Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Ninoy and “Slow Death”

Today I reflect on Ninoy not in a vacuum or in the romantic realm of myth and hagiography. I reflect on Ninoy in the context of current Philippine realities. Today’s news tell us nothing new. Expectedly, Malacanang is euphoric about the quashing of the second Impeachment complaint. The official Malacanang statement is once again an appeal to “reconciliation” and to “move on” leaving behind politicking and bickering, instead to work on so-called policy.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye in a pitch to leave the impeachment behind appeals, “Let us move on with life and our work. To be fixated in the events of the past will guarantee us a future of disruption, of interrupted growth and overlooked opportunities.” (cf. Philippine Daily Inquirer, “Arroyo in high heavens over impeachment junking,” August 17, 2006)

William Esposo writing about Ninoy’s legacy, entitled his article, “High Ground: Why Ninoy Aquino would weep if he were alive today.” Indeed on a higher plane of moral values, what goes on in our country would make any morally upright and principled person weep. However, even on the most fundamental level of taste and decency, official statements from the likes of Ignacio Bunye can make your stomach turn and curdle, working up into a puke.

Decent and moral persons will then have a terrible experience of holding back tears and puke over a situation that will take a while to change. “Let us move on with life and our work,” has been the stock statement since the quashing of the first impeachment complaint. Anyone whether part of the organized opposition or just plain citizen is painted as either stumbling block to progress or a senseless trouble maker.

Criticism is unproductive and should be given up in the name of progress. But who defines, decides and directs progress in the country? Definitely not the quiet and uncritical but the government runs by those whose definitions, decisions and directions are in their own favor. Keep the people quiet and dumb. Keep them clueless and scared. Keep them suspicious of and uncomfortable with noise. Keep them passive and dream-less. In other words take away their spirit, their passion for meaning and life.

Something more basic than tears and puke is blood. The color of blood is crimson. Red and warm is blood. Red wine offered up at Mass becomes the blood of Jesus, martyr of truth, justice and love. The Eucharist is not only about bread. The Eucharist is also about wine. Celebrations are about eating and drinking. The Eucharist is celebration and more, it is about life. Thus, the Eucharist is about the life of Jesus, his body and blood offered up and continually shared to give us life.

Lest we forget how our fundamental Catholic faith revolves around the body and blood of Jesus, let us pause and reflect. Jesus did shed sweat and tears. More so, he shed blood. Listening to Malacanang telling us to “move on with life and our work…” is like forgetting the blood shed by Jesus on the cross. Listening to Malacanang today appealing for reconciliation is to forget the blood shed not only by Ninoy but by all our heroes and martyrs.

This is Malacanang’s sinister scheme, to kill passion, to deaden the mind, to pacify the will and ultimately, to kill the spirit. There is nothing new in the generous distribution of lard from hefty pork barrels to loyal minions in Congress, whose souls have grown accustomed to float in grease and grime. But beware when envelopes are slipped into the pockets of Bishops. Thus Malacanang hopes to reduce the Church into an unthinking, feeling-less and spiritless lackey alienated from the very essence of Christianity, the sacrifice of Jesus.

Ninoy was in solitary confinement for seven years and seven months. He went into exile for three years. These ten years of imprisonment and exile were an important lesson for Ninoy. He realized that “he could have opted to seek political asylum in America, but felt it his duty, as it is the duty of every Filipino, to suffer with his people in time of crisis.” (cf. Philippine Daily Inquirer, Editorial:Anti-Ninoy, August 21, 2006)

Gloria has abolished the death penalty belatedly implemented on seven Filipinos by lethal injection. Today, let us realize and be mortally aware of how slowly and surely a similar injection has been invading the veins of our very soul as a people. No we are not quite dead physically as more than 704 journalists and activists are. But slowly, we are losing our minds, hearts and souls. Slowly, we are dying. The lethal injection that put away Leo and the other six condemned Filipinos had three parts. The first to be injected is a tranquilizer or relaxant that paralyzes the condemned man. The next is a terrible drug that stops the lungs and finally, the last drug completes the murder by stopping the heart.

The lethal injection of the Filipino Nation under the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo administration has begun. Many are already “relaxed” and quite paralyzed. Many have stopped breathing and quite a number have lost their hearts. Last August 21, 2006, we remembered Ninoy’s sacrifice. Twenty three years ago, our people came back to life. This is the power of sacrifice, the power of blood!!!

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
August 22, 2006
Queenship of Mary

Monday, August 21, 2006

Governor Grace Padaca and the Isabelinos, Fairy Tale or Real?

Last May 20 to June 11, 2006, Isabela Governor Grace Padaca was in the U.S. for the International Visitor Leadership Program Study Tour or “IVLPST.” She visited Washington DC, New York City, Michigan, Colorado and Washington State. During her visit in America, Governor Padaca visited institutes and organizations which furnished her information on the following: Ethanol Processing from Corn; Coal Mining; Government and NGO programs on Persons With Disability and the Elderly; Relationship between Government and Media; and Organizations and Foundations giving grants to the needy. At the end of her study visit, Governor Grace shares her impressions:

“I admire the dignity of labor that I saw among young Americans doing part-time jobs during the summer to be able to pay their student loans. I will tell our young people in Isabela about their humility, independence and responsibility. I have told our people before and I will them again that I find many Americans gracious and pleasant. For shy, or even serious, Asians like me, I find uplifting and infectious the Americans’ natural tendency to greet others and communicate, no matter how brief or fleeting.

As a physically handicapped person, this becomes more precious to me as they are always ready to give me priority in elevators, hold doors as I pass through, and even apologize for being in the way, even if they are actually not. I wish our own people in the Philippines had better lives so that they will not always feel burdened with the daily struggle to live that they forget to smile and say hello. I wish, like most Americans, they will also be blessed with opportunities as well as imbued with responsibility so that they too will earn the reward of enjoying the fruits of their labor and be one of those who fill up planes to go on vacation, explore other places and expand their horizons.

I saw many American boys and girls traveling to distant places, one thing that most 70 or 80-year olds in the Philippines never get to do even in their whole lifetimes. If I did not become Governor, under very extraordinary circumstances, I am sure I would never be able to go beyond the boundaries of the Philippines. Having undergone the International Visitor Leadership Program is clearly beyond everything I ever dreamed of.”

Governor Grace Padaca is a different politician. She does not come from a political family. Her victory over the 40 year old Dy dynasty is almost like a fairy tale. Although people wished her to win, they were not very optimistic that she could, knowing how much golds, guns and goons her opponents owned. Recently, Governor Grace expressed concern than the Dy’s have begun campaigning. They have started speaking to the Mayors who make up the current political structure of the province headed by Governor Grace.

The 2007 elections are not far away. Surely, not only in Isabela but in every Province, City, Municipality and barrio, the wheels of traditional politics have begun to turn. Governor Grace Padaca is not a fairy tale but a true story of the triumph of good over bad, of clean over dirty, of integrity over compromise. Is this story about to end? I hope not. The story can have a part two where once again, those who believe in what is good, clean and responsible will not only watch but stand up and and fight.

The story of Governor Grace Padaca is not a fairy tale but a testimony to the possible. The possible became real in Grace because of Grace and her people. The possible, the story of a free, clean, peaceful and prosperous Philippines can become real if like Grace and the Isabelinos, we so desire, believe, fight and sacrifice for it.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
August 21, 2006

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Pinoy Diaspora

Diaspora is a term originally applied to the experience of Jews driven out of Jerusalem and politically appropriated as the background to the movement of Zionism which aspires for the re-establishment of a Jewish Nation in Palestine ( an area claimed as the biblical territory of the Jews). Today, Diaspora applies to any group who experience dispersion similar to the Jews. The beleaguered Lebanese, can likewise appropriate the term. With the thousands killed, wounded and millions rendered homeless, there effectively is a Lebanese Diaspora.

We may ask then if there is a Filipino Diaspora? The answer is quite plain. What do you call all those Filipinos and Filipinas in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, the Middle East, Europe, Canada, USA, Ireland, Australia, Poland, Russia, etc.? The Government has given them the innocuous term Overseas Filipino Worker or OFW. Every Christmas season which begins as early as September and goes beyond January, the Government makes a great leap in appreciation and extols the virtues of the OFW as hero. OFWs are no longer biting the title, “hero.” They know better than the OWWA, POEA and the DOLE. They are no more heroic than the MMDA who inhales toxic fumes and dust along EDSA while sweeping away litter every single day.

The thousands, millions of Filipinos working abroad are simply working for a living, for survival. Work and survival are basic impulses. Without work, we degenerate into the economically unproductive called the “unemployed” and the existentially marginalized called the “aimless” or the “person without meaning and purpose in life.” Productivity and meaning are basic human impulses. These aspects of life are not everything but they are fundamental to a person’s self-determination and well-being. There is nothing heroic in being productive and consequently able to earn a living. There is nothing heroic in being happy and fulfilled because one does what she or he wants to do.

There is constant dispersion of Filipinos. Every day, embassies are full. Visa applicants flock to the embassies, many as early as 12:00 Midnight to secure a slot in the application process. So many Filipinos are leaving because they are not and cannot be productive in their own country. So many are leaving because, they are no longer happy and unable to find meaning in a country with manufactured and canned solutions and explanations to every problem or question. Ordinary people talk and express their disgust and anger only to be dismissed as disruptive, seditious and unreasonable. Only those in power are reasonable, intelligent and truly concerned for the welfare of the people.

There is no arguing with the rich and powerful. They control much of media, business, the police and military and even the churches. Head on resistance is not possible without courting legal or physical harassment and even death. But people do resist. Their resistance may seem indirect and rather round-about, but they resist all the same. They resist by rejecting and leaving behind the rottenness and its stench. Diaspora is resistance.

Sometime ago, my parents spent time with me in Hong Kong. Here they witness the Pinoy Diaspora. It was a Sunday, while I pushed my father on a wheelchair around the Star Ferry Area while my mother Naty followed, they witnessed the thousands of Pinays with a few Pinoys seated along the winding corridors. My mother commented, “how happy they all seem while they eat and play tong-its.”

Earlier, after I said mass at Holy Cross Church (Sai Wan Ho) and joined members of the Apostleship of Prayer headed by Mila Bondoc for lunch, my father observed, “they are so far away from home but they still manage to join or organize Catholic organizations.” In fact the Pinoy Diaspora in Hong Kong are divided into the organized groups with some form of shelter in Catholic Parishes and NGO offices and the huge un-organized mass seated along pathways and parks all over Hong Kong.

We may conclude that the organized are better off and more secure in their shelters than the un-organized who scramble for space as early as 7:00 a.m. every Sunday. The more crucial fact is the given and undeniable fact of a most visible and overwhelming presence of thousands of Filipinos, Indonesians, Indians, etc. announcing to all and sundry, “we are here, we have left our homes, our countries, we are here!” The visual impact of a sea of OFWs literally snaking all over Hong Kong corridors, roads and parks on a Sunday could not be ignored and dismissed as a senseless, accidental and purposeless phenomenon.

I have spoken to representatives of both organized and un-organized groups. Yes there is some fulfillment in being here. They are somewhat more productive than when they were at home. They somehow enjoy a few laughs while they chat, eat and play cards. But there is a unanimous anger, disappointment and spite towards the home situation and the Government. The Pinoy Diaspora is a combination of personal and family survival and indirect resistance. There is a hidden but real and under-utilized power here.

This power has not yet coalesced and synergized, which is just as well for the Government. But what if one day, the millions of those who have left family and country wake up, turn around and decide to make the resistance more direct? The Government must surely dread that day and even now may have begun spending and wasting billions to pre-empt the inevitable…the end of the Pinoy Diaspora...

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
August 17, 2006

Thursday, August 10, 2006


We call it the sacrament of Reconciliation instead of Penance. Penance puts emphasis on the sinner’s free and willing acceptance of a form of sacrifice as reparation for the damage or injury his sin has caused. Thus penance focuses on an action which is intended to restore a relationship broken by sin. In reconciliation, the emphasis is on the relationship between God and the sinner. The focus is on the relationship that is restored and once again set right in order to receive and celebrate more life and grace.

While the word penance has a clearly punitive color, the word reconciliation has a more positive and restorative tone. The story of the prodigal son illustrates the spirit of reconciliation between an infinitely loving and merciful father and his confused and erring son. The profligate son has literally begun scraping the bottom, eating with the pigs. He returns hungry, desperate and broken to a father who has always waited for the moment of his return. The prodigal son’s return is all that mattered to his father whose love indeed is more prodigious than the sins of his son. Some religious writers have suggested that perhaps the story is not so much about a prodigal son as it is about a prodigal father whose mercy flows from a pure and infinite love.

Hidden behind this remarkable love is the father’s humility which enables him to bend low even to the point of kissing the feet of his sinful son if only to make him feel forgiven and loved. It is to this loving, merciful and mysteriously humble God that we un-loving, cruel and arrogant creatures return and beg to be reconciled through the sacraments. And indeed, after good and sincere confession this is what we feel and are, reconciled and restored to our relationship to the loving and merciful God.

A few days ago, Presidential Chief of Staff Mike Defensor announced, “a politically stronger ever Arroyo administration is ready to renew efforts to reconcile with its political foes through backchannel talks on selected issues.” (cf. Philippine Daily Inquirer Editorial, “Stronger ever administration…” August 7, 06) The same news item enumerates a number of opposition leaders to whom reconciliation is being offered: House Minority Leader Francis Escudero, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., Senator Jinggoy Estrada and former president Joseph Estrada.

Words have become cheap and more words are losing their pristine and primordial luster through political appropriation. The beautiful and mysterious process of restoration between God and sinner cannot be compared to the government’s offer to its enemies. How can the government play god by offering reconciliation. God is sinless and sincere, nary to engage in psy-war and propaganda. How can the government pretend to be clean when it has not cleared itself from what so many are convinced are its sins: the Hello Garci Scandal; the P 728 million fertilizer scandal; the P 1.3 billion election computerization deal and the P 8.1 billion OWWA fund ?

The Inquirer editorial of August 8, 2006 describes the government’s sin thus, “the policy is lack of transparency, evasion and subterfuge to avoid the giving of information and the disclosure of the truth…the policy of the Arroyo administration of hiding cases of corruptuion and abuse and avoiding accountability to the people.” (cf. Philippine Daily Inquirer Editorial, “In the Dark,”August 8, 2006)

The government is more and more perceived as guilty because of its unwillingness to open itself to public scrutiny and investigation. In fact, it is not only the present administration that is perceived as guilty. The dark clouds of deception seem to have permanently settled above government offices and have slowly spread their dark shadows everywhere from the time of Marcos to the present. The short-lived euphoria of the two EDSA’s are no more than the temporary relief felt by a recidivist who goes to confession weekly only to commit the same sins. The sins of past leaders and administrations have never really been admitted. Denial and deception, sugar-coated by more and more blatant government propaganda only blocks the road to reconciliation.

The prophetic witness and voice of individuals, groups and institutions cannot be suppressed. Mike Defensor and the rest of the Arroyo team are doing more than cheapening reconciliation. Theirs is a systematic destruction and manipulation of anything and anyone who stands on the way. They have gone sinister by playing clueless to the harassment and murder of activists and journalists who fight for justice and truth.

Silence and passivity can be symptomatic of either fear or resignation. While these can be excused and explained away as weaknesses, these are in fact forms of complicity. In a damning way we may be accomplices and accessories to crimes committed by an increasingly ruthless and criminal state rekindling the shadows of Polpot and Mao. Cambodia and China have yet to deal with the bloody specter of their past. The ongoing siege of Lebanon by Israel will yet be an added chapter in the bloody history binding and dividing Israel and Palestine.

But reconciliation has begun in some places like South Africa and recently East Timor. In these countries, reconciliation is not a word but a process which requires the inseparable pair of truth-telling and reparation. The work of the East Timorese Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation which involved interviewing 7,000 Timorese civilians has just been released to the people. The report confirms “that the Government of Indonesia and the Indonesian Security forces were primarily responsible for the deaths from hunger and illness of between 100,000 and 180,000 East Timorese civilians during the invasion and occupation. In addition, members of the Indonesian security forces are accused of summarily executing, imprisoning and torturing thousands of East Timorese citizens, and of carrying out sexual assaults as part of a systematic campaign against the civilian population.” ( cf.The Tablet, “After the pain, justice,” July 29, 2006, p. 12)

I understand Jesus’ message of reconciliation in the parable of the prodigal son. I understand the process of reconciliation in South Africa and East Timor. I understand Mike Defensor’s “reconciliation” and see it for what it is, the spiritual putrefaction of the worst kind desperately dressed in the sepulchral whiteness of pharisaical language. Arroyo’s government is decaying and collapsing for it stands in the inherited mud and muck of greed, corruption, murder and lies. If we don’t want to wallow in the same mud and muck, we must not be silent. Jesus loathed deceivers and liars. He once denounced them, “whitened sepulchers, white outside and full of horrible rotting flesh inside.”

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
August 10, 2006

Police State?

Abadilla 5 and Kuratong Baleleng 11 are aging justice issues on the verge of oblivion. Abadilla 5 is the story of 5 men conveniently picked up as fall guys in order to solve the murder of Colonel Rolando Abadilla ten years ago. The late Senator Robert Barbers who was then Secretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government promised his boss, President Fidel Ramos that within forty eight hours he will solve the crime. He did just that and produced 5 men who up to now are languishing in jail.

Some time later, eleven men who were suspected members of a notorious criminal syndicate known as the “Kuratong Baleleng” were arrested with millions of US dollars in their possession. Shortly after their arrest these men were all found dead hand-cuffed in a reported shoot-out with elements of the Philippine National Police (PNP). If there was a shoot out, both sides should have suffered some form of injury or other. But as the story went, the “Kuratong Baleleng” men were all dead, no police were injured and mysteriously the US Dollars missing.

At that time now Senator Panfilo Lacson was the Chief PNP.
Persistent talks were also linking him to the “Kuratong Baleleng” which conducted very lucrative criminal activities from drugs to kidnap for ransom. A case had been filed against Lacson and his men. To this day, both the Abadilla 5 and “Kuratong Baleleng” cases remain unresolved. Aside from the fact of ordinary citizens being vulnerable to a problematic justice system, there is the tragic irony of a police force as perpetrators instead of preventers of crime.

Senator Jamby Madrigal recently reported to Mabuhay that the killings involving police and military personnel have become very serious. In the combined fashions of rub-out and fall guys, activists, journalists, peasant leaders and innocent civilians are falling down one after another like domino chips. Madrigal recounts how recently in Lopez, Quezon, a farmer who has just bartered his day’s catch of snails for some rice was shot at the back. Later that day, it was reported that another suspected NPA had been caught and in the usual way “during a shoot out”.

In these far-flung areas where the local population and the insurgents are a perfect blend, extra-judicial and arbitrary killings by both police and military personnel have become usual and ordinary. Unfortunately, the same innocent farmers can also be victims of similar atrocities perpetrated by the New Peoples’s Army whose own brand of justice eliminates so-called “informers”, traitors and obstacles to the revolution.

Some months ago, Senator Madrigal also visited Utrecht to discuss the peace process with exiled leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines. Madrigal came under heavy criticism from the Arroyo Administration who accused her of pre-empting future moves of the Government and likewise compromising the peace process. Madrigal explains that the Senate is not an outsider but a crucial participant in anything of national concern.

Recently, President Arroyo gave a two-year deadline to end the communist insurgency. She even mentioned her champion General Jovito Palparan in her State of the Nation Address last July 24, 2006 and gave him a standing ovation. General Palparan was provincial commander of the PNP in Mindoro where several unsolved murders of peasant leaders took place under his watch. Now he is provincial commander of Central Luzon where he continues to be hounded by the specter of human rights violations and extra-judicial killings.

While human rights advocates denounce the more than 700 killings in the last five years of the Arroyo administration and prominent individuals like Madrigal make a pitch for the peace process, Arroyo singles out and applauds Palparan as one of her anointed ones. Could this well be an indication of where we are going? A frightening scenario of more extrajudicial and arbitrary killings and worst, the murder of the peace process itself!

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
August 10, 2006

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The “Business” of Education

The present Secretary of Education Jesli Lapus comes forward as a dynamic manager out to solve the mismanagement problems of what he calls the “enterprise” of education (cf. “Enterprise in Crisis” in Philippine Daily Inquirer, page A14, July 17, 2006). In a recent comment on what he intends to do about the State of Education in the Philippines Secretary Lapus said, “management is everything.” (cf PDI, page A2, July 29, 2006) Expect then more management jargon as problems and needs of the education sector are addressed. From the management perspective, we may ask, how then is the rest of the country being managed? What is the management philosophy and strategy from Malacanang down to the smallest baranggay? Gloria just gave her State of the Nation last July 24, 2006. In her speech, little was said about the actual State of Education.

There are three things that are worth considering: facts, understanding facts and asking relevant questions.

First, there are a number of undeniable facts that stare us in the eye. So many teachers have chosen to become OFW’s working as domestic helpers in Europe, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, etc. The DepEd will do well to find out how many good teachers have become domestic helpers. The recruitment of Filipino teachers to schools in the US continues. A good number of teachers are already working as teachers in the US. A good number of medical doctors are taking up nursing. A good number of medical doctors are already working as nurses in Europe and the US. There is now a great demand for Nursing Schools, a fact that may lead to abuses as in the recent leakage in the national nursing exams. There is no more debating about the inadequacy in both infrastructure and personnel in Philippine Education. No, we don’t have enough classrooms. No, we don’t have adequately trained teachers as well.

Second, looking at the facts, they speak not only about the sorry state of education but more, the most unfavorable state of the nation. Our nation depends on OFW’s for its survival. The population is hemorrhaging. So many are in a hurry to land a job anywhere else but the Philippines. Secretary Lapus will ask for P 130 Billion allocation for education in 2007. In doing so, he will have to lobby for budgetary adjustments vis-a-vis the priority allocations for the Bureaucracy (Pork Barrels) and the Military(AFP and PNP) establishment. Sociologists have described the country before as in a “state of drift.’ A more serious and more recent description is, “the country is nearing collapse."

Third, looking at the facts and a not too favorable reading of the facts, relevant and urgent questions must be asked. Since, Secretary Lapus is a manager, he can begin by asking how will he manage either drift or near collapse in the education sector. But let us look at more basic questions. Do we know what the real problem is? Do we know then what the root cause or causes are? Do we really want to solve our problem/s? Are we taking the necessary steps in this direction? And finally, the ultimate question, for whom and for what is education in the Philippines? Do we really want to change the current state of affairs for the benefit of the majority? Or is everything anyway just pretense to preserve the interests and privileges of a minority who currently control political, economic and cultural power in the country?

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
August 3, 2006