Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Elitist Education !!!

When Erap was in power, he was surrounded by the bright girls and boys from the University of the Philippines. When Erap left Malacanang most of the U.P. crowd also left and were replaced by the bright ones of Ateneo de Manila University. Thus, to this day GMA enjoys the undivided loyalty of her Ateneo stalwarts.

I was still parish priest and chaplain at U.P. Diliman during Erap’s time. Many of the faculty and students were quite disappointed at how some illustrious U.P. faculty members continue to serve in Erap’s cabinet. The sympathetic arguments insist on giving both Erap and his U.P. stalwarts a chance. The unsympathetic arguments were snide remarks on how some educators are easy to compromise their values and principles over a share of “pork.”

It is understandable when a president enlists the services of experts from particular academic institutions. It is perfectly understandable that these experts from the Academe would be open and willing to offer their expertise not only to the president but to the country and the people that the president serves. Yet, when the president begins to show signs that instead of serving her country and people, she is serving only her own interests, which are deleterious to national interest, and then it is time to resign. When it also becomes clear that her interests coincide not with the needs of the majority who are poor but the whims and fancy of an elite, then it is even a moral duty not only to resign but more so denounce the blatant elitism as a betrayal of public trust.

It has been announced that the foundress of the Religious of the Assumption, Marie Euginie will be canonized in Rome on June 3,2007. To celebrate the momentous event, the Religious of the Assumption have invited GMA, an alumna to join them in Rome. In an article written by Conrad de Quiros entitled “Presumption,” he expresses alarm at how a school as prestigious as Assumption College can invite GMA and presume that she likewise represents some of the very life values that Marie Eugenie is being canonized for. The new saint valiantly fought for truth, social justice and peace in the France of her time. Today, many will not only doubt but vehemently disagree that GMA fights for truth, social justice and peace.

GMA indeed fights for the “truth of Garci,” the “social justice of big Mining Corporations,” and the “peace of extra-judicial killings.”

What happens when a school produces a president? What happened when Erap became president? Ateneo held a big party where the Alumni honored its most illustrious alumnus. What happened when Gloria became president? You can see Assumption sisters and alumnae in Malacanang praying over GMA and congratulating her for work well done.

What do the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila and Assumption College have in common aside from having produced presidents of the Republic? They all have the tendency to promote and preserve certain interests, namely that of the institution, their benefactors and their illustrious alumni and alumnae as well.

Unfortunately, the majority of our people did not and could not study at U.P., Ateneo and Assumption. Why? Simple, because the majority of our people are poor!

By inviting GMA to attend the canonization of Marie Eugenie in Rome, the Assumption Sisters probably think that this could add more prestige and nobility to the occasion. Really? Let us ask a poor girl who can only afford to study in some poor provincial college. Do you know Marie Eugenie, foundress of the Assumption? Do you know that GMA attended her canonization?

I dare not answer and speak for the poor girl from some provincial college. But I am sure your guess may be as good as mine.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
March 28, 2007

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Bread and Water, House and Dignity

Last February 25, 2007, I was invited to say Mass for a community of families living around and under a bridge in Santa Ana, Manila.

It was an urgent invitation. The elements of the Metro Manila Development Authority and the Police have earlier warned the residents that whether they like it or not their homes will be demolished on February 27, 2007. The threat was real and the people were really frightened.

The representatives of the said community joined our community called Kubol Pag-Asa when we launched “Fast Wednesdays” at the People Power Monument last February 21, 2007. After Mass, their leader asked to talk to me for a few moments. Her face reflected much fear and urgency. “Can you celebrate Mass for us Father. Anytime you are available. We need strength. We need God’s blessings as we continue to protect our homes and families. We don’t know what to do. We don’t know where to go.”

The invitation was both urgent and timely. In a few weeks, I will be celebrating my twenty fifth ordination anniversary. I had wanted a meaningful but quiet celebration of my anniversary. I thought of spending some time with a poor community, say Mass for them and then share a simple meal.

Thus, the mass that Sunday had a dual purpose. It was first of all to pray for a community’s strength and hope amidst violent harassment and the threat of once more losing their homes. Second, it was to thank God for the twenty five years of struggling for and with the rights of the poor and marginalized classes.

We chose a theme for the celebration. “Tinapay at Tubig,” or bread and water became our theme.

Bread symbolized many things. Although bread stood for food, it also meant a home where food is normally eaten, jobs which somehow paid for the bills, school where children went to form themselves, peace to live and enjoy God’s blessings in safety and quiet. Bread is broken and shared by families, friends and genuine communities. Bread then can stand for solidarity.

Water symbolized clarity and purity which should guide people in power to exercise their authority with justice and compassion. Water which is so scarce in poor communities also stand for the worsening scarcity of the means of survival as well as good governance.

Bread and water became symbols of an important call to the Church, in particular, to priests like me, to enter deeply into solidarity with those experiencing dire scarcity.

The Mass was at 10:00 am. It was a sunny day. Members of the Urban Poor Associates, the Non Government Organization that has been supporting the community were present. The members of the community, parents, children and the elderly gathered around a makeshift Mass table. Many of them had gaunt and hungry faces, yet there were smiles and laughter that brightened up what was otherwise a sad encounter.

At the offertory, twenty five little children brought a piece of bread to the altar. The bread was the community’s offering and prayer for safety and strength in the coming days. During Mass, my message dwelled on the challenge to find meaning and dignity beyond the burden of mere daily survival. God’s will for persons is not mere survival but genuine human development. We prayed for a new government which will espouse a pro-people, pro-poor outlook and program.

After the mass, I took the basket filled with the bread offered by the children and distributed its content to the children. The bread blessed at mass became instant food for the hungry little ones. It was gone in no time. The adults just looked and smiled. They were happy that their children had received both spiritual and material food.

Two days later, the ugly demolition takes place. The people fought and tried to save their homes. But aside from men with crow bars and hammers, law enforcers with arms made sure that the “law” was carried out.

The shanties, which for some had been home for the last twenty five years were demolished in no time. Flimsy and old, rusty galvanized sheets and rotting wood just broke and caved in under the angry crowbars and hammers of the demolition crews. The people struggled and after a while just watched. One may ask whether their spirits caved in as well. The answer is in the quiet, unmoving gaze of many. The answer is deep within the hearts and minds of the poor who all these years are made to stand, and quietly accept the full force and logic of the “law.” The answer is in their quiet and deep gaze…not in the law…

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
March 25 2007

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Virus of Politics

Last March 5, 2007 I celebrated mass for the organization of concerned citizens of Taytay, Rizal Province. It was a reunion of friends and allies in the peaceful struggle for clean, competent and conscientious governance. I met this group of concerned citizens in the months leading to the 2004 elections. They were more than concerned, in fact very indignant about the state of governance of Taytay under its previous Mayor.

The issue then was the illegal attempt of the former Mayor to force market vendors to close their shops occupying the front section of their properties. The local government officials headed by the Mayor have argued that residents should not and cannot transform the front space of their properties into market stalls since their area is classified as residential and not commercial. Meanwhile, as the vendors and property owners were being harassed, the former municipal market was being demolished and the area cleared for the construction of a Mall. According to local sources, the Mall project belongs to a person closely associated with the former Mayor. The official act of harassing the townsfolk into closing their stalls makes sense in the light of the semi-official construction of a private mall.

Locals cannot be blamed for concluding that the on-going construction of a Mall is not a gratuitous favor of the local government officials to the one who owns the multi-million peso project. The town folks accused the Mayor and his council of corruption and pressured them to stop the project. A groundswell of support grew around the efforts of these concerned Taytay residents. Since elections were just around the corner, the concerned citizens turned the issue into a political campaign. They campaigned against the former Mayor and openly supported an alternative candidate.

This candidate won and is now the Mayor of Taytay. There was euphoria but it was short-lived. In no time the present Mayor busied himself with putting his family and friends in place. In no time, the Mayor acquires several new vehicles. According to rumors, the Mayor’s father is now in-charge of the popular but illegal home-styled lottery called “jueteng.” Early on, the concerned citizens organized dialogues with the Mayor they supported and elected into office. Gradually, the Mayor became more and more insensitive and deft to both advice and criticism. In no time, the initially clean and idealistic leader develops into a typical “trapo” or Traditional Politician whose only and primary concern is self-promotion, self-enrichment and self-preservation.

The “trapo” is not a person but a virus that pervades the system. More than political, moral and spiritual immunity is required to fight this virus. There is hardly no where in the system that one can move or hide without being touched and eventually contaminated by the virus.

Within the corridors of power lurks the virus. Not content it spills out into homes, streets, market stalls, offices, farms, construction sites and shore lines, schools, churches, malls, TV stations, radio stations, newsrooms, etc.

For many years now people of good will and clean consciences have organized themselves to fight this virus. They have even tried fielding their own candidates as alternatives to “trapo” (corrupted, polluted, contaminated) politics. This the people of Taytay have done and seemingly failed. But are the people of Taytay failures?

During the Mass, I stressed the importance of organization and more importantly the spirit behind it. How can the sick heal the sick? A thorough process of personal and collective cleansing and healing is necessary before, during and after joining the political fray. Rather discouraged, a number of the concerned citizens of Taytay wanted to give up the struggle altogether. But as we reflected together after the mass, it became clear that it is one thing to avoid the virus and another to arm ourselves against it. Just as disease is defeated by a strong immune system, so too is the “trapo-virus” to be defeated by a stronger immune system.

The concerned citizens of Taytay have started moving in this direction. They have organized themselves. They regularly meet to discuss, reflect, pray and even fast. Prayer and fasting will now be a regular component of their lives. For the last three years since, I started working with these inspiring concerned citizens of Taytay, I have been continually invited to celebrate Mass. During all these time, I feel the presence of something stronger and truer, the Spirit of God that never fails to give them wisdom, courage and strength to fight, to serve and love.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
March 20, 2007

Friday, March 16, 2007

Twenty Five Years, Twenty Five Dreams

LAST March 18, 1982, at 10:00 a.m. I was ordained priest with three others by Archbishop Bruno Torpigliani, Apostolic Nuncio to the Philippines. The last twenty five years of my priestly life was marked by a passionate pursuit of dreams and visions. It all began when as a little boy, I looked at the priests who celebrated mass in school and at my parish church, wondering what it must be like to do what they do, say what they say and go were they go. I looked and watch in awe and wonder and wished that one day I too will experience that grand adventure called the priesthood.
The little boy’s dream eventually came true. Strangely, the dreams did not go or fade away through the years in spite of the painful realities and contradictions that came my way. I often wonder whether the dreams or the little boy really went away or are they still here behind the thoughts, feelings, energies, aspirations flowing through my finger tips onto the computer keys? I am fifty two alright and twenty five years thereof passionately, deliciously and adventurously spent as a priest responding to a voice that once said, “Come follow me.”
Oh, God knows where that voice has led me and what it has made me do. I am not exactly where I would want to be now but I do not have the slightest regret. I wish to thank the owner of the Voice whom I have tried to bravely and faithfully follow in the last twenty five years through a simple list of twenty five dreams. I am sure He is partly responsible for planting those dreams in me, but how these dreams may have happened or not yet happened are all choices and contexts that were partly due to and also beyond me. The dreams were more than adventures. They were doorways into mystery.
Thank You Jesus for your invitation then and now. Thank you for the adventure that continues even now and surely until the end of my human and priestly life. Thank you for the mystery that makes life worth all of my blood, sweat and tears.
I dream of following Jesus to strange, unknown and dangerous lands to bring the message of His Father’s Kingdom.
I dream of entering the seminary to prepare myself for this wonderful journey.
I dream of one day finally being able to say Mass for my people, specially the poor and the oppressed, bringing them the gospel of justice, truth and freedom.
I dream of living with the poor, knowing and understanding their lives, their struggles and their dreams.
I dream of finding a solution to the structural and social evils that are destroying our people’s faith, morality and future.
I dream of being part of the story of putting and end to the Conjugal Marcos Dictatorship or any dictatorship for that matter.
I dream of a Church not run by the ecclesiastical elite for the elite, a Church truly one with the people, especially the poor.
I dream of a priesthood free from the lure of money and material possessions, a priesthood nourished by the spirit of Christ, seen, felt and shared as love and compassion for and among the poor.
I dream of brother priests who will become family and community, who will share a vision of church, country and world that is always new and never jaded and trapped within uncreative dogmatism and fossilized tradition.
I dream of community where there is no high or low, where hierarchy is secondary to solidarity and communion, where service is more visible than authority.
I dream of running the whole stretch and breadth of the Philippines, to see, know and understand more deeply the country I love most.
I dream of running in different countries and getting to know peoples, their culture, history and dreams not only with mind, heart, soul but also with my feet.
I dream of studying culture, to know how my people and other people struggle to make sense of chaos, contradiction, conflict, wars and death in order to fashion a culture of lasting peace, justice, compassion, freedom and equality among all, humans and nature.
I dream of celebrations truly alive, relevant, indigenous, inclusive, empowering and liberating.
I dream of having friends from all over the world who can teach me more about what is on the other side and lead me beyond what is parochial towards the truly global.
I dream of being able to move in a world of fewer intrigues, lies and pettiness that engender needless hostility, animosity and division.
I dream of being forgiven and likewise being able to forgive those I have hurt and those who have hurt me.
I dream of living in a world where people no longer killed animals for food or turned them into clothes, toys or spectacles. Peace can only be complete when it is experienced by and with all creatures besides humans.
I dream of becoming more Asian and Eastern to complement my Western-ness. I dream of learning and doing more Tai Chi and Qigong, more Yoga and more running too, as well as deepening my knowledge and experience of Christian prayer and contemplation.
I dream of being able to express without fear or threat of repression or marginalization what is truly within. I dream of different peoples expressing themselves passionately and creatively in their unique, inimitable ways.
I dream of an end to Traditional “trapo” Politics that contaminates and vitiates not only government but all revered institutions including the churches.
I dream of a truly people’s government sincerely and above all concerned about the welfare and future of the ordinary people than the economic and political elite.
I dream of an end to all killings and the beginning of genuine justice implemented by courts of integrity, probity and dignity.
I dream of the return of most if not all exiles so that their dreams and those of their people can finally fuse into a consuming flame for the good and liberation of the Filipino people.
I dream of another twenty five years of listening and following the same Voice wherever and whatever it wants me to go and do.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
March 16, 2007

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Shaven Heads, Shaven Dreams

On February 22, 2007, Thursday, members and officers of Task Force Mapalad invited me to celebrate mass at their campsite outside the Department of Agrarian Reform at Quezon Eliptical Circle. The day before, on ash Wednesday both female and male farmers had their heads shaven as they began their hunger strike in protest to the problematic and increasingly violent state of agrarian reform in Negros Occidental.

I have known most of the farmers. Even without their heads shaved, they already looked famished and exhausted in the long and seemingly endless struggle for the implementation of land reform. They have already received Certificates of Land Ownership or Cloas and have prepared to occupy the said land awarded by government. Instead, the landlords have started employing blue guards and goons to prevent the farmers from the exercise of their right by the immediate occupation of their land. The blue guards have been more than aggressive and defensive. They have pulled the trigger a good number of times killing unarmed and defenseless farmers. On top of this, a number of landlords have resorted to using the local courts by filing criminal cases like trespassing, robbery etc against the farmers. The landlords instead of heeding the law have become emboldened through the leadership of the First Gentleman’s younger brother Iggy Arroyo who has organized some land lords as a bloc to fight the farmers and block the implementation of agrarian reform.

The social volcano scenario of the elite versus the masses continually replays itself. The more superior position of the land lords who have money, men and arms are no match to unarmed farmers whose only weapon is knowledge and recourse to the law. While agrarian reform violence continues which only leads to the hardening of positions, farmers are just getting hungrier and losing precious time and opportunity to work on the land and be productive. Meanwhile, the funds available for the implementation of agrarian reform are quickly drying up.

Like shaven heads, does the reality of agrarian reform promise no more than shaven and broken dreams?

About a week later, I was again invited to bless the farmers some of whom had to be brought to the hospital due to exhaustion and weakness brought on by their hunger strike. As I bless the farmers, they closed their eyes and bowed their heads. They were a picture of hunger, weakness and dwindling hope. Their land which they cannot till does not feed them nor others. The government does not give them much assistance nor encouragement. The rich and powerful of their province even seem to have solidified into an impenetrable wall. They need more than ordinary food or nourishment. In their hunger they hope to find a different food. Thus, I prayed for strength and inner food to nourish their minds, hearts and spirits.

I assured them that they are not alone. Members of Kubol Pagasa will fast with them every Wednesday (Fast Wednesdays). Unless, people, specially those concerned fast and experience the hunger, insecurity, uncertainty and fear of oppressed and ignored farmers, their indifference and insensitivity will only worsen.

The pictures of the shaven heads of female farmers did land on the newspapers. They are getting some media mileage now. But what is next? Will hope grow as hair on shaven heads would in a while? Would peace and justice soon reign in the land of the social volcano? Or would we just join the many who watch in amusement while heads and dreams are shaved?

Fr.Roberto P. Reyes
March 15, 2007

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


To those who have seen a recent movie with a similar title, this line will sound familiar:

“We miss that touch so much…that we crash into each other…”

Crash, the movie, presented the lives of Americans living in Los Angeles, California. Each one was driven, to a great part unconsciously by her shadow, an unconscious and un-acknowledged part of the self, otherwise known as the ego. Preoccupation and obsession with ego needs lead to disastrous consequences from serious accidents and even death. People are always angry, paranoid that a “dangerous other” will attack them. They live in suspicion which often enough becomes a cover-up and convenient pretext for their own weakness and hidden rottenness. Redemption in the movie comes through unexpected twists and turns which in Christian terms can be called grace. The grace unexpectedly comes through a “crash,” some crucial, life-defining experience that jolts individuals out of the comfortable shell of ego, of suspicion, prejudice, arrogance, anger, ambition, etc. The crash was often times necessary to restore connectedness again.

I had a crash a few days before I flew out of the Philippines. I had just said mass at the wake of the father of a friend, at Loyola Memorial Chapels at Loyola Memorial Park in Marikina. It was almost 7:00 p.m. The main road just outside the park was congested. I was driving my old jeep and having a hard time getting onto the road. None of the jeeps would slow down and let me into the flow. Suddenly, out of nowhere a jeep crashes into my left fender and has its right rear end tangled with my bumper. The passengers without thought nor discussion immediately get off the jeep as if used to the situation. In no time, the jeep was empty. The jeepney driver comes out scratching his head and ready to accost me. Several Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) traffic enforcers surrounded the two vehicles and were poised to get both sides of the story. The driver finally complains, “What will we do. The owner of the jeep is in Pangasinan?” Meanwhile police men also came. At this point, both the MMDA men and the police asked the jeepney driver whether he knows me. The driver shakes his head and says no. TheMMDA and police officers with incredulous looks explain to the driver who I am. This does not help. The driver insisted that I speak to his boss on the cellphone. I get his boss’s number and I ring him up. I speak to the jeepney owner whose response is expected, “Paano na yan Father, wala namang pera ang drayber!” (How is that Father, the driver does not have any money.) While the intramurals between me, the driver, the jeepney owner, MMDA and police went on, the traffic behind us developed into an ugly snarl. I decided to just tell the driver that since the damage to his jeep is minimal and mine was quite big, we can try to disengage our tangled vehicles and just agree to see each other at my mechanic’s shop. The MMDA and police supported my decision but the driver seemed to freeze in anger and indecision. Finally, he gives in and we had to find a way of disengaging without adding to the damages already incurred.

We agreed to meet early Monday morning at an agreed point close to my mechanic’s shop. We get to the shop and had the damage to our vehicles assessed. His was P 2500 while mine was more than P 9000. I needed to leave for a meeting, but before I left I ask the driver what he intends to do. He said he will wait the whole day, even until the evening until the jeepney is repaired. I ask whether he brought money or food. He says he didn’t have either. I gave him some money for food and said goodbye.

Later that day, I receive a text from the driver. I was half expecting him to finally say thank you. But this was what he said, “Father ok na po,naayos na, kaya lang may konting problema, yung lettering po hindi nalagyan…” (Father, its ok. They fixed it. There is one problem though. They did not do the lettering)

Since the crash, I went out of my way to make things easier for the jeepney driver and the owner, the police and MMDA as well as the other commuters and drivers who were inconvenienced by the accident. I chose not to argue with the jeepney driver who behaved as if everything was my fault. I chose to understand his predicament and to be connected as a person to a fellow person with him. Unfortunately, up to the very end, he only saw his own predicament, his needs, himself. All I wished at the end was no more than a simple “thank you” a costless token of gratitude (for my troubles and expense). In the end, he goes his way, I go mine, perhaps still quite disconnected…even after the crash!

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
March 14, 2007

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Faulty Wiring or Faulty Thinking?

Less than forty eight hours after I left the Philippines, a fire hits the Commission on Elections building in Intramuros, Manila. Comelec chair Benjamin Abalos was quick to announce that “everything the poll body needed for the May polls was in the adjacent main headquarters at the Palacio del Gobernador.” (cf. Philippine Daily Inquirer, March 12, 2007) The District Fire Chief Pablo Cordeta who is presently supervising an investigation is looking into a variety of possible causes from “faulty wiring” to sabotage. The firefighters claimed that they responded to a complaint received six minutes after the fire began.

Not only the opposition is concerned and asking for a quick explanation of how and even why the fire took place. Long before any credible and reasonable explanation can be made, government officials have already spoken in an obvious attempt to stem the tide of criticism and suspicion. The public, not only the opposition is angry and rather cynical that anything believable and credible can come out of the investigation. How could anyone be blamed for incredulity and cynicism? What has come out of the Melo report? How has the government responded to the recent visit of the United Nation rapporteur for human rights? Where is Garci? Bolante?

If some other government agency burned instead of Comelec, the reaction would probably be less. The election campaign period has begun with public interest in and attention towards Comelec becoming more and more intense. Besides, notwithstanding what is expected to be in certain buildings, materials could have been shifted long before the fire. What does the public know about what documents are in Comelec and in the Palacio del Gobernador? The government has given all kinds of explanations for all kinds of mishaps and accidents blaming these on nature (force majeur) and on communists, its favorite culprit. The people watch and listen with halted breath only to be forced deeper into cynicism and disbelief.

The District fire chief tries to be objective by naming two possible culprits: faulty wiring or sabotage. In the minds of many, whatever investigation conducted by government invariably arrives at conclusions in its favor. Any act or statement made or given is seen and perceived as less than sincere. How can many forget the contrived and forced sincerity of her statement, “I am sorry” after the “Hello Garci” incident? We might as well look not only into faulty wiring and better perhaps into other faulty things.

Why don’t we consider among the vast array of faulty things something more than a thing. Why don’t we look into “faulty thinking?”

Amidst the election campaign chaos and raucous, we can pause and take a deeper and more discerning look at faulty thinking as it afflicts both others and us as well.

First, consider “survival thinking” which she and all those dependent on her are anxiously clinging to as a drowning person would even a stick?

Second, “butterfly thinking,” and how it afflicts even the closes of kin like an aunt who was then with Erap and now with Gloria and her nephew , who was then with Gloria and now with Erap?

Third, “wishful thinking” dangerously tending towards deluded thinking as seen in one senatorial candidate whose below average height makes people smile at his “Walking Tol” campaign posters that imply something otherwise.

Fourth, “showbiz thinking” as when a less than graceful male Senator forces a gig reminiscent of another female Senator’s infamous obscene gyration at the victory of those who wanted to keep the envelope sealed.

Fifth, “clean, as if never dirty thinking” of a known gambling king who makes sure that there is nothing in his television image that would give his shady character away.

Sixth, the “people’s boxer, people’s nightmare thinking” of a one who thinks success and popularity in one arena means the same in any arena like politics.

Seventh, the “people’s actor, now her actor thinking” of one popular actor who in a recently concluded film festival was critical of the money criterion as basis for a entry’s victory. Too bad for him that people have begun concluding that it was her money and not his idealism that made him run.

Eight, the “always cool but keep dem skeletons in the closet thinking” of a candidate who cautions against blaming government for the Comelec fire while he prays that people would forget his participation in a heinous rub-out.

Ninth, last but not least the “people’s let them but leave us alone thinking” of so many who relinquish their sacred right and duty of honorable, deep and loving thinking at the expense of a dishonored, cheapened and un-loved nation.

Tenth, while we know how faulty wiring will most likely be blamed for the Comelec fire, let us at least try not to be guilty of faulty thinking the way so many of those in and aspiring to have more power are so disgustingly guilty of.

They have power but we have our minds, hearts and souls which they can never take away from us. They can have their faulty thinking but we will always have our freedom which one day we will all fully celebrate.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
March 13, 2007

Monday, March 12, 2007

Dom An, Fighting Violence with Art

They were three females, one who seemed to be in her mid-thirties and two young girls. Could they be sisters? Could one be the mother and the other two her daughters? Where is her husband, the father?

These were the questions I asked on the first two days of my stay in a retreat house with my parents. From our table as we sat and ate our meals we would always see three females sitting and eating opposite us. The two young girls were full of life, constantly exchanging banter while the older woman moved with a certain gravity about her.

Eventually one of the nuns explains who the three were. The older woman is the mother of the two girls. Her husband had been killed by hooded men last year. She had opted to work as an OFW in Hong Kong but decided to go home after the misfortune of getting a bad employer. On the day of her flight home she had warned her husband to be careful since they bought knew he was already on the military’s so called “order of battle.” The husband was the Northern Luzon lay coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines. He had just finished giving a workshop to a group of farmers and was preparing to take the bus to Manila to fetch his wife. He did not go very far. With deadly precision, hooded men on a motorcycle suddenly appear and pump bullets into his body.

Instead of being welcomed by a happy and longing husband, she was welcomed by the morbid and gloomy air of a tragic wake. She was deeply hurt by the lost but not really surprised. Her husband had been receiving death threats. Both of them knew the dangers and risks of a missionary’s life. In spite of these, her husband was unflinching. He believed in his mission. He loved his work of peace education and the promotion of human rights. To this dedicated church worker Christianity was not mere devotion and fulfillment of church obligation. Christianity was a life of committed and passionate witnessing. It was the life of a martyr. Thus his life flowed and finally ended. He loved his work for justice and peace. His work became him as he offered his very life as fire and flame to light the gloomy, fear and death laden horizon.

Since her husbands death and burial, Dom An with her daughters had to leave her home. Now that her husband is dead, there is “collateral damage” to worry about. She must live not only for her daughters but for the truth that her husband lived and died for.

She now goes from place to place a veritable fugitive hounded by the minions of the police state. But she prefers to call her journey the “ war widow’s pilgrimage towards justice, truth and peace.”

After the nun’s explanation, I was introduced to Dom An who did not waste time to share her life and soul to someone she says she quite identifies with. Smiling and with eyes that understood, she affirms me and says, “pareho tayo Father…” (We are the same father) And so I thought that though I may not be a widower, I am somehow a victim of “collateral damage.” Justice, peace and human rights advocates are marginalized if not murdered in the Philippines. So many are now pushed to the fringes and forced to live like fugitives by a pretentious and hypocritical government concealing the torture and murder machinery of a virtual police state.

Before she began her story she offered to play the nose flute and recite poetry. The music from the nose flute was sad but determined. Her poems were the words of an indignant widow turned prophetic witness. Dom An has started going around bringing her music and poetry to announce the good news of God’s justice, truth and peace. She reaches out most specially to war widows like her and hopes to bring them together into a force of healing and justice. Her music and art, her song and poetry do not only announce but denounce the arrogant “Kings and Queens” of power and violence.

As she played her flute and read her poems, I felt a definite presence full of courage and faith. It was Dom An’s husband alive in her music and poetry. He lives through her art fighting violence, resisting death….

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
March 12, 2007

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Love, Family and Cris Aquino

On my very first day, after a restful sleep filled with fond memories of China, I woke up late, skipped breakfast and came down for lunch instead.

I found my father and mother already seated around the dinner table. Like many Filipino homes, there is a TV set in the dining room. Before I could even see the TV screen, I already heard a familiar voice throwing a challenge at the audience, “Game Ka Na Ba?” (Are you ready?) The voice belonged to a famous politician whose murder on August 21, 1983 sparked an unstoppable wave of protests which swelled into a powerful political tsumami called the EDSA Revolution. This was Ninoy Aquino, arch-rival of Marcos, assassinated just as he got off the plane and fell on the Tarmac of the Manila International Airport. Ninoy was and still is a hero but his popularity and relevance may have almost been eclipsed by the that of his daughter Cris whose voice and face are heard and seen on national TV twice a day. It was Cris’ voice which greeted me last January 4, 2007 as I sat down to eat my first lunch since I left the country last February 11, 2006.

There was food on the table but no one has taken notice. All eyes and ears were on Cris as she grilled contestants competing against each other for tempting prizes from cash to gift items of varying worth. I thought and commented about how Cris looked a bit chubby. My mother explains, “she’s pregnant!” Being so out of touch, I inquired, “who’s the father?” “James Yap, a basketball player,” explains my mother. Before I could even ask more questions, my mother adds, “he’s twelve years younger than Cris, but it seems that he is a decent guy. Cris is very happy and Cory, of course is so much happier for her daughter.”

I looked at the table and saw Filipino food for the first time in more than eleven months. I felt warmth in my guts as well as in my soul. Let the TV blare. Let Cris do her emceeing for her noon time show. I was with my father Carlos and mother Naty. I was with my aging parents’ companions Che and Nila. I was with my sister in-law Kim and her two sons Paolo and Miguel. I was with family. I was finally home.

This is what every overseas Filipino worker or OFW feels upon setting foot once again on Philippine soil. There is warmth and peace that spreads throughout from head to toes. It’s an important ritual that must be done as often as time and travel money would allow. The Pinoy must go home for home waits with hundred or even thousands of open arms eager to give and receive a hug. I have become an OFW. I have left country and like so many am in a hurry to go home. Wherever her destination is, an OFW keeps an insatiable longing for home in her heart. This longing obviously has only one cure. Unless that cure is obtained, the OFW remains sick and must learn to meaningfully and productively cope with the sickness. Coping ranges from frequent long distance calls or texting to sending the popular and most awaited “Balik-Bayan boxes.” Coping may also take the form of regular remittances through the formal means of Banks or remittance outlets or the informal means of “padala” or requesting an acquaintance of friend who is going home to do a service or courtesy of bringing a certain amount or some gift to loved ones. Coping may also be in the form of regular social gatherings at fixed meeting places as Pinoys in Rome would be found on Thursdays and Sundays at the Stazioni Termini or Pinoys in Hong Kong along the long elevated walks of IFC Mall.

Where I worked last year most of the above did not exist. There were no Balik-Bayan boxes, remittance outlets, groups of Pinoys to meet or to request for “padala.” In such a situation, the longing and the sickness were quite intense. To cope, I had learned to enter more deeply and generously into prayer and solitude. I could only wait in patience and in faith. In the end, I realize how patience and faith required waiting. There could not be patience and faith without the wait. The wait was empty if there was not faith whose object was worth one’s patient wait.

Later that night, when I returned to the dinner table, the TV was on again. Surprised an amused, the same voice and face welcomes me. It was Cris Aquino’s second show for the day. She had a rather different mantra this time: “Deal or no Deal?”

I sat through dinner learning how to both eat and watch Cris. I watched her and thanked God and thought, “perhaps this is it…the end of Cris’ romantic misfortunes.

I sat and realized something seemingly trite yet important. This is how those back home have been coping. Aside from the love that family provides there is Cris, there is entertainment. There are televised games which entertain millions of eager spectators and reward the lucky few.

On that very first day, I began to reflect and worry. I began asking, “if this is coping, does it bring change, growth and meaning? If this is coping, does it bring life?”

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
March 11, 2007

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Time and Opportunity, Love and Responsibility

Two months. How am I to spend the gift of time and opportunity? This was another important question that I needed to ask early on my two month sojourn in the Philippines. Time and opportunity are constantly offered and either taken or refused, appreciated or neglected. I look back at my life, all of fifty two years, twenty five of which excitedly lived as a priest and say both thank you and sorry. I am grateful for the time and opportunity that were used and have become beneficial for both myself and others. I am sorry for the time and opportunity wasted and lost forever.

Time profitably used is a mark of a loving life. Opportunity (ies) taken and not wasted is a mark of a responsible (responsive) life. Love and responsibility are necessary ingredients to a deeply satisfying and fulfilling life. I have two months. I will have time and various opportunities to exercise both love and responsibility not only for myself but for those I love and care for.

It was with this frame of mind that a series of unexpected deaths took place within my two months. I had barely settled and made plans on how to use my time when one of my father’s close friend, Dr. Y fell sick. Another friend had phoned my father to tell him that Dr. Y was very sick. “Very sick?” How sick? What sickness? That very day, my father and mother asked me to visit Dr. Y and give him the sacrament of the sick. I prepared myself and expected to see a weak, bed-ridden patient. But when we came to the Doctor’s house and rang the door bell, the Doctor himself opens the gate and welcomes us in.

Dr. Y’s wife recently had a stroke. She limped and could no longer speak. She looked at me with fearful and worried eyes. I did not only bless Dr. Y. I also blessed Mrs. Y as well. After blessing the sick couple, Dr. Y and I agreed to meet the following day for general confession. The good doctor came the following day and made his confession. He left looking happy and peaceful. Early morning of the next day, we get a call both Dr. Y and his wife were rushed to the hospital. My father Carlos despite his rheumatoid knees, wobbled into the car as I drove to the neighborhood hospital five minutes away. When we got to the hospital, Dr. Y’s children welcomed us. One of them had to tell us not to tell either parent that they were both in the hospital. Mrs. Y who had a stroke may not be able to handle the news that her husband’s condition has suddenly deteriorated.

I separately blessed and anointed the couple and gave them encouraging words to hold on to. My father and I left a bit sleepy but happy to have brought some peace and comfort not only to two sick individuals but to their children as well.

The following days and weeks were punctuated by such urgent and critical calls. On the day that my own sister in law agreed to break her own grieving by finally visiting her husband’s (my brother Vincent’s) grave, I received an urgent call from Nida, wife of my childhood friend Chito, “Please come and bless mommy, she is going down fast.” I said, “yes, after I bring my sister in-law to my brother’s grave.” Just when we were leaving to go to my brother’s grave, I receive another call, this time more urgent, “Please come now. There is very little time. She is very weak.” We changed plans and proceeded to the hospital where Mrs. Ruth Vinas was confined. When we got there we saw Chito and his sibling in the Intensive Care Unit very quiet and sad. “She had just gone,” Chito solemnly utters. I blessed Mrs. Vinas all the same, quietly regretting not having responded more promptly to an urgent call.

Hardly recovered from the death of Chito’s mother, I received three other calls. Diony, my first cousin had a heart attack and died. He was the father of a celebrity niece, Jopay, one of the lead dancers of the popular Sex Bomb Dancers. I said two masses for Diony. On both masses, I saw relatives who I usually see only on sad occasions like this.

On the day I was on my way to bless Mr. Tagoy Simpas who laid comatose at the Philippine General Hospital, I brought his wife Nedy along. On the way, we passed by the Center for Social Research of the University of Santo Tomas where the Columbans are sponsoring a presentation of the results of an international fact-finding mission on mining in the Philippines. We listened to a few presentations and left for the hospital which was just a few kilometers away. As I drove, my phone rings. A familiar voice speaks, “Is Mrs. Simpas with you? Please don’t tell her now. Tagoy just passed away. Prepare her before you enter the ICU.” I continued driving and cracking jokes as if nothing happened. When we got to the hospital, just before we entered the ICU, I stopped Nedy, held her by the shoulders and slowly, gently tell her, “Nedy, wala na si Tagoy.” (Nedy, Tagoy is gone.”

A few days before I left, Mrs. Luz Zafra, grandmother of a classmate in the minor seminary passed away at one hundred and five and a half years old. For the last six years since Mrs. Zafra ( whom we fondly called Nanay (mommy) Luz ) turned 100, relatives and friends gathered for a Mass and lunch to celebrate Nanay’s 100th, 101st,102nd, 103rd, 104th and 105th birthdays. The priests-celebrants always said after mass, “see you next year nanay.”

I said Mass for Nanay and thanked her for being one of the few women who played the role of a special mother to a priest. From the fifties to the present, Nanay had prayed, cooked and given priests her personally embroidered altar linen. A few days before I left, a messenger brings me a box. Inside were three pieces of altar linen, a corporal and two purificators. All had red crosses embroidered by Nanay. I left the Philippines bringing the three small pieces of linen. On March 18, 2007, the silver anniversary of my priesthood, wherever I celebrate Mass, I will use the three small pieces of cloth and remember Nanay, my own father Carlos and mother Naty, my siblings, in-laws, nephews and nieces, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends and colleagues. As I remember people who have given meaning and joy to my life, I will quietly thank God for the gifts of time and opportunity which have taught me love and responsibility.

Indeed two months were short but there were time and opportunity used and made fruitful not only for me but for others as well.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
March 10, 2007

Monday, March 05, 2007

To See and Hear…Understand and Believe

I begin a series of short reflections on a few key events that colored my two month Philippine sojourn. These events tell the story of a country and her people still struggling to find and recover her soul. Have we lost our soul? Where is she? Who took her? Where has she gone? What have we done to lose her?

These are questions I hope to find answers to as I begin this series of reflections on events and encounters that unfolded before my very eyes.

I am fortunate to have more than the usual two week visit given to many OFWs. What can one really see and understand in two weeks? I spent my first two weeks just looking, listening and allowing the sights and sounds to awaken a sense, a sensitivity to what is both perceptible and imperceptible. I was literally overwhelmed, even shocked by the avalanche of data vying for attention. I have been away for almost a year, about eleven months since I left last February 11, 2006. Things do seem the same: the pollution still thick and choking, the traffic just as heavy and unruly, the noise of honking horns everywhere, peddlers immediately flooding the highway towards vehicles coming to a stop before a red light. Everything does seem the same at first glance. But are things really the same? Or are they worse or better?

I spent the last two months looking at what goes on: in the streets and sidewalks, in posh Malls and ordinary markets, parks and various public places, historical landmarks and Government buildings, skyscrapers and shanties, artificial lakes, ponds with expensive ornamental fish and stinking esteros (waterways) lined up with ramshackle barong-barongs (makeshift houses), etc. I did see a lot but have I really seen what was behind the myriad images and objects that merely concealed something more?

Besides passively looking at objects visible to my eyes, I began looking more deeply and carefully. I began listening more intently and discerningly. I had to look and listen not only with my physical eyes and ears. I had to look and listen deeply with the eyes and ears of my soul.

Leaving home for almost a year, leaving what I used to do most of the time if not all the time gave me a chance to suspend belief, orientation, opinion and even prejudice. There was time to cleanse and clear mind, heart and spirit. There was space to move beyond the narrow and constricting confines of immediate experience.

Gardening, repairing my parents house, meeting family, friends and colleagues, reflecting, meditating and praying, giving talks and workshops to a few priests, sharing my story of healing and renewal with a few trusted and loyal friends constituted a gentle and gradual process of re-entering into a reality in which I was totally immersed and perhaps even, overly soaked. The two months were more than just a visit. They were a prolonged retreat so full and replete with grace that demand serious and genuine reflection and even documentation.

The ancient Greeks knew the importance of memory and more. They insisted on something more than remembering. “The unreflected life is not worth living,” they said. Clearly, more than collecting data and information about the past and present which can be contained in regular libraries and the more increasingly popular electronic memory saving and storage devices, the world of contemporary women and men need more. We need more than memory and remembrance. We need genuine, vibrant and life-giving memory, a memory that understands, a memory that nourishes and revitalizes belief that leads to an empowering and liberating faith.

Many years ago, Krishnamurti gave a reminder:

“Most of us merely survive, we somehow drag along, and therefore life becomes a dreadful thing. Really to live requires a great deal of love, a great feeling for silence, a great simplicity with an abundance of experience; it requires a mind that is capable of thinking very clearly, that is not bound by prejudice, or superstition, by hope or fear.” (cf. Krishnamurti, “Think on These Things,” ed. By D. Rajagopal, 1989, Perennial Harper)

They say and many of us are beginning to believe that Filipinos are a people with short memories. We forget so easily and fast. Why and how so? Could it be that we spend very little time to critically and lovingly reflect on memory? Could it be that our shortage of critical and loving reflection weakens belief and undermines faith?

My short two months sojourn in my beloved country after a year of absence seems to point me towards an answer. Join me as I share my journey towards understanding and belief.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
March 5, 2007