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.