Insights and opinions from our contributors on the current issues happening in the region

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Overcoming the 'tambay' lifestyle

EJK and human rights

Cultivating a sense of media responsibility

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

When religion is abused

Loving the cross is genuine sign of hope

Pinoy in Rome: At the Door of the Jubilee Year of Mercy (IV)

Outgoing regime, unaddressed violations

Two years Leyte

What is Government’s priority, Money or People?




Stop the killings! End impunity! Human rights for all!

A Statement from Network Against Killings in the Philippines (NAKPhilippines) forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission
November 23, 2016

There has been an epidemic of summary killings and extrajudicial executions across the Philippines for decades now. From 1998 to December 2015, a total of 1,424 were documented to have been killed by the so-called Davao Death Squad in Davao City. More such killings, often perpetrated by so-called “riding in tandem” killers and death squads, had taken place and continue to take place in other cities such as Tagum, Digos, General Santos, Cagayan de Oro, Zamboanga, Cebu and in other cities in the Visayas and Luzon.

In the first five months of the Duterte administration, however, the killings have only gotten worse, with nearly 5,000 people killed in its brutal war on drugs in that short period. More than 2,000 died in police operations while the rest were killed by unidentified assailants, or what the police calls “deaths under investigations” that appear to be death squad killings. A number of children were among those killed.

President Duterte campaigned on a platform of reducing crime and illegal drugs. But instead of fixing the country’s long-standing rule-of-law problems, he and his top officials incite and encourage law enforcers to commit even more killings and even more abuses. While some of these killings are being investigated both by the police and the Commission on Human Rights, no one has been charged, signaling what appears to be complete impunity.

The Duterte administration has likewise taken steps to erode human rights and civil liberties. The president’s allies have filed bills in Congress to reinstate the death penalty and to lower the age of criminal liability to nine years old. He has floated the idea of suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and imposing martial law. He has likewise approved the burial of the dictator Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani despite opposition from those who suffered under the dictatorship.

President Duterte has been trying to discredit institutions that can check official abuse of power, such as the Philippine Commission on Human Rights and non-government groups critical of the killings. He has attacked the United Nations and the Human Rights Council as well as western countries whose representatives have expressed concern about the human rights situation in the Philippines. He also wants the Philippines to get out of the International Criminal Court (ICC) after other countries with despotic regimes have done so.

Unlike previous administrations that have denied complicity in past extrajudicial killings, the Duterte government encourages these abuses and even promises protection to the perpetrators, taking an already egregious human rights situation to a whole new and more dangerous level. It is time for these killings to stop and for the killers to be brought to justice.

We organized ourselves into the Network Against Killings in the Philippines (NAKPhilippines) because civil society needs to take a firmer, stronger and principled stand against extrajudicial killings and the continued erosion of universal human rights in the Philippines. Like the human rights advocates that have campaigned against death squad killings since 1999, we are outraged by these violations and are committed to do what we can to stop the killings, demand accountability from government, assert human rights for all, and protect human rights defenders.

NAKPhilippines is an independent, non-partisan and broad alliance of various individuals, NGOs and civil society organizations concerned about human rights, civil liberties and rule of law in the Philippines.

Today, on the 7th anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre, we hold a National Day of Prayer and Solidarity for Victims of Extrajudicial Killings and Their Families at the Shrine of the Mother of Perpetual Help, Redemptorist Church, Baclaran, in Manila. This is our way of acknowledging the pain and anguish of the families of thousands of victims of Duterte’s war on drugs and to press for our continuing demand for accountability and justice.





Beware of privileges and entitlements

November 17, 2016

AS school chaplain, I get to talk with students who are transitioning from one level to another – be it from high school to college or from college to professional life, etc. A common problem or difficulty these students meet in this stage of their life is that of adjustment.

Most of the time, these students realize that they have new responsibilities to assume, new challenges and expectations to meet. Though many of them manage to cope with the new things, some find it hard and fall into crisis, sometimes grave, almost fatal or suicidal crisis.

These problematic cases often manifest a common feature – that of somehow being spoiled by privileges, entitlements, comfort and carefree lifestyle that they enjoyed and received from their parents and peers.

This time though, as they enter a new phase in their life, they notice that these perks are ebbing away for a number of reasons, and they find it hard to go on without them. While this phenomenon is quite normal and should be expected, some of these young ones do not know how to handle it. They are unprepared for these changes, or they simply refuse to make the necessary adjustments.

They continue to expect the same things, when circumstances have in fact changed, sometimes drastically. And so they get disappointed and frustrated, and from there more serious problems can be triggered.

They fail to realize that gospel indication of Christ: “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Mt 23,12) They fail to match their growth in their status with the corresponding growth in their sense of responsibility, in the tenor of what Christ himself said: “The greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Mt 23,11)

This is where they have to be reminded – with patience and reassurance but with clear and strong admonition – that they have to know how to wean themselves from their previous lifestyle and start to get real with the objective changes of circumstances in their lives.

Part of this reminder should be the explanation that all the attention and affection lavished on them by their parents and others while they were growing up was meant for them to grow toward maturity and not for them to get spoiled.

Getting spoiled by all the attention, privileges and entitlements given to them can happen when they fail to realize this crucial truth about their life. They fail to act on what Christ himself said: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.” (Lk 12,48)

So this is where they have to be taught how to grow in responsibility, teaching them to be ever mindful and thoughtful of the others, and to realize that our life, like Christ’s life, is meant to serve and not to be served.

In fact, all of us have to do everything to acquire, develop and enrich this attitude in ourselves and among ourselves, inspiring and inculcating it in others as much as we can, for it is what is truly proper of us all.

With God’s grace, we have to exert effort to overcome the understandable awkwardness and tension involved in blending the natural and the supernatural aspects of this affair, as well as the expected resistance we can give, due to the effects of our sins.

We can make use of our daily events to cultivate this attitude. For example, as soon as we wake up from sleep in the morning, perhaps the first thing we have to do is address ourselves to God and say “Serviam” (I will serve). It’s the most logical thing to do, given who God is and who we are in relation to him.

And “Serviam” is a beautiful aspiration that can immediately put us in the proper frame of mind for the day. It nullifies Satan’s “Non serviam” and our tendency to do our own will instead of God’s, which is what sin, in essence, is all about.

And as we go through our day, let’s see to it that everything we do is done as a service to God and to others. Let’s not do them merely out of self-interest or self-satisfaction. That kind of attitude is highly poisonous to us, ruinous to our duty to love. Sooner or later, we will find ourselves completely engulfed by self-centeredness.

For us to be able to do things as service of love to God and to others, we have to continually rectify our intentions. We should be quick to react when we notice that our intentions and motivations are already invaded by self-interest.





How long should homilies be?

November 16, 2016

“Eight minutes, with 15 minutes as maximum,” according to Abp. Malcom Ranjith who used to be the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) of the Vatican. “Eight minutes, the average time a listener can remain listening,” agrees Abp. Nikola Eterovik, former Secretary General for the Synod of Bishops of the Roman Curia.

“Eight minutes,” agrees Fr. Andre Headon, vice rector of the Venerable English College in Rome which prepares men to become priests. “There’s a saying among clergy,” adds Fr Headon, “’If you haven’t struck oil in seven minutes, stop BORING.’”

“It should be brief,” cautions #138 of Evangelii Gaudium, and should not be “a form of entertainment,” [emphasis mine] as many priests, it seems, take it to be. If the homily goes too long, e.g., 45 minutes, it disturbs two characteristic elements of the liturgical celebration: its balance and rhythm,” reminds Evangelii Gaudium. This means that “the words of the preacher must be measured, so that the Lord, more than his minister, will be the center of attention.”

Unfortunately, some priests seem to think otherwise. Look at them sing. Or crack jokes. Or talk about last night’s episode of a teleserye. Did they really intend the singing to help the faithful understand the need for sorrow for sin in these days leading to Advent? Or is it simply to call attention to their singing prowess?

Was the joke intended to make a wealthy business owner listener impatient to get home so that he can give the instructions that will give SSS and Philhealth coverage to his employees, long denied of this basic employees right? Or did Father oblige with a joke because that is what most Catholics, sad to say, come to church for: to be entertained?

And the teleserye. Did Father mention that in order to stir the congregation into such a fervor they would henceforth look at their wealth not as theirs, but as a good common to all, ready to be given to everyone in need? Or did Father do that for the “Okay si Father” comments that invariably come with it?

Homilies must be scrupulously prepared for one week in advance, and, as Pope Francis has said, must be limited to the Scripture readings of the day, avoiding sociologism, politics, or vainglory, the last one apparent the moment the priest starts talking about himself.

Especially to be avoided is useless chatter. To include in the homily the diocesan priests’ retreat in Betania, Tagaytay, and how they would be going there on different flights to make sure there’ll be priests left in case of a mishap is dangerously approaching “useless chatter,” especially on a Sunday when St. Luke talks about persecution, and about the need to even speak all the more about Christ.

Homilies are difficult to prepare, because it takes a lot of effort to keep homilies short. But it doesn’t require a 45-minute homily to whip the congregation to fervor and to specific and firm resolutions where they can apply the message of the day’s readings in their lives.

In fact, precisely the opposite is bound to happen. Often along the way, the homily hits paydirt, and a firm resolution forms up in the heart of the listener. But instead of wrapping up, Father rambles on for another 10 minutes, so you listen, and finds out that Father is talking about Bato de la Rosa now and Pacquiao’s all-expenses-paid-US-trip gift to him. Then Father suddenly ends his homily which leaves you wondering what it was Father was driving at. Worse, in the process, you have forgotten your firm resolution.

Finally, it'd help if the preacher checks his facts first. It wasn't Nero who destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem, and watched it burn from a distance. The Babylonians did the first time, and Titus (not the bishop of Crete) under orders from his emperor father Vespasian did the second time, but it was not Nero.

Something bereft of love cannot be pleasing to God. Long homilies, to the extent that they’re often but not always the product of ill preparation, simply have no place in such a celebration as the Holy Mass.

Long homilies must end.





Pakistan: Will the judiciary bring back to life the two brothers who were declared innocent, following their execution?

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
November 4, 2016

Sadly, in an atrocious system where innocents spend decades behind bars awaiting justice to be served on them, instead death penalties are handed down as state sanctioned murder.

The lack of justice sector reforms coupled with near-collapsed institutions of criminal justice has yet again caused a grotesque miscarriage of justice. In a shocking revelation on year after two siblings have been hanged the Supreme Court declared them innocent of all charges. The Court finding several anomalies in several witness accounts acquitted and exonerated both brothers of all charges – to find, that they have already been hanged despite their appeal pending in the Supreme Court.

Ghulam Sarwar and Ghulam Qadir, were accused of murdering a woman in the year 2002, and the trial court handed down its verdict in 2005, finding them guilty of all charges following which the Lahore High Court upholding the said decision of the Trail Court, handed down the brothers’ death sentences in 2010; they were executed on October 13, 2015.

On October 6, 2016, after one year of their hanging, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court accepted their appeal, set aside the Lahore High Court verdict and ordered their release. No sooner the convictions were set aside, it transpired that the president of Pakistan had already rejected their mercy petitions and they were hanged in the Bahawalpur jail.

Sadly, in an atrocious system where innocents spend decades behind bars awaiting justice to be served on them, instead death penalties are handed down as state sanctioned murder. The legal axiom “justice delayed is justice denied” is sadly the norm in Pakistan where it takes an average of around 10 years for a litigation to be heard and many before the courts do not receive justice during their lifetimes. In many other cases innocent persons are hanged as they are unable to afford capable defence lawyers. The judiciary too is lax in sieving through the evidence of the cases which are concocted by the police against such poor accused, and often with the view to extorting bribes.

The Criminal justice system fails to meet even the basic standard of due process and fair trial. The judicial system in Pakistan has been mired by delays and indolence of judicial officers, including the police, the state lawyers as well as the judiciary. The entire system of administration of justice has virtually collapsed to the point that rule of law has become non-existent and the state has virtually no presence in remote parts of the country.

Calls for comprehensive reforms to this overall system of justice has been called for, time and again by the civil society activists, the intelligentsia and interested parties however, despite such repeated calls – except for a few half-hearted pledges by the government for reforms, no concrete measures have been taken so far.

A blatant miscarriage of justice of this magnitude – where two innocent lives have been taken away by the state machinery - is unprecedented in the history of Pakistan and amply demonstrates to the world the level of negligence on the part of entire system of the judiciary and the state to provide justice to its people. The two innocent victims cannot ever be compensated for their lives and for the 11 years behind bars.

Following the verdict, in 2016, the lawyers of the deceased brothers filed an application, stating that the Sessions judge, Home Secretary and the Interior Secretary had failed to discharge their duty mandated under Article 190 of the constitution, adding that despite having the knowledge of the pendency of the appeal, it is highly unprecedented and deplorable that both the brothers were so executed.

The Interior Secretary, Home Secretary, Additional District and Session’s Judge, Hon. Sadiqabad and Superintendents of Rahim Yar Khan and the Bahawalpur Jail administration were also named in the application for having failed in their duty. The case exposes another dangerous aspect of the underling absence of coordination between the jail authorities and judiciary.

Each and every stage of the archaic and colonial criminal justice system including - the police, prosecution, and judiciary - is infested with loopholes that are used and abused by the officials, and the state itself for their own financial gains.

Ironically, the said colonial system has been dispensed with ages ago in its country of origin, yet it persists in its atrocious form in all Commonwealth countries including Pakistan. The Ghulam brothers’ case should act as a reminder to the authorities to reinstate the moratorium on the death penalty given the macabre cases of miscarriages of justice. When criminal the justice system cannot guarantee a fair trial and due process – the enforcement of death penalties should be absolutely done away with.

This case is a textbook example of everything going wrong with Pakistan’s archaic and inefficient criminal justice system that instead of meting out justice – punishes the poor and vulnerable while allowing the rich to get away with murder. The system is extremely stringent for the improvised while providing enough loopholes for those with deep pockets to go scot free. The selective application of the system has bought about utter disregard to rule of law making might becoming the right a social mantra for the politically well placed.

The lifting of the moratorium on the execution of death sentences since 2014 while its criminal justice system is mired in corruption and injustice is a complete travesty of justice and travesty of human decency. Exercising the death penalty in an already intolerant society is clearly a populist move rather than a deterrent to crime and terror. Blind to justice and international norms, these Courts have been awarding death sentences to minors and even the mentally and physically challenged as is the cases with Imdad Ali.

So far more than 425 people, within a span of 18 months, have been hanged to comply with the National Action Plan (NAP) to eradicate terrorism. However, the glaring facts are a glaring reminder enough to the state that these hardly have the deterring effect on crime and terrorism – all of which continue unabated if not, are on the increase.

Despite the constitutional guarantee under Article 9 of the Constitution the courts of the state dole out death penalties without following any due process nor fair trial. Right to life is a supreme and inalienable right, and any exception to it must be narrow and well -founded. The death penalty legitimizes an irreversible act of violence by the State and will inevitably claim innocent victims. As long as human justice remains fallible, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated.

The Asian Human Right Commission (AHRC) deplores the alarming state of affairs in Pakistan’s handling of the criminal justice system and calls for immediate measures, and policies to be put forth towards reforms to the entire system of justice in Pakistan ensuring the rights of all its citizens. The AHRC calls upon all stakeholders including the Government and international community to intervene in reinstating the moratorium on the death penalty given the fact that the system is extremely prone to gross miscarriages of justice.





Thinking with God always

October 26, 2016

“We are now entering a new phase in world development where error can look good and attractive, practical and profitable, and can have to power to assume a universal appeal and influence…”

PASSING by a school one day, I had second thoughts when I saw its billboard ad that was supposed to express the school's mission-vision. It said something to the effect that the school would make the kids independent thinkers.

I, of course, understood what the slogan wanted to say. The kids would be taught how to think without undue influence by unwelcome elements, like biases, prejudices and social trends, fads and other not-so-healthy conditionings.

I imagine that the kids would be taught how to think analytically and critically in a constructive mode. They would be guided to arrive at convictions on their own and must be responsible for them. There can be many other positive corollaries that can be derived from such catchy slogan.

But the second thoughts that came to my mind were: how far should the students' independence in their thinking go? We need to be clear about what the kids should be independent from in their thinking.

We cannot take this issue for granted, for many people nowadays think that to be independent in their thinking, they have to be independent from God, from teachings of our faith, from certain authorities, and that's where we can have big problems.

We are now familiar with those people who brand themselves as freethinkers. These are those who claim that they think freely and independently, without any influence from any opinion and especially from any religious beliefs. Many of these so-called freethinkers are actually atheists and agnostics.

This is the problem that we have these days. That's because if there is no belief in God who is supposed to be the creator and the very foundation of reality, then what would be our reference of what is true and false, what is good and evil in our life here on earth? If it's not God, then it can only be our own selves or certain things in the world. In the end, we can just be subjective about things.

Sad to say, this is what we are seeing in many places these days. We have people who are trapped in their subjective mode of thinking, practically incapable of transcending their purely human estimation of things. They fall for that Cartesian principle – the 'cogito ergo sum,' or I think therefore I am – such that their subjective thinking is prior to the objective reality of things.

In other words, things are the way we consider them to me, rather than the way they are. Said another way, things depend on how we think of them. It's the things that have depend on our thinking, rather than our thinking to conform to how things are as they are.

This is the danger that can come when we have an unclear understanding of what it is to be an independent thinker or a freethinker. We have to be wary of this danger because nowadays there are powerful groups that are promoting ideologies and isms that while having certain valid points are in the end essentially subjective, not objective.

We are now entering a new phase in world development where error can look good and attractive, practical and profitable, and can have to power to assume a universal appeal and influence. It can have a global network to spread itself and dominate the world.

Some of these ideologies and isms, which are all human constructs almost devoid of any reference to God, to faith, to piety, etc., have already been proven wrong in recent history, like communism, some aspects of socialism, etc.

Others, like capitalism and democracy that are mainly detached from the Christian spirit, are more tricky and deceptive. They look good and acceptable, but they have elements that are dangerous too. They can be sweet poisons.

We need to reinforce our belief that only in our Christian faith, in Christ can we find everything that we need to know and to be as we ought. In the gospel of St. John, there is a passage that bears this claim out: “He knew all men and needed no one to bear witness of man, for he himself knew what was in man.” (2,25)

That, after all, goes without saying, since Christ as the Son of God is the perfect image of God, and since we have been made in God's image and likeness, then we are patterned after the Son of God. And since the Son of God became man to save us, we have to be with Christ to be saved, since he is “the way, the truth and the life” for us.





Statement of support of the World Association for Christian Communication - Asia Region to the ongoing peace negotiations between the GRP and the NDFP

October 24, 2016

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” - Matthew 5:9

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouth, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” - Ephesians 4:29

We in the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) - Asia Region express our support and solidarity with the Filipino people as they walk the path to a just and lasting peace in the Philippines.

We are happy to know about the progress in the ongoing peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and we are strongly supportive of it.

Establishing the lines for communication for the sole purpose of achieving just peace is both inspiring and meaningful. It lays down the foundation to converse and find solutions together to problems and hindrances.

Communicating peace is the same as creating space for communication rights for we can only attain genuine peace when the rights, lives and dignity of people are ensured, protected and upheld. When people can communicate their thoughts without fear of discrimination or retribution, we are steps forward in building a society with genuine freedom, dignity and just peace.

The people of the Philippines have borne witness to many decades of and suffered greatly from poverty, austerity and conflict. Many marginalized peoples have been silenced yet many groups continue to express solidarity with them, building communication lines, creating space for them to speak freely. The ongoing peace talks will help in facilitating and improving these lines and spaces.

We in the WACC - Asia Region look forward to the positive progress of the peace talks between the GRP and NDFP in the Philippines. May the Filipino people truly benefit from the fruits of these negotiations.

For just peace in the Philippines, we remain in solidarity!



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