Friday, December 29, 2006

Greening the New Year

If we were to give a colour to 2006, what will it be? With the deaths from the natural disasters and calamities, the political killings and the unabated harassment, murder and disappearance of journalists and activists, I am tempted to colour it black as black as the sleet that spilled out of a tanker off the coast of Guimaras Island. Add the quality and nature of Philippine politics, it even gets blacker. Beyond our shores it is not less ominous with the recent siege of Southern Lebanon and the profound and extensive deterioration of Iraq brought on by a war fomented by the delusions of empire.

With Christmas just a few days behind us, it can’t be that black. There must be some light and life-giving colour left from a feast so stubbornly sanguine and infectiously loving. Imagine the art of it. Imagine the kaleidoscope of colour from the brown and white of cows’ and sheep’s’ fur, rainbow coloured tattered shepherds’ cloaks, and the humble but dignified colours of a young couple’s cloaks shielding their newborn infant wrapped in cheap swaddling clothes. Together, the colours vibrate and shimmer with life. And so do mangers in churches continue to invite contemplation on the colour of life and hope notwithstanding the nagging threat of deathly black.

If we were then to give a colour to the New Year, let it then be green, the colour of life…of hope. If we were to choose how best to show our gratitude to this life-sustaining world and its creator, let it then be a life greener and less black. Let wars whether fought with guns and bombs, economic sanctions or propaganda end. Let the burning stop and let the air be what it is meant to be…life-giving spirit. Let the wastage and the dumping stop and allow the few remaining unclogged pores of the earth breathe. Let the cutting of trees, the quarrying of mountains, the moving of land, the reclaiming of seas be replaced by planting, renewing and protecting the earth instead. Let obscene industrial and domestic vomit’s slow but sure desecration and murder of cleansing, cooling and life sustaining waters end. Let animals be more and more allowed to freely roam and graze the mountains, forests, plains, oceans, seas, rivers and skies. Let women and men cease to be mere consumers and become more and more preservers and revellers in a primordial friendship and communion among all beings created by a deeply compassionate and caring God. Let all bow down and touch the earth once more and behold the life that comes forth and grows from this earth on which we daily trod and shamefully ignore. Let us all learn once more to be humble, to kiss humus, to kiss earth as farmers for eons have done with glee and sacred delight.

A fatal forgetfulness and arrogance has befallen most of us. We have entered the cave of our own recklessness and chose to walk further into the darkness of our greed only to wallow deeper in black denial.

The ozone layer is badly depleted and damaged, world temperatures are growing warmer, the ice caps are rapidly melting, water levels are rising, global climate is changing…global warming is reaching critical levels, approaching the point of irreversible cataclysm. These are the broad outlines of a bleak future that faces the earth and its inhabitants which will be the content of a telephone book size report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC to be released sometime early 2007.

On December 26, 2004, just a day after Christmas, giant waves called tsunamis hit parts of Asia taking lives, destroying crops, livestock and property. Hardest hit was Thailand’s tourist beach resort. Today, while survivors get together and remember, business has returned to the tragedy stricken areas. Life seems to go on as usual. Human ways of living and doing have returned to their robotic routine.

At the same time two years later, an earthquake hits Taiwan, destroying properties and taking several lives. This time however, a natural disaster produces a more globally felt impact by breaking submarine fibre optic cables which carried the weight of electronic communication worldwide. On December 27, 2006, millions by force of habit wake up, turn on their computers, access the internet and are exasperated by a curious message on their computer screen: “this page cannot be displayed…”

With the recent Taiwan earthquake-triggered interruption of internet services anger, furore, even rage descend on the internet-dependent millions, myself included. Many must have seen black that day. People were angry at a technological inconvenience which really had a natural cause. Here we can clearly see the connection between black and green. The black plagues of disease, poverty, death, wars, etc. all ooze out of the Pandora’s box of environmental neglect, outright abuse and destruction combined with nature’s unexpected and unpredictable outbursts. There was nothing people can do but wait for the repair work to finish. Newspapers initially announced three weeks of repairs. It went down to ten, then one week. In any case, there was nothing more that can be done but wait. And what do we do while waiting?
I suggest we start seeing green instead of black. I suggest we start talking green more and more and discover how and why greening the New Year is sensible and most of all, vital for the happiness and survival of all.

Although we just concluded Advent and celebrated Christmas, it is clear how
the world is going through a longer advent which more than anything requires a more pro-active waiting. Unless we take real concrete steps to green this New Year, we can do no more than dread a blacker, bleaker New Year. Why not a greener New Year then, anyway green is so much better oh so much better than black!!!

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
December 29, 2006

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Faces of Christmas

Many faces flow before my mind’s eyes days before Christmas, here in a place where there are no lanterns, Christmas carols, dawn masses, puto-bungbong and bibingka, where one misses the familiar heart-warming sights of families walking together on their way to relatives and friends. Faces here have their usual daily humdrum look as there is nothing special here about December 25. In face I even have class on that day.
I will miss Christmas this year. For the first time I will not be in an environment where Christmas is synonymous to family, peace, happiness, justice, freedom and hope.

Yet so many faces back home hardly shine with Christmas brilliance. I see faces without lustre. I see faces rather glum and gloomy:
Hungry faces
Angry faces
Disillusioned faces
Tired faces
Scared faces
Cynical faces
Grieving faces
Resigned faces

I look at my own face and ask what then do I see? I seem to see two faces between the furrows on my forehead and the slight creases appearing here and there reminding me of my age. I see just beneath the surface a delicate dance between light and darkness, hope and despair, forgiveness and anger, peace and terror. Then I see several faces, and I see myself as part of my people as I see my people as part of me. I close my eyes and imagine Christmas. I see Jesus with Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and their animals, the hay and the dung, the cold and the darkness. I see all these as part of me. I see me as part of Christmas. I see Christmas as part of my people. I see my people as part of Christmas.

This is why I so miss Christmas. Even if faces seem to lose their light to hunger, anger, disillusionment, exhaustion, fear, cynicism, grief and resignation, they are still struggling because of a faith in a God who never abandons or gives up on us. Thus, I look again and see smiling faces of hungry parents feeding famished children with scavenged morsels from a garbage heap. I see grinning OFWs clutching a few hundred hard earned dollars rushing out of the airport to meet and embrace their families. I see gaunt farmers with leathery sun burnt skins gather their families to feast on a fattened chicken raised and jealously guarded for this special day. I see workers taking the day off and bringing home meagre earnings, and most likely requesting for a “bale” an advanced pay of a day or two to be able to enjoy a precious day’s grace with food and some drinks with family and friends.

Hence, I see other faces fiercely happy, believing and hopeful, for this indeed is Christmas, the triumph of life over death, of hope over despair, and of faith over fear. I shall miss Christmas at home but I shall not miss home this Christmas for my heart is home to the same source of light and hope that transforms gloomy faces into the lively and beautiful faces of my people.

This is Christmas, as it was then and will always be. I won’t be home for Christmas but never mind for Christ is here at home within. Indeed, beneath the burdens and pains of life shimmers and dances His warm and assuring light unfailingly inspiring a smile, a tear, a sigh of gratefulness and hope and the deepest stirrings of peace. Merry Christmas.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
December 25, 2006

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Church, People, Democracy … Alive ! ! !

Marcos created his rubber stamp Parliament backed by his own version of constitutional reform through regularly promulgated Presidential Decrees, the most famous and foundational of which is PD 1081 (Martial Law). Back in 1997, President Fidel Ramos attempted another constitutional manoeuvre to extend himself in power through a people’s initiative dubbed PIRMA. If Erap was not ousted too soon, the temptation to use the constitution to preserve himself and his allies in power would also be too strong to resist. Thus, Gloria and her coterie of family, friends and defenders is showing the same colour and odour. The lame excuse given over and over again is change the constitution in order to push the country forward but make sure that provisions on terms of office, elections, re-elections are first on the list.

The recent marathon sessions in Congress that led to the decision of the majority to convene congress into a constituent assembly does not only show the colour of putrefaction. It exuded it in the most execrable way. The stench has spread and people can no longer take it. I have prayed and fasted long and hard for the church to start moving and exercising its moral ascendancy. Finally it did when Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines called for a massive rally at the Quirino Grandstand on December 15, 2006. Political and moral putrefaction is something no one can really stand. It’s like allowing corpses to rot everywhere with maggots and flies freely crawling and flying in and out of the ugly and frightening vessels of decay and death.

Jesus saw, felt and smelled the same putrefaction in the temple turned into a haven of money changers. Congress, Senate, Malacanang and the other branches of Government are far from being temples. But if their raison d’etre is to uphold the highest standards of public service, they have an unmistakably sacred character which must be preserved. Integrity and a certain degree of decency if not holiness are expected of public officials. We do not demand perfection and saintliness but neither do we tolerate mediocrity and worst, irresponsibility, incompetence and even the outright betrayal of public trust.

The unbearable and intolerable state of governance in our country is implied in Archbishop Lagdameo’s call, “for the purification of reason, for the reawakening of the moral forces, for the ordering of society. (Philippine Daily Inquirer, December 13, 2006)

More than the threat of numbers is the weight of moral values and principles once more re-asserting themselves that sent wily and adamant politicos scurrying backwards and declaring the much vaunted con ass dead, buried in what the House Speaker called the catacombs of political dreams. But no sooner as con ass is declared dead that its craven twin con con is dragged out of the political closet and flaunted as a “better” alternative. Like a little boy caught stealing “hopia” from “lola’s garapon” they back off and suggest that the planned rally is no longer necessary. But like lola the people know that the little boy is a chronic “hopia thief” and that his excuses last no more than the few moments lola is looking. The little boy will be back. They will be back. More than a bad idea, we are dealing with a bad habit, better an addiction deeply ingrained not in a few but in an entire sector of persons with power and money but have little or no principles or morals whatsoever.

Con Ass or Con Con misses the point. The urgent problem in Phillippine society is not the what or the how but the who. There are politicos as there are little boys who steal hopia or candies but where are the statesmen and women who lead lives of unconditional and selfless service and graciously bow out of office when the time comes. But what do we have among our leaders? What do we see but the impatience of those who push cha cha or con con to mask their fear of losing what indeed no longer belongs to them.

Thank God, the Church, the People and Democracy are alive. We should not stop cleaning and burying the putrefaction of politicos and traditional politics. We should not stop until there are enough who… ready for the what.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
December 14 2006

Monday, December 04, 2006

Killer Storms, Killer Lifestyles

Barely a month earlier, Bicol region was badly hit by super-typhoon “Milenyo.” Survivors have started picking up the pieces and looking forward to the warmth of the Christmas season. Yet instead of the warmth of Christmas, devastation and death returned to Bicol in the form of another storm called “Reming.” The figures of dead, missing and injured are steadily rising each day. Initially, there were about five hundred in all. It is now more than a thousand. Descriptions of the killer rocks and mudflow are daunting. Rocks as big as cars were seen crushing into houses before the mud completed the blow by burying everything which stood in the way of its fury. Milenyo was a killer storm but Reming was even worse. I grew up listening to storm signal number one, two until three. Today’s young generation are listening to a new species of warning, that of the un-precedented levels four and five. I remember terrible storms “Dading” and “Yoling” whose angry winds raged between one hundred fifty to a hundred eighty (150 – 180) kilometers per hour. Reming swept over Southern Luzon at two hundred sixty five (265) kilometers per hour.

Money, of course is being poured into Bicol by the National Government. The President has ordered one billion pesos released for rescue, relief and eventual rehabilitation efforts. This is understandable and expected. It is the least they can do. But while rescue operations, in many parts crudely done with volunteers digging out dead bodies with their hands, the Government in its typically ugly display of indecency intensifies efforts to push Chacha. While fellow countrymen and women struggle to crawl out of the boulders and mud left by a killer storm, the powerful continue to dance to the only music they know and sing the only song they know…self-interest.

In a few days, the Asean will be held in Cebu city. The theme chosen for the summit has already been criticized and challenged by human rights groups. Asean as “One, Caring and Sharing Community” is a theme that glosses over the many human rights violations and killings over the last five years under the Arroyo Administration. The Asean meeting in Cebu City from December 6 to 13 may as well take place in the wake of the tragedy of killer typhoon Reming. Although there is nothing that directly connects a regional political meeting to a natural disaster, there is nothing wrong in pondering the timing. A few days before this meeting takes place, Lance Corporal Daniel Smith is found guilty of raping Nicole.

Two painful events prelude the important Asean meeting. Killer storms and killer passions are equally destructive. With Smith found guilty, Nicole finds some solace and can now move on. But will Nicole be the last victim? I saw the face of Smith on the front page of a newspaper. It was full of fear and uncertainty. I dare ask, as well whether Smith is as much a victim as Nicole? US military personnel will continue to come to engage in military exercises with counterpart Filipino soldiers. Why? Because of the culture and enterprise called “war.” We can also ask whether Reming would be the last killer storm and whether this would have been Bicol’s last tragic brush with a killer storm?

Storms have been a natural and expected feature of the Philippine landscape. But they are becoming deadlier each time. Rape and the various forms of exploitation of Filipinas have been going on from empire to empire, from King Philip to President Bush.

I look at Smith’s face again and could not help ask, aren’t we all in varying ways and degrees guilty of inviting natural disasters and promoting war? What in and about our lifestyles are deadly and continually inviting more disaster, rape and war? These are questions that President Glorial Macapagal Arroyo and her Asean counterparts may ask if they have the honesty, courage and most of all humility to do so!!!

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
December 4, 2006