Sunday, October 29, 2006

Life-Giving Pause

Whenever November 1 approaches, instead of an atmosphere of gloom descending on households, communities, indeed on the whole land, quite the contrary becomes evident. There is excitement and an impatient eagerness for this day to come. For Filipinos, November 1, the day of remembering our beloved dead is really a day of encountering the cherished living. Cemeteries literally come to life, metamorphosing into a fascinating mix of makeshift restaurants and shops of all kinds snaking around tombs, the most visible and explicit symbols of death. November 1 is a not a day of sorrow but a day of celebration. The whole day from early morning till late night, elements of partying are everywhere: food, drinks, music, laughter and an unceasing flow of stories and banter. There is however an element sometimes ironically missed out…prayer. After all the merriment, when food and stories seemed to run out and families, clans are about to say good bye, every so often someone remembers to ask, “have we already prayed?”

Forgetfulness of simple and basic things is a typical mark of our ever-busy and sophisticated lives. If we forget to pray for the dead on whose graves we sat, ate, sang and told stories on November 1, no wonder we forget even less important matters. On November 1 we transform cemeteries into virtual carnivals with kiddie rides, fast foods and entertainment of various kinds. Don’t we tend to do the same to our typical days? Is our forgetfulness unconscious or not? Do we go through life half asleep and unable to clearly distinguish between dream and reality? Is this the given circumstances of our lives, a result of how various factors collude to produce a dream-like, sleep-like environment? Is this now the very air we breathe, the atmosphere that surrounds and conditions our lives? Is this forgetfulness a condition or a choice?

Today, my parents, uncles, aunts and cousins will go to Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina. They go on the Sunday before November 1 to avoid the terrible traffic that transforms all roads leading to cemeteries into a long parking lot. There will be more than enough food and ample supply of current news and of course reminiscence of the past lives of our dead loved ones. After lunch, my father, the eldest sibling and patriarch is ready, rosary in hand and begins the recitation of the rosary. Before each decade, he offers a petition for both the dead and the living. Every Sunday before November 1 since my grandmother’s Pia’s death in 1981, it has been like this. There is always a break from the food and stories, a meaningful and necessary break for prayer, silence and remembrance.

Forgetfulness it seems is a necessary ingredient of consumption. Producers and manufacturers prefer that we forget how much we have already eaten. They are happy that we don’t mind how much we have drunk or thrown away in petty or big time betting. They are happy that we change our cars, watches, even houses for newer ones even if what we have is still good enough. Having something leads us to forget that life is more than what we have. At death, it is not what we have that will matter. Paradoxically enough, great lives have been marked by how much women and men have given up for something more and greater.

I will miss this year’s visit to our dead relatives. I will miss the food and stories. Most of all, I will miss that precious moment when we as a family pause for less than thirty minutes to pray and solemnly remember our beloved dead.

On November 1 almost everyone in the Phillippines regardless of creed, race, social rank and political affiliation would even for a moment remember the dead. I pray and still hope that they would take the further step of remembering the living, beginning with one’s self. There is so much accumulating, grasping to have more money, property and power. In the process, it has become so convenient to forget that all these which we now enjoy and so jealously protect will sooner or later in death become chaff. On this day, we must pray hard not only for the dead but for all the living, that we rise above the circumstances of our forgetfulness and pettiness and learn to let go before the end forces us to do so.

Recently, something good happened back home. The people’s initiative died. The man responsible for its death is Chief Justice Panganiban. By voting against the people’s initiative, Chief Justice Panganiban sounded the death knell. We wouldn’t know what he gave up by voting against the people’s initiative. At seventy years old, the Chief Justice knows well in more ways than one that the end is near. He retires this December and some years later, his life too will end. I am sure that the Chief Justices’ decision is not of whim or fancy. He too, like those who choose to pause and pray on November 1, did his own praying. By doing so, he remembered who and what he truly is. When we pause and pray whether for ourselves or others living or dead , we remember why in the first place we need to pause and pray. We need to remember and always remember how something hidden, something deep within is always true, good and beautiful. Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban remembered…

…surely he paused…he prayed. In the end, he was not alone in what he saw. He gave us a glimpse of the eternal, the ineffable, the un-quantifiable. Salamat po Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
October 29 2006

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Eliminating the Opposition

Extra-judicial killings, forty two libel cases filed by First Gentleman; Lucio Tan’s P 25 Billion tax evasion case dismissed by Marikina Court; Comelec officials and Mega Pacific P 1. 3 Billion questionable deal declared clean by Ombudsman; former UP President Dodong Nemenzo accused of protecting rebel soldiers; cheating in the 2006 National Nursing exam divulged; Mayor Braulio Yaranon of Baguio suspended; and now Mayor Jejomar Binay of Makati suspended on allegations of corruption and hiring of ghost employees.

There are so many mixed, incompatible ingredients in the current “stew mixing in the witches’ cauldron.” What can you expect from the final outcome? Expect anything but good and nourishing food for body and soul. Each day as the political crisis in the Philippines deepens, one imagines more than a can of worms. I am led to imagine a coven, a sinister gathering of witches, ugly, greedy, evil and utterly despicable. This is a frightening and unhealthy sight to imagine yet as each day passes, instead of tipping over and spilling out the poison stew brewing in the witches’ cauldron, we seem to allow the adding of more and more pernicious ingredients to make it deadlier.

The cauldron boils and the witches gather in Makati where Mayor Jojo Binay defies the administration order for his suspension. Binay is standing his ground and staying put. He will not allow himself to become an ingredient in the deadly witches’ stew.

While Binay is no saint and will probably need to so some explaining, why, if I may ask is he the only one being singled out now? There are hundreds of Mayors all over the country, why Binay?

The other day, no less than former President Corazon Aquino visited Mayor Jojo Binay and gave him her support. It would be foolish for Mrs. Aquino to go to a leader of the camp of ousted President Joseph Estrada. Clearly, it is more than this. Like President Cory, others who also visited Mayor Binay believe that a plan is afoot. Binay is an important symbol of the opposition. In a few months, even as the air cools towards Christmas, heat will begin to flow from the approaching election fever. In order to remain in power, the Administration should at least neutralize if not eliminate the opposition. A good many among the opposition have already been neutralized through the usual way. But Binay will not be bought. Perhaps at a shallower level, we can say the issue is power and not money. On another level, it is more than power or its survival but the very survival of a gasping democracy apparently on its last throes.

If Mayor Binay does not fight and Malacanang would have its way, then not only Makati would fall into their hands but all other opposition bailiwicks as well. Everything is already falling one by one like a deck of cards. Many have fallen never to get up like Bishop Alberto Ramento and the many silenced as they drowned in their own blood. Many are threatened with civil and criminal cases. The effects of the “witches’ brew” can be fatal both for democracy and more the very integrity and survival of the Filipino soul.

There is dirt, slime and poison spread around from the “witches’brew” but what must we do about it?

On the human level, we must resist and stand our ground as Mayor Jojo Binay is doing in Makati. Binay has to resist a greater and bigger evil hypocritically claiming that it wants to clean up evil everywhere starting with Makati. Binay has this ambivalent duty to fight against a greater evil now without reneging on his duty to do the same for his own soul. Malacanang wants to intimidate Binay as it has done to many. So many have already shrunk and given up under the threat of physical, political and economic annihilation. The “witches’ brew” spews out cowardice, compromise and shameful subservience. Mayor Binay is no virtuous man, but many say that among his few virtues is his courage and determination. Our Nation and her people are beginning to cower and shrink. The opposition both the organized and the un-organized, Binay and the rest of us need to reflect on something the writer Anais Nin once wrote, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

A woman or man of faith is courageous. Her and his courage comes from faith, the undying light and energy of the life of God which dwells in their hearts. More than just fighting the evil of a stronger, bigger power, Mayor Binay now needs to recognize where ultimate power comes from. This was what former President Cory Aquino meant when she told him, “We should show that we are all for justice. Jojo you can count on my support and prayers. We should all pray for Justice.” (Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 18, 2006, p. A1)

After all the “witches brew” is not frightening at all. It pales into insignificance compared to the light and energy that comes from God.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
October 18, 2006

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Prophet and Martyr

During the Philippine Revolution against Spain, a few Filipino Catholic priests played crucial roles, which of course were conveniently condemned as political and revolutionary because of their dual consequence for both Church and State. The Spanish Crown exercised both political and ecclesiastical powers in all her colonies. Both civil and ecclesiastical officials therefore recognized the Spanish King as ultimate authority, perhaps more than the Pope. Thus, whatever excesses were committed by the Spanish civilian authorities, were tacitly and naturally condoned by their religious counterparts, the Spanish friars. At best, the friars had to learn how to best reconcile their ambivalent roles of Catholic missionaries and colonial functionaries.

At some point, the Spanish ecclesiastical authorities decided to develop the indigenous clergy. When local priests were finally ordained, they were however treated as second class, to indefinitely serve as vicars or mere assistants to Spanish friars who enjoyed the exclusive right to be parish priests. In time, the local clergy developed and produced holy and intelligent men who began to challenge the racist and political handicap imposed on them. Foremost of these was Fr. Jose Burgos who became more and more vocal in his criticism of the discriminatory attitudes and policies of both ecclesiastical and civil authorities towards the local clergy. Fr. Jose Burgos had two other priests companions, Frs. Mariano Gomez and Jacinto Zamora. The three became prominent leaders in the budding Filipinization or Indigenization of the Clergy. The leadership and prophetic witnessing of these Filipino clerics did not fail to catch the attention of the increasingly suspicious and insecure Civilian and Ecclesiastical authorities. Thus, when a rebellion erupted in Cavite, a town south of Manila, the three priests were immediately implicated, tried, condemned and put to death by strangulation (garrote).

Their execution, which took place on February 17, 1972, became a watershed in the history of the Philippine Revolution. The young Rizal wrote how the execution of the three innocent Filipino priests opened his eyes and changed him forever. It was no accident that Rizal dedicated his first Novel, Noli Me Tangere to the memory of the three martyr priests (GOMBURZA) whose prophetic lives fueled the flames of revolutionary fervor. A few decades later, shortly after liberation from Spain and during the initial years of the vigorous take over of the Americans, another nationalist priest, Fr. Gregorio Aglipay together with Isabelo de los Reyes became a prominent figure in the Nationalist movement. Aglipay and de los Reyes began the reform of the Philippine Clergy within their newly established church (1902) along clearly articulated nationalist lines. Aglipay ceased to recognize the spiritual authority of the Pope (Leo XIII) and allowed his priests to marry. The newly created church enjoyed numerous recruits especially in the North because of its explicit nationalist orientation, which endures up to the present time.

Last October 3, 2006 in the wee hours of the morning, former Obispo Maximo (Supreme Bishop) Alberto Ramento was stabbed to death in his house in Tarlac. Motives for the murder are highly suspicious belying reports that robbery was the sole motive. Bishop Ramento has consistently fought for farmers and workers rights, which earned him their love and respect. Recently, he has been in the forefront of the move asking President Arroyo to resign in the light of the 2004 election scam. The statement of the Aglipayan Church about the murder of Bishop Ramento underscores the value of his prophetic life and martyrdom:

“The people behind his death might think they have silenced him and maimed the prophetic voice of the Church. They are mistaken. His death has become a candle in a burning incense, sparking more fire, enflaming the hearts of the clergy and the faithful of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente to remain faithful to her pro-people and pro-labor heritage. Indeed, we grieved over his death, but we celebrate his life. They may have taken his life by opening his body with wounds, but these wounds have become the doorway from which Bishop Ramento’s valiant spirit has been poured out and shared to many.” (cf. Statement of Philippine Independent Church, signed October 4, 2006 by Godofredo J. David, 11th Obispo Maximo.)

In life, Bishop Ramento faithfully lived out his prophetic vocation received by all Christians at baptism. Recall how all Christians have been baptized in the Father, Son and Spirit and received the holy anointing of the spirit of Jesus, priest, prophet and king. Sadly, many Christians exchange the fullness of life offered by the triple gift and mandate of Jesus with the petty and passing conveniences and the passing joys of the world. Instead of priests, we have managers. Instead of wise and compassionate kings we have rapacious and arrogant dictators. Instead of prophets, we have charlatans parroting the official line of institutions, governments and global conglomerates. Holiness of life is overshadowed by the brilliance of worldly success. Just and honest governance is replaced by the blind worship of power and dominance.. Either the irritating static or hypnotic drone of politically or commercially controlled electronic media drowns the firm and clear voice of truth.

Suddenly, there is attentive stillness in the spilling of the innocent blood of a man of God. By his death, we can see more clearly, hear more distinctly and follow more courageously Jesus, our Priest, Prophet and King.

Bishop Alberto Ramento, true and faithful Christian, prophet and martyr thank you!

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
October 17, 2006

Thursday, October 12, 2006


This week, two curious articles caught my fancy. The first is an article entitled, “Mel Gibson: Alcohol is ‘poison’ (cf. Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 11, 2006 ). The second has the curious title of “Estrada’s x-rated film likely to be shown in house” (cf. Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 12, 2006). The two articles seem to speak of two types of addiction, the former to alcohol and the latter to pornography. In the first article, Mel Gibson confesses and apologizes for his drunken behavior last July. Gibson humbly called his behavior, “the stupid ramblings of a drunkard.” And who in his right mind could have blasted at the Jews saying “they are responsible for all the wars in the world?” But a drunken Mel Gibson did. When Gibson was interviewed by Diane Sawyer for the TV program Good Morning America, he said he has not had a drink in 65 days.

In the second article, the allegedly pornographic movie which was usually classified as “X” had no explicit sex scenes. Instead, Congressman Joey Salceda, appropriations committee chairman explains how this movie about deposed President Joseph Estrada “had some scenes that threatened public stability, undermine the state of confidence of the people in the government, were libelous or defamatory to the good name of the persons, and referred to matters that are sub judice in nature.” It was due to the aforesaid reasons the Movie Television Regulatory Censorship Board or MTRCB gave the new movie about Joseph Estrada an “X” rating. Thus, a symbol typically used to classify a movie as soft or hard pornography, with one “X” as soft and three “Xs” as hard has been appropriated in a new way. X can now be used to classify anything “politically offensive” to the powers that be. This leads me then to ask whether Salceda and all those who belong to the ruling camp are aware that by giving the ‘Estrada Movie’ an X, they have effectively singled out “politics” as another form of addiction from which the public needs to be protected.

It might help to look at a definition of addiction: “addiction is a pathological relationship with a mood-altering experience that has life-damaging consequences. Behaviors that result in addiction must initially provide some sense of pleasure or have a positive association, even though the long-term results are not pleasurable. The spectrum of addictions can range from drugs, such as tobacco and alcohol, to behaviors, such as compulsive eating and working.” (cf Wellness, Concepts and Applications, 3rd Edition, eds. David Anspaugh, Michael H. Hamrick, Frank D. Rosato, (New York: Mc Graw Hill), p. 304. Although pornography is not listed along with addictive substances, experts agree that exposure to pornography releases endorphins responsible for compulsive and addictive sexual behavior.

Mel Gibson’s humble public confession and apology is an important step in his healing. I wonder whether the MTRCB’S rating given to the Estrada movie is the beginning of our national healing from a different kind of addiction, the political kind. In this case the MTRCB is the therapist who decides what is addictive, who is addicted and how the addicted are to be rehabilitated. In this case, I ask what then is the addiction, who is addicted and whether the X rating given to the Estrada movie in effect heals the addiction? Has the MTRCB and the government it serves also in effect given itself a clean bill of health and declares “political addiction” is their disease not ours. Borrowing Mel Gibson’s own words, I ask another question, “don’t the words of the MTRCB sound like the ramblings of a drunkard?” Politics indeed, like alcohol intoxicates. So many in our beloved country are drunk and have already been caught but unfortunately and fatally for them and all of us, they do not have even the faintest trace of humility to admit, apologize and at last be healed from it.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
October 12, 2006

Monday, October 09, 2006


It is strange, almost bizarre how an entire nation could react to cheating in last June’s National Nursing Exam. Strange because cheating after the “Hello Garci” scandal has become trivial as no less than a president in rapid succession says “I am sorry” and then behaves as if she neither said sorry nor that electoral fraud or cheating ever took place. Bizarre, because appeals for a national retake are coming from different quarters of the same government whose functionaries benefited from electoral fraud. Outside of government both academe and students are divided between those who are pushing for a National retake and those who are crying unfair because they claim to be clean or untainted by the cheating. Commission on Overseas Filipinos Dante Ang has also urged the President to order a retake.

Senator Angara is pushing for a Nationwide retake provided that government shoulders the expenses of students coming from the provinces. Senator Gordon however, thinks that only the guilty should be penalized so that the retake should only take place where there is proof of cheating. Senator Lacson makes an interesting point as he argues for a nation-wide retake with the following caution, “that the basic legal tenet of the presumption of innocence should take the higher plane in the scheme of things.” (cf. Philippine Daily Inquirer, “ Nursing board reviewer, “Leak was everywhere,” p. A1, Octover 8, 2006)

And now you have the same president apparently flip-flopping over the decision for a retake or no-retake. This flip-flopping is indicative and symptomatic of something deeper. How could she then push for a retake of an exam tainted by cheating when she and her government suffer from the same scourge. Cleaning dirt with a dirtier rag does not work. Hypocrisy and moral turpitude is the leitmotif of the entire scandal. So we want to clean one part of society while the rest of that society remains mired in the same dirt?

Recently a Marikina court cleared Mr. Lucio Tan of the P 25 Billion tax evation case that has haunted him for years. Similarly, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez also clears Comelec Officials and Mega Pacific of the illegal and fraudulent P1.3 Billion computer deal. Strange and bizarre indeed are the events in this calamity and poverty stricken land. Exam leakage released by review centers to all too willing young cheats is but a pale reflection of what goes on in higher echelons of society. Even the church has a difficult time lifting its head proud above the muck and din after news got around of padded envelopes being distributed during a close door meeting.

Yes, a retake whether national or local is what we need, but let it not only be among the 2006 nursing exam students. I propose a national retake at all levels and sectors of society. And let no one be spared.

Let everyone answer honestly and urgently the following questions with either Y for Yes or N for No:

Have I ever cheated before in anyway, big or small?
If I cheated, did I ever do anything to correct or undo the damage?
Have I stopped cheating once and for all?
Do I still cheat and do not intend to stop unless of course caught?
Do I still listen to my conscience?
Or is my conscience dead?
You have six minutes to answer each question. Time is up. Pass your papers.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
October 9, 2006