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Time for US to step aside and let the Philippines give peace a chance

A press statement by the Pilgrims for Peace
June 7, 2016

As peace advocates, the last month has been encouraging. Incoming President Duterte continued to underscore his intention to pursue peace in our nation, most immediately by resuming Peace Talks with the National Democratic Front-Philippines (NDFP). In fact, Duterte’s negotiating panel chair Secretary Silvestre Bello III, peace adviser Secretary Jesus Dureza and panel member Hernani Braganza are being sent to Oslo, Norway to engage in preliminary talks on June 16, 2016, even before our new president’s inauguration to office.

Given these positive efforts, we must protest the June 2016 US “terrorist” listing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA). As reported, such listings are based on US interests in our country – we are tired of US interests been peddled as priority over the interests of our people, most especially when we are gearing up for reinvigorated peace negotiations.

This so-called “terrorist” listing is nothing new and we must not let it influence our openness to the pursuit of a just and enduring peace in the Philippines. As has been done for generations, United States intelligence groups regularly label and tag those who do not capitulate to their agenda and primacy in the world; after the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City, the US launched an intensified campaign of foreign domination under the guise of a “War on Terror.” Sadly, such campaigns are often successful in bending Philippine policies and priorities to the benefit of US interests in our nation.

Incoming President Duterte seeks to address historical injustices and to address the roots of armed conflicts through peace negotiations; thus, his plan to establish independent, foreign-relations strategies is essential. The United States is undoubtedly concerned about their interests. After more than a century as colonial and neo-colonial subjects of US Imperialism, the Philippines still struggles to break free from US interests and express our right to self-determination as a people. Duterte is sending a message that instead of pandering to the directives and dictates of the United States, the Philippines will be going our own way in prioritizing Peace Talks with the NDFP. Both Duterte and the NDFP express a daring desire to work for peace based on justice that promotes the interests of the Filipino people and values the sovereignty of the Philippines.

If the United States cares, even an iota, for the peace of our nation and people, they will remove their “terrorist” tagging. Such can impede travel and make it dangerous for Professor Jose Maria Sison, founding chair of the CPP, to attend any activity related to the talks in the Philippines, as requested by our incoming president.

But even more than this, the United States should have the decency to let the Philippines tread our own course in the pursuit of the peace we want. If they desire to be our ally, they should see that Filipinos long to develop a more inclusive, democratic, and economically vibrant nation. Dr. Jose Rizal’s plea “Noli Me Tangere” still echoes across the archipelago to insist that the United States step aside, so that our nation can give peace a chance, even as Andres Bonifacio spurs us forward, “Panahon na ngayong dapat na lumitaw ang liwanag ng katotohanan; panahon ng dapat nating ipakilala na tayo’y may sariling pagdaramdam, may puri, may hiya, at may pagdadamayan.”

Let us give peace a chance.





An Open Letter to President Duterte

May 27, 2016

Dear Mr. President:

I didn’t vote for you because my close friends from high school asked me not to, and I just couldn’t refuse their request.

But in my heart of hearts, I rooted for you.

Right from the start, I knew you would run despite the “urong-sulong” press statements. Not only that, I just knew you’d win. About these two, I never had an iota of doubt, never mind that you essentially came from behind, and you were initially the least likely to win because of lack of machinery.

If I may add, I rooted for you despite your less-than-sterling personal life. I rooted for you despite my having been roundly reviled by my pro-life, pro-Church buddies. Yes, I rooted for you despite your cursing of the Pope.

I saw in you the country’s sole hope for change. I kept on saying: “Duterte will be the next President of the Philippines, and he will make a good President, converting many starting with himself (and myself, too).

Now, I’m not very sure you will.

Why not?

Because if there’s anything that’ll guarantee failure, it’s one’s going against God. In your case, not only are you going against God, you have been viciously attacking his Church.

I’d like to see the Filipino people finally freed from the bondage of grasping oligarchs, rapacious corrupt officials, and emboldened criminals.

Please fulfill the destiny that’s yours even before you were born. Do not do anything to compromise it.

Stop attacking the Church.





The most serious threat against the Church

May 26, 2016

The most formidable threat to the pre-Vatican II Church came in the early 4th century from a Catholic priest named Arius.

Arius’ heresy shook the Church at her very foundation, and threatened to split the Church right down the middle. Arius did this by striking at the very heart of the Catholic faith by twisting the most fundamental message of the Gospel. Arius questioned the divinity of Christ.

The Church teaches that Jesus Christ is consubstantial with the Father, every bit God as the Father and the Holy Spirit is. Not so, according to Arius.

Thus started a rift in the Church that even outlasted the author of the heresy, the heresiarch Arius. It was a frenzied battle which pitted bishop against bishop, brother against brother, a war fought by intelligent men from both sides with such fervor that would make the present-day faithful blush.

Plainly, Arius was the Devil’s personal choice for this attempt to destroy the Church. Clearly, the Devil made an excellent choice in Arius. Everything about him was made for seduction: his rugged good looks, his almost self-deprecating demeanor, his intelligence.

His speech was serene, but had an attention-commanding intensity. He was one many would today call “seductive,” and, indeed, counted fanatical young women among his staunchest supporters.

An expert debater, he would make mincemeat of his opponents. He was given to penitential and ascetic practices and seemed so virtuous an aura of sanctity almost engulfed him.

Alas, he was not Christ’s, but the Devil’s, clearly on a mission to destroy the Church from within.

And he was a hair’s breadth away from doing exactly that. Being such an irresistible personality, Arius had no problem getting Church officials – notably the grasping and ambitious Eusebius, bishop of Nicomedia – and even Emperor Constantine the Great himself to believe him.

The Council of Nicaea had to be convened in A.D. 325 to settle the question. It was a resounding defeat for Arius and his sizeable followers. The Council came up with the Nicene Creed, the same one we recite today during the Holy Mass, defining the Son to be “consubstantial” with the Father.

But the Devil was not done yet. Twelve years of intrigue, gossips, and back-biting chiefly by Arian forces aimed at orthodoxy climaxed in the Synod of Tyre in A.D. 335 which exiled St. Athanasius, the staunchest defender of Catholic orthodoxy, and the Synod of Jerusalem in A.D. 336 which restored the heresiarch Arius into full communion with the Church.

The Emperor told Arius: “If thy faith is orthodox, thou hast well sworn; but if thy faith is impious and yet thou hast sworn, let God from heaven judge thee.'

Well, judging from subsequent events, it looks like God did just that. On the day before the Sunday that Arius was to receive Holy Communion, a most extraordinary thing happened.

Here’s how the historian Socrates Scholasticus describes it:

“It was then Saturday, and Arius was expecting to assemble with the church on the day following: but divine retribution overtook his daring criminalities.

“For going out of the imperial palace, attended by a crowd of Eusebian partisans like guards, he paraded proudly through the midst of the city, attracting the notice of all the people.

“As he approached the place called Constantine’s Forum, where the column of porphyry is erected, a terror arising from the remorse of conscience seized Arius, and with the terror a violent relaxation of the bowels: he therefore enquired whether there was a convenient bathroom nearby, and being directed to the back of Constantine’s Forum, he hastened thither.

“Soon after a faintness came over him, and together with the evacuations his bowels protruded, followed by a copious hemorrhage, and the descent of the smaller intestines: moreover portions of his spleen and liver were brought off in the effusion of blood, so that he almost immediately died.”





“Vicisti, Galilaee”

May 24, 2016

I don’t know how the incessant attacks by Rodrigo Roa Duterte will play out, but of one thing I’m certain: he will miserably fail if it’s the destruction of the Church he is after.

From the word go, the Catholic Church has been buffeted by tempests of all kinds from all sorts. Heretics from her own ranks from the infamous Arius to various Roman emperors messed up with her.

Paradoxically, it was the best Roman emperors who were also her worst persecutors: Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, Septimus Severus, and Decius, not counting the madmen Nero and Domitian.

And it was brilliant theologians who were a constant thorn on the side of the early Church: Arius, Eusebius, Nestorius.

But the Church triumphed. Today, the faithful numbered 1.2 billion. She is in more countries than ever, united in an uncontested and popular hierarchy, proclaiming the Good News to all corners of the world.

Duterte will deal the local Church a serious blow. Count on the Devil to know precisely where to squeeze where it will hurt most. In this particular case, it is pitting Duterte against the Church, and putting the considerable resources of the government behind Duterte.

But Duterte will fail, even if he initially succeeds in his attacks against the Church. And Duterte, his rah rah boys, and his Duterte government will find out like Julian the Apostate did how the Church always triumphs in the end.

For readers who have not come across the name before, Julian the Apostate was a Roman emperor shortly after Constantine the Great, his uncle who ended the Roman persecution of the early Christians by allowing their religion alongside others.

Raised a Christian, Julian the Apostate was a pagan at heart, and early on in his short eighteen-year reign brought back the persecution. But he was wounded in battle against the Sassanid army in June 363, from the hands of one of his soldiers according to the historian Libianus.

His physician Oribasius of Pergamum fought to treat his slashed liver and suture his damaged intestines to no avail. Julian the Apostate died, supposedly gasping “Vicisti, Galilaee,” “Thou hast triumphed, Galilaeen” with his last breath.

I don’t know how this Duterte episode in the life of the Church will play out. Like everywhere else that contraception, abortion, same-sex unions, fornication, and euthanasia have been made a state religion, we might probably see a Philippines reel under the moral devastation wrought by the general loosening of morals and the pouring out the contents of Pandora’s box: pornography, divorce, same-sex unions, emptying of churches, making illegal the display of crucifixes, abortion, euthanasia, rape, and drugs.

But the Church will emerge triumphant from this somehow.

Of that I’m certain. I can only hope it will not be at the cost of Duterte’s soul.





Peace is Welcome: Open Letter to President-Elect Duterte

May 19, 2016

H. E. Rodrigo Duterte
Republic of The Philippines

Dear President Rody,

We congratulate you for a resounding leadership mandate from the voting population of our country. Your commitment to address the roots or armed conflicts in our nation through peace negotiations and to correct the historical injustices committed against the Moro people is commendable. Addressing the situation of different communities, Moro, Christian, non-Christian and Lumad – specially as the Lumad suffer forcible displacement and urgently clamor for an end to militarization and the disbanding of paramilitaries in their ancestral lands – is imperative. Prospects for peace throughout the nation are rising and we are excited and energized by your very positive pronouncements on resuming peace talks.

Pilgrims for Peace is a multi-sectoral alliance of advocates for a just and lasting peace based on freedom, democracy, and social justice. Pilgrims appreciates that in your campaign platform you prioritized peace, in general, as well as explicitly outlined your openness to concrete steps in moving the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations forward. Your appointment of Jesus Dureza as peace adviser and Silvestre Bello as chief negotiator with the National Democratic Front underscores your resolve.

We encourage you to place the GPH-NDFP peace negotiations on firm footing by respecting previously signed agreements and continue forward with the substantive agenda outlined in The Hague Joint Declaration. Not only do we affirm the value of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) in our justice, peace and human rights advocacy, peace advocates have been preparing themselves to support the crafting of the Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) and look forward to its fruition.

We are heartened of your willingness to release all political prisoners. Even during your campaign, we noted that your new government would review their status and release those necessary for the NDFP negotiating panel; we affirm that such action will be greatly beneficial, if not essential, to successful peace negotiations. This can also bring to good order and re-operationalize the Joint Agreement on Security and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG). Even more, your action to release political prisoners on humanitarian grounds would surely go a long way as a confidence-building measure.

With anticipation for what is to come, we are revving up our network of peace advocates to contribute in the work of peace-building. Our people understand the need to address the roots of armed conflict in building a just and enduring peace. We hope that with your presidency, we can also contribute to creating and focusing energy around the peace talks.

Sincerely yours,






Revisiting “Vox populi, vox Dei”

April 28, 2016

IN a previous column some years ago, I said that the “vox populi,” the voice of the people, need not be “vox Dei,” the voice of God. I cited as an example the crowd who welcomed Christ with hosannas when he entered Jerusalem for the last time. (cfr Mt 21,9) It was the same crowd, more or less, who later would shout, “Crucify him, crucify him,” during his trial with Pilate. (cfr Mt 27,16-26)

Precisely because of that episode, I said that the “vox populi” can, in fact, be the “vox diaboli,” the voice of the devil, instead of the voice of God. I still maintain that view, except that it has to be taken now from a broader perspective, that of faith, that gives us another level of understanding.

Yes, it can happen that the “vox populi” can be the “vox diaboli” in the short run and yet it can still be part of the “vox Dei” in the long run. That’s simply because God allows us to think, say and do whatever we want, including going against Him. That permission, which is given to trigger the dynamics of a greater good that would show God’s omnipotent mercy, can be considered also as “vox Dei.”

In allowing the worst evil to take place, that of killing the very Son of God, the greatest good insofar as we are concerned has taken place – our very own salvation. This is so because as the Book of Ecclesiastes has already articulated for us, God is always in control of everything, no matter how we mess up his plans and work.

“The thing that has been it is that which shall be, and that which is done is that which shall be done. And there is no new thing under the sun.” (1,9) Thus the same book says that there is time for everything. “...a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build...” (3,2-3)

In view of this truth of our faith, a practical conclusion to learn is that while we do our best to shape our life and destiny insofar as we are able, always in truth and charity, we should not take things too seriously as to be a bad sport when what we want, in pursuit of what we consider as doing God’s will, is thwarted.

Let’s just allow ourselves to be thwarted just as Christ was thwarted when he had to accept the cross, convinced that a greater good will surely come out of it. Yes, let’s just accept the greatest evil that can come to us, i.e., death and martyrdom, if it comes to us, convinced that if we die with Christ, we will also resurrect with him.

Let us avoid falling into the traps of bitter zeal and bigotry that can seduce us with an appearance of an irresistible goodness when in fact the very soul of goodness, charity, is absent.

Remember that episode when Christ upbraided two of his disciples for being over-zealous at the expense of charity. “When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them.” (Lk 9,54-55)

God always has the last word. Goodness and mercy always have the last say. Love always wins, if not now then later. We just have to be patient, learning how to suffer the temporary setbacks, disappointments and frustrations we can encounter in life.

Obviously, this Christian way of reacting to adverse events is not a call to be complacent and passive. We have to exhaust all possible means to conform our affairs according to the will of God, but always within the framework of charity.

In those occasions, when we become helpless before an evil thing, let us intensify our prayers, our spirit of sacrifice, our virtues of patience and optimism. In those occasions, let us continue to do a lot of good, drowning evil with an abundance of good. These painful moments are privileged occasions to be intimate with Christ on the cross.

Let us clarify issues calmly and charitably, proclaiming the truth in season and out of season, as St. Paul once said. Let us see to it that we do not lose our peace and joy, and our capacity to love and to be merciful. We should have no enemies, since we have to love everybody, including our enemies, as Christ himself commanded us.



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