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

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

Rizal Park is not for sale

What’s in a name?: Take 2

Why Torture Is Wrong?




What is Government’s priority, Money or People?

A Statement of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum on the militarization of Lumad communities
October 1, 2015

“When the King is concerned with justice, the nation will be strong, but when he is only concerned with money, he will destroy his country” (Proverbs 29:4, Today’s English Version).

The country is indeed being destroyed. Our lumad who belong to the indigenous peoples are getting harassed, intimidated, threatened and killed. Their leaders are being extra-judicially exterminated because they defend their ancestral land and protect their people. The perpetrators, the military and their paramilitary forces, use as an excuse the pretext that these leaders are New People’s Army combatants or supporters.

The people are asked to leave their communities; otherwise they will meet the same fate.

As a result, the people had fled their communities. About 700 Ata Manobo tribes from Talaingod and Kapalong, Davao del Norte and San Fernando, Bukidnon sought refuge in Haran House of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) in Davao City. Almost 3000 from Surigao del Sur had evacuated to the sports complex in Tandag City for fear of their lives.

Why are they being driven out of their ancestral lands? The reason is money. Big foreign mining corporations want to exploit the resources of the lands known for their richness in gold, nickel and copper. The military wants to make sure that that happens. However, they could not freely enter due to people’s resistance. Hence, the militarization of the area had to commence.

Money has become more important than people!

As pastors of the flock, we are appalled by this priority of our government. Our officials had neglected these mountain people for decades now – no social services like schools, hospitals, water, electricity and other basic necessities.

With the support of churches and non-government organizations, they managed to help themselves. They built their schools and they learned how to read and write. They are taught basic hygiene. They are able to practice their culture. They are happy with their lives.

However, with the coming of the military and the paramilitary forces, they are now in deep trouble. They closed down their schools and turned them into barracks. They threatened and killed their teachers who they plan to replace with soldiers as para-teachers. They are forced to leave their homes, their lands and their livelihoods.

Rep. Nancy Catamco, chair of the Committee on the Indigenous Peoples in the House of Representatives, accompanied by the military, the police, representatives from the National Commission of Indigenous Peoples and the Department of Social Welfare and Development, visited the refugees in Davao city in order to “rescue” them who she claimed were “kidnapped” by UCCP pastors and other church people who are influence by the left.

Criminal cases were later filed against 15 individuals including UCCP pastors for kidnapping, human trafficking and holding people against their will, but the Davao City Prosecutor dismissed the cases saying that they had no basis and insufficient.

The refugees are not used to life in the city. They say that they don’t need pity; they need justice. They want to return to their homes, the lands and their livelihoods to once again earn their living with dignity. But they have a firm demand before they go back: disband and disarm the paramilitary units and pull out the military from their communities. In other words, stop militarization in their area.

We support the just demand of the lumad. It is their right to go back to their own homes and be assured to live in peace. This is the least that the government can do – leave them in peace.

“Soon the wicked will disappear; you may look for them, but you won’t find them; but the humble will possess the land and enjoy prosperity and peace” (Psalms 37:10-11, NEV).

Issued and signed this 1st day of October, 2015.





Beauty in the Beast: The hugot of the Pinoy’s joy

September 10, 2015

Some nights ago, I missed my flight to Chicago. I've lived in Manila for more than 20 years, and I've been going to the airport quite regularly all that time, but this was the first time I've ever missed a flight due to traffic. In the car, I wondered out loud to the friends who were with me what the news would say the next day.

The day after, CNN reports "Downpour causes monstrous traffic jam in Metro Manila." I actually used that very same word – monstrous – to describe the EDSA gridlock, when I wrote to my dissertation adviser to explain why I'd be missing a rendezvous with another professor in Chicago.

Indeed, there was no other word more apt.

From where I was – feeling so helpless as the clock was ticking nearer and nearer to the flight schedule, and I wasn't even halfway to the airport 3 hours after leaving my home in Pasig – I saw before me a colossal snake with scales of glittering red lights on one side, of blinking yellow on the other. The beast was gorging itself on the Filipinos' patience and sanity.

For a while I felt I understood why road rage happens. I even thought for a second that suicide in this country would be perfectly justified. It was inevitable in this hellish traffic, I thought for moment.

But it was only a fleeting thought. For in the car with me were people who didn't succumb to the "inevitable." They made a choice to be serene. The two people in the passenger seats were either sleeping like overgrown babies or laughing at the whole absurdity of the situation when they were awake. Admittedly, they were irritatingly cheerful at times, but I guess that's better than being irritatingly grumbling.

As for the driver of the van – well, what can I say? The whole time, he was sympathetic to my difficulty yet patient with what we obviously could do very little about. He taught me – who was more than a decade older than him – that one always has a choice in these situation: to be either impatient or calm, a hell to others or a source of peace. I learned we can be virtuous in any situation, including the negatively superlative traffic of EDSA.

When I realized all this, I took out my rosary and, like a child, prayed as my mother had taught me. I glanced to my right and glimpsed Our Lady of Guadalupe on the huge LED board seemingly looking and smiling at me. "Nice touch for your birthday," I thought (it was Sept. 8) – and I meant both the traffic and her image.

I also did some bit of mental prayer as I had learned from St. Josemaria. Having finished 30 minutes of it, I began praying to Blessed Alvaro whose anniversary of beatification – a ceremony where I was present last year – is fast approaching (Sept. 21).

Having gone to all my "heavy duty" intercessors, and realizing that no miracle would lift the van to the airport in time for my midnight flight, I decided instead to lift up my will and unite it to God's. I prayed, "Thank you, Lord, for this chance to offer up something significant to me for whatever You want this to be offered. I ask not to know, but to love, your will." And, as always happens in these situations, I was filled with peace.

Some hours later, I read something similar in Bl. John Newman's "Meditations and Devotions". "My...perplexity may be the necessary means of some great end which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain...He knows what he is about... I trust thee wholly. Thou art wiser than I – more loving to me than I myself. Deign to fulfill thy high purposes in me, whatever they may be – work in and through me. I am born to serve thee, to be thine, to be thy instrument. I ask not to see –I ask not to know – I ask simply to be used."

I went to bed that night filled with peace and thankful for the little blessings, instead of thinking of the inconvenience this entire experience spelled and would spell for me. I was thankful for the Shell toilet that was available just when my bladder was near bursting; when I came out there was a long queue to the toilet. I was thankful that we made it back home at 1 a.m. instead of 3 a.m.; I knew there were still people trudging their way home in those wee hours of the morning. I always have a choice to be grateful.

I am definitely not fatalistic, and like every Filipino, I expect the government that takes one third of my salary to give us back the service that we deserve. Nevertheless, I also believe that we need to always maintain the characteristic Filipino goodness and joy in difficulties such as these. This experience has reminded me once more where the Filipino gets it – the hugot, as they now say. It is in prayer and abandonment to God's will.

There is where one finds beauty in the beast.



The next day, I found myself enjoying breakfast with friends, laughing Pinoy style, over the silliest considerations. At some point, I told them about my devotion to Fr. Joseph Muzquiz who is my intercessor for things connected to the U.S. I explained to them that his intercession was weird: that he stops things from happening and gives me something better in return (I'd see that in retrospect, of course). It's what I call "negative intercession."

I told them that, ironic as it may seem, I believed this was Fr. Joseph's favor to me. I mean that the delay was made for me to have more days with friends, more productive moments of work, a better schedule over all in the U.S., and still make it to the interview with the subject of my dissertation on Sept. 14. I added that to "up the ante" for this intercessor, I was going to ask him to help me rebook my ticket for free. This was important for a cash-strapped student like me.

I called Asiana Airlines and told them my situation. A very nice lady spoke to me on the other end. She said, yes there's a flight available for Chicago at midnight 2 days after. She emailed the new ticket with no questions asked.

I intend to be in the airport by 8 hours before the flight instead of the usual 3 hours. Sure, there is beauty in the beast, and I'd appreciate it when it's there. But I have no desires of seeing it any time soon.

[Robert Z. Cortes is a PhD student in Social Institutional Communication at the Pontifical University of Santa Croce, Rome. He has an M.A. in Ed. Leadership from Columbia University, N.Y.]





The proper attitude to sports

September 9, 2015

Boys will always be boys. Given any chance to play sports, their reaction is always lightning quick and wholehearted. In fact, I sometimes get the impression that’s where their heart really is. Classes are a poor second, or a third or fourth…

I just remembered the opening of an annual intramural Olympiad in a boys’ school, and the environment suddenly changed mood. More movement, more laughter, more color. The boys seem to be on auto-pilot, guided by instincts otherwise hidden during normal schooldays.

Through it all, I somehow detected unmistakable traces and signs of growth and development. There was more self-confidence, better teamwork, an increased daring to show their talents and gifts, or as they say, to strut their stuff.

It’s true that while their education requires some controlled environment, they need to be unleashed from time to time, asking them to do things on their own.

That’s where we can see whether degrees of maturity and sense of responsibility have been gained or not. That’s where we can see who are the leaders and who the followers. That’s where we can see their strengths and weaknesses.

I saw their cheer dance competition and their artwork exhibit – I could not be in all events – but I was already floored to see their creativity and artistry that truly widened my perspectives. It’s indeed a blessing that can come only from God.

It’s always moving to see them try their best to be more human and Christian, to become more mature and responsible in spite of the many demons they have to face. Human weakness and miseries, temptations from within and without hound them as they do everybody else. But their struggles have a peculiar quality.

They’re still awkward and prone to try flying without knowing exactly where they would land. They’re still into a grueling process of self-discovery, a very crucial stage where they need the most help that should not be too intrusive, which they resent.

It’s in sports where a common language is instantly spoken and understood even between staff and students, and practically by all. Barriers seen in classrooms and workshops seem to get dismantled in the gym. And everyone enjoys and looks forward to it.

That’s why sports has to be given its proper place in school life. It may not be the most important element, but I would say it’s an indispensable auxiliary component. For it can also be a terrific school of many virtues.

But it has to be infused also with the proper spirit. Otherwise, it can degenerate into a network of vices and inhuman attitudes – greed, lust, vanity, frivolity, etc.– that can become formidable since with sports this network gets extremely enjoyable and addictive.

Everyone needs to be reminded that sports has to serve our true dignity as persons and children of God. It cannot be an excuse for us to indulge in animality and savagery. Competition need not be an exercise of pride, envy and hatred.

It can be a healthy occasion to build a realistic attitude to life, for which one realizes the need for discipline and preparation, hardwork and focus. It can be a good learning moment for the interplay of the basic social principles of the common good, solidarity and subsidiarity.

Competition tells us we are not alone. We need to be with others. It tells us we have to work for a goal, each one contributing whatever he can and always doing it in an effective tandem with others.

Competition is a driver of development at least in the personal and social aspects of one’s life. It pushes one to go to the limits of his capabilities not only in the technical aspects but especially in the more human ones – magnanimity, gracefulness, patience, optimism, etc.

That’s why it is important to make everyone understand the true nature and purpose of competition. If one knows what competition really is and is for, he will always come out a victor whether he wins or loses in a game or business.

Defeat, according to General George Patton, is not due to losses but to the destruction of the soul. It’s when one surrenders to discouragement, pessimism, despair.

That’s why it is important that everyone learns to compete properly, correcting him whenever the spoilers of the true status of competition come. How essential is it, therefore, that the young ones be immediately reminded and encouraged whenever they show signs of misunderstanding it!

Of course, the very fundamental principle of sports and competition is one’s love for God. Outside of that, forget it.





Barbarians at the Gate!
(Or the attack against marriage and the family)

August 18, 2015

On Feburary 16, 2008, Cardinal Carlo Caffara, Archbishop of Bologna, after a Mass celebrated at the tomb of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, granted an interview to Tele Radio Padre Pio.

In that interview, Caffara revealed that Sister Lucy of Fatima fame told him that the final battle between the Lord and the reign of Satan will be about marriage and the family.

Sister Lucia did not specify when this final battle will take place, but perhaps the vision Pope Leo XIII had on October 3, 1884 may be related. Just after celebrating Holy Mass on that day, Pope Leo XIII collapsed as if dead. After he was revived, he recounted a vision of Satan approaching the throne of God, boasting he will destroy the Church if given the chance to.

The Lord reminded Satan that his Church is invincible. Satan then replied, “Grant me one century and more power of those who will serve me, and I will destroy it.” Our Lord granted him 100 years.

The Lord then allowed the Pope a vision of the events of the 20th century: wars, immorality, genocide, and apostasy on a large scale. Alarmed by the spine-chilling vision, the Pope sat down and wrote the prayer to St. Michael, the same prayer the faithful pray today in times of distress.

Many believe that we are now in the midst of those 100 years.

Before the Irish people voted on May 22, 2015 to allow same-sex unions, 20 countries have already embraced same-sex unions either by legislation or via court decisions. Ireland was the first to do it by popular vote. These 20 countries are: The Netherlands (2000); Belgium (2003); Canada (2005); Spain (2005); South Africa (2006); Norway (2009); Sweden (2009); Argentina (2010); Iceland (2010); Portugal (2010); Denmark (2012); Brazil (2013); England and Wales (2013); France (2013); New Zealand (2013); Uruguay (2013); Luxembourg (2014); Scotland (2014); Finland: (signed 2015, effective 2017).

Then on June 26, 2015, SCOTUS – The U.S. Supreme Court – voted 5-4 making same-sex unions legal in all United states.

Why did same-sex unions suddenly crop up in our discussions? Because same-sex unions is the weapon the Devil is using to destroy marriage and the family. By rejecting the God-mandated man-woman dichotomy of marriage, and by replacing it with the sterile man-man or woman-woman abomination, the Devil hopes to strike right at the heart of God’s plan for mankind and for all of Creation.

There’s only one reason why God instituted marriage: procreation. Malachi 2:15 is very clear: God instituted marriage so that godly offspring may result. But why would God want babies to be born? God has only one reason: to fill heaven with human beings. Now why would God do that? Because God wants us to share eternal happiness with him.

But, then, the Devil, forever malevolent and desiring nothing but the fall of man, will not have anything of that. That’s why he’d do everything he can to lead us away from our eternal destiny. His weapon of choice: same-sex unions, the very thing we see unfolding before our very own eyes today.





Priestly spirit of poverty

August 9, 2015

It’s nice to know that many dioceses in the country are adopting the so-called Standard Living Allowance (SLA) plan for their priests and, of course, their bishops. It’s an effort to take care of the basic needs and sustenance of the clergy whatever their pastoral assignments and personal conditions may be. We indeed have to take care of them who are selfless in bringing Christ to the faithful.

The appropriate structures and systems of the plan are being put up. Some period of experimentation is now underway. The learning process has started with obvious cases of some kinks and snags being ironed out.

All these are good. But let’s remember that the structures and systems, no matter how effective and efficient they are in theory, would come to nothing if they are not animated by the proper spirit of poverty that we, clerics, are supposed to live. As St. Paul puts it: “The written code kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Cor 3,6)

We should then understand that this whole business of establishing the SLA is not just about money and sustenance and of how Church finances can be allocated with greater equity. It is, first and last, a matter of reinforcing the priestly spirit of poverty that is very crucial in the priest’s identity, dignity and ministry.

We have to understand that without this proper priestly spirit of poverty, the priesthood is compromised or at least distorted, no matter how showy a priest struts his stuff. He will end simply being a performer, a user, a bureaucrat, instead of the sacramental representation of Christ as head of the Church, a dispenser of the divine mysteries

In the Directory on the Ministry and Life of Priests, issued in 1994, some description of this priestly spirit of poverty is made (n. 67). Priestly poverty is pictured as an image of the poverty of Christ that has a salvific scope. It is the way to make one totally available to the things of God, of Christ, and the needs of the people.

“A priest could hardly be a true servant and minister of his brothers if he were excessively worried with his comfort and well-being,” it says. With respect to the created and earthly goods, the priest can use them but “with a sense of responsibility, moderation, upright intention and detachment, precisely because he has his treasure in heaven and knows that all should be used for building the Kingdom of God.”

The directory encourages the priest to lead “a simple life and avoid anything which could have an air of vanity, voluntarily embracing poverty to follow Christ more closely. In all aspects (living quarters, means of transportation, vacations, etc.), the priest must eliminate any kind of affectation and luxury.”

It’s sad to note that many people have been turned off by the way some priests comport themselves in public. Rightly or wrongly, they have claimed that some priests have luxury cars, ostentatious manners and are always thinking of money to the extent that people brand them as “mukhang pera,” converting their priesthood into some kind of business.

This does not mean that priests should look and smell like beggars. Far from it. They, in fact, should be elegant, decently attired and easily distinguishable as priests who can readily be approached by anyone. As much as possible, they should not be mistaken as ‘habal-habal’ or jeepney drivers or some misplaced celebrities, etc.

I suppose it would be good if regular lifestyle checks can be made by the proper church authority so that the appropriate suggestions, corrections, solutions and remedies can be made promptly, avoiding scandals that can really be harmful to the life of the Church, not to mention the priests concerned themselves.

What can be helpful is when priests themselves have regular spiritual directions to which they should have recourse with all freedom. We should not forget that the greater the responsibility one has, the greater also is his need for guidance and discipline. The moment this principle is forgotten or taken for granted, the incidence of all kinds of anomalies would just be a matter of time.

The directory also says that a priest should be a friend of those most in need, reserving “his most refined pastoral charity for these, with a preferential option for all poverty, old and new, tragically present in our world, always remembering that the first misery from which man must be liberated is that of sin, the root of all evil.”

All of these indications about priestly spirit of poverty have to be lived with naturalness and discretion, knowing how to pass unnoticed, without ever screaming to the world, “I am poor.”



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