Monday, November 10, 2008

God Smiles

It was a MOA signing that was not supposed to happen.

“Sir,” the voice on the other line said to me, “the Chief PNP asks that the MOA signing with Cardinal Vidal be postponed to another time.” I could not believe my ears. The planned signing was long in the making. I knew that a postponement might as well be a cancellation.
Since 2004, I have been a witness to something very beautiful and unexpected that was emerging from a government agency that, sadly, many people associate with corruption. The so-called kotong cop is synonymous with the image of using one’s public position for private gain. But such image is not just the bane of the lowly cop on the beat; even retired generals have made a scene in international airports. Yet, against all odds, a quiet transformation was and is happening.

Four years ago, I was in a quandary with my involvement with advocacy groups promoting faith-impelled social transformation. I did not know whom to trust in the PNP and this was stifling our efforts at networking and collaboration. A break came that year when I was introduced to then Col. Samson Tucay.

The latter was involved with the anti-illegal drugs campaign and we were able to organize a National Consultation on Narcopolitics or the use of profits from illegal drugs to influence and corrupt the pillars of justice. (The staggering profits from illegal drugs can influence elections, but this is another story). Sam’s relatively small stature belies a depth of spirit and commitment that travels the rough but life-giving road of conversion and transformation that can only come from experiencing God’s personal love.

Within the span of a few months, Col. Tucay was promoted general and, by then, had introduced me to members of the CORPS Movement, i.e. Christian Officers Reform the Police Service Movement, composed of both Protestants and Catholics. The glue holding them together is personal knowledge of God’s transforming love. Holding no IDs and rejecting violence and extra constitutional means as a way of changing society, their members begin with self and faith.
I learn much from the CORPS and have become a better priest because of my friendship with them. Let me share two of their initiatives. The first is their mechanism for accountability partners. These are cell groups providing psycho-spiritual and other mutual support in the journey towards integrity. They consider praying a very manly thing to do and encourage or correct one another. “Sir, I am talking with a beautiful woman. Help please,” a married officer once texted his accountability partner. “Do not ask for her cell phone number,” came the reply.
The second was the Values and Leadership School (VLS), a 30-day live-in training for PNP personnel that began September 10, 2004 and ended in 2007. More than 3000 policemen and women went through the training that was characterized by Spartan conditions, leadership by example, involvement by many volunteer groups, very little financial support from government, and a fresh approach of spirituality. No cursing or physical contact was allowed. Whatever the trainees ate, the trainers shared; if trainees woke up at 4 am, the trainers were up earlier. Common prayers were said first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening. Prayers were said before meals.

CORPS members and other PNP volunteers provided the actual training staff while other volunteers mainly from faith-based organizations coming in to provide lectures and testimonies. Changed lives, not to mention reduced waistlines from the daily physical regimen, made the VLS worthwhile and truly inspiring. “I will not shoot him anymore. I will just pray for him,” wrote one graduate. In the words of one officer: “VLS opened the gates for understanding and compassion to cascade to all our brethren in the police who have long been wanting to go back to the Lord.” Yes, indeed, if all that the police receive are curses, how can they be a blessing to others?
Meanwhile, Gen. Tucay took over the helm of the Police National Training Institute (PNTI) making him responsible for at least 4 to 6 thousand trainees at any given time. There he also introduced faith-impelled transformation initiatives including morning and evening devotions. “Daily group prayer was good for us. My companions and I really look forward to praying in the morning now, although I did not expect to be exposed to it in a training facility,” confessed one newly inducted policewoman.

The significance of what these men and women in uniform are doing go beyond the confines of the police force. The latter is certainly the most visible government agency in our daily lives charged to maintain peace and order, public safety and internal security. If the PNP can be transformed from within, other agencies and sectors can be transformed. Perhaps this work of transformation coincides with what some bishops have recently said: “The time to start radical reforms is now. The time for moral regeneration is now. The time to conquer complacency, cynicism and apathy and to prove that we have matured from our political disappointments is now. The time to prepare for a new government is now.”

Time was ticking. Someone else from the office of Gen. Verzosa called me. “Fr. Melo, it is a go.” My spirit perked up. “But someone from your office said it would be postponed,” I countered. “He is going there right now,” was the calm reply. We were setting the signing 30 minutes earlier. Meanwhile, the official MOA was in the hands of someone who had been given wrong information regarding the venue. Etc…
To shorten a long story, a MOA was signed last 30 November 2008 between the PNP, the Archdiocese of Cebu, and Dilaab Foundation Inc. It features a 7-day version of the VLS to be piloted in Cebu and a follow-up program bringing together Pulis/Pari, Precinto/Parokya through the instrumentality of lectio divina. Dilaab will work with partner local churches to sustain the fruits of integral transformation.

Yes, God indeed smiles.
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