Thursday, July 27, 2006

“Getting Used to EVIL”

Just recently one of the last living witnesses to the horrors of Polpot’s Khmer Rhouge passed away. Thousands still remember this piece of Cambodia’s bloody past in their very skin. Millions know about it from stories they may have heard or read at that time. But more and more of the present generation are beginning to have a rather bland response to what seems so distant and perhaps even fairy tallish to them. This is the same to many contemporary Germans who do hear about Hitler’s Holocaust but are not at all ruffled by the it. How Christians react to the word “Inquisition” is also indicative of a similar phenomenon. Contemporary Filipinos are no different. When we hear the words “Martial Law” and/or Marcos what is our response?

Of course those who lived through the horrors of the Marcos years still cringe in pain, sadness and anger. The present younger generation do hear those tagged as “activists” or “militant” chanting “never again to Martial Law” and hardly could they understand why the indignation and much less identify with a cause that seems more and more distant and alien to them. Recently, I spoke to a friend who had just visited the Horoshima Memorial. He describes the present Japanese attitude to the history of Hiroshima. They remember Hiroshima with deep sorrow but do not spend their time or energy blaming anyone.

The Japanese however both young and old remember and remember well. Remembering well does not constitute a sentimental and empty exercise. Remembering well clearly entails understanding well or having a profound insight into the deeper causes, processes and meanings of an experience. Remembering with understanding is what the dictum, “those who do not remember the past are bound to repeat its mistakes” is all about. This is what insight ultimately means, to remember with understanding in order not to repeat and promote the error, the weakness, the evil inherent in an act or experience whether past or present. Thus, this remembering will not and cannot be empty and indifferent. The memory-bearer will not only invite others to remember but also to remember with understanding and the concomitant commitment not to repeat nor promote a particular evil.

Thus memorials are crucial in promoting memory in the deeper sense of remembering, understanding and commitment. This is the purpose of the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. Anyone who visits the Holocaust Memorial leaves sad and even angry at the evil of that phase of human history. More than focusing on the madness of a Hitler, visitors leave with the insight that the holocaust was a crime of man against man, a crime against humanity.

At this very moment, Israel is bombarding Lebanon. So much of this beautiful and historical city is once more destroyed (Israel last attacked Lebanon in 2002). Again, many of its innocent civilians are once more sacrificed on the altar of war and arrogance. Recently four UN observers also perished. The four come from Canada, Finland, Austria and China. The whole world is once more roused by the evil of war. Yet the bombings, destruction and killing of the people and civilization of a weaker and more vulnerable people by a country of superior economic, military and political power continues apparently deft to the growing global opposition.

Just as Israel has launched its war against Lebanon for failing to release two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah guerillas some weeks ago, the Philippines had just gone through another political exercise called the SONA. A high level meeting of world leaders seeking an end to the violence in Lebanon has just been concluded in Rome. Israel however, continues to justify its attack on Lebanon. Similarly, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in her SONA likewise justified her continuing occupation of the Presidency through another list of promises that are growing emptier and more incredulous than the previous ones. It doesn’t matter.

Government media and its allies will simply continue stating that things are getting better and that life in the Philippines is moving on. It doesn’t matter for they know that people can get used to evil until it no longer matters. People can get used to killings until it becomes ordinary. Lying, cheating, harassment, bribing, corruption will, in time become ordinary and accepted as part of life. This was the disturbing phenomenon that philosopher Hannah Arendt called the “banality of evil.” This was what she discovered as she observed and reflected the Nuremberg Trials of Hitler’s men charged of responsibility for the holocaust. Arendt commented about how ordinary they ( Goebels and the other generals ) look, and added, how ordinary and banal evil has become.

Just as war in Lebanon and Iraq is seeming quite banal or ordinary, so are Gloria’s SONA’s beginning to sound true. So many seem quite in the Philippines today. They seem to believe the lie that things are looking up and life is moving on. A group, disparagingly called the “minority” does not stop raising their voices and condemning the lying, bribing, stealing, cheating and planning to hold on to power. Into the convenient category called the “minority” all those who oppose, denounce and criticize are continually and indiscriminately described as “no better and no less ambitious.” Intentions are often mixed. Surely some and perhaps many of those denouncing Gloria are no better and equally ambitious, but it will be equally evil to say and believe that “all” are.

I thank the Lord for the “few” who continue to denounce and not deny the evil consuming our land. It does not matter what others say of you. In the end, it is the Lord who will judge and reward you for when many have accepted evil as ordinary, when many have gotten used to it, you have not ceased to unmask and denounce its ugly and murderous face. You have not forgotten. You remember, understand and continue to fight not only evil but its increasing banality.

This is what it means to unmask evil. It has become more difficult to fight evil, requiring greater sensitivity, sophistication and courage. Indeed, the world needs those who will always denounce and fight evil, those who will never get used to it. I pray for you and may remain firm in the love, truth and strength of the Lord.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
July 27, 2006

Monday, July 24, 2006

Holy Anger

Anger, rage and hatred are related but not the same. Rage is anger gone neurotic. Hatred is anger consumed by self-righteousness and self-love. Anger is a normal human feeling. It is aroused or stimulated by events, persons or situations. Anger means that a person is sensitive, intelligent and most importantly alive.

A living person can and in a real sense should get angry. There is however such a thing as justified and un-justified anger. Justified anger is called indignation. It is anger with a clear and reasonable cause. Un-justified anger is irrational, impulsive and at times neurotic. Rage belongs to this category. Jesus knew how to love and knew how to be angry. Jesus’ love for persons was not blind. When he saw a defect, a weakness, a sin, a narrowness and stubbornness of character he did not hesitate to show his anger. How many times has he berated Peter, to the point of even calling him “Satan?” How many times has he cursed and lambasted the Scribes and the Pharisees even calling them “whitened sepulchers?”

To love Jesus means to know and understand the total Jesus. How many try to conveniently box Jesus in and project him as a completely passive, gentle and almost ethereal, spiritual, super and supra-human (inhuman) being? How many would look at this ugly, violent, greedy world and say, “we cannot do anything but pray to Jesus.” As they withdraw into their private altars, quiet Blessed Sacraments or their comfortable rooms, how easy it is for those who live in comfort, shielded by their wealth, status and power to say “let us withdraw and pray for this violent, rotten world.”

Besides, we are too small to do anything about the problems that are too big. What can we do about the Israeli siege of Lebanon? What can we do about the American occupation of Iraq? What can we do about the recent North Korean missile test launches? What can we do about tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions? And what can we do about Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whose political, economic, legal and military establishment is far bigger than any of us?

We can continue arguing from our position of helpless littleness or from our convenient faith in the passive, gentle Jesus until we begin to realize how we continue to deceive ourselves. Aren’t we in fact protecting ourselves, our wealth, possessions and positions, in fact our privileges by feigning or faking “helpless littleness?” Aren’t we in fact guilty of idolatry or the worship of a false god by reducing Jesus to a gentle, passive and indifferent ascetic? Don’t we smell the stench of a cowardly, compromising and unfaithful Peter as we continue justifying our inability to do anything? Do we even allow our balloons of comfort and defensiveness to be pricked by the anger or indignation of the God of Love who sees through our selfishness, egoism conveniently masking our fear?

Today, is Gloria Macapagal’s State of the Nation Address. Outside Congress throngs will gather to express anger and indignation. Inside Congress, the usual accomplishments propped up by statistics will be routinely applauded by her supporters.

Today as in the past, success or progress will be given a human face when Manny Pacquiao, Precious Lara Quigaman and the first Pinoy conquerors of Everest will be honored. They will now join the hallowed (or hollow) ranks of Mang Pandoy, the three Payatas kids who set sail “tatlong bangkang papel” and Angelo de la Cruz. Once more we will hear another variation on the same theme of, “let us get on with our lives and leave behind the political mudslinging, bickerings and other forms of obstructionist and destructive politics as that which is going on outside Congress.”

Inside the air-conditioned, controlled atmosphere of Congress there will be feigned triumphalism and jubilation. In stark contrast, outside there will be rain, dirt, sixteen thousand riot police and thousands of angry protesters. Between the two groups of Filipinos, one triumphant and another angry, I wonder where truth would more brilliantly shine forth? The answer is simple. Truth is life and where there is life there is truth. Within Congress the President’s SONA will once more claim legitimacy for her illegitimate government. In other words, it will lie and try all the tricks to make the lie sound and seem true. Outside, an angry crowd will brave rain, water canons, tear gas and truncheons to denounce the lie.

Today’s SONA will be attended by one, who is neither happy nor indifferent. He will not be inside but outside Congress with the chanting, marching angry crowds for here there is truth, there is life. He will not be seen but He will surely be felt for as people express the truth, in holy anger and indignation, they express His Spirit as well. Jesus will attend the SONA. He is angry at the lies, cheating, injustice, murders, corruption and the brazen, unbridled ambition and clinging on to power of a regime that has lost legitimacy. If He will be aloud into Congress and could get within hearing distance, His voice may just reverberate, “Get Behind Me Satan.”

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
Running Still
July 24, 2006

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Which Law? Whose Law?

The CBCP is under attack. This is no longer an opinion. When envelopes containing measly amounts of fifteen to thirty thousand pesos were rumored to be going around the halls of Pius XII Center where the CBCP was meeting two weeks ago this was neither an innocent nor a recklessly miscalculated move. Malacanang spin doctors are not stupid. The best minds are being recruited by Malacanang and pitted against principles and morals. When the rumors about the envelope method began leaking and Bishops were suddenly put on the defensive, Malacanang was of course immediately accused of bribing the Bishops.

The s…did not stick to the Malacanang fan, but it was splattered all over the Bishops. Even if Bishop Jose Manguiran raised hell against the the shameless bribing by writing a letter and returning the envelope with the money to Malacanang, the damage was already done. Both critical opinion makers and ordinary people were disgorging words of disgust and anger as lava would ooze out of angry volcanos Mayon and Bulusan. Just as it seemed that the last bishop bashing article was written, Secretary of Justice Raul Gonzalez lashes against Bishop Antonio Tobias, “No one is above the law….allowing his house to be used for plotting….out of these statements, we already get a picture of what he is trying to do.” (cf. PDI, P.A1, July 20,06 Gonzalez warns bishop: no one is above the law).

A few days earlier, Bishop Antonio Tobias of Novaliches appeared on a television interview and discussed how he offered sanctuary to 1st Lt. Lawrence San Juan who was one of the leaders of the Oakwood Rebellion in 2003. In the same report, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita insists that “the government will not hesitate to arrest Tobias if found guilty. No one should be above the law. If there are violations of the Revised Penal Code, everyone will understand why the law has to be applied equally to everybody.”

Two weeks ago, the Bishops were apparently caught unawares when dirty envelopes started smearing their hands. Two weeks later, one bishop is being investigated for possible involvement in the plot to overthrown the Arroyo administration. But two former anti-jueteng allies of Archbishop Oscar Cruz have recently testified that not only Bishop Tobias but five other Bishops are actually involved in attempts to topple down the administration. The five bishops being dragged into the controversy are: Archbiship Angel Lagdameo, President of the CBCP; Archbishop Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan; retired Bishop Julio Labayan, formerly of Infanta, Bishop Deogracias Iniguez of Caloocan and Bishop Teodoro Bacani.

In a telephone interview, Senator Nene Pimentel explains that all these are nothing more than harassment. There is no case. Bishop Antonio Tobias did not invite 1st Lt. San Juan to his house. The soldier was asking for sanctuary. The church official graciously extended it to the soldier whose life was in danger. When asked whether the case against Bishop Tobias was part of the Government’s systematic plan to completely undermine the church, Senator Pimentel said, “yes, and it is also clearly psy-war.” The Senator also added that” the President is so afraid that she fears even her own shadow. She is no longer governing the country. No one listens to her anymore.” “This fear will once more be seen on Monday before and during the President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) when the Government by deploying sixteen thousand troops all over Metro Manila will in no unclear terms show the people that it is in a state of siege, he adds”

In threatening to use the force of the law against the perceived involvement of prelates in anti-government plots, government functionaries like Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez assume that they and only they know and obey the law. Before a bishop provides sanctuary to a soldier whose life is in danger, must he first ask the soldier, “are you for or against Arroyo?” Yes of course as it is clear in Secretary Ermita’s explanation that, “ if Tobias acted like a good citizen should, he should have immediately informed authorities about the fugitives.”

Both leaders seem to be following different laws. For one the law only applies to and is above all for the protection of those who like and agree with the Government of Gloria Arroyo. For another, his law embraces all, whether he or she likes or dislikes Government. The first is called the law of “National Security.” The second is more than a law. It is called the truth, justice and compassion of God!

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
July 22, 06

Monday, July 17, 2006

Ampalaya and Hong Kong

16, July 2006, Sunday. After attending mass at the Hong Kong Cathedral, I walked down the escalators towards the Catholic Center at Central. At various sections of the way, whole stretches are lined up with newspaper, cardboards and plastic table cloth on which Filipinas sat enjoying their Sunday off with either family or friends. They were OFWs, our beloved grandmothers, mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, cousins, neighbors and friends.

They are in Hong Kong earning the mandated HK$ 3200 a month or roughly about P 20,000. I have seen similar sights before. I see this during All Saints Day in cemeteries. I see this on Sundays at UP, Diliman around the Academic oval blocked off from traffic, a brilliant concept of former UP President Dodong Nemenzo. The sights in Hong Kong and in the Philippines are similar but there is a not too subtle distinction. The big crowds in the cemeteries, parks and University gardens in the Philippines are relaxed and quite naturally blend with the environment, the crowds of OFWs either sitting or walking all over Hong Kong on Sundays seems to fit in but in a rather surrealist way.

Walking past the Pinay OFWs were local Cantonese residents, tourists from the Mainland and everywhere else. The OFWs as well as the tourists seem not to mind each other. The picture might have seemed strange only to me. It may really be quite natural. It may in fact be what Hong Kong is all about. One hundred twenty thousand OFWs is Hong Kong. Here, just barely a distance of a few hundred kilometers more between Manila to Zamboanga, they eat, sleep, work and earn a living.

All of them are here to find an employer, a job on which they pin much of their hopes, from sending siblings or children to school, supporting sick and elderly parents or saving as much as they can to start or sustain a little business in the Philippines. This little job is their hope for a better life than what they used to have at home. There is hope in Hong Kong, not an easy and often enough a bitter kind of hope. But there is hope in Hong Kong more than in the Philippines. This is what every OFW I spoke with would say in varying tones of joy and bitterness.

Ampalaya, bitter gourd is a popular vegetable in the Philippines. Ampalaya con carne (sautéed bitter gourd with beef) , ampalaya con hipon ( with shrimps), and ensalada (bitter gourd salad) are a few favorite recipes. The bitter vegetable is not so bitter when washed and cooked properly. Good Filipino cooks know how to gently squeeze out a little of the bitterness in order to bring out the hidden sweetness in the vegetable. Strangely enough, enough sweetness is hidden in the bitter vegetable. Bitter-sweet is the “ampalaya.” Bitter-sweet is life in the Philippines, in Hong Kong or anywhere else where Filipinos seek survival, meaning, joy and hope.

Every time spent with OFWs in Hong Kong is spent listening to bitter-sweet stories of despair and hope rolled into one. This can well be a full time ministry for anyone. Each of the 120,000 OFWs have a story to tell, and they do appreciate listening ears. But it is not enough just to listen. It requires a courageous, realistic and discerning type of listening. Each sad and bitter story is an undifferentiated mix of despair and hope. Like ampalaya, the bitterness seems to dominate but bits of sweetness seem to escape here and there.

I was listening to a bitter-sweet story of a forty year old OFW whose mother disappeared for sixteen years and recently reappeared. Her relatives call her up and happily tell her the news. She goes home immediately. When she sees her mother, she was not too sure what she felt. For sixteen long years, their mother did not communicate in any way. She just evaporated like water spilled on concrete during a sweltering day. The only one who seemed really happy was her youngest brother who was two years old when their mother disappeared. He was more than pleased to see the mother whom he vaguely remembers as an infant. Shortly after this OFW came back to Hong Kong, the mother disappears again without saying where she went and when she will return. Listening to her story were other OFWs who immediately concluded, your mother has another family. There’s where she went. It will be better to forget her.

I don’t know what this OFW and her family do feel about a mother who disappears for sixteen years and reappears for a few weeks only to disappear again. I wouldn’t know what to feel if it happened to me. When she reappeared, the OFW and her family felt a kind of guarded joy mixed with much uncertainty. When she disappeared, the short-lived joy must have melted into the usual bitter resignation. The Pinay OFW concluded the story with the typical self-assuring note of OFWs, “I am here, I am 40, unmarried, I think of my father, my siblings back home. I will continue to work and do what I can for them, for as long as I can…” In those words are trapped and mixed hope and despair, bitterness and sweetness. These words easily evoke the taste of ampalaya.

OFWs whether in Hong Kong or elsewhere will assure me and anyone else, “there is hope, but not enough. We hope against hope…and could only hope for the best…” Beneath all this hoping is an overpowering bitterness that they swallow anyway…the way we do both here and in the Philippines when we eat ampalaya….

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
July 17, 2006

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


The CBCP has spoken, the official Church position has been said, so be it. And in the wake of the Bishops’ statement, for good or for bad, a variety of reactions have also been naturally generated. Let us look at some of these.

First, the favorable: Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye, “We concur with bishops that impeachment is not the way toward change and resolution in our current political concerns… the administration welcomes and ponders with humility and sincere appreciation the moral counsel from the pastoral letter of the CBCP…the message offers many points of agreement and shared objectives between the government and the Church…” House Majority Leader Prospero Nograles, “The House or Congress is not a correct venue to find guilt or innocence. It’s the courts that will decide guilt or no guilt, not Congress in an impeachment case because Congress decides, as a policy, whether good or bad, to remove an official.” (Cf. PDI, July 11, 06, page A1)

Second, the unfavorable: Senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr., “says he does not understand the CBCP…impeachment is the best, most peaceful way of seeking the truth.” Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., “That’s the CBCP’s privilege. While I don’t see how impeachment can succeed, I find it strange that they are not convinced that complainants seek the public good.” Minority Leader Francis Escudero, “If they favor the search for truth but not through the impeachment, then through what means?” The Hyatt 10 said that the impeachment case they filed would proceed, with or without the support of the CBCP. (PDI, July 11,06, page A1)

Third, it is worthwhile noting reactions from respected citizens and opinion makers. Former Senate President Jovito Salonga, “the bishops may be pushing the people to stage another people power. The bishops are virtually telling the people there is no more hope.” Former Commission on Elections Chair Christian Monsod said “ that next year’s mid-term elections were another way out of the political impasse. (Cf. PDI, July 12, 06, Page 1) Conrado de Quiros, “ That is the richest irony of all. The bishops worry that by going through another unproductive political exercise we will only encourage the public to distrust politicians some more? They should worry that by taking the wishy-washy position they have, they will only encourage the (un)faithful to distrust the clergy some more.” (PDI, July 12, 06, P A12)

There are three sets of positions here. The first from the bishops statement, politics which covers political processes and rules that govern these as well as the persons who implement the latter, officially called politicians are altogether suspect “unless these are guided by no other motive than genuine concern for the common good…” (Cf. CBCP Statement) The second from Malacanang and its supporters and obvious beneficiaries, the Church, especially its bishops is such a wonderful ally. The church should keep up the good work. The third from the opposition both formal and informal, the church has a duty to encourage hope and participation, clarity and courage in moral thinking, judgment, decision and action and the capacity to show genuine concern and involvement (engagement) in the not so neat and pure reality of socio-political renewal and transformation.

Conrad de Quiros has a scathing and disturbing critique of the latest CBCP position, “…the way the CBCP has answered it ( the question in the minds of the people, What do we do about someone who stole the vote?) opens itself up to charges that it’s basically saying, “Bahala na kayo diyan. We ourselves can’t do a thing about it. Or worse, “Pasensya na, we just want to play safe.” (PDI, July 12,06, P12)

Conrad describes a church that is distant, above, away, indifferent, afraid, unsure and unwilling to soil its “impeccably white vestments and unstained hands,” perhaps, a church that wants to be and remain “pure?” Two operative words seem to guide the church position, “Bahala na kayo (That’s your concern not ours.)” “Naniniguro lang
(Just making sure).”

These past months, while I watched events at home from afar, I cannot help but feel bad because I could not be involved. I feel so far from what I used to constantly experience, the dust, heat, crowds, anti-riot cops, fire trucks, make-shift stages, harassment and threats of all kinds, meetings, discussions, sub-poenas, preliminary hearings, court hearings, etc. Yet, from where I am I cannot say, “Bahala na kayo…Naniniguro lang…” My heart, soul, mind, spirit, my entire being aches to be part of my people’s struggle. Yes, it is dangerous and difficult. There are no clear-cut, full-proof solutions. Yes, there are crooks, corrupt politicians, communists and activists of all colors from blue to red, from yellow to pink. Amid the ache, I go to the Lord and ask, “what would you do Lord if you were in the Philippines today?"

I wait and listen if He too will say, “Bahala na …naniniguro lang. I wait some more and listen again. He seems quiet until I feel something burning deep within. From my heart of hearts, a vision emerges: a man walking among the people, on roads of dirt, mud and stone, sitting and eating among prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners. I see a man whose robes are soiled with dust, mud and various stains from contact with oily and grimy cart wheels, unkempt and stinking beggars. I see the man who seems ordinary as he so naturally blends with the crowd. He is full of peace, gentleness and compassion.

But there is heat, magnetism, light that flow almost visibly and palpably from him. He is not distant, safe and secure. He has become part of those around him, the hungry, the sick, the rejects, the sinners. They come to him or does he go to them? They seem to belong to each other but not so much as he reveling in dirt, sin and misery as he wanting to give life to those who feel lost, hopeless and deprived. No, he does not say “Bahala na…naniniguro lang.” Instead, he says something that I keep hearing…”Come follow me….follow me.” Perhaps I should ask, “where Lord?” But there is no need. I see where he goes….and there I want and joyfully want to follow Him.

We seem to forget asking this basic question not only now but always, “where is the Lord in all these, and what does the Lord want me, us to do for others?
Yes, most if not all politicians are driven by vested interest. They are not pure. However, do we become pure simply by condemning their impurity and dismissing their efforts with our “Bahala na and naniniguro lang” attitude?

Jesus did not make statements. Jesus spoke words directly to persons and amid crowds. He did not have an office nor a title that gave credibility to his words. Crowds sought him and literally ate his words because he was always in their midst. He was one of them, one with them, indeed not in their sins but in their feeble and even impure efforts to find life and more life, God and more God.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
July 12, 2006

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bishop Philip Lasap Zahawng

One’s typical experience of Bishops entails the stereotypical picture of miter, skull cap, staff and long pontifical masses. Often enough, bishops outside this usual cut come dancing or quietly walking into the scene. Some years ago, a dancing, singing, joking bishop brought the warmth and life of humanity to his diocese and the Philippine Church. His name was synonymous to laughter, fun, poetry as well as serious sharing on the need for justice, love, respect and compassion between Christians and Muslims.

His name was Benie Tudtud. Biship Benie perished in a plane crash in the mountains of Baguio city, 250 kilometers north of Manila. To those who knew him Benie is still singing and greeting everyone with his “Magandang Good Morning.” He is not dead. “How can he when we hear him singing, laughing and joking”, insists Fr. Sean McNulty, a Columban friend who still admits that he has not gotten over the lost of Benie. Thank God for Benie who continues to live in the hearts of so many.

These past few days, I had the honor and pleasure of being with a bishop who did not sing, dance and joke. This bishop walked and spoke with quiet dignity and much love for church and people. Bishop Philip Lasap Zahawng of the Diocese of Lashio, Shan State, Myanmar came to Hong Kong to visit people and institutions that have shown keen interest in Myanmar. He dropped by to visit Fr Robert Astorino MM, Executive Director of UCA News; Mr. Anthony S.K Lam of the Holy Spirit Study Center and Fr. Emile Louis-Tisserand of the MEP. He also met with Bishop Tong of the Diocese of Hong Kong. His brief stay in Hong Kong which is just his second in the last twenty two years since 1984, gave him the chance to see, discuss and understand the crucial importance of a number of elements in preaching the good news of salvation.

As we took taxi cabs, busses, trains on the MTR routes, I could see the bishop looking with keen observing eyes. I can only wonder what went through his mind and heart. What could one be thinking and feeling whose people suffer extremes of poverty, hunger and disease? Bishop Philip’s own family from parents down to his last sibling all died young. His farther died at 46, his mother at 43, his eldest sister died as an infant, his elder brother died at 45 (of appendicitis after complaining about severe stomach ache as he toss back and forth, being so far from a hospital, his other siblings tried to relieve his pain by massaging his abdomen ), the fourth brother died at 46, the fourth and fifth siblings, a boy and a girl died between 3 and 4 years old and his last sister died between 17 and 18 years of age. He is the only surviving member of his family. He is now 61 and thanks God for the years given him since his birth on February 12, 1945.

This poverty became so evident when he explains how one of his missions was to buy breviaries for three newly ordained priests. A breviary which will cost about $US200 is no small amount. It is more than what most of the people in Myanmar would earn within an entire year. For instance, a primary school principal in his province would receive 12,000 Kyat a month which is roughly equivalent to US$12. Multiply this by 12, you only have US$144, which is less than the price of one set of breviary for one priest. What can 12,000Kyat buy? The cheapest variety of rice sells at 20,000Kyat. The Government sells this to workers at cost for 5 to 6 thousand Kyat. To augment their income, school teachers would normally wake up very early to sell vegetables in the market or to take on tutorials before proceeding to school.

Aside from very low incomes, poor and extremely inadequate communication technology is another consequence of poverty. In order to communicate to 27 Priests assigned to 16 parishes, Bishop Philip has to rely on an informal courier system as telephone lines and mail service are unreliable. There are only four parishes with telephone connections. The absence of regular electricity rules out computers and the internet which most people even in underdeveloped countries take for granted. “Because of the prohibitive cost of diesel fuel, I only have electricity three hours a day, from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., “ the Bishop explains in a matter of fact way. Sick calls at night are done by candle light. Emergency operations in the hospitals are very expensive because the patient’s family would have to pay more because the hospital’s generator would have to be turned on.

A given geographical reality with real pastoral challenges is the fact that Myanmar shares a 200 kilometer boundary with Yunnan Province of China. The borders are not really protected so to speak. Chinese immigrants have come in big waves over the past years. “How I regret not having learned Mandarin earlier,” muses the Bishop. Language is in fact one of his pastoral concerns. Lashio according to the Bishop is almost Chinese dominated. Hence, it would be ideal if Church workers knew and spoke Chinese. Another pastoral challenge is how to gradually transform the whole Northern Shan State practice of Poppy growing. Government, NGO’s and Churches are working in close collaboration to help farmers plant alternative crops. However, soil which essentially limestone is sandy and not quite suitable to agriculture. As an alternative, hollow block manufacturing is being pursued.

When asked about his dream for his people, Bishop Philip reflects on both Traditional Religion and Buddhism. Traditional religion use animal sacrifices (cows and chicken) to placate the gods. Buddhism is very good for peace work but is sometimes distorted by some to promote pacifism. How to make people recognize the living God of love, justice and peace is both dream and concrete commitment.

My short time with this quiet but most interesting Bishop ends in a simple but memorable way. The house minister had to buy groceries and needed some help. Both Bishop Philip and I walk to the supermarket. The Bishop naturally takes a grocery cart and starts pushing. I offer to push the cart myself. The Bishop holds the pushcart bar firmly and says with a smile, “I like pushing.” I smiled and teased the Bishop, “…I hope not people…” I walked quietly behind and watched for the first time a bishop pushing a grocery cart. I prayed for him, “ Lord bless Bishop Philip, keep gently pushing him and his flock towards your Kingdom of justice, love, freedom and peace.

July 11, 2006

Monday, July 10, 2006

Kiss of Judas

A few months ago, the Christian world remembered the fateful events of the first Holy Week. There are various crucial moments in the drama of Holy Week. One of the high points is a painful reminder of human weakness and sin. It occurred when one of the disciples of Jesus comes up to him and gives him a kiss. It was Jusdas Iscariot, the group’s treasurer. With Judas’ kiss, soldiers immediately arrest Jesus.

Thus, throughout the millennia, the Kiss of Judas has become synonymous to betrayal, deceit, dishonesty. You still read the sign, “God knows Hudas Not Pay!” hanging conspicuously on jeepneys. That’s what we call cheats in the Philippines, “Hudas!” Rarely then do we meet people whose parents choose the name Jude for their children. Their naughty classmates will quickly translate the name into Pilipino and ridicule the poor kid calling him “Hudas…Hudas…Hudas…”

Today’s news about the recently concluded CBCP meeting in Manila had the interesting title, “CBCP told to beware of Arroyo gifts.” The story of Judas was also the story of a “gift.” It was not just any gift. It was a dirty gift from the Pharisees who gave Judas 30 pieces of silver in order to betray Jesus. At that time, church leaders used money to bribe Judas into betrayal. Ironically, today, it’s the other way around. State leaders are bribing Church leaders to betray the people.

Judas’ betrayal of Jesus was not an overnight process. I could imagine how Judas must have agonized over the offer of a big sum of money in exchange for his loyalty to the Lord. That definitive moment of betrayal must have been preceded by many smaller and seemingly minor moments of dishonesty and disloyalty. We can use traditional confessional box language and say, that it was a mortal sin borne out of a string of venial sins. Truly, whether we look at the genesis of virtue or vice, they all begin with little acts that are initially done sporadically until they happen with greater and greater regularity and finally solidify into a habit.

The debate whether Bishops should receive gifts from Malacanang, particularly from Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is rather tricky. Bishop Jesse Mercado’s predicament is not unique. Should he or shouldn’t he receive rice or medicine for his poor constituency? Material goods and money are not exactly the same. Material goods like food and medicine can immediately be distributed to the people. When I was parish priest in parishes in Quezon City, I was always surprised to receive a Birthday Cake on my birthday from the Mayor.

During the Christmas season, several Christmas “noche Buena” packages carrying the name of the Mayor would suddenly arrive at the Parish Rectory. What did I do with the Cake and the Christmas packages? For a few instance, I immediately erase the icing greetings “Happy Birthday Fr Robert, from Mayor . .” and ask the sacristans to bring the cake to some poor family I know. As to the “noche Buena” packages, I asked the sacristans to buy several plastic bags and we immediately repack the noche-buena packages.

To my conscience, it was enough that I erased any trace of the donor. Indeed, the people who received the cake and the noche Buena packages thought that these came from me. However, in time I had a painful realization. Behind the gift was an intention. I was no personal friend to the Mayor. He did not want to befriend me. What then was the gift for? I realize how untrue, how insincere it was. I realize how the gift was a lie. Also, I realize how a lie cannot erase another lie. Thus, I began to refuse even birthday cakes and noche Buena packages because, I realized how I was becoming part of a lie. By allowing the Mayor to give me gifts, I allow myself to be manipulated, to be part of his official scheme of corrupting parish priests and surely Bishops. I also remember how I refused a 50 thousand peso check from a Presidential candidate in the 1998 election.

The positions taken by Bishop Vicente Navarra and Archbishop Oscar Cruz on the issue of Presidential Gifts are moral and sound. Bishop Navarra said, “It’s wrong. I couldn’t accept them in conscience.” Archbishop Cruz added, “It would tie our hands.” And if I may be aloud to give my own opinion, “ a gift from the President is like a gift from the Pharisees that will lead to the Kiss of Judas. It would do the CBCP good to re-examine their stand, “to leave it to each bishop to decided individually whether to accept Malacanang’s donations or other favors, and be responsible for their actions…” (PDI, Page A1, July 10, 2006 Christian Esguerra, CBCP told to beware of Arroyo gifts.)

A strong, moral, credible and inspiring CBCP would stay clear of anything that weakens, confuses, compromises, corrupts and ultimately destroys their moral voice and leadership.

A few weeks ago, the President also gave a gift to Pope Benedict, the law abolishing the Death Penalty. While that gift was more than medicines and rice, it was still a gift from the President. There are two things that Church leaders are asked to distinguish at all times, “ the Intention and the Gift…the Giver and her/his Intention!

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
July 10, 2006

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Smelling Red and Glue

Inebriated with power and money, a person begins to see and interestingly, smell things. That’s how I will describe National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzalez, a former fellow-activist and revolutionary in the struggle against the Marcos Dictatorship. When the Great Glue went to Isabela with her staff, Bishop Ramon Villena proposed that instead of pursuing all out war with the New People’s Army, why not pursue all out peace, or restore the peace process.

The good Bishop’s suggestion was shot down there and then by anti-left sniper Norberto Gonzalez. Elsewhere Bishop Deogracias Iniguez made a similar suggestion and also clarified that even if the government succeeds in killing all the NPA’s, this does not signal the end of insurgency. Insurgency according to Bishop Iniguez is a hydra. In fact insurgency and trapos seem to feed on each other. You cut off the head of the Marcos hydra, in no time you have several uglier heads regenerating elsewhere. Isn’t Marcos more alive and kicking now? Where are his wife, children and cronies? Insurgency exists where there are trapos. People will become insurgents and dissidents where leaders are corrupt and dishonest.

The anti-communist, anti-left sniffing campaign classically employed by the CIA as a smoke screen to conceal their own operations in any part of the world was heartily adopted by regimes totally subservient to American policy. Marcos had to become an anti-communist hound, smelling a communist wherever and whenever there was any kind of commotion whether it was glaringly or even vaguely political. That is why all this anti-Red sniffing is altogether suspect.
Paranoia does not limit itself to the eyes. When one is afraid of ghosts, the moment it is dark one is prey to imagining ghosts.

I wonder whether, the Great Glue and her sniper Bert are really afraid of NPA’s, so afraid that they must try to exterminate these in two years. Fighting a real enemy is one thing, fighting an imagined enemy is something else. When we fought the Marcos dictatorship in the 70’s and 80’s, Bert and I were on the same camp analyzing a concrete and murderous dictatorship. No, Marcos was not a pigment of our imagination. Now, sadly Bert and I are on different fronts. I continue to analyze and fight the stubborn survival and regeneration of dictatorship while Bert sits with the Great Glue smelling and seeing red all over. (By the way, smelling or sniffing can be blunted by a substance poor addicts find in cheap glue.)

Something about the Great Glue that encourages this awesome anti-NPA and indiscriminate anti-Left sniffing. It’s the very essence of the Great Old Glue, Mammon. A good number of my friends have gotten stuck, better “Glued” to their seats of power, money and privilege. When Bishops Villena and Iniquez insisted on giving peace a chance, they were in fact inviting government to smell the people and train their noses to sense and breathe peace once again. There is a different war that needs to be fought without the smell of gunpowder or the imagined smell of the Reds.

Many years ago, Bert and I would walk among the poor whether in city or barrio. We did not only smell them but we began to smell like them. Many years later, I continue walking and at times running among the poor, praying and wishing to always know, understand and even embrace their smell. Bert now smells Red, Gun powder and lots of Glue. I wonder whether he can still recognize and at least remember what we used to smell and smell like before ?

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
GOMBURZA, June 21, 2006

From Fast to Exile

July 10, 2005 was a Sunday. At around 10:00 a.m., a group of men, women, priests and members of a lay institute for women gathered at People Power Monument. They pitched two tents on the conspicuous stage along the Cubao-bound side of EDSA. Outside the two tents a small white banner was displayed with two words printed in black paint, “KUBOL-PAG-ASA.” This is what the tents were to be called. This is what the new group was to be called as well.

The tents were reminiscent of the Israelites’ 40 years’ sojourn as well as Jesus’ 40 day fast in the dessert. Our plan was to do a black fast (no solid and liquid) for 24 hours from 12:00 Noon Sunday to 12:00 Noon, Monday. The fast was a special form of prayer and sacrifice for the Bishops who have been meeting and formulating a statement that will affect the current political situation.
The sun was blistering. Our tents provided shade and protection from direct sunlight. The tents which were made of canvass and steel did not reduce the heat and humidity produced by that July sun. The heat was not only physical. While we prayed and fasted from food and water, the heat was no help.

Whatever nourishment we ate early that day during breakfast was quickly being burned while we sat and endured the inconveniences of hunger, heat and the uncomfortable feel of hard pavement under our buttocks, thighs, legs and feet. We leaned against the concrete wall of the stage. We alternated between prayer and silence. We had some Muslims with us who also said prayers. The rosary was recited. Just before 12:00 Noon, our Muslim friends said their Mid-day prayer. We listened and reverently prayed with them. After their prayer, I presided over the Mass. Our Muslim brothers and sisters just sat with us and quietly shared the mystery of our common Abrahamic Faith.

After prayers and rituals were alternately said and performed by Christians and Muslims in deep communion and solidarity, the next hours were simply spent in silence. Our thirst was becoming real. Our last drink was hours earlier. We accepted the little inconvenience and offered it for our troubled country and suffering people. Specifically, we offered it as prayer for our Bishops whose leadership and guidance we badly needed then. The people were hungry not only for food but for truth. The existing regime at that time had been breeding a mass of emaciated bodies and desiccated souls. A corrupt and immoral regime propped up by a lie was gradually dividing and destroying the Nation. Many of us waited for the Bishops to uncover the lie and unmask the liar.
We waited and listened to the radio. At 4:00 p.m. the official CBCP Statement went on air. We listened praying and hoping for brave and clear words. Instead, amid the many statements underscoring the need to seek and reveal the truth, a phrase hit us hard and left us angry and sad, “….we are not asking you to resign…” As surely as that phrase dashed our hopes, it sent her strolling at the Baywalk in Roxas Boulevard and celebrating the reprieve which her beloved Bishops gave her then.

Conveniently, TV cameras from ABS-CBN and GMA7 were on hand to interview me live on my reaction to the CBCP-Statement. I did not mince my words and passionately expressed my deep sadness and anger at what was just said. That moment was crucial. Something in my guts churned and curdled with the juices craving for something to digest. Hunger in my guts and hunger deeper in my soul began to speak to me. Continue the Fast…do it indefinitely as penance for all the cowardice and compromise that feed the lies and encourage the liars. Let your guts be the battleground between shameless hypocrisy and liberating honesty. The anger and sadness were deep and piercing.

That day began a forty four day fast that drew individuals and groups who shared prayer, silence and hunger with me. Many of them were equally sad and angry. As we fasted and prayed we also reflected on another set of words painted in black on a white banner, “Let Go, Let God.”

The forty four day-fast was remarkably fast as well. I remember days of intermittent rain, days of loneliness and desolation, days of celebration and joy. While I and a new community called “Kubol-Pag-Asa” prayed and fasted we experienced rejection, ridicule and sarcasm. The unpleasant and unfavorable experience did bring pain and discouragement, but the hunger which had become more than physical, made us see through and beyond. Our sadness and anger were soon replaced by a deep joy and peace that flowed from a faith in the merciful, loving God of Justice and Peace. I survived all forty four days of fasting losing more than thirty pounds because of fellow pilgrims and fasters for Justice, Courage and Truth.

Rejection, marginalization, condemnation, and scape-goatism further pushed me to the fringes of society and church. I was physically weak but spiritually and psychologically renewed. I knew I could weather this new storm. I could struggle and fight for myself. I have known struggle whether for others or for myself for some time now. I could have just turned on a previous program and gone back to where I have always been. Somewhere deep within my emaciated body and rebelling guts, a small voice began to whisper…let go, let God…your fast is not really over…fast some more…but in a different way…go, do not be afraid, go and let God lead you deeper into the truth….

Exactly seven months later, on February 10, 2006, I left the Philippines and went on voluntary exile. From where I have been, I have continued the prayer and fasting for country, church and people. I left the country amid deepening unrest and chaos and continue to heed and follow the spirit borne out of prayer and hunger. I share this spirit with a group of pilgrims who continue what we began then. They still call themselves, “Kubol Pag-Asa.” They are directly and intensely engaged. They are at the forefront of the anti-Cha Cha movement as well as the Impeachment Process. The grace of the prayer and fast continues to inspire and strengthen them. The same grace continues to sustain me as I endure exile and separation from my beloved people and Mother Land.

To you my country, my church, my people, I offer my exile as another fast. I long and pine for family, friends and comrades in the peaceful struggle for truth, justice and freedom. I do pray and fast for our Bishops these days as they pray and deliberate over another statement. I have learned something new after a year. Statements are not everything. They don’t and cannot say everything. Even perfect statements are mere approximations. Yet some statements can be sham and totally useless. I have learned something about the latter. These may be carefully and skillfully crafted seeming to express the truth when in fact they conceal a lie, seeming to fight for the victims of theft when in fact, they protect the thief.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
July 6, 2006

Conscience or Convenience?

Reading the exchange of statements between members of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and the Presidential Cheering Squad did seem like an apt prelude to the Pacquiao-Larrios boxing match a few days later. Heavy punches came from some Bishops while puny and fluffy jabs were sent by usual palace pugilists Bunye and Nograles. Archbishop Cruz cautioned people from swallowing the President’s convenient interpretation of the Pope’s “Well done” compliment to the President.

It was clearly in the context of the recently abolished Death Penalty Law. The Archbishop’s warning, more than a jab must have felt like a painful upper cut instantly melting the victorious smile the President beamed before international photographers after receiving the Pope’s polite and appreciative words. Instead of the President herself returning the painful punch, it was Press Secretary Bunye trying to hit Archbishop Cruz as hard as he could by saying, “Archbishop (Cruz) is not the spokesperson of the Holy See and (he) must not twist the words of the Holy Father, whose prime concerns are the plight of the poor and the full engagement of the Church in the spiritual realm, not in partisan politics,” ( Page A1, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 06/29/2006) Bunye’s punch is less effective because it lacks aim and substance. It misses the mark by hitting Archbishop Cruz’s person and more or less telling him off as having no business speaking for the Pope. Bunye’s punch even tried to draw weight from the Pope by emphasizing his concern for the “plight of the poor and the engagement of the Church in the spiritual realm instead of partisan politics.” If this were a man-to-man fight, many would have ridiculed Bunye by chiding him, “huwag kang mag-tago sa saya ng Papa” (don’t hide under the Pope’s robes).

We must not forget however, that Bunye is not really the pugilist. He is more of towel boy to the female political boxer trying to score points through her recently concluded Papal visit. In another occasion, Bishop Deogracias Iniguez of Caloocan was criticized by House Majority Leader Prospero Nograles when he added his signature to the impeachment bid against the President.

Throwing a punch ala Pacquiao at Iniguez in the form of an ironic barb, Nograles tells the Bishop to stay away from partisan politics and roots for a “stricter interpretation of the separation of Church and state.” ( Page A1, PDI, 06-29-2006) The punch became gelatinous and left no impact whatsoever. If Nograles knew how to think, he should realize how he and his fellow towel boy Bunye kept admitting that they were engaged in partisan (party and not people-centered) politics. Yes, indeed, neither Archbishop Cruz nor Bishop Iniguez play their dirty game of partisan politics. Moreover, the two Bishops also do not engage in “barabara-boxing” (unscientific, aimless and desperate boxing) always employed by the Palace towel-boys.

The weak and pathetic arguments of Press Secretary Bunye and House Majority Prospero Nograles have constantly and consistently followed the line of convenience. It was convenient for Gloria to sign the law abolishing the Death Penalty on June 24, 2006, Feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist. It was very convenient to leave for Rome the day after and to present the said law (abolishing the Death Penalty) as a gift to Pope Benedict XVI.

It was convenient to stay in Europe for awhile and come home shortly before the Pacquiao-Larrios match. Archbishop Cruz’ and Bishop Iniguez’ words and actions, to say the least are not convenient. Yet their words and deeds do carry the weight of a knock-out punch. Why? Because they do not fight for themselves but for the people…for justice and truth. Many years ago, a TV series began with a blind teacher showing David Caradine how to do Kung Fu. More and more people like Archbishop Cruz and Iniguez will learn a deeper and more effective fight…done not merely with hands, feet, eyes, ears etc…a fight from within one’s innermost self, one’s conscience….indeed, from one’s very soul.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
July 3, 2006

Greatness Can Never Be Legislated

Greatness cannot be legislated. Politics never had, never has and never will have the monopoly of power, truth and that rare attribute called wisdom.
For that matter no one person or group of persons can claim that he, she or they are absolutely honest and without hidden and tainted motives up their sleeves.

Susan Roces’ decision not to send anyone to receive the National Artist Award for her husband, the late Fernando Poe is not a mere political move as Mike Defensor and even independent movie producer Kidlat Tahimik imply.
Susan’s statement is her statement, as the widow of Fernando Poe. A widow expressing her feelings and convictions speaks from her heart and not according to the scheming minds of political advisers nor even the hurting fans and supporters of the late Fernando Poe.

Fernando is Susan’s husband. She is closest to him. She knows his mind and heart better than anyone. Let Susan say what she thinks and feels about Fernando Poe. When she says it, I, nor anyone should not question and diminish its value for it comes from someone whose love and devotion to Fernando Poe cannot be questioned.

Mike Defensor is quoted saying, “I think she (President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo) is sad because this had been tainted with politics.” I laughed and wished to congratulate Mike for yet another feat of political acrobatics. (Baliktad yata Mike?) Who is tainting what with politics? No, Gloria is sad because like eager and impatient politicians she did not get what she wanted.
Two words caught my attention in Susan’s statement, diminish and trivialize. First, Susan says that “the Poe Family does not wish to diminish the value of the award by accepting it form Mrs. Arroyo. I cannot in all conscience go through the motions of the awarding ceremonies just for public display.” Second, Susan, to remind distinguished institutions like the NCCA and CCP of their elevated role in society says, “The Gawad Pambansang Alagad ng Sining is too important and prestigious to be trivialized and I feel that would be doing my husband and those who believe in him a grave dishonour.”

Who are the people at the helm of the NCCA and the CCP? How did they get there? Who choose the jurors for selecting National Artists? What hand does the President of the Republic have in the selection of National Artists?
Soon the Death Penalty will be abolished again. The Catholic Bishops are happy. Gloria is happy that they are happy. If Susan is not happy about the National Artist Award posthumously awarded to her husband, Gloria is not happy too. But Susan’s unhappiness cannot be manipulated. In her own words her feelings and convictions cannot be diminished nor trivialized.

If Fernando Poe is great let his fans, the Masses, his family and friends decide that. Politics in our country and anywhere else for that matter presumes too much. Politicians even think that they can define greatness. The pain brought on by Fernando Poe’s death continues to linger in the hearts of those who love him. An Award cannot remove the pain. The great German poet Goethe once said, “All things ripe want to die!”

Perhaps Fernando Poe was ripe. Perhaps Raul Roco was ripe. In our language the word for ripe is “hinog.” There is another word that is related to but quite the opposite of ripe, “bulok.” An award does not make what is ripe riper. Ironically, an award may in fact unmask the “unripe” and worst the “bulok.”

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
GOMBURZA, June 9, 2006

Killing Truth….

A picture desperately trying to look sad but succeeded instead to look sick, resurrected itself the other day.

In the center of the picture is a face covered with some white cloth that looked half towel and half veil. Flanking this covered face were faces looking glum and determined. They were walking for death, the death of the father of the girl with the covered face. Why? He had been found guilty by the courts for having raped her.

The caption on the picture is quite telling, “When DEATH PENALTY was POPULAR.“ You see prominent politicians with the girl. On the girl’s right is former First Lady Loi Ejercito and former Vice-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. These two women of course will not walk together for reasons obvious enough to both elite and masses. These two women are now arch-rivals. One has taken the carrot and the other would want it back. As events begin to unfurl, people are beginning to speculate, “what if we take away the carrot from her and give it back to him?” In no small way, bits of the carrot have already been shared with him. He goes in and out of his detention cell. He is allowed to say most of what he wants to say. His trial has dragged with no promising verdict in sight.

This is expected under courts that can be calibrated to play the game of “carrot and stick” and yes, a new game, “covered heads.”
In this game some for now will be happy and of course some will be sad. Proponents of the death penalty are sad while anti-death penalty advocates are happy. Pro-death church groups are sad while anti-death church groups are happy. The former Chief Justice who affirmed the death penalty of seven doomed men is quiet, the present Chief Justice cries, “ Leo’s trial…defective.” The Senate Minority leader proposes a bill ( 5 to 10 Million pesos) to indemnify the family of the “girl with the covered face,” the girl says she’s not interested.

The other day, June 13, 2006 was the tenth anniversary of the murder of Col. Rolando Abadilla. For the last ten years 5 men have been languishing in jail for a murder that they did not commit. They are the famous “Abadilla 5.” Of course, they are happy that the Death Penalty may soon be abolished. But their happiness is obviously not complete. Len Lumanog has told me several times, “to me more important than freedom and life is truth. I might die not even in the lethal injection chamber but from complications because of my kidney transplant. I might die before the truth is given a chance to set me and my four other innocent companions free!”

The Abadilla 5 were tortured to admit to a crime they never did. Ironically, torture which Col Abadilla was quite famous for during Martial Law was still being used during the post Martial Law years under President Ramos. Torture and fall guys are part of the “carrot and stick” and “covered faces” game. The late Senator Barbers who at that time was DILG secretary had promised his boss President Ramos, “I will solve this case within 48 hours, SIR!” He kept his promise and produced the “Abadilla 5.”

Deeper than the issue of the death penalty is the issue of truth. The game of “carrot and stick” and “covered faces” are deadly games. First they spread lies and compromise. Slowly and surely they begin to kill truth. Thomas Carlyle said, “ A person usually has two reasons for doing something: a good reason and the real reason.”The good thing about the games they play, the public can always join by answering a simple question, “that’s what she or he or they say but what is the real reason?”

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
June 14, 2006

And The Sun Shall Shine…

It rains a lot where I am. We often kid about the sun as a shy, extremely shy maiden. In the Philippines, we would refer to such a maiden or even a young man for that matter as “mamahalin ang ngiti.”

A few days ago, amid heavy rain, I read something on line that felt like the warm embrace of a lovely Philippine morning sun. These were words spoken by Archbishop Angel Lagdameo of Iloilo, current President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

The Archbishop said, “A subtle dictatorship is enslaving the Filipinos…A painful experience of Filipinos today is that even if we freed ourselves from foreign oppression, there are still Filipinos who enslave their fellow Filipinos.”
Darkness has enveloped our country for so long. When people are afraid to speak out, it is dark. When leaders are afraid to speak out, it is darker. When everyone is afraid to speak out, the country falls into the curse of total darkness.

The truth is light. It makes those in darkness see and find their way. The truth spoken by an ordinary person has the power to crack the awesome edifice of an official lie. This is what so many ordinary and vulnerable Filipinos have been doing for the longest time. Individuals and groups have continually and fearlessly spoken out the truth. Many have been harassed, imprisoned, threatened and a number have unfortunately lost their lives.

Whenever a truth-teller dies, a light dies and more darkness grips the land. Ordinary persons appreciate leaders who lend their powerful and credible voices to the truth.

The voice of a man of God should be the voice of truth, for God is nothing less than Truth. The voice of Christ is the voice of Truth. Thus, Christians uphold, defend and protect the truth at all cost. Speaking the truth or speaking for the truth is a sacred act. The truth whenever spoken, lets God’s light shine and dispel the darkness of fear, slavery and selfishness.

The Cha Cha being pushed by the Administration is another lie. People have begun speaking against this lie. Archbishop Lagdameo in Iloilo, Bishop Vicente Navarra in Bacolod, Bishop Teodoro Bacani in Manila have all spoken against it.

More and more voices, should speak even as they push the so-called “People’s Initiative” in order to gather millions of signatures to support their lie.
Lying is big business in the Philippines today. They lie about elections. They lie about classrooms. They lie about the budget. They lie about the economy. They lie about violence and murders perpetuated by the Police and Military. Mendacity is official. Officials do it all the time.

I pray for Archbishop Lagdameo to continue what he has begun. I thank him too for bringing back the sun. Surely, Christ the Prince of Truth will further sharpen his tongue to proclaim the truth in season and out of season, for that is what a servant of God is. Archbishop Lagdameo, thank you for a bit of sun!

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
GOMBURZA, June, 15, 2006

Saturday, July 08, 2006

My Duty to God and Country

When House Majority Leader Prospero Nograles criticized Bishop Deogracias Iniguez for having joined the impeachment bid and called it once more a violation of the constitutional provision on the “separation of Church and State,” I decided to break my silence. I have been silent and apparently too far away to be involved with anything of importance in the homeland. I realize once again that it is time for any conscientious and law-abiding citizen to get involved.

I was involved in the impeachment process against Erap. I was also involved in the first impeachment process against Gloria last year. It is therefore quite natural that I get involved in the second impeachment process against Gloria this year. My involvement both as citizen and priest is not contradictory and inconsistent to both my inalienable right as a Filipino and my moral duty as a priest. The much vaunted and abused principle of the separation of Church and State must already be put to rest. Repeated use and abuse of the principle betrays a pathetic intellectual poverty and even dishonesty.

Even Archbishop Angel Lagdameo in his recent address to the BBC in Makati called it self-serving (PDI, p. A1, July 8, 2006). Why doesn’t Malacanang squirm and sweat when it manages to somehow silence and manipulate certain clerics and even prelates into becoming their mouthpieces? Clearly, Malacanang, beginning with Gloria and her most despicable lackeys will not hesitate to use anything from veiled threats to bribes in order to destroy and undermine consciences and minds in order to muffle and if possible thoroughly silence the moral and intellectual environment.

I salute and thank Bishop Deogracias Iniguez for exercising his natural right as citizen and his moral duty as Christian and Bishop when he added his name as one of the proponents of the impeachment process. Maraming salamat po Obispo Deo Iniguez!!!

Thank you for your noble move which in turn has reminded and inspired me to come out of my shell to also add my name to be counted among those who believe in the democratic processes and the need to defend and expand the constantly threatened constituency of democracy. It is natural for dictators and defenders of elitist democracy and the status quo to quell dissent and opposition.

If citizens begin to keep quiet then only official charlatans will be heard. When prophets are silenced, then even God will seem to lose voice. Last year, on March 24, 2005 Latin America, especially San Salvador celebrated the anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Because of such brave and clear prophetic voices, God’s voice, the voice of truth, justice, freedom and peace is never silent.

I join the many and increasing voices of those who clamor for the truth about the Garci Tapes; corruption of COMELEC officials through the questionable contract involving billions in the purchase of computers and other questionable use of Government funds for President Arroyo’s presidential campaign; as well as those who condemn the widespread violation of human rights and civil liberties and the extra-judicial execution of the so-called “enemies of the state.”

I thank my friends Congresswomen Risa Hontiveros and Etta Rosales for helping me add my voice to further amplify and strengthen the voice of those who have not ceased to fight and sacrifice for the people and the Mother Land.
Impeach President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo!

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
July 8, 2006