Sunday, December 6, 2009

Raising the tide of Philippine politics

When the tide is raised all sorts of boats rise with it, from large to small ones, from the lowly banca to the mighty battleship, and from the old to the new.

Raising the tide is a good metaphor for the challenge of promoting principled partisan politics in the country today. The rising tide of public dissatisfaction over the low tide of corruption and bad governance can be addressed by calling on people to step up rather than step down.

This is indeed a tall order. The way we conduct our elections can arguably be considered the original sin of graft and corruption. Raising the tide begins with a realization that elections are partisan by nature since voters have to choose among candidates. How they make up their minds results in either principled or unprincipled partisan politics.

There is a river of change flowing through our land, fed by various tributaries of change. Meaningful political change is one such tributary. People are searching for meaningful political change that leads to a transformed nation. This river must be connected to a bigger body of water. It cannot rise solely by its own power.

This body of water is our Christian faith. The common civic space we share with people unrelated to us or whom we do not even know need to be nurtured by the ocean of Christian ideas, ideals, moral and spiritual energies. Church leaders do not directly engage in partisan politics but help raise the tide by providing moral and spiritual guidance. The lay faithful, on the other, are called to be in the frontlines of such work.

The Church has been trying to raise the tide of politics by ensuring credible elections. Now another effort has begun that is distinct from, parallel with, and complementary to this usual engagement, and seeks to help emerge credible candidates.

This beyond-the-usual engagement assumes that good intentions are not enough and that there is room for conversion in the line of Zacchaeus. This requires providing “evangelical formation and pastoral accompaniment to a new generation of Catholics working in politics” (Benedict XVI). By opening this gate, the Pope opens the door to the circles of discernment for elections or CiDE, an initiative promoted by the Dilaab Movement.

CiDE is a process of accompaniment by forming the practical consciences of voters and candidates by raising specific questions on the kinds of leader people seek. It sets into motion a bottom-up mechanism for answering these questions in a deliberate, proactive, methodical, communal, and God-centered way. CiDE helps release and channel pent-up energies of people for meaningful political change from a faith perspective.

But CiDE is just one side of the coin, so to speak. The other side is Candidates’ Circle of Discernment or CCiD.

Last November 20, 2009, an extraordinary gathering took place at the Talavera Retreat House in Greenbelt Drive, Quiot, Pardo, Cebu City where 11 of Cebu’s political aspirants for 2010 responded to the invitation for a day of listening and discernment initiated by Dilaab.

This was a low-key, non-partisan, non-media and by invitation only – the event provided spiritual space for individuals who have decided or are still deciding to run for an elected office in the province of Cebu.

Running for a public office is no walk in the park. Becoming a public servant is a very demanding role vis-à-vis oneself and one’s family. It is not for the fainthearted. Those who are thinking of running for public office need all the help they can get to arrive at a wise decision. This requires a practical process of decision-making that involves the self, one’s family, and other significant others. It demands listening. Thus the theme: “Listening, the Crucial Quality for Individuals Discerning an Elected Position.”

With the help of the COMELEC, partners and friends with associations to the various political parties, over 250 invitations were sent to potential political aspirants from the barangay to the congressional levels in the province of Cebu. The response was highly encouraging. However, due to conflict with prior critical official and personal commitments, several could not make it to the first recollection but committed to join the forthcoming event.

Calmly sitting side by side while listening to God speak to their hearts were known rivals and allies in the political arena. Everyone had only positive things to say about the discernment recollection. Among the feedback: “I’m grateful for the opportunity to meet my would-be co-candidates and get to know them better… Although I do not have party mates, at any public forum I can promote this, I will,” said Francisco Ashley L. Acedillo. “I highly recommend this to all candidates,” commented Rachel ‘Cutie’ del Mar. Mary Ann De Los Santos said, “If possible (make it) massive for all who are planning to run for office and if possible conduct seminar or retreat to voters too so that we can totally change our country.”

We seek to raise the tide by proposing standards for a new political culture that makes room for Christian humanistic values and principles. This new effort by the Catholic Church is distinct from, parallel with, and complementary to the Church’s usual engagement towards ensuring credible elections by seeking to help emerge credible candidates.

CCiD is one of several others that Dilaab hopes to run in Cebu and across the country as it moves towards finding the right leaders for a broken Philippines.

The initial impact of CCiD can be gleaned in a new term agreed upon by the participants. They are no rivals or enemies but “co-candidates.” It is a good step in the right direction.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sand Beneath

A few weeks ago, I had a most unusual visit from a good friend. Gus Ouano has a PhD in polymer science and for more than 40 years, had lived in the USA. He had worked for IBM and had done free-lance consultancy work for several years, becoming a speaker/resource person in many international gatherings. When he speaks a very sharp mind is evident, one that does not need to prove itself anymore.
In 2004, the love of his life, Joyce, his wife, died. This plunged him into a deep depression and the thought of suicide entered his mind. Then he realized he still had something to do and that God had been gracious to him. Life had been fun but he had somehow become self-centered. Out of his crucible of pain, he had received the gift of hope and of prayer.
He returned to Cebu with the intention of sharing his know-how to the local academe. He had since written and published a book about his life’s journeys. Unfortunately, some months ago, however, he had to return to the USA.
“Father, I want to see you before I leave. I have a poem to share with you,” Gus told me over the phone. “Let’s meet over breakfast,” I responded. Over breakfast, Gus handed me this poem:

Lord Creator; Let us be grains of sand beneath
Humanity’s feet, that it may stand higher than if we
Did not exist.

With Your Grace and Blessings Lord, we would be like
Mount Everest; fused grains of sand. Without You, we
Would be self absorbed and with no coherence towards
Each other; like quick sand on which, humanity cannot

If we work together for your Glory Lord, the world
Would be heaven on earth. In Jesus’ Name, we pray;

“Why,” I asked, “are you giving me this poem?” He answered, “I want to feel complete.” “Can you share this with people, those to whom Dilaab reaches out?” he added with sober passion.
Then he started to explain. Physical reality, according to him, is made up of particles. The sands on the seashore are particles, just as the granite mountain is made up of particles, albeit distinguishable only through a microscope. The sand particles are loose compared to the mountain.
Particles naturally adhere or connect to one another. A granite mountain is made up of particles that, under tremendous pressure, are so connected to one another they appear as a single mass.
There are instances, however, when particles do not connect to one another. This is when the particles are coated with certain substances – like certain oils, for instance ─ that make them repel each other. Quicksand is an example of this phenomenon. Particles go their own way; the mass is not solid anymore. There is no foothold.
“Fr. Melo,” he added, “when I left the country in 1961, I recall a people who were very gifted and capable of working together. After being away for awhile, I have noticed a change,” he said with sadness that did not betray self-righteousness.
“The traffic situation, for instance, shows a tendency among many drivers and pedestrians to think only of themselves. We used to obey traffic rules,” he said. I agreed. I often feel like an endangered specie every time I am a pedestrian.
“Many leaders in the country only think about themselves and their interests,” he added. Our sharing continued for some time and we agreed that selfishness and fear represent the coating of oil that prevent Filipinos from getting our acts together.
“How does one remove the undesirable coating?” I asked. He specified water and some form of detergent.
Water symbolizes baptism. It is the start of new life. Water and blood flowed from the side of the crucified Christ (John 19:34). Earlier on, Jesus had declared that “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7: 37-38).
The antidote to this selfishness and fears that prevent us from getting our acts together is a return to our source: our baptism. It is also to realize that when we are baptized we share a common spiritual space with other baptized believers, whether we know them personally or not.
This consciousness of a shared spiritual space ought to flow into an awareness of our shared civic space with other Christians, other believers, and men and women of good will who all happen to be citizens of this country. Whatever we do has repercussions not only for us, and our families, but also to the wider citizenry. The Eucharist, then, is the living bread come down from heaven that invites us to go beyond ourselves, and our families, to a wider family. We journey with others.
Thanks, Gus.
(For comments email author at

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Saints as peacemakers

The Feast of All Saints is celebrated to honor all the Christian saints, both known and unknown. In the Greek Orthodox Church the date is the Sunday after Pentecost while the Roman Catholic Church celebrates it November 1.
This feast captures the original meaning of who are the saints as reflected in the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Romans: “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints…” For Paul all the baptized faithful are called to be saints or are already considered saints as he indicates at the start of his second letter to the Corinthians.
It is a welcome fact then that in the Philippines November 1 is when families gather together to remember and pray for their dead. After all, it is not only the canonized saints who are in heaven.
Yet for those who have remained faithful to the end, an even more hallow picture emerges with the sealing of the 144 thousand faithful (the number is meant to be symbolic) clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands; they have been washed by the blood of the lamb as the seventh chapter of the book of Revelation puts it. The picture is one of final victory for those who come out of the great tribulation by sharing in Christ’s Resurrection, and are now worshipping God unhindered. The book of Revelation was written during the empire-wide prosecution of Christians by Emperor Domitian, 81-96 A.D. It was written to affirm Christians in their faith.
In contemporary Filipino society, the Feast of All Saints is now preceded by Halloween, the evening of October 31. Halloween caters to the lure of the fear factor; after all, do not human beings pay others to scare them out of their wits? Some people consider this fun and it is good for commerce. But is this all there is to it?
Perhaps another way of evaluating Halloween is to contrast it with All Saints Day; is the consoling picture of the saints who lived the Beatitudes and who reign victorious with Christ compatible with the blood and gore of Halloween? Is this how we want the dead to be remembered?


Jesus speaks authoritatively in the Beatitudes. He literally “opened his mouth and taught them” (Mat 5:2). He is a Moses figure but goes beyond this revered leader. In other parts of the Sermon on the Mount (Mat 5-7) of which the Beatitudes are a part, he says he comes to fulfill the law (Mat 5: 17) and this fulfillment is his person: “You have heard the commandments…What I say to you is…” (vv. 21-22).
Peacemaking is the focus of v. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” This is the only time the noun “peacemaker” appears in the NT. This peacemaking is neither pacifism nor indifference but a state of being that leads to positive action that reconciles.
Psalm 13:14 describes peaceful action: “Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” James 3: 18 tells us that “the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” What sowing in peace means is indicated when he distinguishes between worldly and heavenly wisdom (vv. 13-17). A peacemaker also speaks out when the time is right: “He who winks at a fault causes trouble, but he who frankly reproves promotes peace” (Prov. 10:10).
Finally, a peacemaker is one who is inserted into the original peacemaker, Jesus Christ: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col 1: 19-20).


The bishops urge us to be peacemakers:

Finally, we ask everyone to follow the path of peace. This means the path of dialogue and openness…the path of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation…Together let us intensify the signs of hope regarding politics and peace that we observe such as…military groups participating in formation towards a culture of peace; lay organizations, faith communities, BEC’s, and NGO’s spreading the good news of principled politics and organizing themselves to reform our political culture; politicians who pursue reform..(CBCP 12 July 2009 statement on Lay Participation in Politics and Peace)

In the Archdiocese of Cebu, His Eminence, Ricardo J. Cardinal Vidal, reiterates this call to be peacemakers in the area of principled politics. He distinguished between two efforts, one ensuring honest and credible elections; another ensuring honest and credible candidates. He calls upon the lay faithful to a participative role in the elections that go beyond poll-watching. It is by the lay people’s “own coherent faith, moral firmness, educated judgment, professional competence and passion for service” that they will know “whom to vote for, and whom to reject.”
Meanwhile a bottom-up mechanism to help form the practical consciences of voters is being adopted in Cebu and elsewhere. It opens the doors for answering these questions in a process that is deliberate, proactive, communal, and God-centered.
Saints are called to be peacemakers. While relying on the prayers of those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, we who are still engaged in the battle over hearts, minds, and souls, particularly in the area of evangelizing politics, are consoled that we shall be called children of God.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Lessons from the flood

Ondo is a term of endearment in the Visayas. Modify the ending – and Ondoy becomes even cute.
Typhoon Ondoy, however, was neither endearing nor cute. Leaving in its aftermath the worst flooding in Metro Manila and its environs in 40 years, Ondoy was a nightmare of death and destruction. A month’s volume of rain had fallen in a period of 9 hours and much of this water had nowhere to go.
A well-researched article by Gemma Mendoza (“Flooding in Metro, Who is to Blame”) notes: “Climate change, population pressure, and the fact that proper urban planning is bogged down by politics and corruption in government exacerbates matters. And even without these factors…about a fifth (of) Metro Manila, is naturally flood prone.” There is a confluence of factors.
The article cites a study showing that floods in Metro Manila have become more numerous and destructive. Ground water extraction, population pressures, and erosion due to rampant logging and quarrying in the outskirts of the metropolis have contributed to the situation. Siltation has reduced the water-holding capacity of Laguna de Bay by as much as 64 percent.
Garbage clogs the natural passageways (“esteros”) of water with 21 thousand squatter families living in these areas and urban dwellers daily dumping the equivalent of 600 truckloads of garbage in these waterways. Many private subdivisions, commercial buildings, and even schools clog or alter these waterways.
Poverty, human irresponsibility, greed, and poor choices – as much as topography and climate change – have to do with the recent calamity.
It is no mere coincidence that the first 11 chapters of Genesis talks about God’s original plan and the beginnings and spread of sin; and that chapter 7-9 deal with Noah and the great flood. Man’s brokenness spills over into nature. St. Paul notes this when he writes that “the world itself will be freed from its slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. Yes, we know that all creation groans and is in agony even until now” (Romans 8: 21-22). Human enslavement and freedom find expression in and with the environment.
Man’s intrinsic connection with the earth is the context of last Sunday’s reading from Genesis 2. Man (“adam”), derived and formed from humus (“adamah”), is painstakingly and loving fashioned by God. Man has godlike powers when is asked to give names to other creatures. Out of his ribs comes a suitable partner. From the soil, to other living beings, and to other human beings – we are all part of a web of relationships that need to be respected and nurtured.
The flood offers many lessons. A nation of compassionate people may be emerging, one sharing a common experience of pain and suffering but one that is also beginning to understand, reason, and act together in the face of crises. Only a truly loving, concerted, and decisive response – already seen in the stories of heroism and inspiring action in the spirit of volunteerism – from all of us, can mitigate such disasters.
Yet such crisis-driven volunteerism is only the first step. Daily acts of good citizenship and good leadership are needed – with our Christian faith to fuel and sustain our efforts. Only then will other Ondoys be tamed. Only then will we build a nation.

Monday, October 12, 2009


“What are you most grateful for in our whole-day gathering?” I asked a group of policemen who were part of the first batch of the PNP CADET (character aptitude development enhancement training) Program for the Central Visayas.
Much preparation had gone into the 15-day event. In the words of the PNP region 7 chaplain, Fr. Onie Rosaroso: “We are into this not just for the sake of fulfilling a requirement.” The good priest’s comment strikes a familiar chord; after all, this sickness called mediocrity has another name: for requirement’s sake.
A series of meetings had paved the way. One significant moment was the 26-27 July encounter of the tactical team for the CADET program of the region. Venue was a beach place in Daang Bantayan, northern Cebu with team members coming from different Catholic renewal groups. A lone evangelical pastor/PNP member added an ecumenical dimension so critical to such endeavors.
Ret. PNP Gen. Samson Tucay shared his experiences of the Values and Leadership School (VLS) before that pioneer tactical team. He was its founder and CADET may be said to be a reincarnation of this brave and visionary effort. “We just listened to them and our listening led to transformation,” was the good general’s succinct assessment of his leadership of the VLS.
A most unusual thing happened during a module on lectio divina. As we began invoking the “Holy Spirit” through song, we felt the earth quake. Later that evening one participant even called up Pag-asa to inquire about the quake. Yet, they had not recorded any. Perhaps it was a sign of a coming shift in paradigm for participants of CADET.
One shift that needed to be made was to transform a possible negative image of CADET among the trainees. This was so because an underlying motivation of the program was to provide values formation for some policemen considered, rightly or wrongly, to be problematic. The VLS also started with this paradigm that was an initial obstacle for trainees.
Gen. Tucay suggested that a recollection with Cardinal Vidal of Cebu be held for the top PNP brass of region 7. This took place 29 August at the Betania Retreat House in Cebu. “Underneath the sotana and the uniform are the same human beings, created in God’s image and likeness, experiencing brokenness, and needing God and each other in the journey towards wholeness,” the retreat began.
When it was Cardinal Vidal’s time to speak, he took his cue from Caritas in Veritate and how the whole reality of the gratuitousness of God’s love ought to inspire all efforts at development. While justice should not be overlooked, training programs ought to be inspired by gratuitousness.
Then a beautiful gesture took place. A recording of the Angelus was made with the voice of the good Cardinal of Cebu responded to by Gen. Lani-o Nerez the regional PNP director; Gen. Samson Tucay; and Fr. Onie Rosaroso. The recording will be distributed to all the precincts of the region for a noon-day and 6 pm Angelus. This idea had been hatched by Gen. Jesus A. Verzosa, Chief PNP. The earthquake continues. Why not do something similar or disseminate the recording to all the regions around the country?
The CADET program finally began last 12 September with Fr. Onie at the helm assisted by the tactical team. As expected, the first day could only generate tiger looks from the participants. Yet, in less than a week these had turned into smiles.
When the Dilaab team came to give two modules last 17 September, it encountered a communal lightness of being. Despite the heat inside the concrete classroom in Sibonga, Cebu, the class of 28 was clearly attentive.
Fr. Onie had generously invested himself. We both nodded in agreement as we recalled the words of Benedict XVI: “Charity in truth, in which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity.” Only love really matters; only God’s love leads to real change. Yes!
Our team pointed out that although faith-impelled social transformation has the acronym FIST, it is a force that is really fuelled by love not hatred. That day’s gospel reading from Luke 7:36-50 (“The Penitent Woman”) became alive, particularly Jesus’ words: “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love” referring to the woman who washed his feet.
Something akin to this washing happened during the Bible scanning and the lectio divina modules. When we asked the participants what they were most grateful for during the day-long seminar, most said it was the opportunity to scan the Bible. As one puts it: “The Bible is more intimidating than the Penal Code and we will never completely understand or fulfill it. Yet we are very happy that priests are sharing this with us.”
Others expressed something similar. Just the thought that they were holding a vehicle of God’s Word gave them joy. This was something indelibly etched in their beaming faces; their spiritual hunger satisfied by God’s Word, even if it initially meant just touching the Bible.
Sometimes, as an exegete, I forget such fundamental truths. Having studied an average of 6 to 10 hours a day in Rome, I had tried to plumb the depths of the exegetical framework of passages. Then here I was in front of people who get so “high” just merely touching the Bible!
This is the heart of the matter.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The journey is the destination

A few years ago, an international airline had this as their marketing strategy: “The Journey is the Destination.” How aptly this describes our journey towards faith-impelled social transformation. The journey towards integrity for the common good already reveals the contours of a transformed Filipino nation.
The past three months have seen a lot of journeys for two Dilaab teams, one sharing before the clergy of different local churches; another facilitating the CiDE (circle of discernment for elections) seminar-workshop known as the Mabolo seminar (after the locality of the parish in Cebu that first tried it).
The Mabolo seminar did not just appear out of nowhere. In 2008, Dilaab organized and facilitated nine circles of discernment of various groups in Cebu and Manila. Pope Benedict XVI’s insight provides much impetus: “I confirm the necessity and urgency of the evangelical formation and pastoral accompaniment of a new generation of Catholics working in politics.” This calls for beyond-the-usual engagement during elections, a call echoed by the expression “principled partisan politics” Two national consultations in April and June this year validated certain insights. A seminar was now ready to be shared.
The one-day Mabolo seminar has since journeyed to other local churches. The latest one was last 7 August in Bontoc-Lagawe. The journey is worth recalling.
Our Dilaab team had been invited to give the Mabolo seminar to BEC representatives to the yearly “Tongtongan” (Ifugao for “Dialogue”) of the Vicariate of Bontoc-Lagawe. The theme was: “Nation Building Through the Basic Ecclesial Communities.” We left Thursday afternoon 6 August from San Jose Seminary at the Ateneo de Manila, a little behind schedule.
There are two routes going to Bontoc from Manila. One is by way of Nueva Viscaya, the other through Baguio. The former takes 9 hours; the latter around 14 hours. We, of course, decided on the shorter route with Richard, our highly skilled, taciturn Igorot driver at the steering wheel. Typhoon Kiko, however, had other plans.
After a hearty supper at San Jose, Nueva Ecija, our vehicle encountered a problem at Caranglan, Nueva Ecija. Traffic had stopped due to a landslide. We quickly made a decision since the alternate route going to Baguio would take time. A text from a PNP contact revealed that the route would not be cleared any time soon. We were on to Baguio around 10 pm. A 9-hour trip eventually takes 17 hours.
Our driver steadfastly refused offers to substitute for him at certain stretches so he could rest. As we near the Mountain Province, a thick fog envelopes us. Only reflections from the cat’s eye embedded on the road and the arrowhead signals gives us directions, as the fog and the deep darkness prevents our seeing the sheer cliff, now to our left, then to our right. A concrete highway is actually under construction.

At such moments one realizes the beauty of certain prayers: “Lead Kindly Light amidst th encircling gloom. The night is dark and I am far from home…I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me…”
Around 5:15 am, we came to a complete halt. An uprooted tree was blocking our way. Just before it, a buckhoe stands idle. We reversed directions and come upon the driver having early morning coffee inside a makeshift shelter with his co-workers. Felix accedes to our request and removes the stumbling block.
Several kilometers later, a bigger landslide prevents movement. Suddenly a payloader appears and removes the barrier. Further on, another payloader is trying to define the road. The morning sun now reveals the cliffs. Rain continues to pour.
It was around 8:45 am that we finally made it to Bontoc-Lagawe where around 300 participants from 21 mission stations gathered. The group is very appreciative and responsive and there is much laughter and insight. The seminar has several modules: one for developing empathy for those in politics; another for articulating a spirituality; a third for brainstorming and consensus-building; and lastly, a planning module.
It is worth all the effort. The air is pristine and we saw sections of the world-famous rice terraces. No wonder the Jews believed that mountains where special places of encounter with God. We were in God’s abode!
Bishop Rudy Beltran and Fr. John Habawel, our contact person, made sure our stay was comfortable and meaningful. The following day began with another special affair: the 40th Episcopal anniversary of Bishop Francisco Claver, SJ. The man is a living legend in many ways, although, I suspect, he would cringe at the designation.
We participated in a Mass with prayers and songs in the Bontoc tongue. During the offertory, we got a glimpse of the Igorot way of giving thanks and offering their produce to God, as local people in their native dress processed with their farm produce. The red sticky rice food wrapped in banana leaves (“patupat”) is a supreme culinary delight. We returned to Manila Friday evening via Nueva Viscaya. The storm has abated. There are still surprises though along the way. But that’s for another column.

Truly, the journey is the destination. (For comments please email:

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A transfigured nation

I had given up on the thought of being able to be at the wake of the late President Corazon Aquino when I received a text from Bishop Chito Tagle: “I have been asked to celebrate noon Mass tomorrow for Tita Cory by her family and the priests want to come along.”
The Imus clergy was about to begin its annual retreat at the Carmelite Spirituality Center in Tagaytay and a Dilaab team was facilitating. Our topic was: “The Clergy and Faith-Impelled Social Transformation.” There were about 80 priests.
The unexpected text raised my hopes. At the first session on the evening of Monday 3 August, we all agreed that the trip to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Manila would be an intrinsic part of the retreat. After all, EDSA People Power is all about social transformation from a decisively faith perspective.
I felt a strong surge of joy and gratitude as I stood before the Imus clergy. My thoughts returned to 1979 when, as fresh college graduate of UP Los Baños, I first set foot in Cavite. Subsequent events found me having room and board at the Imus Cathedral, an itinerant guest of the parish priest.
I was rediscovering my faith at that juncture in my life. The journey was not without its difficulties and certain priests from this local church provided me with some informal formation and patient ears for the ramblings of a man just out of his teenage years. Now, standing before my fellow priests, and recognizing familiar faces among the participants, I felt I was among friends and just returning the favor.
Our first lay sharer for the retreat was Ms. Heidi Mendoza, former COA senior auditor. Her eloquence, sincerity, and wit moved many of us to thoughtful silence as she described her moments of doubt, discouragement, and bold defiance as an honest and indefatigable public servant investigating graft cases. She is still at it, despite threats and even if she is not anymore connected with government. All she asks for is a God whom she can touch.
We reflected on the Transfiguration of the Lord (Mark 9:2-10) as we prepared for our 8 am journey to the Manila Cathedral. Something in the narrative struck a deep chord in me: Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah, and Peter’s offer to build three tents. Peter was awed by the larger-than-life figures before him and he just wanted to gaze with marvel at the sight. Instead a bright cloud overshadowed them and a voice commands obedience to Jesus. Then they go down the mountain.
The only time I had met Cory in person was during supper after a huge Cebu rally in 2003 against the impeachment of then Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr when she was guest speaker. She was a larger-than-life figure in her prayerful simplicity.
Here I was again, together with the Imus clergy, before the casket of a larger-than-life figure. The phenomenon of the huge turnout of people, patiently waiting in line for hours just to view her one last time, could be interpreted as an expression of gratitude for what this plain housewife had done: to make a very brave stand in response to the needs of the times. It also expresses a hunger for a brand of leadership that has the moral fiber to let go of power when it is time to do so; to do a Gideon and a Cincinnatus, so to speak.
Back in Tagaytay in the evening of Tuesday, our second sharer was Attorney Alexander Lacson with his famed little book of 12 little things. Speaking softly, even in hushed tones, Alex’s evident patriotism and his call to do little acts of good citizenship from a faith perspective touched many hearts. He made patriotism doable.
The next day, Wednesday, a pair from the PNP came to share their stories. (Ret.) Gen. Samson Tucay is a familiar face to many bishops having shared during one of the plenary gatherings in the CBCP. He talked about the power of love expressed through leadership by example behind the Values and Leadership School (VLS) that he had led in 2004 until its end in 2007.
PSSupt (Col.) Cesar Binag, the humble workhorse of the PNP Program Management Office (PMO) talked about the PNP Integrated Transformation Program. Cesar’s personal sharing as a committed Protestant revealed an on-going eloquent testimony of the Spirit’s power to connect personal conversion, family renewal, and social transformation.
We ended the retreat by looking at the prospects for faith-impelled social transformation by evangelizing politics. An opportunity beckons in the pastoral strategy of “pastoral accompaniment,” a term used by Benedict XVI in his talk before the Pontifical Council for the Laity last 15 November 2008. Spaces of hope are being ignited by the Circles of Discernment for Elections (CiDE).
Our team and our message seem to have found a home among the Imus clergy. As one priest puts it in his evaluation: “I realized that I cannot find any more excuses not to be a good Filipino.” Another one said: “The experience of 3-day retreat was a very divine inspired event for us…(we realized that) for social transformation to occur there must always be a religious-spirited transfiguration.”
Our dear Cory has been buried. Yet other larger-than-life figures are emerging. They are the witnesses to the Transfiguration and who have gone down the mountain to the valleys of heroic Christian citizenship and leadership. They are inspired by the same Spirit that inspired Cory.
In this light, it is best to keep the present name of the thoroughfare known as EDSA – the manifestation of the saints. It is there were Our Lady gathered her children, the saints of EDSA, inspired by what one heroic, saintly woman had done to show to the world what a transfigured nation can be and can do.
(For comments, kindly

Friday, July 3, 2009


I see a river of change flowing through our dear land, fed by various tributaries of transformation. Our land and people, made barren by corruption, is slowly watered by this river whose source is God's love pulsating through the Sacred Heart of Jesus in union with the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

The Year of the Two Hearts for Peace Building and Lay Participation in Social Change from 19 June 2009 to 19 June 2010 captures this reality. It sets the spiritual groundwork for meaningful work for peace and change that includes engagement in the 2010 elections.

But, we need to ask, would another CBCP statement really matter? In the first national consultation of Circles of Discernment for Elections (CiDE) in Cebu last 20-21 April 2009, attended by 30 participants from 13 local churches and two lay organizations, a few thought this was an exercise in futility. What good would another statement do? Indeed, more than half of CBCP statements, since its beginnings, have been on politics. Yet “Philippine politics─the way it is practiced─has been most hurtful of us as a people,” and sadly continues to be so.

Someone then wisely pointed out that such statements actually contribute a critical service by setting the conditions for change to happen. What may be lacking is the collective, effective, and sustained response on the part of the laity, in collaboration with priests, to the call made by the bishops. After all, evangelizing and transforming politics is the laity's specific field of engagement. As the bishops remind us: “You know that we have sounded this call too many times already in the past. Perhaps because this task is expected of us, there has been a tendency to take it for granted that we are also to carry it out by ourselves.”

Our church leaders continue: “We challenge our Catholic laity, in particular, to take the lead in the task of moral renewal towards a deeper and more lasting change in the Philippine society.” In other words, the bishops are telling the lay faithful that the ball is now in their court.

The bishops had also released a statement in 1986 in the face of a national political crisis seen as rooted in a moral crisis. People listened and responded. Change happened. Something similar may happen, if our response is sure and strong.

Yet, such a response cannot be haphazard and underneath our dignity. This is the lesson from the story of Gideon, one of Israel's judges at the beginnings of its emergence as a nation. Why start with Gideon?

The office of the readings at the beginning of the second gathering of CiDE Church network from 17 to 19 June cited Judges 6:33-40; 7:1-8, 16-22. God continues to provide guidance through the Bible.

What struck me in this story of victorious faith is how God selected Gideon's army. After asking those who were afraid to go home, God then instructs Gideon to separate those who “lap up the water as a dog does” from those “who kneels down to drink.” They are to engage the enemy but do so without sacrificing their dignity. This seems to be the idea since dogs are generally looked down upon as dirty in the Semitic world.

Being dignified, however, does not mean they are to be wanting in strategy. With the element of surprise in their hands, Gideon's force manages to confuse the enemy into thinking they were more than they actually were. The result was self-destruction on the part of the enemy.

Corruption is irrational and ultimately self-destructive. But how do we maintain our dignity in the fight against corruption, particularly as it begins during elections? The starting point is to be infused with a politics of hope and patience, rather than that of despair and impatience.

It is easy enough to fall into a subtle form of despair that manifests itself in the tendency to take short cuts. The latter, after all, is what ails our country. Adam and Eve were seduced by a short cut in their desire for immortality. Jesus reverses this trend by saying “no” to the temptation to turn stone into bread, although he could have easily done so.

This temptation to reach our goals without the needed sacrifice is what is behind the proliferation of corruption in our country, something both citizens and public officials contribute to. People would rather pay fixers rather than fall in line. They look for shortcuts in their quest for security and happiness.

In our journey towards elections 2010, this impatience is shown in the tendency to start with personalities, rather than with principles and values. People nominate themselves rather and everything else follows. Some groups claim exaggerated numbers without doing the necessary groundwork and without properly forming the consciences of their followers. This is downright messianic.

Candidates buy votes instead of really leading and offering a concrete platform and track record of integrity and competence. Voters sell their votes instead of really determining who deserves to be voted into office. While there is no question of the value of utilizing technology to reduce fraud, the haste, i.e. without trying out the mechanism in two highly urbanized citizens in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, as stipulated by law, with which full poll automation is being implemented is disconcerting and raises further questions.

Yes, this river of change begins with a recognition of our inherent dignity as creatures created in God's image and likeness.

The bishops have spoken. What is our response?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Do you have God fearing?

I WAS recently involved in a whole day seminar-workshop at St Joseph parish in Mabolo, Cebu City. I must confess feeling an initial apprehension. After all, this was not our first meeting. Our first encounter gave me the impression of passive participants with a “polite” interest in the topic.

How wrong I was!

At the end of the day, one middling age lady, with an unkempt hair and an endearing natural roughness about her, captured the spirit of the meeting, her awkward expression even adding freshness: “Now I will ask those who will be running if they have the needed qualities: if they have God-fearing, if they are honest. We have to use our heads because it is us who choose candidates…”

And this was a woman who, at the start of the day, expressed some cynicism about elections. She was not alone. The other 25 participants manifested similar shifts in sentiments. The “masa,” pardon the expression, can be discerning, given the right mechanism for forming conscience.

Last year, Dilaab (Cebuano, “conflagration” or Tagalog, “tongues of fire,” i.e. “Dila” and “Alab”) was involved in nine circles of discernment with various groups and networks. Dilaab is a faith-impelled, volunteer-driven, and Church-based movement for a transformed Filipino nation. Our message is captured in the words of dismissal in the novena mass for the Santo Nino: “Go in peace and remember that a good Christian makes for a better citizen.”

Yes, you heard it right. Let me even add: “and a better leader.” This is the essence of heroic Christian citizenship and leadership.

The first circle of discernment occurred during the emergence of the HEARTS network in June 2008. For the first time, a nationwide network of 21 Church-based anti-corruption groups came into being. Several months earlier, during the CBCP January meeting, Bishop Artemio Rillera had actually expressed the need for such a network. God indeed answers prayers.

The penultimate circle of discernment was convened by Ricardo J. Cardinal Vidal of Cebu last December 10. This brought together the Visayan bishops or their representatives. The highlight was a portion of the speech of Benedict XVI before lay leaders:

“In a particular way, I confirm the necessity and urgency of the evangelical formation and pastoral accompaniment of a new generation of Catholics working in politics, that they be coherent with the professed faith, that they have moral firmness, the capacity of educated judgment, professional competence and passion for service to the common good.”

I did a google search on “pastoral accompaniment” since the Pope did not define it. Its common usage has to do with providing pastoral care to the sick or dying. It is still an apt term in reference to politics in this country.

The last circle of discernment last year was actually a gathering that reflected upon “pastoral accompaniment” in light of relationships between priests and Christians from different social sectors, like policemen and politicians. The result is a framework with seven elements. But that is another story.

This Papal insight has provided tremendous boost and direction to our fledgling effort to promote heroic Christian citizenship and leadership. How can we provide evangelical formation and pastoral accompaniment to a new generation of Catholics in politics? This is not an easy question to answer.

Part of the answer is to ask what kind of engagement the Church has in politics, particularly during elections. After all, has not someone defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and then expecting a different result?

As a result of historical circumstances arising from a dictatorship, our usual engagement of voters’ education and vote monitoring came into being. We have been at this for some time now. We have been focusing on having clean elections. It continues to be a necessary engagement.

On the other hand, there are surveys, like the April 2007 SWS nationwide survey, showing that Filipinos overwhelmingly (i.e. around 80%) intend the common good in their choice of candidates saying that “I will vote for a candidate if most will benefit from him or her even if personally I will not.”

So why the gap between this laudable intention to vote for candidates who will promote the common and the sad reality of Philippine politics that “has degenerated into an arena where the interests of the powerful and rich few are pitted against those of the weak and poor many” (CBCP 1997 Exhortation on Philippine Politics)?

It seems the missing link has to do with the campaign and election period. The vast majority who say they seek the common good are just not able to translate this into reality. What may be needed is a mechanism, a process and tools, for forming their consciences with regards specific issues so that they can really choose good and reject evil. After all, isn’t it common for priests to be asked: “Padre, just tell us whom we should vote for”?

In addition, there is the issue of whether there are candidates who qualify as “good” so that voters would not have to choose between lesser evils. Clearly a distinct engagement is necessary to complement existing Church efforts during elections.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A different encounter

“AFTER our training what then?” a policeman in his middle 30s asked me. He was about to finish a 30-day training called the Values and Leadership School (VLS) at the PNP Regional Training School facility in Gaas, Balamban, Cebu. He added: “When we return to our precincts, there will be millions of temptations.”

A bit exaggerated perhaps but one gets the point.

Last Tuesday 27 January 2009 at the Argao Training Center in Argao, Cebu, the man’s question found an answer. A gathering, called the “4 Ps (Pulis-Pari, Presinto-Parokya) for Peace Partnership,” brings together two groups of leaders – and their respective areas of responsibility – playing key roles in promoting the common good in the community. The PNP Provincial Director, PSSupt Carmelo Valmoria, showed the way by being there. So were the Argao parish priest, Monsignor Jose Montecillo, and Mayor Edsel Galeos. The latter provided venue and food.

Twenty-one policemen, most of whom were chiefs of police, seven priests, and 15 lay workers attended the whole-day seminar, a first step in concretizing the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) signed 30 October 2008 by the PNP, the Archdiocese of Cebu, and Dilaab movement represented by PNP Dir. Gen. Jesus Verzosa, Ricardo J. Cardinal Vidal, and the author, respectively.

The MOA is the fusion of several streams of transformative energies: the Integrated Transformation Program of the PNP and its focus on leadership at all levels; the 2008 and 2009 Archdiocese of Cebu thrusts on the Bible and the Church, respectively; and Dilaab’s Heroic Christian Citizenship and Leadership Program.

Ret. PCSupt. Samson Tucay and the author set the pace by sharing their journey as companions towards integrity for the common good. Gen. Tucay was head of the Values and Leadership School (VLS) promoting God-centered leadership at the 17 Regional Training Schools (RTS) of the PNP. Many of the 3000 plus graduates of the VLS had expressed the need for a support mechanism when they would return to their police stations.

The tandem pointed out that beneath the uniform and the sotana are human beings created in God’s image and likeness, sharing the same dignity as well as experiencing the same weaknesses and temptations; hence, both need God and each other. The friendship seeks to transcend utilitarian and narrow interests in favor of the common good. Ang sarap pala magpakabait, as Kuya Sam (as he is popularly called in Dilaab circles) puts it. The author, for his part, is unabashed in declaring that he has become a better priest because of his friendship with Sam.
A game followed, facilitated by two Dilaab volunteers, Tess and Gladys. Winners took home T-shirts marked with Pwede Pala Pinoy, a Dilaab project seeking to ignite spaces of hope for ordinary citizens. For lunch, it was boodle fight, a single row of tables covered with banana leaves, with rice, fish, meat, and mongo laid out on it. When the signal is given, all mouths and hands break loose. This was a great way of laying down one’s guard and allowing others to enter into one’s space.

Emping and Nash, two members of local rock bands known as Bisrockers, then rendered songs to the delight of the audience. The pair is now also known as Peace-rockers, qualifying them for the 4Ps.

Another game ensued. This was followed by a brief talk on lectio divina and an actual session. Lectio Divina is the “diligent reading of the Bible accompanied by prayer.” The gospel exposition was on the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4). The 4Ps project envisions police precints as venue for a weekly encounter between police personnel and the parish. These would be called “Jacob’s Wells.”

The last sharer was PSSupt. Cesar Binag of the PNP Program Management Office (PMO), an office ensuring that the integrated transformation program is sustained despite changes in personalities and leadership. Col. Binag shared something closest to his heart: his family. Cesar is a member of a Protestant congregation and his presence is a sign of Dilaab’s commitment to work with other Christians.

4Ps is a step towards healing the wounds of our country resulting from graft and corruption. When the lack of integrity – for which we are all answerable – penetrates a culture, there is disintegration at various levels. There is lack of trust among social sectors and the tendency to blame one another. Sectors and groups tend to be inward looking and to engage in harmful “in-breeding.”

There is, then, the need to exchange places or, to put it in more theological terms, to engage in pastoral accompaniment in the spirit of communion:

A spirituality of communion also means an ability to think of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the Mystical Body, and therefore as "those who are a part of me". This makes us able to share their joys and sufferings, to sense their desires and attend to their needs, to offer them deep and genuine friendship. A spirituality of communion implies also the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God: not only as a gift for the brother or sister who has received it directly, but also as a "gift for me". A spirituality of communion means, finally, to know how to "make room" for our brothers and sisters, bearing "each other's burdens" (Gal 6:2) and resisting the selfish temptations which constantly beset us and provoke competition, careerism, distrust and jealousy. (Novo Millennio Ineunte 43).

“Encounter” took on a new meaning during the seminar. In military parlance the term has the element of chance and surprise for all the parties involved, in contrast to raid or ambush. The hoped-for emergence of Jacob’s Wells (i.e. a place and time for encounter) in the precincts is first of all a “room” or “sanctuary” where people can be themselves and encounter God and each other through the Bible.

We indeed look forward to many surprises.