Thursday, December 16, 2010

Betrayal of Public Trust

Ten years ago on 07 December 2000, at the opening of the Impeachment Trial of Pres. Joseph Ejercito Estrada which was presided over by the Supreme Court Chief Justice & with the Senators as judges, Congressman Raul M. Gonzalez gave an opening speech as one of the lead prosecutors of the House of Representatives. Below are excerpts:
"Your Honors, Joseph Ejercito Estrada, President of the Philippines, willfully, consciously & maliciously violated his sacred oath by his acts of bribery, graft & corruption, betrayal of public trust & culpable violation of the Constitution.
"I am assigned together with Cong. Oscar Rodriguez, to prove that Pres. Estrada betrayed public trust....
"The Senate will have the singular privilege, never tested in our nation’s history, which hopefully future generations of Filipinos will read with pride, to show that during the 11th Congress the Senate rose to the occasion &, guided only by duty, conscience & truth, left partisan loyalties behind & decided against the President on the basis of evidence that established guilt.
"None of us in this hallowed hall relishes the task before us. But we did not choose to be involved in such reckless & unbridled misconduct of which Pres. Estrada is accused. It is thus duty, though a painful one, to find judgment against the President. Indeed, the impact of the Constitution must be felt: if the President has committed any or all of these charges against him, the Constitution & our people must be served. Hence we are here to do our respective duties: we, to present the case against Pres. Estrada, & you, to rule under your best lights....
"On Sept. 6, 1999, Pres. Estrada ordered a quasi-judicial agency, insulated by law from political pressure & influence, to desist from performing its legitimate function. He issued a directive to the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) to prevent one of its departments from conducting investigations without prior clearance from the Commission en banc.
"Pres. Estrada’s crony businessman, Dante Tan, became owner of the controlling stocks of a company called BW Resources Corporation at a time when the stock price of the said company was undergoing a surge never before seen in the history of the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE).
"In January 1999, the price of a BW share was about two pesos (P2.00). By Oct. 10, 1999, the price surged to a high of P107.00 per share. When Dante Tan first bought BW shares in 1998, the price was only 80 centavos per share. BW shares rose from the 16th most heavily traded stock in the PSE in January 1999 to the 1st among the top twenty companies by June 1999 with a total value turnover of P7,139,972,175.00.
"Later, the PSE would report that Dante Tan earned a profit of some P820 million from January to May 1999 alone. By October 1999, the total value turnover of BW shares was P20,619,175,725.00, a record that will not likely be surpassed decades into the future!
"After Oct. 10, 1999, the price of BW shares underwent an abrupt & ignominious fall within a week. BW share price plunged to a low of P22.00 per share.
"These dramatic events of course alarmed responsible officials of the PSE & the SEC, which oversees the former. Both bodies undertook separate investigations that necessarily examined whether the meteoric rise & fall in the price of BW shares was dictated by market forces or by illegal schemes of manipulation by stock traders & others persons.
"While these investigations were being carried out, Pres. Estrada made several questionable phone calls to the heads of both institutions & made representations in favor of Dante Tan. Through not so subtle suggestions, the President applied pressure on the chiefs of the PSE & the SEC to shield Dante Tan from any unfavorable findings that the said agencies might come up with. The President would constantly remind these officers that Dante Tan was his friend.
"'Dante Tan is the victim, not the culprit,' the President would repeatedly say, like a mantra, in these calls. The President interfered with the discharge of the duties of these officials by repeatedly suggesting the exoneration of Dante Tan.
"When the investigations were concluded, all evidence that the PSE & SEC had gathered pointed to the culpability of Dante Tan for insider trading & price manipulation. Pres. Estrada said that Dante Tan was a victim. The evidence showed that Dante Tan was the culprit. The President showed interest in Tan’s immediate exoneration & obstructed the course of justice. Why? Did he have, as evidence seems to suggest, pecuniary interest in BW Resources which went beyond mere cronyism?
"It will be noted that both the PSE & the SEC reports were partial & incomplete, in the sense that the reports did not cover all individuals & persons who might have been involved in the illegal transactions, or benefited therefrom, but were confined to a few brokers. The President’s obstruction of justice prospered because he succeeded in cutting short the investigations, in striking fear in the SEC & PSE officials. He succeeded in confining the reports to incomplete results. He succeeded in covering possible damning evidence against himself, his mistress Guia Gomez, his favorite son JV Ejercito & his other relatives & friends.
"In a country where a majority of the people live in abject poverty, while a small middle class struggle to survive, allowing the few to amass billions of pesos in profits through manipulative schemes further widens the disparities between the few rich and the many poor.
"Stock price manipulation & insider trading seem sophisticated & technical when compared with joblessness, hunger & displacement from farm lands, which are all concrete symptoms of a deep crisis that the President exacerbates by staying in office & imposing himself upon a nation that has withdrawn confidence in his administration & policies.
"I pray to God that our labors, as mandated by the Constitution, will bear fruit that the nation will accept. Let it not end up like a reminder from Phaedrus’ fables: 'A mountain was in labor, sending forth dreadful groans, and there was in the region the highest expectation. After all, it brought forth a mouse.'
"Permit me to close my piece by quoting a noted authority in Constitutional Law:
'It is now, we believe, considered that impeachment is not confined alone to acts which are forbidden by the Constitution. The better sustained & modern view is that, the provision for impeachment applies not only to high crimes & misdemeanors but also to those which are not defined as criminal but which affect the public welfare. Thus, an official may be impeached for offenses of a political character & for gross betrayal of public interests...for a breach of public duty by malfeasance or maleficence, including conduct such as drunkenness, when habitual or in the performance of official duties, gross indecency, profanity, obscenity, or other language used in the discharge of an official function which tends to bring the office into disrepute.' (W.W. Willoughby)
"Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice. Thank you honorable members of this impeachment tribunal. God bless the Philippines."

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Justice & the Rule of Law

No contemporary society can achieve and maintain prosperity without the rule of law, for citizens, families, workers, and local and foreign investors want sufficient safety and predictability for their lives, liberty, and property. Also, “rule of law and access to justice go hand in hand as necessary conditions for a working democracy” (Hague Institute for International Law, 2007).

Inequality of access to justice endangers a contemporary democracy and the rule of law, as it breeds resentment, anti-social behaviour, criminality, violence, and rebellion among social sectors and classes that consider themselves systematically disadvantaged in their pursuit of fairness and right relationships in society.

Among the many challenges to the rule of law and access to justice in the Philippines, there are three that can be effectively addressed by the 2nd Aquino administration. These are: (1) the ordinate delay in the administration of justice, (2) the difficulty of poor litigants to secure the services of good lawyers and to appreciate lawcourt proceedings, and (3) the citizenry’s ineffective exercise of their right to information on official actions and decisions of government.

Challenge: There is inordinate delay in the administration of justice owing to several reasons among which are: (1) the insufficient number of prosecutors and judges which results in case congestion and inefficiency among them, (2) inadequate monitoring and management of cases, (3) insufficient inter-agency co-ordination.

According to the 2008 Annual Report of the Supreme Court, there were 519 vacancies in the Judiciary which constituted nearly 20% of existing court salas.
The prosecutor-to-case ratio is 1:228 in 2007. The average caseload is still too heavy, and the prosecution service is undermanned. Despite recent increases in allowances, many prosecutors are leaving to become either private practitioners or judges. It is estimated that more than 500 additional prosecutors are needed for current caseload to be managed efficiently.
Recommendations to the current administration:
1. Intensify the recruitment of prosecutors to address the disparity in the prosecutor-case ratio, and computerize fully the prosecution service for efficient monitoring by the Department of Justice (DOJ) of all cases for preliminary investigation, evaluation, and petitions for review.
2. Interconnect all the databases of the PNP, NBI, National Prosecution Service, BJMP and BuCor, PDEA, and the Supreme Court Administrator into one Integrated Criminal Justice Information System. This will enable the heads of the agencies in the justice system to retrieve, store, and manage information quickly and efficiently.
3. Operationalize the National Council on the Administration of Justice (NCAJ), created through a MOA among the DOJ, the Department of Interior and Local Government, the Supreme Court, and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, with the Justice Secretary as Chair. The NCAJ should meet regularly (e.g. twice a month) to discuss and agree on specific ways and means to expedite the resolution of big criminal and civil cases without violating due process. Big or priority cases shall be massacres, extra-judicial killings, kidnap-for-ransom, illegal drug trade, plunder, syndicated smuggling, large tax evasion, and breaches of contract involving large local or foreign investments.
4. Support and complete the Supreme Court’s ongoing Action Program for Judicial Reforms (APJR) on case decongestion, judicial systems and procedures improvement, human resource development, and institutional development.

Challenge: Litigants among the poor and marginalized sectors have difficulty in securing the services of good lawyers owing to the financial costs, and they find court proceedings inaccessible and alienating owing to the (English) language used ("Philippine Democracy Assessment," 2010).
1. Increase substantially the budget of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) in order to upgrade the skills of, and increase allowances and benefits for, public attorneys.
2. Introduce a Commission on Higher Education (CHED) requirement for 3rd or 4th year law students to do an equivalent of six (6) months of free legal aid work with the PAO or with free legal aid groups accredited with the PAO and the IBP before they can graduate. In this way, future lawyers also gain an insight into the reality and struggles of poor litigants and will be more inclined to include free legal aid work in their careers.
3. Direct the CHED and the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino to produce eight (8) manuals of the Rules of Court, and standard legal terms and expressions in many court proceedings, in the 8 major regional languages in order: (a) to enable judges, lawyers, and students of law to learn to conduct court trials in a regional language for the benefit of poor litigants and (b) to contribute to the intellectual development of the regional languages.
4. The CHED has to require law schools to introduce an elective course on the conduct of court trials using a regional language and the use of the concomitant manual on the rules of court in a regional language.
5. The Justice Secretary, as an ex-officio member of the Judicial and Bar Council, should recommend the capability to conduct court trials in a regional language as an additional requirement for applicants to half of the vacant court salas in every region starting 2013.
6. Seek the co-operation of the Supreme Court, and give it substantial budget support, so that, by 2016, at least 200 lawcourts scattered in the 17 regions of the country, or 10% of all courts, are fully capable to conduct court proceedings in a regional language for the benefit of poor litigants.

Challenge: Ordinary citizens and their organizations cannot effectively exercise their right to information in addressing the problem of graft and corruption owing to the absence of rules and procedures on information access.
1. The President has to issue an Executive Order that enables ordinary citizens and their organizations to exercise effectively their right to information on official acts, transactions, and decisions of agencies of the Executive Department. The EO shall formulate a simple, uniform, and speedy procedure for citizens to gain access to information from any agency of the Executive Department, or shall require within a fixed deadline every agency to formulate and disseminate widely a simple and speedy procedure for information access. The EO shall specify the administrative sanctions for violations of the provisions of the EO.
2. Certify as a priority administration bill a Freedom of Information Act that enables ordinary citizens and their organizations to exercise effectively their right to information on official acts, transactions, and decisions of all agencies in all branches of the government. This law will provide citizens a powerful tool to contribute to the government’s anti-corruption effort.
3. Certify as a priority administration bill a Whistleblower Protection Act. Engender a “positive whistleblowing culture” wherein people will not be afraid to disclose information on official malfeasance. By exposing graft and corruption in government, whistleblowers promote the public good and thus should be protected and rewarded by the State. Government should adopt as its official policy (perhaps initially thru the issuance of an Executive Order and later through the passage of a Whistleblower Protection Law) the protection of whistleblowers and the establishment of a system of monetary rewards for them.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Good Books, True Friends

A good book communicates without judging your ability to understand it, and gives you a chance to read it again and again. A good book keeps you company, and continues to do so long after you have finished reading it, as its words and conjured images stay in your mind and heart. With a good book, you are not alone, and this is what a true friend makes you feel.
Especially for the coming Christmas holidays, the NBDB invites everybody to spend time with good books & true friends. There might be friends just waiting for you in your bookshelf. Or find and get to know them by visiting libraries and bookstores. Then proudly take them to your kith and kin.
The great ideal of the NBDB is to make the Philippines a reading nation and a publishing hub in Asia. Our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, wrote: "It is a useless life that is not consecrated to a grear ideal. It is like a stone wasted on the field without becoming a part of any edifice."
The NBDB urges you to hekp build our nation, stone by stone, board by board, link by link, into a living edifice of people who are rich in true friends, good books, and great works.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Communion of Saints

All Saints’ Day is a celebration of the Communion of Saints, the Communion of all the Faithful, both living and dead. Thus, it is also our feast day, and it is a mistake to celebrate only the departed ones who have been canonized or officially recognized as holy.
In the letters of the apostle Paul, “the saints” refer primarily to living members of the Christian communities (see e.g. 2 Corinthians 1:1). Paul organized a collection in the regions where he founded communities, and “Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem” (Romans 15:26). Living people were the original subjects of the Beatitudes of Jesus which would be the gospel reading on All Saints’ Day.

In “Mga Kataga sa Teolohiyang Doktrinal” [Terms in Doctrinal Theology], the Communion of Saints is dynamically translated as “Damayan ng mga Tapat,” and is described as follows:
ang matatag na sandiwaan, paghahating-kapatid sa mga kaloob ng Diyos, at walang-kamatayang bayanihan ng lahat ng mga tapat kay Kristo, mga tapat na nabubuhay at mga tapat na sumakabilang buhay; tinatawag ding pakikipag-isa ng mga banal. Ito’y bukluran sa iisang Diwa ni Kristo na nakikilala’t nadarama lalo na sa pagdiriwang ng iisang binyag at iisang salu-salo ng Panginoon.
It is a solid sharing in the Spirit, the brotherly sharing of God’s gifts, and the undying solidarity of all of Christ’s faithful, the faithful in this life and in the next. This communion in the one Spirit is experienced and expressed especially in the celebration of one baptism and one supper of the Lord.
The Communion of the Faithful is misunderstood or rejected by those who are devoted to patron saints but are indifferent to or neglectful of needy brothers and sisters in this life. The real Communion of the Faithful entails solidarity and mutual aid to address physical, psychological and spiritual needs.
This is a Communion not of perfect people but of forgiven sinners like the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus, who resolved: “I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8).

By visiting the cemeteries and praying for our beloved dead on All Saints’ Day, we are expressing our hope in the mercy of God and freedom from sin for our departed loved ones. “Anyone who has died has been freed from sin” (Rom 6:7), and thus we hope that our dearly departed are counted among Christ’s faithful, who have been set free.
de Guzman, Emmanuel, Joselito Henson, Reginald Cruz and Dennis Gonzalez. “Mga Kataga sa Teolohiyang Doktrinal.” Quezon City, 2001.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Private and Public Sinners

Only Luke’s gospel has the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Lk 18:9-14). The parable shows divine acceptance of the public sinner who humbly requests for mercy, on the one hand, and divine disapproval of the private sinner who looks down on the public sinner on the other.
Why were tax collectors considered public sinners? According to E.P. Sanders ("Historical Figure of Jesus," 1993), the tax collectors included customs officers, and they were mostly petty functionaries. The small towns around Galilee’s large lake (the Sea of Galilee) exported and imported goods. The customs officers collected taxes on the exported and imported commodities. In Galilee, these collections were then turned over to the puppet king, Herod Antipas, who in turn had to pay tribute to Rome.

There were indeed tax collectors who cheated and enriched themselves by charging more than the required amounts. Yet even if some were honest, tax collectors were seen as instruments of Herod and Rome, instruments of oppression, and thus they would be disliked by people in general.

As for the private sinner, he is usually blind to his hidden sins or sinful attitudes of arrogance, envy, and resentment. Jesus was chosen and sent to bring about “recovery of sight for the blind” especially for the spiritually blind (Lk 4:18). The merciful Father wants the conversion of both private and public sinners and their adoption of a new way of seeing that will lead to their reconciliation with God and with one another.
Another private sinner in Luke’s gospel is the older son in the parable of the gracious father with two (lost) sons (15:11-32) which is the longest parable in all the gospels and is exclusive to Luke. The younger son left his father and became a loser and public sinner, “but the older son has never really been there [with his father].” For years he has been “slaving for his father, resentful, selfish and angry” (Megan McKenna).
“Luke presents the mission and message of Jesus as a prophetic critique of the status quo” (Dennis Sweetland). This status quo is a world of separation, inequity or enmity between rich and poor, insider and outsider, male and female, private sinner and public sinner.
Before his conversion, Saul was a private sinner: “a Pharisee…[whose] legalistic righteousness [was] faultless” (Philippians 3:5-6). As an apostle, Paul preached the Gospel in season and out of season, and suffered as a good soldier of Christ.
The apostle experienced persecution in which he said, “no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me.” Yet like Christ on the cross, he humbly prayed for those who turned their back on him: “may it not be held against them” (2 Timothy 4:16).
We have all sinned. May we accept this deep truth with faith in Christ and be ready to work and suffer for the Gospel of reconciliation until our last days when we can thank God and with deep humility say, like the apostle, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Persistent Widow

Authentic faith, constant prayer, and the pursuit of justice are inseparable in the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8). To win over opponents, we need both to lift up our hands in prayer and to act, work, or fight, as illustrated in the story of the battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites (Exodus 17:8-16).
In the parable of the widow, who was one of the most vulnerable figures in ancient society, she faced a formidable obstacle to her pursuit of justice: “a judge who neither feared God nor cared about people” (Lk 18:2). The widow, however, was courageous and persistent.
Somebody cheated or harmed her. Perhaps she was poor and yet her son did not fulfill his duty to provide her some support. Or she had no son, and although still marriageable, her brother-in-law refused to fulfill his duty of marrying her and securing her future. Maybe her adversary gave the judge a bribe.
Because her persistent pleas were wearing him out, the unjust judge decided to grant her justice. He did the right thing for an inferior or selfish reason.
Are we like the courageous widow or the unjust judge? Don’t we sometimes do the right thing for the wrong or inferior reason?
The story-teller and theologian, Megan McKenna, is right: God is like the persistent widow rather than the unjust judge. God is not someone either selfish or indifferent whom we have to pressure, shake up, or wear out through persistent prayers in order that we can get what we want or what we think is good.
God is like the widow. Even though God’s word through the prophets at many times had been ignored or rejected, God persisted and sent the beloved Son to set free all who are imprisoned or oppressed by sin and selfishness. Even though the Son was rejected and executed shamefully, his Spirit remains and keeps on calling us to conversion, justice, peace and mercy.
Some Church leader should put up a "Chapel (or Shrine) of (God) the Persistent Widow." Do we have the deep faith to see God in the widow or in the weak or vulnerable person who persists to seek what is right? May the Lord increase our faith: may the Lord help us to be constant in prayer and steadfast in the pursuit of justice.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Keep Your Head (in Family Planning)

The unpopularity of the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on the moral superiority of natural family planning over the use of artificial contraceptives will not be enough to persuade the hierarchy, especially the bishops, to stop making public pronouncements about the issue.
Church leaders have been taught: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2). Indeed when a Church teaching is unpopular, inopportune, or "out of season," this in itself is not enough reason to stop stating and clarifying it.
Unfortunately, some Church officials have not been careful with their public statements such as the premature announcement (or veiled threat) of “civil disobedience” as a right that Church members may exercise in case the State enacts a reproductive health law that will endanger the right to life of the unborn child and will weaken the right of couples to decide the number of their children.
“Keep your head in all situations” (2 Tim 4:5) is a wise reminder to Church leaders on the need for sobriety as they engage in public debate, within a constitutional democratic society, about a complex issue such as the proper ways to help couples to practice responsible parenthood and plan their families. Sobriety is part of the essential discipline of "a good soldier of Christ Jesus" (2:3). Sobriety implies restraining oneself from saying things that generate more heat than light.
To keep one's head, or to remain level-headed, in the contemporary debate on family planning and reproductive health entails opening one's ears to other voices especially voices from relevant disciplines like sociology, development economics, medicine and public health.
As it actively engages in the public debate, hopefully with greater intelligence and sobriety, the hierarchy can show better the depth of its convictions by investing more time, personnel, resources, and research in order dramatically to expand and upgrade its own educational programs and efforts, whether parish-based or not, to promote natural family planning especially among couples in urban and rural poor communities in our country.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Healing Faith

One can define faith as the desire, decision and practice of people to perceive the generosity and inner radiance of God and to express their appreciation through worship, openness to the divine will, and the practice of bearing witness to the Creator’s care and compassion toward creatures.
One of the definitions of “pananampalataya” in “Mga Kataga sa Teolohiyang Doktrinal”[Terms in Doctrinal Theology] is: “hangarin, pasiya, at pagsisikap ng tao na tumanaw ng utang-na-loob sa Bathala sa pamamagitan ng pagsamba at pakikinig sa kanya at paghahayag at pagsasabuhay ng kanyang pagmamagandang-loob sa bawa’t nilalang” (p. 30).
This is the faith that healed the Samaritan with a skin ailment, as “when he saw he was healed, he came back, praising God in a loud voice” (Luke 17:15). In a story that is found only in the gospel of Luke, Jesus cleansed ten men with skin ailments, but only the Samaritan returned to praise God. What happened to the other nine?
Perhaps the nine cleansed Jews were shocked that the Samaritan was also cleansed. Jews considered Samaritans unworthy rivals in the worship of Yhwh. The Samaritans had put up their own temple on Mount Gerizim. Antagonism towards Samaritans was rooted in Jewish history and tradition.
In 2 Kings, after the Israelite Northern Kingdom of Samaria fell to the Assyrian army, “the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites” (2 Kgs 17:24). The new settlers “worshipped Yhwh, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought” (17:33). The Samaritans in Jesus’ time were considered descendants of those settlers who both worshipped Yhwh and served their idols.
Jesus cleansed the Samaritan because his messianic mission is “to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18, Isaiah 58:6) or to release those imprisoned or oppressed by sin, injustice, and prejudice. The Samaritan not only was healed but was saved because of his faith, which was authentic as he came back to express publicly his great appreciation of God’s compassion. Unlike the nine others, the Samaritan underwent authentic healing, he experienced a real miracle, he experienced salvation, as he decided to bear witness to divine compassion. He expressed the faith that heals, the faith that saves.
Perhaps the nine others, although physically cleansed, did not want to be healed of their prejudice. If that were the case, no miracle happened, for there would be no transformation of the heart. The real miracle involves conversion or inner transformation, as "the Kindom of God is within you" when it comes (Lk 17:21).
Jesus also suffered prejudice, for example, from his town-mates in the synagogue who drove him out of the town to throw him down the cliff, after he, who was not known to be an official teacher or guardian of their tradition, dared to remind them of God’s graciousness to outsiders like the widow in Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian during the times of the prophets Elijah and Elisha (Lk 4:24-30).
Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Aram, had a skin ailment, and was instructed by the prophet Elisha to dip himself in the Jordan seven times. He underwent authentic healing, as he went back to Elisha to proclaim that he “will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord” (2 Kgs 5:17).
Jesus went on with his mission even though most of the beneficiaries, the nine others, did not truly believe in the divine will to set all the oppressed free. Jesus went on even though many guardians of the tradition and his own town-mates did not appreciate his ministry. Because of God’s inner radiance, Christ is faithful to his divine mission no matter what happens. “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).
de Guzman, Emmanuel, Joselito Henson, Reginald Cruz and Dennis Gonzalez. “Mga Kataga sa Teolohiyang Doktrinal.” Quezon City, 2001. ISBN 971-92378-0-5.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Faith on the Cross

Another testimony to the faith of Jesus is his cry on the cross. Read Mark 15:33-39. According to Jürgen Moltmann ("The Crucified God," 1974), a political theologian whose "Theology of Hope" (1964) inspired some of the first-generation liberation theologians, the last words of Jesus in the passion stories of Mark and Matthew indicate that Jesus died as a Godforsaken man, a man who deeply felt abandoned by God.
The cry of Jesus on the cross (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) indicates that he died not only as somebody abandoned by his disciples and friends and rejected by the chief priests. He died also as a Godforsaken man. In his final moments, Jesus did not see any sign of the mercy of the Father. Jesus felt forsaken by God; this was probably the gravest challenge to his faith. This was his last temptation.
Jesus died “with a loud cry” (15:37). This loud cry evokes the cry of a demoniac at the moment when the demon is cast out in Mark’s gospel (1:26, 9:26). This suggests that Jesus experienced demonization while he was on the cross. Indeed he was being demonized as passers-by were insulting and mocking him. And he was also being demonized by his deep feeling of abandonment. Jesus died without receiving any relief from the terrible isolation he felt. An ancient version of the Apostle’s Creed says that Jesus descended “to hell” (ad inferna). His final moments were hellish indeed.
The death of Jesus as a Godforsaken man does not mean that he died in despair or that his faith collapsed in his final moments. Jesus died with the terrible feeling of being abandoned by God, and yet he held on in his trust without the consolation of feeling the presence of the merciful Father, who was hidden and silent. Jesus was able to hold on because his faith had grown so much throughout his life.

The faith of the crucified Jesus was already tried and tested in the temptations and challenges he encountered especially during his public ministry. Thus, after the compassionate Father vindicated and glorified him, Christ can be in solidarity with godforsaken men and women, those who are abandoned by family and friends, those who are abandoned by society, and those who feel abandoned by God.

The cry of Jesus reproduces the first line of Psalm 22, which ends with lines that praise God (vv 22-31). It is highly probable that Jesus knew the whole of Psalm 22. Thus, if he indeed cried out its first line, he most likely was affirming the message of the whole psalm. In preserving his trust despite the intense feeling of being forsaken, Jesus has shown that he is a faithful servant of God, a True Man of Great Faith and the True Believer in the Merciful Father.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Faith of Jesus

Jesus practised deep faith throughout his life and shared his faith with his disciples with the duty to guard, develop, and share it from generation to generation.
To speak of the faith of Jesus might strike some Christians as strange or surprising. How can we speak of Jesus’ faith if, as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, he knows the Father fully?

According to some medieval theologians, Jesus was enjoying the beatific vision, the happy and heavenly vision of God, already from the first moment of his conception. In this case, throughout his public ministry and during his trial and execution, were his physical and psychological struggles real or were they only instances of play-acting?

Let us take a look at the testimony of the New Testament. We begin with the story of the healing of the boy with a deaf-mute spirit in Mark 9:16-29. For John Meier ("A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus," vol. 2, 1994), this particular exorcism most probably goes back to the Jesus of history, for there are some remarkable differences between this story and the other exorcism stories.

First, this is the only exorcism in Mark's gospel which refers to the failure of the disciples to perform the requested exorcism. Earlier in this gospel, Jesus already gave the Twelve authority over unclean spirits, and then they themselves performed exorcisms (Mk 6:7,13). Jesus wagered on his disciples, and empowered them to partially actualize God’s Rule even before they seemed ready for it.

The second remarkable aspect is the almost clinical nature of the detailed description of the boy’s affliction. According to Meier, it seems that the boy suffered some form of epilepsy. The third remarkable aspect is the absence of christological titles in the story. Jesus is referred to as “teacher.”

Fourth, the story makes reference to the faith of Jesus. In this story, the one who believes, the one who has faith is no other than Jesus himself. His powerful deed is based on faith, his faith. The boy was healed through his prayer. The story implies that Jesus acts and heals with the power that comes from faith. Jesus is the True Man of Great Faith.
(An interesting insight from the story concerns the unclean spirit that hindered speech. It was a spirit so painful that it was causing the boy to throw himself into fire. According to some psychologists, being unable to express adequately raw emotions is a major cause of violence to oneself or to others. As William Blake [1757-1827] put it:

“I was angry with my friend: I told my wrath, my wrath did end. I was angry with my foe: I told it not, my wrath did grow.” Thus, to prevent people from expressing their feelings is to push them closer to acts of violence. Pastoral agents ought to help plain folks especially the poor to express themselves and assert their rights.)
Another New Testament reference to the faith of Jesus is in the Letter to the Hebrews 12:2, which calls Jesus “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” This letter presents Jesus as the first-born in our faith, the first to have lived fully in seeking the will of God. Jesus cannot be described as the pioneer of our faith if he himself did not practise great faith. Now, what is faith?
According to Heb 11:1, “faith is the substance of what we hope for, and the admission of what we do not see.” Now, if Jesus were the pioneer of our faith, and if he were the best model of a man of faith, this implies that there were at least some stages in his life in which he made a personal decision to believe in some things that he himself did not fully see.
We read in Heb 5:7-8: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” Jesus learned to trust, to believe, and to obey God. The faith of Jesus was a process of learning to trust. Just as Jesus developed physically, his faith also went through a process of development. As Luke puts it in 2:52, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and people.”
The development process that Jesus underwent could have included experiences of conversion, a radical change in his expectations or outlook. For example, why did Jesus submit to John’s baptism “for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk 2:4)? Perhaps it was the example and preaching of John which helped Jesus to recognize the sinfulness of their society, the sinfulness of the guardians of the tradition, and the inability already of the temple system to be a medium for the forgiveness of sins.
John turned his back on his filial duty to become a priest, and he turned his back on the temple system itself, for he did not require those who came to be baptized for forgiveness to go to the temple afterwards to offer the traditional sin-offering of an unblemished female goat or lamb to be sacrificed (Leviticus 4:27-35). Furthermore, John called the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers” (Matthew 3:7).
John’s preaching sensitized Jesus to feel the reality of repressed public guilt, which was an effect of sinful social structures. Jesus felt the weight of the public guilt even though, in the Christian view, he himself had no share in the blame for it. His distressing experience of collective guilt might have prompted him to submit to John’s baptism.

John converted Jesus to the belief that God’s Kindom was near and that their society was sinful. Later, Jesus experienced perhaps a second conversion when he decided to pursue his own prophetic ministry in which he, unlike John, emphasized the joy of salvation in a Kindom that was already partially present. Also, Jesus did not reproduce the ascetic life-style of John (see Luke 7:33-34).

The faith of Jesus developed through a process of interaction with various persons from whom he would learn new things. For example, read the story of Jairus’ daughter, who was twelve years old, and the unnamed woman who had a twelve-year hemorrhage in Mk 5:21-43. A feminist christologist, Rita Nakashima Brock ("Journeys by Heart: A Christology of Erotic Power" [1992] pp.83-84), writes:

"Both females are afflicted with crises associated with the status of women in Greco-Roman and Hebraic society. The adult woman is sick with one of the most polluting signs of female adulthood [see Lev 15:19-30]. The adolescent is on the threshold of a similar curse, puberty. The woman has suffered with bleeding for exactly the same period of time it has taken Jairus’ daughter to reach the official age of puberty and marriageability--twelve years. The woman’s hemorrhage is the affliction of adult women in magnified form; she bleeds endlessly and is perpetually polluting. The authorities, the physicians, have left her poor and sick. They cannot help her disease because the ordinary social structures cannot help her. They are part of her problem....She suffers from her very femaleness. The social structures also interfere with Jesus’ ability to help her because he is a Jewish man. He is not even able to see her. She is invisible to him, lost in the protective maze of his disciples.
"The woman is, nonetheless, determined to be whole. She is able to acknowledge, from the depths of herself, her heart, her desperate need to be healed, to be restored to right relationships. Her heart opens the space for erotic power to surface. She summons the courage to violate a patriarchal social taboo. Though an unclean woman, she touches Jesus in public....In the touching, she is, literally, saved, not just cured in a medical sense, but saved. Her courage in violating a taboo has made her whole."

After Jesus kept looking for the one who touched him, the healed woman, despite her fear, showed herself and acknowledged what she did. Thus, she reaffirmed that she believed that her action, her violation of a patriarchal taboo, was the right thing to do. Jesus responded: “Daughter, your faith has healed you.” He disregarded the fact that he was rendered “unclean” by the touch of an “unclean” woman.
The encounter with the courageous woman taught Jesus a lesson. Afterwards, he could fully appreciate what ails Jairus’ daughter: she was dying because she had begun menstruating and she could not accept the following consequences: she was considered “unclean” and should not be touched, and she knew that her childhood had ended and she could soon be given in marriage perhaps to somebody she did not even know. She was dying, as she was losing respect for her body and her very self. Perhaps she became catatonic in her trauma. Jesus brought her back to life when he touched her (“he took her by the hand”) and helped her to stand up, to be free from shame and self-rejection, and to feel at home with her body.

The deep faith of Jesus developed through a process that not only involved close interaction with the unwashed and the “unclean” but also involved struggles against temptation. According to Heb 4:15: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin.” Again, Heb 2:18 says: “Because Jesus himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
The deep faith of Jesus was formed in the midst of struggle, the struggle against temptation, and the struggle to respond to the challenges of his times. Thus, when we are tempted, when we are struggling, when we are suffering, Christ can truly help us for he understands fully what it means to struggle, to suffer, and to be tempted.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Plus 2 Years of Quality Education?

The National Book Development Board can help the Department of Education in prescribing the guidelines in preparing the minimum learning competencies and other specifications for the public school textbooks to be used for the additional 2 years of the basic education cycle announced by Pres. Noynoy Aquino and Sec. Armin Luistro, FSC.
If one additional year would mean restoring Grade 7 to elementary education, then I personally propose that the DepEd with the NBDB begin by looking at the learning competencies targeted by reputable private schools that do have Grade 7.
I do hope that the effort that the DepEd will exert to formulate the curiculum and to mobilize the resources for the additional 2 years will be at least equally matched by the effort to ensure that "every child is a reader by Grade 3" and to raise the mean percentage score of the National Achievement Test (NAT) of prospective graduates of Grade 6 to at least 75%.
As of now, many public school children beyond Grade 3 still cannot read and understand a simple paragraph. The NAT mean percentage score, which was 55% when the NAT started in 2002, has improved through the years to 66.33% in 2009, but this is still below the minimum for what can qualify for "mastery" of the targeted learning competencies which is 75%.
Without ensuring the delivery of quality education especially in the current 6 years of elementary education, the additional 2 years would likely result in the lengthening and reinforcement of mediocrity which would mean a great deal of waste of public resources and taxes.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bureaucratic Reform Opportunity

With his high trust ratings, Pres. Noynoy Aquino has the political capital to pursue the streamlining and reform of the bureaucracy at least of the Executive branch of government. If he will seize the opportunity, the clear and ultimate target of bureaucratic reform should be the significant and sustainable reduction of rural and urban poverty in the short and medium terms. Thus, any reform should raise efficiency in, and free more resources for, the delivery of basic services in primary health care, disease prevention, basic education, and agricultural and entrepreneurship development.
Bureaucratic reform should preserve also the capability of the State to practice its core competencies: ensure peace and order, administer justice, set monetary policy, ensure territorial integrity and security, practice diplomacy and pursue beneficial international relations.
Outside of its core competencies and poverty-reduction programs, State activities should be tantamount to “steering” and not “rowing,” or the creation of an enabling and regulatory environment for the private sector to do the “rowing” in providing goods and services to the public especially where the private sector is more efficient in doing so.
Any bureaucratic reform should respect the right of government workers to protection against unemployment. Any reform that cannot avoid job losses should be implemented in a humane way.
In my view, these are the characteristics of agencies and units that bureaucratic reform should prioritize: (a) agencies and units that contribute little to poverty reduction, (b) units that do not belong to the core competencies of the State, (c) units that do more “rowing” than “steering,” and (d) units that do not require an act of Congress for its reform, abolition, or merger with another unit.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Antonio Calipjo Go, "Sick Books Crusader"

Antonio Calipjo Go has belatedly admitted to the public that he neither has written a textbook nor has finished college.  Years ago, some reputable educators and journalists asked about his specific expertise, but he always gave an evasive answer.  After his overdue admission, he offers the public a sob story as to the reason for his inability to finish college nearly forty years ago: family poverty and the premature death of his father.  Should we shed tears for such a palusot?
In his expensive paid advertisements in which he tried to show the allegedly many errors in English, Filipino, Science and Social Studies textbooks used in public and private schools, Calipjo Go wanted us to believe that he had a monopoly of textbook expertise in several learning areas.  He angrily rejects the findings of several experts, such as those from the University of Sto. Tomas Department of Science, who have carefully examined and disputed the "errors" he found in textbooks he targeted.
Calipjo Go appears to be a publicity-hungry and self-anointed super-expert whose commentaries are combinations of shameless self-glorification and the ravings and rantings of a lonely aging man who has not outgrown his unhappy youth.  Imagine his arrogance in declaring in a piece he wrote for the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI): "I am the only person who actually tried to do something about the problem of error-riddled textbooks."
Calipjo Go likes to imagine himself persecuted by established academic institutions and recognized experts who disagree with his findings.  The PDI likes to lionize him especially after he put out several expensive advertisements.  Also, the PDI does not apply strict journalistic standards in verifying before publishing his allegations and stories.

In his 21 June 2010 commentary at the PDI, Calipjo Go attacked the book, "Biology," developed for secondary school students by the University of the Philippines National Institute of Science and Mathematics Education Development (UP NISMED).

Below is a reproduction of the response of UP NISMED to Go:
We read with interest (and not a small amount of frustration) Mr. Antonio Calipjo Go’s commentary on “Biology,” a textbook written by UP NISMED for high school students. He thinks the book is full of “idiocies and inanities, fallacies and errors.” He has a big axe to grind. Allow us to counter this unwarranted hatchet job.
Mr. Go thinks the title of the book is unimaginative. (We think it’s concise.) But he takes issue with the graphic spiny anteater, preferring the term echidna, which does not evoke any vivid image of the animal. He wants monotremes in place of the descriptive egg-laying mammals. He would rather we used marsupials, instead of the suggestive pouched mammals. The study of biology is at times made unnecessarily difficult by the use of words that sound foreign to learners. As UP NISMED appreciates this difficulty, it has put more value on the use of terms that help clarify concepts and are easily understood by the students. But we learned our lesson. Next time we will use terms that impede imagination.
Mr. Go thinks 358 pages are not enough to tackle a “very complex subject.” He prefers the much longer book by Prentice-Hall which he says has 923 pages. (We wonder whether it is possible to teach all the content written in such a book in a single academic year.) To be sure, Mr. Go knows that DepEd prescribes a limited number of pages per textbook. Yet, despite this limitation, all the learning competencies for Second Year Biology have been covered in the book.

Mr. Go thinks that the question, When did humans evolve?, is stupid. In fact, he cannot think of a question more stupid than this. To explain his point, he says that evolution is a very slow process of change occurring over a very long period of time. Apparently, Mr. Go wants to restrict the use of ‘When?’ to mean ‘At what time?’ He thinks it is wrong to use ‘When?’ to mean ‘Over what period?’ Using his rule, no one would be able to ask: When did the dinosaurs rule the Earth? When did the last Ice Age occur? When were the Himalayas formed?
Mr. Go thinks that the caption, Tools used during early times. Are these tools familiar to you? Where are they currently used?, is also stupid. However, he does not explain why. Perhaps he thinks that the writer was expecting the readers to be familiar with the tools or that the tools were being used at present. Just the opposite, the intention is to underscore the readers’ unfamiliarity with the tools and the fact that they are not used anymore. This is to emphasize the level of technology in olden times, that tools at the time were little more than stones with sharp edges and pointed tips.

Mr. Go asks if it is correct to teach, at the basic level, that Bone consists of living cells found in cavities and are surrounded by a hard, nonliving substance. Or, that Xylem cells are usually dead cells with thickened walls while phloem consists of living cells. He asks, “How can cells or substances be considered dead or nonliving when they are embedded deep within a living organism, and without which that organism cannot, in fact, live or survive?” Apparently, Mr. Go’s single criterion for considering a cell as living is the fact that it is embedded within a living organism. This is absolutely wrong. UP NISMED’s definitions for bone and xylem are not incorrect.

We request readers who come across commentaries such as this to be wary and critical. Do your own research and find out if what is being claimed as erroneous truly is erroneous, or merely the misinterpretation of someone who may not be competent in the field that he or she is criticizing. The greater “moral battle” is that which must be waged against those who masquerade as experts and peddle misinformation in the guise of professing love for country.
Truly, a little learning is a dangerous thing.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Past Presidents Help

Below are excerpts from inaugural addresses of some past Philippine presidents. Perhaps they can help incoming Pres. Noynoy Aquino, his advisers, and conscientious citizens in forging a consensus on the vision and policies our nation needs. The excerpts are taken from "...So Help Us God: The Presidents of the Philippines and Their Inaugural Addresses" by J. Eduardo Malaya and Jonathan Malaya (Manila: Anvil, 2004).
"Democracy becomes meaningless if it fails to satisfy the primary needs of the common man, if it cannot give him freedom from fear and freedom from want. His happiness and security are the only foundations on which a strong republic can be built. His happiness and security will be foremost among ths goals of my administration.
"We must develop the national economy so that it may better satisfy the material needs of our people. The benefits of any economic or industrial program shall be channeled first to our common people, so that their living standards shall be raised." (Ramon Magsaysay, 30 December 1953)
"The Government will continue its low-cost housing projects and its land redistribution and resettlement program. We shall exert greater effort so that more of our people will eventually acquire homes and lands that they can call their own. Home- and land-owning citizens possess not only a sense of stability and contentment but also the practical patriotism to live for, and if necessary, die for home and country. For upon the face of the patriot must have shone first the firelight of home." (Carlos P. Garcia, 30 December 1957)
"We assume leadership at a time when our nation is in the throes of a moral degeneration unprecedented in our national history. Never within the span of human memory has graft permeated every level of government. The solution of this problem shall call for the exercise of the tremendous persuasive power of the presidency. I shall consider it, therefore, my duty to set a personal example in honesty and uprightness. We must prove that ours is not a nation of hopeless grafters but a race of good and decent men and women." (Diosdado Macapagal, 30 December 1961)
"We must discard complacency without embracing panic; rely on our efforts alone without rejecting the support of others. Let not the future observe that being virile in body we multiplied in number, without increasing in spirit. I do not demand of you more than I shall demand of myself and of government. So seek not from government what you cannot find in yourself.
"In the solution of our problems, the government will lead. But the first duty that confronts us all is how to continue to grow in this nation now a new heart, a new spirit that springs out of the belief that while our dangers be many, and our resources few, there is no problem that cannot be surmounted given but the will and courage. Let every man be his own master, but let him first, and above all, be his own charge." (Ferdinand Marcos, 2nd inaugural, 30 December 1969)
"I would like to appeal to everyone to work for national reconciliation, which is what Ninoy came back home for. I would like to repeat that I am very magnanimous in victory. So I call on all those countrymen of ours who are not yet with us to join us at the earliest possible time so that together we can rebuild our beautiful country." (Corazon Aquino, 25 February 1986)
"Our people spoke of their faith that we Filipinos can be greater than the sum of all the problems that confront us; that we can climb higher than any summit we have already scaled.
"We cannot but interpret the vote as a summons for us to unite and face the future together. The people are not looking for scapegoats, but for the basic things to get done--and get done quickly." (Fidel V. Ramos, 30 June 1992)
"Ngayon pa lamang, ang mga kamag-anak ko ay nilalapitan na ng kung sinu-sino. Kung anu-anong deal at kickback ang ipinapangako.
"Binabalaan ko sila. Walang kaibigan, walang kumpare, walang kamag-anak o anak na maaaring magsamantala sa ngayon. At ngayon pa lamang sinasabi ko sa inyo, nag-aaksaya lamang kayo ng panahon. Huwag ninyo akong subukan." (Joseph Estrada, 30 June 1998)

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Enlightened & the Meek

It is rewarding to read and reflect on the award-winning novel, "Ilustrado," which won a Palanca and the Man Asian Literary Prize as an unpublished manuscript in 2008. Published in New York this year, its soft-bound Philippine edition (ISBN 978-0-374-94103-1) is already a best-seller in the local bookstores. The novel is a complex and difficult work written with much cleverness by Miguel Syjuco, a young overseas Filipino writer who was born and raised in Manila and lives in Montreal, Canada.

Miguel is an Ateneo alumnus whose parents, ex-TESDA chief Augusto 'Boboy' and Cong. Judy Syjuco, have taken turns in getting elected as Member of the House of Representatives for the 2nd district of Iloilo province since 1998.
"Ilustrado" hints at the hope for inner peace for members of the Philippine ruling and intellectual elite who want to be enlightened bearers of light but are tormented by a mixture of private failures and their “shared guilt” for the arrogance, narcissism, hedonism, and mediocrity that have turned the country into an anarchy of clans and classes.

The novel achieves what one minor character comments: it speaks truth to power without boring the readers but making them laugh periodically and hopefully at themselves. This is achieved through a rich and sometimes dizzying combination of classic and contemporary literary styles and forms such as jokes, blog comments, email, and fragments of songs, poems, essays, interviews, short stories, and biographies.
Like all brilliant works, this novel contains a few minor mistakes (besides the wrong spelling of Juan Luna’s 1884 masterpiece, the Spoliarium, which Syjuco acknowledged during a book launch organized by the National Book Development Board last April 14).

In one section, the protagonist appropriately or provocatively named Miguel Syjuco switches on the cable tv and does channel surfing like the way the novel shifts from one literary form to another. After changing channels 14 times, “a Portuguese nun discusses the beatitudes, quoting from the Gospel of St. John. Blessed are the meek, she says.” He changes channel 6 more times.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” can be found in the Gospel of Matthew (5:5) and in no other Gospel. For many of his believers and non-believers, the beatitudes of Jesus are absurd or unrealistic teachings, as these seem to glorify weakness, poverty, and misfortune. Like what the apostle Paul would say about the Crucified Christ, the beatitudes represent, for many, either a scandal or folly in practice.
Among the evils that another protagonist, Syjuco’s mentor Crispin Salvador, wants to expose is “the sin of omission” of members of the elite who, in their despair over the persistent eruptive state of the nation, “shuttered their homes, huddled inside, read scripture, and waited” for God to act. Similarly in Philippine fiction writing, there is “an underlying cultural faith in deus ex machina: God coming from the sky to make things right or more wrong.”
We should curse the meekness that means mere submissiveness or passivity, denies persons their right to protest injustice, and stems really from cowardice.
Another kind of meekness, however, is noble. It stems from wisdom and courage such as what Jesus of Nazareth showed, for though he went around in Galilee speaking powerful and wise words to both the lowly and the mighty, he was known to be “meek and humble in heart” even as he publicly denounced the hypocrisy of persons in authority who did not practice what they preached (Matthew 11:29; 23:3).
If Jesus' meekness was weakness and submissiveness, the authorities would not have bothered to have him arrested and killed in a shameful manner.
Every educated or intelligent citizen who wants to see radical change in society will come closer to pure enlightenment and inner peace when he examines himself humbly, honestly and regularly, and does this at least as often as he corrects others for their unethical behavior. “First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).

Saturday, May 22, 2010

"Forgiving Was Natural to Ninoy"

A few months after the assassination of her husband in 1983, Corazon Aquino described in an interview the magnanimity of Ninoy towards his opponents. The interview is chapter 18 of the book "A Hero Worth Living For" (ISBN 978-971-91523-9-2), written and published by veteran journalist and teacher, Alice Colet Villadolid, in 2007. Below is an excerpt:
"'What do you most treasure about Ninoy?' I asked. Cory brightened up, her eyes twinkling, and she answered, 'He was a kind & forgiving man. He had warm & friendly feelings for almost everyone.'
"She backtracked about 30 years & remembered when she & Ninoy were newly married. 'He ran for mayor & defeated Nicolas Feliciano who had been mayor of Concepcion for many years. Ninoy knew what it was to lose in that manner & he wanted to be magnanimous. He went out of his way to be friendly to Feliciano,' she narrated.
"'Again when Ninoy ran for the office of vice-governor of Tarlac,' Cory continued, 'the candidate of the other party, Jose 'Apeng' Yap, became very angry because Ninoy carried the entire ticket of his party to victory. Later, Ninoy befriended 'Apeng' & they became the closest of friends....'
"'Some of our friends could not understand how Ninoy could go & talk to Imelda Marcos early in May 1983, when she was in New York. For one thing, Ninoy & I recognized that it was Imelda who arranged Ninoy's trip to the U.S. for treatment when he became ill in 1980. Ninoy felt it was common courtesy to tell Imelda that he wanted to return to the country. In all truthfulness, others more bitterly resented the Marcoses than Ninoy did....'
"Cory said, 'Some people could not understand why he bent over backwards towards his political enemies. But forgiving was natural to Ninoy. He lost his temper quickly. But once he let off steam, he would forget.'"

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Raised in Naked Glory

In the gospel of John, the “hour” of Christ’s glory is the completion of his mission at his crucifixion, when he is stripped naked and lifted up on the cross. At his death and glorification, Jesus offers to believers his Spirit, and from his wounded side flows the living water and blood of the sacraments of baptism and the eucharist through which believers are born anew and receive eternal life.

Paul reminds us: “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too may walk in newness of life.” (Rom 6:3-4)

During the Easter vigil in some churches throughout the world, new members will be baptized, and thus the time-honored tradition of linking Easter with baptism will go on. This linkage is beautifully described in the ancient rite of baptism by immersion.

In the early churches, candidates for baptism or catechumens shed their clothes and go down naked into a pool of water. Their nakedness and their immersion symbolize their death. The catechumens strip themselves of a former way of life. For many of them, their baptism was their death in the eyes of their pagan relatives and friends who refused to associate with them once they became Christians.

The catechumens descend into the waters, the waters that can cleanse, nourish, or kill. By their symbolic death, they experience the death of Christ. When they rise naked from the waters, they put on their baptismal robes, and then join the expectant community, which joyfully welcomes them as new partakers in the life of the Risen Lord.

In the gospel of Mark (16:1-8), when the women entered Jesus' tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The presence of this young man in a long garment becomes more significant if we recall the story of the arrest of Jesus in Mark 14:51-52.After Jesus was led away by armed men, Mark mentions the strange emergence of a young man wearing nothing but a linen garment. He tried to follow Jesus, but when the armed men seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind.

This flight in nakedness is a graphic display of the weakness and vulnerability of the disciples, who all fled and deserted Jesus. One is reminded of these lines of a poem of Jean De La Ceppede (1548-1623):

Often I have tried to follow you, my life
Along familiar paths your mercy shows
But always, but always your several foes
Have seized me by the sheet, my strength borne off.

Jesus was disgraced, mocked and forcibly stripped. In the gospels of Mark and Matthew, Jesus was all alone to face death, bare of clothes and bare of friends. This declaration of the upright Job applies fully to Jesus: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall depart” (Job 1:21).

At the tomb of Jesus, the women find a young man. It seems that the young man who earlier fled in nakedness has now returned dressed in a long garment. He proclaims that Jesus has risen, and he instructs the women to tell Peter and the disciples. But the women flee in fear and say nothing to anyone (Mk 16:8). It was a shock to be told of the Vindication of Jesus (see 11 April 2009 blog entry) who is now clothed in holy power and glory.

Christ rose naked, as he left the strips of linen and his burial cloth in the empty tomb. He rose not in the nakedness of his former mortal body but in the naked glory of his risen body. As Adam of St. Victor (d. 1192) says in his hymn “Ecce Dies Celebris” (Behold, the Glorious Day!): “Christ’s flesh, once like sackcloth torn, is now a royal robe victoriously worn.”

The women and the other disciples, however, were afraid because they abandoned their master and friend when he needed them most. They disgraced themselves and revealed their naked weakness. They were ashamed of their infidelity and cowardice, and they were afraid to face the new power of Christ. Like Adam and Eve after they ate the forbidden fruit, they wanted to hide from the divine presence.

The original nakedness of Adam and Eve involved no shame, but this innocence was lost because of lust, not lust for sex, the standing serpent, but lust for power. They wanted to be like God, being able to do everything. In contrast, the shamefully condemned and crucified Christ was raised in naked glory because, despite the adulation of crowds at his powerful deeds and words when he went around in Galilee, he emptied himself of selfish ambition and became a complete servant of God and God’s people even in the face of death on the cross.

With their abandonment of their master and friend, the disciples wrestled with their shameful nakedness, and they were only able to withstand it once they stopped blaming one another and started forgiving. Then they began to see the merciful gaze of Christ, and once they saw this forgiving look, they began to realize that Jesus was not imprisoned in the past. Christ is present, Christ is future, Christ welcomes us back. Their shameful nakedness is now covered in love, and new life is born.

Shameful nakedness does not imply that the human body is a contemptible object. The body is precious, for it offers our primary opening to others and to the world. It is through the body that we are able to develop or destroy deep relationships. Our gaze can animate or kill. Our tongues can wound or heal. Our touch can assure or deceive. Christ’s resurrection testifies to the value of our bodies, for Christ rose in a body. In the Apostle’s Creed, we proclaim our belief in the resurrection of the body.

The body is the bedrock of deep relationships, and thus, we believe that God will resurrect the body because God wants to immortalize deep relationships. In contrast to commercial advertising, the primal beauty of the body does not rest on its shape, its size, or its youth, but on its ability to produce or nourish deep relationships.

The priority of deep relationships is something that many contemporary people are neglecting especially among the middle and upper classes. They do not primarily seek and sustain expressive relationships but prioritize the accumulation of money, or prioritize workaholism in order to acquire more, consume more, and waste more. Consumerism and productivism have trivialized emotive and ethical matters such as intimate friendship, sexual relations, and the respect for wildlife. The body, friendship, sex, and wildlife are being turned into commodities.

God resurrects the body because God wants to immortalize deep relationships. Christ has been raised from the dead because he has the deepest relationship with God and others. The depth of his relationships enabled him to withstand the shameful nakedness of being cruelly stripped, mocked, and punished, while his disciples abandoned him. In clinging firmly to his deep relationships, the shameful nakedness of Jesus was converted into a lovingly shared nakedness, a powerlessness and vulnerability in solidarity with the poor, the defenseless, the excluded, human wrecks, and the refuse of the world.

When Christ resurrected covered in holy power and new life, he did not hesitate to offer the protective cloak of forgiveness to his anxious disciples. We can prepare ourselves for our Lord's warm cloak of compassion by humbly standing before him in prayer as the naked selves we truly are. Then we can pray in these words of the 12th century theologian and mystic, William of St. Thierry:

"Having cast off the garment of skins that you made for Adam to protect him from his shame and confusion, I show myself to you, naked, as you created me. Behold me, Lord, not as you have made me but as I have made myself, because I have fallen away from you."

In our commemoration of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection, let us also reflect on our nakedness, our personal vulnerabilities, limitations, and deficiencies. With the help of Christ’s Spirit, let us reflect on how we can turn our nakedness into an opening so that the nakedness of others can find sacred rest and relief in the presence of our own nakedness. Or do we prefer to exhibit the shameful nakedness of our egocentrism, anxiety or indifference?

How do we strip ourselves of our greed and selfishness so that we can practice this injunction of St. Jerome: "naked follow the naked Christ"? How do we strip ourselves especially in prayer and contemplation so that, in the words of the 14th century spiritual text, "The Cloud of Unknowing, your intent is nakedly directed to God"? How can we share this nakedness so that others will experience forgiveness, hope, justice, and the dignity of the sons and daughters of God?

Let us pray for one another and for the whole naked humanity, as we remember Christ’s naked death and the naked glory of his resurrection. May we receive the power of his new life so that we can accompany one another in our naked immersion in the river of life from which we hope everybody will rise with naked intent unto God and put on the supreme baptismal robes of final innocence and divine life.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What One Congressman Can Do

On his second term, Iloilo City Congressman Raul T. Gonzalez Jr. has accomplished the principal authorship of six (6) national laws: Republic Act 9521 (National Book Development Trust Fund Act), R.A. 9646 (Real Estate Service Act), R.A. 9513 (Renewable Energy Resources Act), R.A. 9853 (Customs Brokers Act), R.A. 10024 (Philippine Respiratory Therapy Act) and the soon-to-be-signed Psychology Service Act. Many members of Congress finish 3 terms (or 9 years) without authoring a single law of national importance.

Raul Gonzalez Jr. chaired two House committees: the Committee on Civil Service and Professional Regulation and the Committee on Revision of Laws. Politicians often cite “reforming our government” as their primary reason for entering politics, and thus Raul Jr. chose the Civil Service Committee, which can produce laws that will improve the state of our 1.5 million government employees and the private professionals (doctors, engineers, nurses, psychologists, real estate agents, customs brokers, respiratory therapists, etc.).

When Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia was elevated to the post of Deputy Speaker, Raul Jr. was appointed Acting Chair (for about 6 months) of the committee Garcia vacated, the Committee on Revision of Laws. Thus, he ended up presiding over two committees - a rare distinction because traditionally a senior congressman is given only one committee to chair.

Many constituents expect their Congressman to obtain development projects for their district. Raul Jr. over a three-year period (2007-2010) was able to channel approximately P275 Million worth of projects to Iloilo City, broken down as follows: P52 Million under the “Free Medical Assistance for Indigent Patients” program, P41.8 Million to the Iloilo City government under his “Assistance to LGU” program, P33 Million for the construction/repair of barangay multi-purpose halls, another P30 Million for the construction/declogging of drainage systems, and P73 million for the repair/concreting of various roads and bridges in Iloilo City.

Tens of thousands of indigent Iloilo City residents have benefited from the Free Medical Assistance program since it was started almost 15 years ago by Deputy Speaker Raul M. Gonzalez, Sr. Through the years, an estimated total of P200 Million has been disbursed under the said program. As for the “Assistance to LGU” fund under Raul Jr., it has been used mainly to buy things that the Iloilo City Government was unable to provide: barangay patrol vehicles, police cars, and communications equipment.

The Assistance fund has also been used to augment various initiatives of the City Government such as the Dinagyang Foundation, Paraw Regatta, and even the schooling of the Vice Mayor, 2 City Councilors, and 16 department heads and city hall personnel at the Ateneo School of Government Masters in Public Management program. The rest of the Priority Development Assistance Fund of Raul Jr. was used to repair public structures (roads, bridges, barangay halls) which were damaged by Typhoon Frank in 2008.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Emy Boncodin (1955-2010)

I join believers in dedicated public service in mourning the death of Emilia 'Emy' Boncodin, an outstanding public servant and a brilliant teacher. Despite her busy schedule, Boncodin managed to teach courses on public finance and strategic management of the bureaucracy in the Ateneo School of Government Masters in Public Management (MPM) program in which she awed her students. She was a model of ethical and competent leadership that she effectively exercised in her humble and low-profile way. She will be sorely missed, but she will continue to live in the memory of her many admirers and in the lives of those who will follow her example.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Enterprises for & with the Poor & the Lowly

Get to know Filipino social enterprises like CARD-MRI, Hapinoy, Gawad Kalinga, and Rags2Riches, which has succeeded in enterprising for and with the poor, who constitute the base of the social pyramid in developing countries. Rags2Riches is an internationally recognized social enterprise that has empowered poor mothers living around the Payatas dumpsite to transform scraps of dirty cloth into fashionable bags and accessories and thus raise each homemaker’s weekly earnings from P200 to P2,500.

You can read about Filipino social enterprises in the recently launched (2009) book, “For the People with the People: Developing Social Enterprises in the Philippines,” edited by Regina Hechanova-Alampay and published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press. To buy a copy, email

In light of the cases discussed in the book, Hechanova-Alampay and Leland dela Cruz define a social enterprise as “a new sustainable endeavor (whether in the form of a new model, a new organization, or a new program within an organization) created through the investment of assets and the assumption of risk-taking activities to address social problems” like inter-generational poverty and inadequate access to credit, education and housing (118).

Reese Fernandez, the intelligent, friendly and young External Vice President of Rags2Riches, describes the challenge of entering and understanding the world of the Payatas mothers and the continuing challenge to fuse it with the world of the competitive market:

“There’s a community that has lots of needs that you want to fulfill but at the same time there is the market, the demand side that you have to take care of also. You have to balance the two and it’s always more tricky if you’re working with a community that you want to empower rather than just a pool of laborers. We want them to be our partners, so we always have to include them in our decision-making. It’s really difficult to make them understand long-term matters, make them understand the things you understand.” (78).

Our country needs more people like Reese and her partners in Rags2Riches who have succeeded in fusing horizons or worlds that are easily alienated from each other.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Leadership Our Nation Needs

What kind of leadership in governance does our nation need? We need transformational leadership that wisely can exercise transactional leadership to ensure the delivery of basic services to many poor communities and locales.

James MacGregor Burns, in his book, Leadership (1978), differentiates the two as follows:

Transformational leadership “occurs when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leader(s) and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality.”

Transactional leadership “occurs when one person takes the initiative in making contact with others for the purpose of an exchange of valued things.” An example of the exercise of transactional leadership is the pledge and effort of elective officials to deliver rice, roads, bridges, water and electricity to their constituents in exchange for their votes. Transactional leadership can be ethical or unethical. An elective official who wins primarily through the offer of money to voters exercises transactional leadership of the unethical kind.

As for transformational leadership, the statesman Raul Manglapus (1918-1999) was describing it when he said: “The responsibility of to give meaning to the life of every citizen” (“Creating for Greatness,” 1962).

To illustrate the importance of meaning in the citizen’s life, his speech at the 1962 commencement exercises of the Manuel L. Quezon University recounted this story of 3 men at work:

“What meaning?

“In the Middle Ages, one of the great Gothic cathedrals was being built in France. The work was just beginning and there were many laborers at work, all of them cutting stones. A priest, wishing to discover the attitude of each worker toward his work, approached one of them and asked, ‘What are you doing?’

“And the man, looking up from his work and shrugging his shoulders, replied, ‘Can’t you see? I am cutting stones.’

“Not satisfied with that answer, the priest went to the next man and asked, ‘You, my good man, what are you doing?’

“The (2nd) man said, ‘Well, I have a wife and children. I have to earn a living. So I am cutting stones.’

“Still not satisfied, the priest went on to a third man and again asked, ‘And you, my good man, what are you doing?’

“This man looked up at the priest with pride in his eyes and replied, ‘Father, I am building a cathedral!’

“Three men at work at the same job, but what a world of difference between their outlooks.”

The responsibility of political leadership that is transformational is to raise the outlooks of citizens so that the old will dream dreams and the young will see visions...of a nation of justice, peace, and equal opportunity. Thus, the transformational leader is an inspiring model to the citizenry.

When do we know that transformational leadership has been exercised and borne fruit in our country?

“When we shall be able to approach the worker in the factory, the farmer in the ricefield, the lawyer, the doctor, the teacher, the engineer, the economist [the manager and the entrepreneur] and they shall all say, ‘I am earning a living, yes, but I am also building a nation’” (R. Manglapus).

For 2010 and beyond, our nation needs leadership that is transformational and transactional, just as in evangelizing or transforming politics, Christian leaders need to be “as shrewd as snakes & as innocent as doves” (Mt 10:16). “The children of light” have to be wiser than “the children of this world” (Lk 16:8) in making use of political power.

When necessary, the transformational leader will have to exercise transactional leadership in order to ensure that poor locales and communities lift themselves from poverty. For example, a transformational president should know how to engage wisely in transactions and reach a principled compromise with key legislators, whether opponents or allies, in order to secure both the timely passage of priority legislation such as the General Appropriations Act and the confirmation of key executive appointments.

The transformational leader in politics has to practice wisdom, which is a virtue that disposes one to discern what is both noble & realistic among goals & courses of action in particular circumstances. Wisdom in leadership is a dynamic balance between romanticism (wishful thinking) & mediocrity (dull thinking). A romantic or utopian leader can do as much damage as a mediocre leader.

Today’s wise leaders are “systems thinkers” & watch out for systemic flaws. In his book, “The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil” (2007), Stanford University psychologist Philip Zimbardo speaks of “the banality of evil and the banality of heroism: any of us could as easily become heroes as perpetrators of evil, depending on how we are impacted by situational & systemic forces.” In our country, the poor campaign finance system in which the generation of campaign funds lacks efficiency and transparency is one of the systemic flaws that push our elective officials towards unethical behavior.

The excellent leader practices systems thinking, the understanding & the learning of complexity, interdependencies (of action & structure), & change (e.g. in technology & knowledge).

To become a transformational president, one ought to have “fire in the belly” which, although rooted in some personal unhappiness or deep restlessness, can be positive if it comprises:
(a) healthy impatience with the national condition,
(b) the drive for excellence &
(c) readiness & willingness to authorize or command calibrated coercion or violence when it is necessary to enforce the law for the common good.

“If you have gone a whole week without being impatient, you are not serving yourself or your (organization) well” (Tom Peter). Among the qualities of which “the President should set the example” is “the virtue of healthy impatience” (Credo of Pres. Ramon Magsaysay).

Manglapus raised the question: “how does one lead (our) free nation to greatness?” His answer: “Awaken citizens out of mere existence, so that, with spontaneity, they may push forward where they had to be dragged [by government], help themselves where they had to be spoonfed, create where they only thought to consume, strive for excellence where they were content with mediocrity” (R. Manglapus, “Road to Greatness,” 1962).

Our nation needs transformational leadership that knows how to exercise transactional leadership whenever necessary. The transformational leaders for our times are systems thinkers & models of ethical values such as integrity, wisdom, justice & the pursuit of excellence.

Finally, we should keep in mind that we can exercise leadership, and should exercise it wisely, in our locales, communities and organizations even when we do not occupy positions of authority.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Fire in the Belly To Be President

In the humor-laden and award-winning autobiography, From Barrio to Senado (2008 National Book Awards), by public health leader and two-term Senator (1995-2007) Dr. Juan M. Flavier (b. 1935), one reads:

“Fire in the belly is the first pre-requisite for anyone aspiring for the highest political office in our country. I believe you must absolutely want to be president. You must absolutely have the drive to seize the position.

“Without that fire, without that ambition, the position will be ill-served even by the most noble of intentions.

“Raul Roco had fire in his belly. As does Ping [Lacson]. And Loren Legarda. There are a few more young leaders that, I am happy to say, have that drive, ambition, and clear vision to get to Malacañang.” (Flavier, 394-95)

Senator Flavier realized he did not have fire in the belly even after the following favorable events:

Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo announced on Rizal Day of 2002 that she would not be a presidential candidate in the next election; conscientious persons like Winnie Monsod assured him of support if he wanted to run; Pres. Arroyo explicitly encouraged Flavier, Bobby Barbers, and Jun Magsaysay to “float” their names as presidential aspirants; three “Flavier for President” movements were launched in “Davao, Central Luzon, and Baguio, courtesy of the initiatives of Atty. Raul Lambino” after his name was floated; stickers like “Juan for All and All for Juan” started to appear in Metro-Manila without instruction from Flavier; Ambassador Alfonso Yuchengco of RCBC invited him to a meeting to discuss the matter of campaign funds; surveys started to show he was second to Raul Roco and higher than Ping Lacson.

Despite all these favorable events, Flavier did not start organizing, and his media appearances had “no planning, no budget, no strategy, and no real effort.” He narrates:

“Gene Orejana was the first to interview me live on television…He asked me if I was physically up for the rigors of a national campaign. I responded that I was game, but admitted that health would be a consideration. I told him I had asthma, high blood pressure, and mild diabetes.

“Rudy [chief of staff, Senate office] almost had a heart attack, and the next day he had a welt on his forehead where he had slapped himself.

“When Korina Sanchez guested me on her own television program, Isyu, she gave me a second chance to be more politic in my answer. But afterwards, in a text message to her fellow broadcaster…she, too, expressed perplexity in my being ‘deliberately honest’ about my health. She sensed that my heart was ‘not into this float.’” (Flavier, 390)

Why was there no fire in his belly? Deep down the “barrio doctor” in him remained stronger than the politician. The barrio doctor listens, persuades, and heals individuals and communities. The politician can do the same but he or she should be ready and willing to authorize or command coercion or violence whenever it is necessary to enforce the law for the common good.

Flavier’s book intimates that one has to have some deep unhappiness or restlessness to relish the fierce competition for the highest office of Chief Executive and Commander of necessary violence.

When he looks back at a childhood in which his parents, both grade-school dropouts, struggled to put food on the table for a family of eight, Juan Flavier has enough inner peace and happiness, as he perceives that his descendants have more opportunities: “Knowing that all my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will have a better life than I did is all I need to know to be at peace with the God that Susan and I try to introduce to them” (Flavier, 402).

Juan Flavier, the public health leader, loved to communicate with the poor, shared with them his jokes and humorous parables, and knew himself enough to recognize that he had no fire in his belly for the Presidency.

Source: Flavier, Juan. From Barrio to Senado: An Autobiography. n.p. 2008.