Tuesday, November 28, 2006


We wait for many things, some important some trivial. Some times we seem to wait in vain. We wait for war to end. We wait for peace. We wait for human rights violations to end. We wait for justice. We wait for lying to end. We wait for truth. We wait for petty, partisan, self-serving politics to end. We wait for genuine service. We wait for indifference to end. We wait for genuine caring and compassion. We wait for the end of hollow waiting. We learn to distinguish between moments of desperation or moments of faithful surrender after taking decisive and principled action.

Farmers wait for the “palay” or rice seedlings to grow. But, before the waiting, so much had already been done. They prepare the soil, weed, cultivate, fertilize and irrigate it before the rice seedlings are planted one by one by hand. Farmers have done this for hundreds even thousands of years everywhere. Nature has stood by humans who simply had to learn how to cooperate with her for the sustenance and promotion of life.

The world is the way it is because more and more people are cut off from nature. Nature is the great teacher of waiting which develops into the virtue of patience. Both the capacity to wait and the virtue of patience have increasingly lost appeal since the industrial revolution, where the speed and efficiency of the assembly line became the norm. Machines cut the time of human productive activity to unimagined levels. The rhythm of life became more and more obedient to the hour and second hands of the clock. Like a bullet hurtling out of a gun, time followed a precise and straight trajectory, losing its circular, cyclical and natural qualities. Humans learned to live managed lives, governed by rules and clear goals and objectives. Time frames and deadlines became the structure of days, weeks, months and years. Life quickly lost its mystery and wonder. Life became a job, a stressful, repetitive task. The impatient “task oriented bastard” or TOB came to life.

Back home, a Filipina goes through a painful waiting. On November 1, 2005, a Filipina known as Nicole (not her real name) was allegedly raped by an American service man while three other companions cheered him on. Nicole unlike so many rape victims did not keep quiet. In the last months, the tedious and dehumanizing process of court hearings with the usual cross-examination going through the gory and graphic details added to the unwanted burden of Nicole’s November 1 trauma. On Monday, December 4, 2006, the court is expected to pass judgment on the case. Meanwhile, Nicole waits. And while she waits she entrusts herself to God saying, “I leave everything to God whatever the outcome is, our Lord has His own purpose. He knows why and He has reasons why I am in this situation.” (cf. Philippine Daily Inquirer, November 27, 2006, p.A1)

Nicole’s life will never be the same. What seemed a straight, un-interrupted trajectory was broken by an ugly tragedy in Subic. Bars and nightclubs, wars and soldiers have become parts of our linear, anti-nature existence. The so-called “Rest and Recreation or R & R of American service men used to be an integral part of life and livelihood in Olongapo and Subic. When war ships docked at Subic harbour, the red light district came alive. The artificial and shallow culture of sex, alcohol and drugs was kept alive by the former US Military Bases. Along with these came disease, abandoned children (Amerasians), battered and prostituted women, broken families and broken lives. What happened to Nicole is also symbolic of what has been and continues to happen to thousands of Filipinas in the artificial, un-natural environment of “short time,” “quick fixes” and the other ugly features of the abuse and commodification of persons.

The waiting should not only affect Nicole. It should also affect the four service men who have been charged. In fact, Nicole’s waiting should affect all Filipinos and all Americans for that matter. Nicole has reached the point of seeking the meaning and reason of her trauma in the light of God’s plan for her life. Hopefully, the four service men are moving in the same direction.
Our lives cannot go on without pause like a clock’s hour or minute hand. We pause and wait for our thoughts and feelings to settle down. After climbing several flights of stairs, we pause and wait until we catch our breath. After any experience happy or sad, uplifting or traumatic, there is reason to pause and wait. In fact, even if life moves on an even keel, a pause, a wait gives depth and perspective to what seems ordinary.

The world did not stop for Nicole. Very few stopped and waited with Nicole. The few who did however, made a big difference. Those who stopped and waited with Nicole stopped and waited for truth, justice, healing and compassion to take place. Somehow Nicole feels this in her heart of hearts. She feels that she is not alone.

On Sunday, we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent. The following day Nicole goes to court and waits for judge Bejamin Pozon to read his decision. Nicole waits for the triumph of truth and justice. We hope her waiting is not in vain.

But does the triumph of truth and justice depend on one Judge?
Our frustrations increase, our hopes are continually dashed because we wait and pin our hopes on persons.

Advent is similar but quite different. We do wait for a person, a special person, Jesus who in his life, words and deeds continues to bring us truth, justice, healing and peace.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
November 28, 2006

Thursday, November 16, 2006


I recently had to review the movie, “Gladiator” (Russel Crowe) for my English Movie appreciation class. Early at the beginning of the movie we hear two powerful dialogues between Cesar, Marcus Aurelius and Maximus, the General of the Roman Army and another between Cesar, Marcus Aurelius and his son, Commodus. The dialogues dramatically bring out the difference between two powers: one, the dark and destructive power of ambition and the liberating and purifying power of genuine unconditional love and devotion.

The first dialogue between Cesar, Marcus Aurelius and Maximus reminds us
that there indeed is something more, and more beautiful than ambition:

Cesar, Marcus Aurelius: I want you to be Protector of Rome,
to bring the power back to the people. Rome has become dark,
consumed by corruption. Will you accept this great honor?
Maximus: With all my heart, no!
Cesar, Marcus Aurelius: That is why you should be the one!
Maximus: How about Commodus? (Cesar’s son)
Cesar, Marcus Aurelius: Commodus is not a moral man.
Commodus cannot rule, he must not rule.

The second dialogue is heavy and full of vile ending with the hideous
murder of a father (Cesar) by his son (Commodus)
consumed and blinded by ambition.
Cesar, Marcus Aurelius: Are you ready to do your duty to Rome?
You will not be Emperor of Rome. My power will pass to
Maximus to hold in trust until the Senate is ready to rule once more.
Rome is to become a Republic once more.

Commodus: (Angry with tears profusely flowing) You wrote to me once about
the four chief virtues: wisdom; justice; fortitude and temperance.
As I read the list, I knew I had none of them. But I have other virtues
father: Ambition that can be a virtue that drives us to excel;
resourcefulness, courage….perhaps not in the battle field but there are
many forms of courage: Devotion to my family….to you..but none of
my virtues were on your list….as if I were never your son….

After uttering these words, instead of a Judas kiss of betrayal Commodus embraces and strangles and murders his own father, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius of Rome.
In barely six months, elections for the representatives to the two houses of the Phililppine Congress will take place. A few days ago, Senator Lacson jumped the gun on the other contenders for Mayor of Manila, by announcing his decision not to run as Senator but as candidate for Mayor of Manila. The air already thick with toxic vehicular and industrial exhaust becomes even thicker with the ominous sooth of ambition. Even the opposition as early as now seem to gloat at the Republican’s defeat in both houses as though this were a foreboding of things to come in May. Some commentators call this over-confidence. At bottom, it is plain and simple ambition which sets blood curdling for vengeance and victory on both sides.

In the movie, Gladiator, Commodus’ ambition was deadly and totally depraved. Even a son is not spared the curse of ambition that led to both murder and death. Before he murders his own father, Commodus rationalizes and calls ambition a “virtue that drives him to excel”. Excellence here is a euphemism for the Machiavellian attitudes and ways of ambitious men and women in any field from politics to showbiz, business to religion. Wizened and wiser, the old Cesar defies tradition and decided that even his own son cannot and should not rule: “Commodus is not a moral man. Commodus cannot rule. He should not rule.”

I wonder how many of the ambitious Filipinos and Filipinas are not moral and
therefore cannot and should not rule?
Yet, in the end, Commodus still ruled Rome but first, he had to murder his own father. Ambitious men and women need not physically murder parents or anyone who stands in their way. Just as Commodus has learned how to rationalize his ambition by calling it virtue, they too know how to justify murder by calling it by many other names: All out war; War against terror; War against destabilizers; troublemakers; communists; leftists…etc.

The movie ends with Commodus, Emperor of Rome in a battle to the death with Maximus (weakened by imprisonment and torture and further weakened by a stab wound earlier inflicted by Commodus). Unable to have Maximus killed by superior arms and numbers, the Emperor finally buckles down and succumbs to his own hubris goaded by the crowd’s increasing fondness for Maximus. Hubris, jealousy and ambition have earlier already killed Commodus’ soul. I

In the arena, he dies in the hands of Maximus. Both men, mortally wounded lay waiting for death. In the horizon, Commodus only sees the darkness of his own ambition. Looking up to the clear skies, Maximus sees his murdered wife and son waiting for him and a glorious life of peace and infinite joy that awaits one who has lived a life of virtue.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
November 16, 2006

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Brain Drain or Heart Drain?

When God chose and anointed saints and prophets he had an entirely different set of criteria. His number one criteria was best described by Jesus to two disciples who unabashedly asked Jesus to assign them places of honour, one on his left and the other on his right. Jesus asked them, “can you drink from the cup I will drink from…the cup of suffering and death….?” He then adds, “Remember that the Son of Man came to serve and not to be served.”

The whole idea of genuine, self-less and unconditional service seems to be disappearing. Thus, we should not be surprised to find fewer and fewer saints and prophets in our midst. So many today seem to be in a hurry to overtake the other in the scramble for the choicest seats. The current flavour of the month is precisely the question of who will replace outgoing Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban. The name floating around is making hairs stand and sending nervous chuckles over the land. Chief Justice Miriam Defensor Santiago?

Senator Miriam Santiago is undoubtedly one of the more intelligent and articulate politicians in the land. Her rapid-fire speech is enough to rattle and disorient anyone less intelligent and articulate. Her wide grasp and command of the English language allows her to produce most interesting, picturesque and even picaresque imagery. A big brain and a glib tongue is a useful combination indeed. She has proven most useful as the Senate defender of initiatives coming from Malacanang. What if she continues that role elsewhere like the Supreme Court for instance? Already Senator Santiago has begun amusing herself with the possibility and the possibilities that go with the position of Chief Justice. Her mind has begun ticking and ticking really fast.

But is politics and governance only a matter of brains? Brains they have in Senate, Congress, Supreme Court, Department of Justice, Department of Education, etc. Brains that think and tick alike. Brains calculating moves as quickly and faster than everyone else complemented by the useful infrastructures of Government machinery. In fact the whole country has become that and only that, a brain, like a computers CPU constantly gathering and processing information both tactically and strategically useful to the “grand programmer.” And very much like a computer indeed, the “brain” moves without a heart.

The problem with computers and CPUs is the power requirement. Without electricity they go and if you forget to save a file you are working on, it also goes…

What is the Philippine political brain’s power supply then? Are you ready for a tautology? Power is its power supply. Holding the reins of power and ensuring ones tight and indefinite grasp on it is the whole point. Hungry brains, mouths, eyes, hands and feet grasping at power and more power is the very power source of this strange brain machine. The possession, ownership, entitlement to power and authority is its motive force.

Where is the heart in all these? All brains and no heart makes for a world of Emperors and Kings, Rulers and Despots. Power for its own sake. Power at all costs. Feelings cannot and should not be allowed to stand in the way. Political marriages then, political mergers now. No love, only power sharing and compromise. No hearts only brains at work in many parts of this world.

Recently, commentaries back home have lamented the sad “brain-drain” going on in the Philippines each day. It is time, it seems to develop a new category to better appreciate what is going on. There may be something that people who stay and people who flee the country have in common, not the lost of brain but the lost of heart. Shouldn’t we begin talking then of “heart-drain.”

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
November 8, 2006

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Thinking Water

The other side and perhaps the real side of the war against terror is the war for oil. Called black gold because of its unfading profitability and demand, oil is not renewable and is slowly dwindling with the increasing consumption of both small and great consumers in the mad race towards so-called progress. What will all the oil-dependent countries do when this precious mineral drops to critical levels? I read it somewhere that the solution will be quite simple. Walk, run, bike and use fossil fuel burning vehicles only for emergencies.

How about travel? Again, only for emergencies because by that time, the price of a domestic trip will be equal to what used to be an international flight to the nearest foreign country outside the Philippines. In other words even flights to Cebu, Bacolod, Bicol etc. will cost so exorbitantly that people would rather stay at home than spend so much precious money, unless, of course it is absolutely necessary. While dependence on oil can be lessened by altering and radically simplifying lifestyles, there is another substance perhaps more precious than oil which will no longer give us a choice but force us to change the course of our lives.

Water more than oil should begin to concern if not frighten us. Why? Not only is it getting more scarce, but more and more of it is lost to criminal wastage and pollution. How many still brush their teeth by taking water from a running tap instead of using a glass? How many too often have bubble baths, throwing away gallons of water just for one person’s use? How many use a hose of running or pressured water to clean cars, floors, walls, etc? And how many still mindlessly throw their garbage into rivers, canals or streets where their litter eventually finds its way to these bodies of water?

Waste and pollution are increasing even faster than we can find measures to save water, and more and more urgently, ourselves. Water and life are synonymous. Without water, life will cease. It’s that simple but not that obvious. Blind we have become more and more perhaps waiting for a serious crisis to open our eyes.

A crisis has finally reached the Philippines. First, the water supply in Metro Manila is quickly dropping due to demand and unbridled release of water from its main source in Angat Dam. According to the National Water Resources Board, unless the National Power Corporation or NAPOCOR lessens its use of water from Angat Dam for power (electric) production, there will be a severe water shortage in Metro Manila. Another competing agency is the National Irrigation Agency of NIA which also supplies water to thirsty rice fields. (cf Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 28, 2006, “Warning of Shortage, Water board cautions”) This does not even mention the water consumption of eight million or so people living in Metro Manila or that of commercial centers giant malls and industries.

How is the Government facing this serious crisis? Is it facing it at all? According to the Freedom from Debt Coalition since 1997, the Government’s response has been to privatize the distribution of this most precious commodity. During the Ramos Administration, water distribution in Metro Manila was opened to bidding where the Lopez’s Maynilad and the Ayala’s Manila Water respectively won. Recently, the Lopez’s gave up Maynilad and returned it to government of course with massive debts and losses. The Government who now owns eighty four per cent of Maynilad, instead of improving its services, has instead begun the process of rebidding it again. Interested bidders like greedy vultures are hovering over Malacanang again.

The bankrupt Maynilad needs to borrow $31 million to continue its operation. Also, the government allowed Manila Water not to pay its P 650 million tax arrears for this year. Guess who will carry the burden of the government’s and corporations’ debts and liabilities? Neither Government nor Corporation but the people. Since the privatization of water distribution in Metro Manila in 1997, the price of water has gone up to levels unaffordable to the poor. For instance, Maynilad has raised the price of water by 600% from P 4.96 per cubic meter to P 32. 93 per cubic meter. Manila Water has done the same by raising water price in its area by 700% from P 2.32 per cubic meter to P. 19.73.

At present the government is looking for interested parties who may consider taking over the 84% shares of Maynilad which have been given over to Government after the former went bankrupt. When the Lopezes of Maynilad were granted their share of water distribution in 1997 the dream and promise were better and more efficient water services. Meanwhile, before the dream can be realized and the promise fulfilled, the firm who so aggressively fought for their piece of the water pie has failed and backed out. Instead of reading the writings on the wall, the government will once more take the same road of perdition, privatization.

Pilate needed water to wash his hands of responsibility for the death of an innocent man. In the Philippine case, the government washes its hands not with water but with the empty promises of corporations driven by something other than service. If Pilate’s act did not prevent the death of an innocent man, could the Philippine government be any different? Water is not a simple element which can be commoditised and commercialized. Like land, air, and food, it is part of a country and its people natural resources. Corporations naturally think money. Government as government is there to think people…to think water!

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
November 2, 2006