisely happening in places known for religious zeal. Our country falls largely under this classification. Here, religion tends to be abused and exploited. In the end, religion is used to deform, emasculate and even kill religion itself.

This happens when religion is detached from a living relationship with God, with his Church, his doctrine and sacraments, and personal struggle. It is driven more by one’s ideas and efforts. Faith becomes mere philosophizing and theologizing, full of form without substance.

Spiritual life freezes into mere external appearances, reduced to a lifeless set of pietistic practices. Sanctity deteriorates into sanctimony and into what is considered as politically correct. Hypocrisy, calculation, pretension, treachery abound. There’s bigotry instead of broad-mindedness, rigidity and intolerance instead of respect for freedom and variety.

This irregularity has many faces. To mention a few, we can cite religious fanaticism and bitter zeal, fundamentalism, clericalism, superstitious beliefs and practices, simony or commercialization of sacred things, pietism and quietism, fideism and a string of other heresies. There’s also petty jealousy among religious groups.

I suppose we can cite our Lord’s own experience at the hands of those who crucified him as the extreme form of religious abuse. Imagine, they were convinced they were doing it out of a keen sense of religious duty itself.

Our Lord himself said: “The hour comes when whoever kills you will think that he does a service to God.” (Jn 16,2) This is the ultimate in religious abuse.

One can readily suspect religion is abused when all those calls for goodness and holiness are full of sound and fury and bombast, but lacking in charity, patience, mercy, humility, meekness, etc. It drips with self-righteousness, ever eager to flaunt itself and have its authority felt.

There is clear bias and prejudice in the understanding and application of the doctrine. Unfair and discriminatory selectiveness marks the study and practice of the faith.

A holistic approach to religion and freedom of consciences are often compromised in the pursuit of holiness. There’s an absence of balance and openness. Even the elementary norms of naturalness are violated.

Of course, religion will always involve a specific way of life, marked even by a special charism. But it’s a uniqueness that does not annul religion’s universal and common end, but rather enriches it in an original way.

In abuse of religion, coercion is subtly made and can lead to brainwashing and to manipulative isolation of people from others. People are made to do religious practices just for the heck of it.

They do these practices more out of fear than of love, more for some ulterior motives than out of a sincere desire to know, love and serve God and others.

The virtues are pursued mechanically, not organically in the sense that they are vitally motivated by charity as they ought to be. Sincerity, for example, can be understood as simply telling the truth, the whole truth, but without any mention about charity, prudence and discretion. Truth is divorced from charity.

When religion is abused, prayer turns into a soliloquy rather than a loving dialogue with God. Love for sacrifice does not spring from the spirit, but is merely a put-on.

When religion is abused, priesthood is less an office for a total holocaust of self-giving, and more an occasion for privileges. The scandals that black-eyed the Church these past years involving some clerics arise from this disorder.

We need to be wary of these tendencies and possibilities that are open to all of us. We can even fall into them without noticing it, since the decline to religious abuse can mimic the process of osmosis.

We have to ask our Lady to teach us how to truly deal with God without being deluded by the wily ways of religious abuse. Like her, we need to be always simple and humble to be able to stick to what is authentic religion.





No to the election of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (Bongbong)!

Press statement of Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses to Malacañang - Samar Island (CARMMA-Samar Island)
April 11, 2016

More than 40 years ago, Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law. We all know what happened – in one sweep, he perpetuated himself as president and usurped the powers of congress and the supreme court unto himself. He crushed the opposition, jailing senators, congressmen, labor leaders, students, journalists – all who opposed him.

In Samar Island, with his martial law powers, he carved more than half a million hectares of forests into logging concessions which he awarded to his cronies, supporters and friends and to keep the politicians under his patronage. Whole villages were massacred (barangay Sagod in Las Navas, Gebarin in Marabut) to keep people away from these logging concessions. In one stroke of a pen, he declared that all areas in Samar Island rich in bauxite be part of a Bauxite Mining Reserve (PD 1615). Gold deposits in Samar were mined and flown directly to the conjugal dictators.

Thousands were arrested, tortured, raped, killed and disappeared. The video of the Commission of Human Rights entitled “So, Why Samar?” reported the atrocious and unimaginable human rights abuses – people were cooked as “lechon”; women were not only raped but their breasts were sliced off; human livers were cut off to be grilled and eaten by soldiers; fathers were buried standing in the ground with only the head left above ground, then burned down. Unimaginable atrocities!

The plunder of our forests and minerals left us with untold agonies of our families whose parents, sons, daughters, sisters and brothers were jailed, tortured, and killed, and disappeared. And long after the dictatorship was defeated by our anti-dictatorship struggle, the loss of half a million of forests during martial law led to flash floods, landslides, loss of crops, people killed, livelihoods lost – just what happened in 1989. The plunder of our forests was only stopped when an indefinite logging moratorium in Samar Island was declared in 1989 by Sec. Fulgecio Factoran.

Today, were are now confronted with this issue: will we allow the Marcos family back to Malacañang? Will we allow the election of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as the vice president of our nation? NO!

Let us not forget the loss of lives of thousands of Samareños.

Let us not forget the loss of our forests and valuable minerals that only left us poorer.

Let us not be blinded by the glint of gold that was stolen from us!

No to the election of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (Bongbong)!





30th year of the Hawaii Class Suit

Statement of Amaryllis Hilao-Enriquez, sister of Liliosa Hilao, on the 30th year of the filing of the historic class action suit against President Marcos and his estate, or the human rights litigation MDL-840 (US Federal Court of Honolulu, Hawaii)
April 7, 2016

Exactly 30 years ago today, on April 7, 1986, a historic class action suit was filed by the Filipino victims of human rights violations during the martial law regime of President Ferdinand E. Marcos. The organization of the victims, now renamed Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto or SELDA, deemed it wise to lead the class action suit against the dictator who was flown to Hawaii by the US government that, up to the time the former and his family were booted out of power by the Filipinos in a people power uprising, considered him an ally.

SELDA, whose members were tortured and detained, took it upon itself to seek ways to make the dictator, including his family, accountable for the sins they committed against the Filipino people because no one seemed bent to punish the dictator. Everyone was simply euphoric when the Marcoses fled and a new regime was being formed.

For SELDA, the charges filed against Marcos sought to demand justice for the victims of human rights violations or as the Court described them – crimes against humanity – like summary execution or “salvaging” (a martial law euphemism), disappearances, and torture. SELDA wanted to let the nation and the world know of the human rights violations experienced by Filipinos during martial law.

SELDA leaders sought the help of their president, Atty. Jose Mari Velez, to find out how best to file charges against the dictator. In one of his travels to the US, Atty. Velez met an American lawyer, Atty. Robert Swift, whose law firm agreed to shoulder the costs of litigation and later to be repaid with money to be recovered from the dictator. SELDA immediately set to work by helping Atty. Swift get the depositions of the named plaintiffs who happened to be with SELDA. I convinced my parents – Mr. Maximo H. Hilao and Mrs. Celsa R. Hilao to be the lead plaintiff for the murder of my detained sister, Liliosa R. Hilao. (Thus, the suit is also known as Hilao et al vs. Ferdinand Marcos.) I also convinced our youngest sister, Ms. Josefina Hilao-Forcadilla, to be one of the 10 named plaintiffs in the historic class action suit. My former common-law husband and I were likewise plaintiffs in class suit.

We won a favorable judgment in 1992. I give my highest salute to the men, women, minors, especially the elderly who are not with us anymore as we struggled hard to make the Marcoses accountable for the human rights violations and plunder they committed against the Filipino people. When Atty. Velez died in 1991, Justice Romeo T. Capulong became SELDA’s counsel and the first thing he asked of us was the written agreement between SELDA and Atty. Swift. When SELDA chair Mr. Danilo Vizmanos and I wrote Atty. Swift about this, he got angry with all of us. In spite of a bitter tiff with our American lawyer, we still consider our winning the suit a historic landmark as it highlighted the struggle of a big number of martial law victims to make one dictator accountable for his crimes. The favorable judgment also served well the campaigns of other human rights violations victims in other parts of the world. That is why, we had wanted the judgment to be final and executory and refused Ms. Imelda Marcos’ offer of a US$150M settlement agreement in 1995 when the judgment was not yet final and executory.

It is indeed sad that Marcos, the leader who rode roughshod over our people’s rights, has not yet been made fully accountable for his sins; and the victims are still crying for justice. The struggle for justice is long and hard and the Filipino people must never forget those who are not among us anymore. Indeed, they must go on fighting for their rights so that impunity will not again be the hallmark of another regime.

Now, the son of the dictator is running for the second highest position in the land. We hope that on this 30th year of the filing of the historic class action suit by the victims themselves, Filipinos, especially the young voters called millenials. or those who did not experience martial law, will always remember the shining hour that the youths before them faced; that they rose to the occasion and struggled hard to allow the coming generations, including them, to achieve the basic rights they now enjoy.

We, too, commend the group that is now bent on reliving the plunder charges against Bongbong Marcos in relation to the pork barrel scam. May they win their case and we fervently hope that Bongbong Marcos will not win in this election!







When too much goodness is bad

April 2, 2016

WE should be more aware of this phenomenon and then act accordingly. We are prone to easily get spoiled when we enjoy many good things. This has been proven even in the times of Adam and Eve, and all through the ages. We have to be properly guarded against this subtle danger.

Yes, even in food, if we are not careful and would just let our animal instincts to lead us in our eating, our life would be over in a while, like those pigs that cannot last more than 5 years. They are either slaughtered or explode to death on their own.

And since from our conception in the womb of our mothers to our birth and childhood, we are always doted and pampered and showered with everything that is considered good, comfortable, convenient, we should be wary not to develop a lifestyle of softness, laziness, and selfishness.

While it’s true that we should always be taken care of, especially when we are still babies, we should just see to it that we do not go overboard and develop a monster instead of a human being with a healthy mind and heart.

A more serious problem in this regard is in the department of our spiritual and moral life. Since from the beginning of our thinking life, we have been taught to be good and nice and, if possible, perfect, we should also see to it that that we do not fall into the snare of self-righteousness which is the usual problem with the so-called “good people.”

That’s when what seems to be good is actually evil, and what seems to be evil is actually good. We have to be more aware of this tricky phenomenon, and more adept as well in handling it well. This can be an abiding challenge for all of us. This phenomenon, actually very common, is iconized in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. (cfr Lk 18,10-14)

The Pharisee was the epitome of goodness and correctness. He fasted twice a week, gave tithes of all what he possessed. But his righteousness converted his prayer into a boast, and it simply showed he was separated from God.

The publican considered himself the receptacle of all possible moral sewage. He could hardly lift up his eyes toward heaven. His prayer dripped with compunction, but it reconciled him with God.

We have to understand that good and evil is a matter of whether one is with God or not. Good is good because one is with God. Evil is evil because he is not with God. It’s as simple as that.

Our problem is that instead of referring things – our thoughts, words and actions – to God, we refer them only to our own idea of what is good and evil.

Not much wrong there really. After all, all things we do have to be referred to our own idea of good and evil. Except that many times it’s an idea that has been severed from its proper source and basis – God himself whose perfection is not so much in the physical and technical as in the spiritual and moral that will always include humility, patience, mercy, compassion, etc.

In short, we make ourselves our own God, our ultimate source of what is good and bad, what is correct and wrong. That’s where the problems come in, where the bugs and viruses enter to corrupt our otherwise good idea.

That is why, everyday and very often during the day we need to check whether our idea of good and evil is still vitally linked with God. We have to be wary with our tendency to just flow in a certain routine and inertia of goodness that has already deadened our living connection with God.

How many times have we observed people who are bright but are proud and vain, wise but sarcastic, bursting with good intentions but painfully lacking in charity? They have become self-righteous.

There have been cases where we see objectively good qualities, like their high intelligence, superb eloquence, admirable work habits, etc., ceasing to be a blessing and becoming instead a curse to them and to others.

These qualities have become an occasion to dominate others, to so distort their proper use that they stop serving God and others but have become self-serving or an exercise in ego-tripping. They can even degenerate into sick obsessive-compulsive complexes (OC).

People with this disorder do not like to be wrong or embarrassed or humiliated. They always want to be right and dominant all the time, even resorting to cheating. What a disaster!





Build toward Peace: Address the Roots of Armed Conflict and Implement CARHRIHL

A statement by the Citizens Alliance for Just Peace
March 15, 2016

As March 16, 2016 marks the 18th anniversary of the hallmark Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), the first substantive agreement between the Government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front-Philippines, the Citizen’s Alliance for Just Peace raises a collective voice to urge continued efforts to build toward peace, justice and human rights in the Philippines.

The Government of the Philippines including political parties, election candidates and the electorate should prioritize the people’s peace agenda in the election process. By reinvigorating expression of a common aspiration for a just and enduring peace, we hope to nurture the seeds of peace so dearly needed in our nation. Not only is this a fertile opportunity for Filipinos to discern and act on the peace platforms of national leaders, but it is also an essential time to continue the clamor for tangible efforts and concrete actions in building peace that addresses the roots of armed conflict.

As peace advocates, we also continue our call for a thorough and vibrant implementation of CARHRIHL as an essential building block of the peace process between the Government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front - Philippines.

Through embracing a common desire for the respect of human rights and international humanitarian law, we believe that both parties can be inspired to continue on the journey toward a negotiated political settlement through Peace Talks. We encourage confidence building measures, principled and innovative resolution of issues and impasses, as well as creative spaces that welcome and promote dynamic participation from the peace constituency.

We choose hope for the future of our nation and will continue to pursue the road to a just and enduring peace for the Filipino people. Their cry for land to the tillers, decent jobs with decent pay, food on every table, equitable access to basic social services, and respect of the collective rights of indigenous peoples and the human rights of all persons will not be thwarted by hollow rhetoric. We must overcome every penchant for patronage driven, privileged centered politics and respond with integrity to the Filipino people’s clamor to build toward peace by addressing the roots of armed conflict in our nation.





When democracy oversteps

March 7, 2016

DEMOCRACY, of course, is the best form of government because it allows the people to have a voice of how they ought to be governed.

Yes, while the Church traditionally maintains that no form of government is imposed on man by God, it somehow values the democratic system precisely because “it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices, guarantees to the governed the possibility both of electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate.”

This was expressed explicitly in St. John Paul II’s 1991 encyclical “Centesimus annus” (46) that also went on to say that the Church “cannot encourage the formation of narrow ruling groups which usurp the power of the State for individual interests or for ideological ends.”

As to the requirements for democracy to work properly, it articulated the following conditions: “Authentic democracy is possible only in a State ruled by law, and on the basis of a correct conception of the human person.

“It requires that the necessary condition be present for the advancement both of the individual through education and formation in the true ideals, and of the ‘subjectivity’ of society through the creation of structures of participation and shared responsibility.”

We need to go through these words slowly to understand them well and discern the many practical implications they contain. Nowadays, these implications are important because some sectors are distorting the true face of democracy.

Among the more notorious misconceptions brought about by the misreading of the implications of democracy is that democracy should be completely devoid of any religious favoritism, or that religion or God should have no part in it, or that because of the so-called Church-state separation, democracy should avoid religious issues and stand completely neutral.

Right from the beginning, such understanding of democracy is already wrong, for how can it be democratic if the religious sentiments of the people or of some people at least, are silenced, when they feel that their religious beliefs should be respected in the way they are governed?

Of course, in a democracy, those who have no religion, who are non-believers, also have a voice and they deserve to be heard. But we should not silence those who would like to voice out their religious sentiments and beliefs when they feel these are relevant in the way a society is government.

We have to understand democracy as a means not an end, a forum or an arena where all the opinions, preferences, and even beliefs and faiths of the people are given due attention hopefully in civil dialogues and exchanges.

This implication of democracy is somehow highlighted these days when a candidate, who is supposed to be Catholic, openly goes against Catholic teaching on same-sex marriage because, according to the candidate, in a democracy “we should not favor any religion.”

While it’s true that we should not favor any religion, we expect candidates to be true and faithful to their religious beliefs or, at least, their religious affiliation, and defend them in a democratic way when issues touching on their beliefs come their way.

Democracy should not be an excuse for them to betray their religious beliefs just because it may be the more practical, convenient or popular thing to do. Such betrayal can only mean that the candidate is only Catholic by name, or is one who claims that it is also Catholic to betray one’s Catholic beliefs, an absurdity that is somehow also gaining traction these days.

Of course, there can be other possible ways to describe this phenomenon. One could be merely a coward not to stand up for his faith, or he is simply Machiavellian willing to sacrifice some eternal truths or the long-held sacred traditions of the people, etc, just to pander on a passing popular sentiment and thereby gain power, wealth, popularity.

Or one could simply be so blinded by some distorted sense of loyalty to a candidate or to an ideology, etc., that he is willing to go against his religion when certain aspects of that religion become a contentious and unpopular part of a political issue.

In a democracy, every participant is expected to be clear about his positions, his views and preferences, and enter into some dialogue and exchange with civility, willing to listen to others, including those with the opposite views, while articulating and defending his in a civil manner.

Part of a healthy democracy is to be humble enough to modify one’s position when more inputs get to be known, and to graciously accept, at least for the meantime, a setback even if the struggle to push undeniable religious truths continues.



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