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

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Stop Age Discrimination!

A brief cost-benefit analysis of the Philippinesí recent arms purchases

Historical moment for Filipinos Ė signing of peace agreement ending the conflict in Mindanao

Rizal Park is not for sale

Whatís in a name?: Take 2

Why Torture Is Wrong?

Torturers and their victims: how the Anti-torture law is failing, and why

PCID Statement on the signing of the Annex on Revenue Generation and Wealth Sharing

Professional independence of judges and lawyers central to the protection and promotion of human rights, the rule of law and democracy in Asia

MPC Statement on the 45th Anniversary of the Jabidah Massacre




From digital to personal

August 26, 2014

WE need to be aware of the dangers of some aspects of our fast-growing digital culture. More than that, we need to be adequately equipped to handle those dangers before they come, when they come and after they have come.

Not everything in our digital technologies is good to us. The tremendous convenience and possibilities they offer us can benefit us wrongly. They can give us a false sense of joy and accomplishment. They can spoil us as when they nail us to care only of our immediate needs while sacrificing the long-term ones.

Yes, they can blind us from the more precious values in life to attend simply to the pressing ones here and now. They can stimulate our senses, emotions and intellect, but can weaken or even deaden our spiritual life. In short, our sense of priority would be thrown into disarray.

Many people are getting so hooked and addicted to digital games, social networking, for example, that they even forget to take their meals properly or to take care of their hygiene. You can just imagine what would happen in the area of their prayer life and their other spiritual duties.

If this predicament extends unabatedly and hardens to become the norm and culture of our life, we can reason to expect a significant deformation of our humanity. We would be just carnal and materialistic, and forget about our spiritual dimension.

We would be self-absorbed, instead of being mindful and thoughtful of others and especially of God, as we ought to be. And as the gospel would say, we may seem to gain the world, but then lose our soul.

Things can come to the point of us losing the capacity to think, not to mention, to speak and behave, in terms of our faith, hope and charity. We would simply be governed by the movements of the flesh, the stirrings of the hormones, the shifty trends and fashions of the world around.

In short, our sense of reality would be greatly impaired and impoverished. The organic relation between the objective and the subjective in our life would be practically broken or at least dysfunctional.

This brings us to the main point of this particular column, giving us a light of hope amid the gathering darkness of the dangers of our digital culture.

We need to see that this digital culture of ours that otherwise is a wonderful development in our life help us to become better persons, rather than deplete the substance of our being persons and converting us into objects or automatons or humanoids or androids.

To be a person means not to be just an individual, much less, individualistic, but one who knows how to relate himself to God and to all the others. The powers and faculties endowed in us, making us as a someone not a something, are meant precisely to connect us to God, our Creator and Father, and to all the others who are actually our brothers and sisters.

It should be the aim and effect of the digital technologies to enhance this identity and dignity of our being a person, and not to hinder or undermine it. When they make us self-absorbed, indifferent to others and especially to God, then they become a curse to us rather than a great help.

When they simply arouse our emotions and intellectual prowess, and desensitize us from our duty to love and care for the others, then they are used wrongly. When they litter with traces of pride, vanity, sarcasm, bitterness, discord and division, greed, envy, lust, etc., then they certainly are very harmful to us.

We need to learn how to humanize and personalize this digital culture we have today. For this, we have to make the conscious effort to remind ourselves of this need, pausing properly to be able to relate our digital work and time to God and to the others.

We should avoid plunging immediately into it without conditioning ourselves properly, since we can easily fall into the trap of the digital wonders that can insulate us from God and the others, and thereby dehumanizing and depersonalizing us.

If we have the proper mindset, what would usually happen is for us to be most delicate, refined, charitable, patient, courteous, at least in our comments and communications on FB, for example.

We would be open-minded and quite tolerant in our dialogues especially when we have to sort out things and resolve issues and differences of opinions. We would be magnanimous and quick to forgive.

We need to make the digital personal!





Christian maturity

August 18, 2014

I AM now in the process of talking with parents of the students who will receive the sacrament of confirmation in October. The idea is to explain and remind them of the nature and purpose of the sacrament, and the many implications, both theoretical and practical, that it brings about.

By some twist of circumstances, this sacrament happens to be one of the less known and appreciated sacraments. Even in my case, I received it when I was already about 20 because it was not felt to be that necessary in the province where I grew up and had my early education.

But itís actually a very important sacrament, for it gives us the gift of spiritual strength and perfection that go into what we may call our Christian maturity or the fullness of Christian life.

Letís remember what St. Paul once said about Christ providing us with apostles, prophets, evangelists, and obviously many other gifts too so that we can be ďa perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ, that henceforth we be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrineÖĒ (Eph 4,13-14)

God is never sparing in sharing what he has with us who are his image and likeness and his adopted children. The sacrament of confirmation is a gift that together with the other sacraments perfects us and brings us to the possibility of living the fullness of Christian life while still here on earth.

It gives us nothing less than the Holy Spirit, the very love of God. The Holy Spirit is now our sanctifier, who nourishes our faith, hope and charity. He gives us his 7-fold gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.

Besides, the Holy Spirit gives us his perfections or the fruits of charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity.

With these, the Holy Spirit who is given to us in confirmation just like in Pentecost, roots us more deeply in divine sonship, and binds us more firmly to Christ and to the Church. He gives us strength to witness to the Christian faith, (cfr Catechism 268) It imprints an indelible character that resembles us more closely to Christ.

We need to be aware that this sacrament is a supernatural gift. As such we need to receive it with profound gratitude and to try to make use of it as best as we could. That is why we need to know more and more about it and to live by its law and purpose.

Just like the many sophisticated gadgets that may be gifted to us, whose manual and instructions we need to study to make them useful, we also need to study well the nature and purpose of the sacrament of confirmation to make it effective in our lives.

As a supernatural gift, it transcends without rejecting our human conditions. Usually administered when we reach the age of discretion or at 12 years of age, it can be given to us even when we have not yet achieved our full human maturity in terms of our emotional or intellectual development.

The grace of God and our correspondence to it through faith and piety can somehow make the effects of the sacrament manifested in our life. One psalm beautifully expresses this truth when it says, ďI have had understanding above the aged, because I have sought your commandments.Ē (Ps 119,100)

It is simply by following the commandments of God that would lead us to love God and others, that we can attain our Christian maturity. Christian maturity does not depend so much on our temporal age or on earthly erudition. Itís a matter of grace which God actually gives us in abundance.

We need to see to it therefore that we are trying our best to live by the grace of God. In practical terms this means we need to study and assimilate his teaching and commandments, develop the virtues, have recourse to the sacraments, learn to pray and offer sacrifices.

We need to learn to think in terms of our faith, and not just in terms of our sheer reasoning, feelings and other means of human estimations of things. Our attitude and outlook should be supernatural, based on our faith and love of God.

This is how the greatness of God himself can sit well in the midst of our human limitations and errors. Given our increasingly challenging times, we need to spread more widely the good news about the sacrament of confirmation.





The power of prayer

July 30, 2014

IF only we know the great and true power of prayer! Our problem is that we often relegate this duty of ours practically to oblivion, banishing it to exile and branding it entirely as useless, as just fantasy, too abstract to have any impact on what we consider as the real world.

And by real world, we usually mean the world where we simply have to be practical, more concerned about immediate results than about morality, mindful only of worldly values and criteria rather than spiritual and supernatural considerations.

But we cannot deny that deep in our heart there is a yearning for some stable contact with the very source of life, of goodness, of a joy without end, of peace that would go on and on, etc.

Itís this yearning that, from the subjective point of view, lays the foundation for our need of prayer. We want to know the ultimate causes of things, but many times we abort this desire just to give way to reasons of practicality. We have to be aware of this bad tendency and do something to correct it.

Thereís, of course, an objective basis for our need of prayer, but this would require faith which actually is given to us in abundance but which we also have to correspond. The problem lies precisely in our non-correspondence or at least in our inadequate correspondence to this God-given faith and many other graces.

The objective truth is that we are creatures of a Creator, of whom we have an inkling that he must be all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, etc. That inkling is validated and reinforced with the motu proprio revelation the Creator makes of himself and of us and of everything else in life and in the world.

According to that revelation, made in full in Christ and perpetually kept and taught by the Church, we have been made in the image and likeness of God our Creator, endowed with a spiritual soul that enables us through our intellect and will to know and to love, to enter into relationships with everybody else, starting ideally with God himself.

We need to learn to pray, because it is in so doing that we get in touch with the very foundation of reality himself, God our Creator and heaven. It is in praying that we keep ourselves spiritually alive and put ourselves in position to know the human and divine meaning of everything that happens in our life.

We cannot deny that in all aspects of our life, we have to contend with difficult and complicated issues, problems, and challenges. Whether it is about our very intimate private, personal and spiritual life, or in our collective life of business, politics and work, we unavoidably have to face complicated situations.

With prayer, our understanding and reactions to things and events would be deep and extensive, going beyond what is merely practical and convenient, what is socially or politically correct, etc. Our understanding and reactions to things and events would be marked by true wisdom and prudence.

When we pray, we somehow would know how to distinguish between what is essential and what is not in any given issue, be it in politics or ethics or whatever. We would know how to work for what is constructive in a given a situation rather than contribute to what is destructive and disunitive.

Especially in the most dizzying world of our politics and social life, we really need to pray well. Otherwise, we simply would plunge into the freefall of acrimony, grumbling and murmuring, anguish and hatred, occasioned by the increasing differences and conflicts of our opinions and preferences.

We need to realize that prayer is the language of the heart, the very breathing our soul needs in order to survive and function well. It is actually indispensable in our life. But we have to be aware of this need by activating our faith, since it is not a need that springs automatically from our feelings and bodily conditions.

When we pray, we have to constantly remind ourselves of to whom we are praying. Such awareness would help us to be in the proper attitude and disposition. It practically would show us how to prepare ourselves for prayer and how to proceed whenever we start to pray.

When we are aware of with whom we are conversing when we pray, we actually would feel at ease and at peace, with joy and sense of goodness to boot, because we would know we are with our Father who is full of mercy and compassion.





Are you spiritual or carnal?

July 24, 2014

I was happy to learn that a grandnephew of mine is part of a boy band in Manila that won a competition recently. His mother, my niece, diligently sends me videos of his performances. I canít help but make time to see them, in spite of my tight schedule.

At least, seeing them makes me reminisce my younger days when I too was part of a band. The difference was that mine was a seminary band and my performances were limited to certain audiences and occasions. His would bring him to public concerts and dimly lighted clubs.

Still, the viewings would provoke me to make certain observations and considerations. Like, how different the singing style is now. Thatís to be expected, of course, But there seems to be a deliberate attempt to appeal to the sensual.

Somehow we can make that conclusion, tentative at least, because of the reaction of the audience. I canít help but notice the shrieking of girls and some boys, and the look of awe on their faces, that clearly show a mere knee-jerk behavior.

This is where the difference is greatest. But let me hasten to say that such difference may just be a matter of taste and preferences due to differences in age, culture, temper of the times, etc. to which tolerance and mutual respect should be exercised. But we need to clarify a few things.

Certainly, looks play a big part of their formula for popularity. With hair colored, brushed up or spiked, faces slightly made-up, skin-tight pants and shirts that literally follow the contours of their physique, some metallic accessories pierced or dangling somewhere, the boys simply inflict swooning on their audience their age.

Their movements and choreography include swaying, grinding, shrugging and twisting that definitely are flammable and electric to youthful sensitivities. Many in the audience are left completely defenseless and floored.

It seems to me that things are arranged in such a way as to give free rein to the primitive urges and hormones, detached or still unconnected to the directing influence of right reason, let alone, of faith, hope and charity.

As we can see, our urges and hormones, and the world of the senses in general, or the aspect of sensual pleasure in our life are not bad in themselves. They just need to be directed by right reason, and especially by faith, hope and charity.

These latter, to be cure, do nothing to suppress or annihilate our urges and hormones which are an integral part of our humanity. What they do is simply put them in their right places or on the right track so that these senses, urges and hormones truly express and affirm our real dignity as persons, and not just objects or animals.

In other words, when left on their own, these senses, urges and hormones can be dangerous, since they would be deprived of direction. They would simply remain on the level of the material and the worldly that is proper only to inanimate objects or to animals, but not to us as persons, and especially as children of God.

They would simply be subjected to laws of physics, chemistry, sociology, economics, politics, etc., but not to the moral law that would consider us in our totality as persons with intelligence and will, freedom and responsibility.

Letís hope that we can be more aware of this concern and comply with its requirements. At the moment, there seems to be a worldwide trend toward pure sensualization or carnalization, leading us, especially the young, to be merely carnal, instead of being spiritual, to use terms defined by St. Paul.

Itís important that we develop a certain sensitivity to this concern because otherwise we would all be deluded by a very treacherous virus, a sweet poison that can truly harm us individually and collectively.

To repeat, this is not at all about suppressing or disparaging in any way the value of the senses, the urges and the hormones, and the sentiments, feelings, passions that they produce. Neither the value of the physical attributes we have.

We just have to realize more deeply that they need to be ruled and directed by reason and ultimately by faith, hope and charity. Otherwise, we can be accused by Christ himself who once said of some people Ė

ĎThey look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.í And citing a prophecy of Isaiah, he said, ĎGross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyesÖí





Prepare to be a sacrificial lamb

July 22, 2014

TO be very realistic in life, we have to be ready and eager to become a sacrificial lamb. This is not bad news. This is Good News. Let me explain.

Our problem is that, unfortunately, the expression, sacrificial lamb, has suffered a great diminution of appreciation in the world today. It is simply considered in the context of practical advantages and disadvantages of a given situation.

Obviously, with that frame of mind and only and exclusively with that attitude without any other higher consideration, no one would like to be a sacrificial lamb. Even the commonest of common sense would be averse to that idea. Everyone would like to flee from that predicament as much as possible.

But the phenomenon of sacrificial lamb actually has a very wonderful significance. Our Christian faith tells us that given who and what we are, we have been taught right from the beginning of humanity, that we need to offer a sacrifice as a way of expressing and affirming the truth that we come from God and we also belong to him.

God, our Father and Creator, has been the one who teaches us about this duty. He has also equipped us in our nature so that we can comply with this duty that only shows the intimate relation we have with God. In short, God, who is love, has been teaching us, who are his image and likeness, how to love.

This whole business of offering sacrifices is actually the language of love. It acts out the dynamics of love which is that of mutual self-giving between the lover and the beloved. Each party becomes both lover and beloved in the ideal state of love.

In the beginning, the sacrifice was made by offering things. This started, when man was still in the state of original justice, as something easy and spontaneous to do. But with the entry of sin, this offering of sacrifice became more and more difficult and complicated to do.

In spite of sin, God continued in the flow of time to tutor humanity about this duty of making sacrifices. This process of divine tutelage passed through tumultuous route given manís wounded condition. All sorts of resistance and rejection, distortion and confusion, tended to empty the meaning of sacrifice.

But God persisted by sending us his only Son who became the perfect and ultimate sacrifice, the true sacrificial lamb, who out of completely gratuitous love, and without deserving to suffer in any way, assumed all our sin, died to them and offered us a way to reconcile ourselves with God in a perfect way.

It was John the Baptist who pointed out Jesus to us, calling him the Lamb of God. ďBehold, the lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.Ē (Jn 1,29) Christ is the one who bore all the sins of man, showing us the way of perfect love.

We have to understand from all this that the life and death of Christ, especially the supreme sacrifice of his life on the cross, should be the model and motive of our life and death as well.

This is when the worst thing that can happen to us, that is, to be in sin, alienated from God, can turn into the best thing for us as well, as long as we know how to unite ourselves with Christ.

That is why we have to learn to make sacrifice, first of all, because, it is the most natural thing for us to do considering who and what we are in relation to God. Then, we have to make a sacrifice because we have to make up for our sins and mistakes. And ultimately we have to make sacrifice because we have to follow the example of Christ all the way.

That is why, if for some reason or another we find ourselves in situations and predicaments that make us feel like sacrificial lambs, that is, made to suffer though we feel we donít seem to deserve it, we should actually feel happy and privileged, because in that way, we are being conformed to Christ in his best act of love in a most intimate manner.

It is good, therefore, that we condition ourselves to aim at being sacrificial lambs. We ought to welcome every opportunity to be so and somehow be happy with it. The saints and holy men and women through the ages have always felt that way.

Thus if we suffer some extraordinary difficult problems and conditions, we should never fail to see the great blessing we are actually receiving.





What to do with temptations

July 3, 2014

I WOULD say that when temptations come, the first thing we have to do is to immediately go to God, to run to him, to stick to him as closely as possible. Thatís simply because God is our rock and fortress, the ultimate source of strength. Missing this reaction, we open ourselves to a long, tortuous episode that can end badly.

Missing this reaction is actually a common thing to happen because in the first place our relation with God is not strong. If ever there is some relation, it is more on the theoretical level and hardly on the practical, much less something that involves our feelings and instincts.

And so, we have to work hard in building up this relation with God if we want to keep some safe distance away from temptations. If our love for God is hot, the devil will find it hard to get near us, just like a fly would not get close to a hot soup.

Our usual problem is that we tend to be by ourselves when temptations come, and to rely simply on our powers which actually are already heavily compromised since our wounded flesh is an ally of the enemies of our soul. We always have a Trojan horse in our personal lives.

Without Godís grace we simply cannot do anything except to fall, if not soon then later. It would just be a matter of time. But when we are with God, we get to see the whole picture, and can distinguish the poison embedded in the many good, beautiful, true and sweet things that temptations come with.

From there we would know what strategy to take. Very often, what can be effective is simply to ignore the temptation and the pour scorn on the evil spirits behind the temptation. This is effective if in the first place our spiritual life is healthy, with faith and love for God and for souls vibrant and strong.

But then when such faith and love is not that strong, the temptations can gain some foothold in us. When we notice this, our reaction should be just to stay calm and not to dare to get overexcited. When there is a storm around, we usually would stay home or at a safe place to ride it out, and avoid going around.

The same with this particular case of temptations gaining some foothold in us. It simply means that God is allowing these temptations to come to show us where we are weak, and therefore where we should do something about.

This is when we have to spend time praying and offering sacrifices, for only in this way can we discern the proper tactics to take advantage of the temptations. Yes, temptations are not all that bad. They can be tremendous occasions to boost our spiritual growth. We all need to be tested.

Letís always remember that everything that happens to us, including those that appear very bad, are at least allowed by God to happen. And if he allows them to happen it is because there will always be some good that can be derived from it.

Letís remember St. Paulís words: ďWhere sin has abounded, the grace of God has abounded even more.Ē (Rom 5,20) Letís be quick to assume this reasoning when temptations come to avoid sinking in depressions.

Rather we should be quick to discern Godís ever wise, if mysterious and often painful ways of his providence that is meant to lead us to him through the drama of our life here on earth. Thatís why he is full of mercy, and also wants us to be merciful to one another.

It is also good that we avail of whatever help we can get to tackle our temptations. In this, what is most recommended is frequent confession and regular spiritual direction. That would mean that we are going to God and to a very reliable person to ask for help.

The story of Christ being tempted by the devil after his forty days of prayer and fasting in the desert is a model for us to follow. Like Christ, we should be steeped in prayer and fasting if we want to be prepared to face temptations properly.

Letís not forget that temptations will always be packaged very beautifully. In Christís case, even Godís words were cited by the devil. But then again, if we are truly with God, we also would know where the lie is inserted and, like Christ, how we can remain unaffected by these temptations.





Cultivating freedom

June 24, 2014

ITíS a difficult animal to tame. I am referring to freedom that all of us want to invoke to express what we really have inside our mind and heart. Unfortunately, very little attention is given to the fact that freedom is something we need to cultivate, and as such it requires all kinds of processes and procedures, and patience, and patience, and still more patience.

I remember when I graduated from high school, my father made for me the valedictory that I had to deliver on behalf of my class. It had an intriguing opening line, since my father, who was a lawyer, had a flair for the dramatic in his orations.

ďFreedom is not free,Ē my speech began. ďEither you pay for it or it buys you out.Ē That was quite a mouthful for a 15-year-old to say, and I tried my best to show that I understood what I said and that I meant it. Those were the days of teen-age bravura. Now, of course, this memory makes me laugh.

I somehow understood then that what my father meant was that freedom can either make or unmake a man. Iíve read that in some novels, and seen it in some movies and even in real-life third-person drama. But such understanding was more theoretical than experiential.

Still, I knew then that the seed of curiosity about freedom was planted deeply in my heart. And as years passed, my understanding of it also grew. And what a tumultuous itinerary I had to pass through! Indeed, direct, first-person experience is quite a master teacher.

Our problem with freedom usually stems from the fact that we have a partial understanding of it which we tend to consider as already complete and full. We hardly realize that our idea of freedom would often be short-sighted, narrow-minded, biased and straight-jacketed according to our own subjective criteria.

That is why we often would have the sensation of highs and lows, exuberance and depression. A sense of stability and confidence is hardly felt. But life in general, no matter how much we twist it, cannot help but show us the real objective face of freedom through the many contradictions and humiliations we suffer along the way.

Yes, reality bites! It sooner or later, one way or another, will burst the bubbles that we unwittingly have been creating for ourselves. Sometimes, we fall crashing down to earth after we managed to build a complex and sophisticated dream world, driven by a false idea of freedom and creativity.

Whether we like it or not, aware of it or not, reality will find a way to tell us that freedom is not something that we spontaneously generated. Itís not our own making. It is something given to us, with an objective law that governs it.

Itís not our creation, to be used absolutely according to our own personal and subjective terms. It comes together with the most fundamental truth that we are creatures and that there is a Creator. Toward it, the proper attitude to have to is to respect it and its law. And this requires a lot of humility.

The law that governs freedom is, of course, nothing other than God himself, in whose image and likeness we are. Thatís why Christ, the fullness of the revelation of God to us, said: ďI am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.Ē

It is Christ who is the truth that will make us free. And Christ himself lived by this truth. His sense of freedom was bound up with his obedience to his Fatherís will, no matter how painful that will was.

Saints have understood this character of freedom very well. Many of them have gone to the extent of explicitly saying that freedom is none other than obeying the will of God. That, in its distilled form, is the essence of freedom.

Freedom and obedience therefore go together. One cannot be without the other, in contradiction to the understanding of many of us who often put freedom and obedience as antithetical to each other.

Thatís why we need to deepen our humility to be able to see this vital connection between freedom and obedience. And again, this humility has to be understood not only theoretically, but also practically. In fact, it should not only be understood. It has to be lived always through the events and circumstances of our daily life.

To cultivate true freedom is to cultivate a growing obedience to Godís will. Outside of that orbit, we can only have false freedom.



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