Sunday, August 19, 2018

The Challenges the Church in the Philippines Faces

If we want the Church to survive and thrive we need to constantly look at the big picture and the long view.  This requires looking at the external opportunities and threats as well as our internal weaknesses and strengths. The question that we need to answer is: What are the challenges the Church is facing today and in the coming decades and how can the Church respond to these challenges?
The first challenge is that of globalization. All the nations and economies of the world are now interconnected. Globalization has been brought about by advances in technology – through means of communication and travel. The world has indeed become a global village. Globalization has brought economic progress to many underdeveloped countries. The Asian region (especially South-East Asia) has been the fastest growing economy with high GDP (gross domestic products). But this growth has not been inclusive, benefiting only the local economic and political elites and the transnational corporations. Poverty remains a problem. The poor has been left behind – including the indigenous peoples. The gap between the rich and the poor has widened.
The economic system has resulted in ecological and environmental degradation due to mining, logging, coal-fired power plants and dependence on fossil fuels. The Philippines have become one of most vulnerable countries to the calamities and disasters brought about by climate change and global warming. Super-typhoons like Yolanda and floods are becoming the new normal. The poisoning of the land, air and seas are affecting the livelihood and health of the people.
 Globalization has made possible the flow of migration – from the underdeveloped countries to the more developed economies, and from the rural areas to the urban areas. In short term, this has been beneficial economically to families with OFW and has kept the economy afloat. The Philippines has one of the most number of migrant workers. Filipinos can be found in almost all parts of the world – the Middle East, North America, Europe and in Asia-Oceania (Japan, Korea, Australia). With the lack of national industrialization and agricultural development and better job opportunities abroad will perpetuate and increase foreign and domestic migration.
What is the effect of globalization and a neo-liberal capitalist system on culture? Through technology, the liberal values of the dominant Western (European and North American) culture are influencing the local culture.  Among these values are – consumerism, materialism, secularism, autonomy, independence, sexual permissiveness, privacy, individual rights, personalism, equality, liberty, etc. Those who are easily influenced by these values are the young people and those living in urban areas. These values can easily be assimilated due to technology (the internet, social media, movies, TV, etc). Thus, there is an emerging youth culture that transcends national and regional borders. Young people from all over the world can share the same values, the same taste for clothes, music, food, and the kind of relationships that they want to have. This development can lead to a generation gap and tension. Young people and even older ones influenced by this liberal culture can be in conflict with authority figures – within the family, village, religious community and society.  If not handled well, this could lead to either alienation or rejection of family values, religion and even rebellion against those in authority. The younger generation may not be as religious as their elders. If they find religion meaningless or irrelevant, they will be searching for other meaningful forms in other religions or will adopt the secularism of the West.
These cultural and economic developments are also affecting the family. The families are getting smaller as more and more younger people – including women – are focused on their career and marrying late or never marry at all. A contraceptive mentality contributes to this. The OFW phenomenon is also weakening the family. Oftentimes, one or both parents are abroad, leaving behind their children. Lack of parental care can lead to problematic young people. This can lead to being influenced by gangs or by drugs. The weakening of the family and the more secular values of young people can also affect vocations to religious life.
Looking at the political terrain, authoritarian rule is back. Although democracy had been restored after the Marcos dictatorial rule, President Rodrigo Duterte appears to be following the footsteps of his idol– Ferdinand Marcos. He controls not just the executive branch but also the legislative and judicial branches thereby weakening the system of check and balance.   Due to the absence of genuine political parties and the prevalence of political dynasties, it has been easy for politicians to switch party and join the supermajority for their own vested interest.  Both judiciary and congress have become rubber stamps to Duterte’s political agenda. Duterte has been able to carry out his bloody “War on Drugs” with impunity which has resulted in over 20,000 extrajudicial killings of suspected users and pushers – most of them poor. He was able to declare Martial Law in Mindanao and to extend it with the support of Congress & Supreme Court. He threatened to declare Martial Law in the entire country and establish a revolutionary government.  There won’t be need for it with the way he has established political hegemony, weakened the rule of law and violated human rights.  Meanwhile, the change he has promised remains elusive: the drug problem and criminality remain unsolved, there is still much corruption in government, poverty has not been alleviated, taxes have increased, the price of basic commodities has increased, there is no peace and poor continue to suffer. Meanwhile, Duterte continues his tirade against the Church which he regards as a threat to his rule.
What is the long-term consequence of this political situation? This could lead to an economic crisis. There are less foreign investments coming in due to the political uncertainty and Duterte’s pro-China policy. His “build, build, build” policy can lead to debt-servitude to China and increase the national debt. The European Union (EU) has threatened to withdraw the GSP – the duty-free privilege for Philippine goods that enter the EU – due to the lack of respect for human rights and rule of law.  The political situation has become unstable and the economic crisis could worsen the political crisis and vice-versa. The International Criminal Court has started a preliminary examination on the complaint against Duterte on “crimes against humanity.” There is a growing resistance to the regime as more and more people become disenchanted and angered by what is happening. Even beyond the Duterte regime, the Philippines will continue to deal with weakened political institutions, with political dynasties, with voters who are easily bought and continue to elect incompetent popular and wealthy candidates. Poverty will still be a major problem. The environmental crisis will worsen. The economy will continue to benefit only a few. More and more people will resort to violence if the problems of society persist and no peace agreement is reached as the next generation could become more radicalized. 
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Church vis-à-vis this situation? Since the time of Martial Law under Marcos and over the succeeding years, the Catholic Church, under the leadership of the CBCP, has exercised a prophetic role. The Church has been instrumental in the ouster of the brutal dictator Marcos and the corrupt president Estrada. Will the Church continue to exercise her prophetic role under this regime?

To their credit, the AMRSP (Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines) and individual religious order came out with statements condemning the extrajudicial killings.  The LAIKO – the national network of lay associations and movements – also issued statements against the culture of death. The CBCP has already issued three pastoral letters – affirming the right to life (even of addicts) and condemning EJK.  But do these statements represent the position of many Catholics? 
Meanwhile, the majority of the clergy remain silent vis-à-vis the abuses of this regime – especially the extra-judicial killings, the Martial Law in Mindanao and the authoritarian rule. On the other hand, many dioceses and parishes have initiated community-based drug rehabilitation programs to address the problem of drug addiction and to prevent extra-judicial killings. Some priests and religious have also started documenting the violation of human rights and set up a network of sanctuary for the witnesses who will be presented in the International Criminal Court. A few priests are preaching against the abuses of the regime and together with some religious they are participating in protests/ prayer rallies. In reaction to all these, Duterte has criticized and cursed the Church – branding her as a hypocritical institution and calling the God we Catholics believe as stupid. He falsely accused some of the bishops and priests. Three priests have been murdered so far. Other priests have been placed on a hit list.
The questions that will continue to haunt the Church in the years to come are: What possessed this so-called Christian nation to elect this man in spite the fact that our churches are full every Sunday, hundreds of thousands or even millions attend our processions (especially Sto. Nino and Nazareno) and the record numbers attending the papal Mass (seven million). What happened to our formation/evangelization programs? How come the Church seems to be unsuccessful in forming the conscience of our people – including the clergy?  Ultimately, the question that needs to be answered: how far has the vision of a renewed Church as promoted by Vatican II and PCP II been owned and internalized?
Thus, the challenge for the Church in the Philippines is how to live the vision of the Church not just as communion and as a priestly people, but especially as a prophetic and servant Church, ready to accept suffering and martyrdom. The other challenges related to this: how can the Church truly become the Church of the Poor in face of the continuing problem of poverty. What more can the Church do in alleviating poverty? What can the Church do to help tackle the problem of environmental destruction, climate change and the resulting calamities and disasters? How can the Church promote peace amidst the spiral of violence and continuing armed conflict? How can the Church defend human rights – especially the right to life. How can the Church effectively help in stopping the killings and start the healing? How can the Church sustain and expand the efforts at ecumenical and interreligious dialogue – a dialogue of faith and life especially with Muslims - that can contribute to peace and development?

In fulfilling her mission, the Church faces the challenge of how to get more and more lay people to get actively involved not just in the liturgical celebration but also in the prophetic and servant mission. This is very urgent as number of ordained ministers remain very low – around 10,000 priests for over 90 million Catholics. With smaller families and more young people who are either secularized or pressured to follow another lucrative career due to family obligation, we cannot expect a dramatic increase of vocations to the priesthood or religious life. Thus, the Church will depend heavily on the active participation of the laity – not just as individuals but as part of BECs and lay organizations and associations and renewal movements. Their involvement in the parish and the diocese as well as in society in general is vital. The dynamism of the Church should not be dependent on the clergy but on the lay faithful who are committed and competent.
Speaking of lay participation there is a need to address the problem of the active involvement of men. While the Church at the diocesan and parish levels are led by male ordained ministers, majority of those who are involved in church activities are women – except the extra-ordinary lay ministers of communion who are men. The same thing is happening at the grassroots communities – in the BECs. While the priest-less liturgies in the chapel are presided by men, the rest of the leaders of the community and the majority of the active members are women. On the bright side, this is a welcome development for women who are demanding for a greater role in the Church. This is already happening at the grassroots. But we should not forget the men. There is a need to come up with evangelization and formation programs designed for men and to focus on promoting masculine spirituality suited for them. This is to be done without neglecting the women and their needs. Perhaps, programs that are more social action-oriented (prophetic-servant mission) might be attractive to men, rather than just focusing exclusively on liturgy and bible-sharing. Men needs more action and less talk. They need to become more aware that whatever they are doing will contribute to the welfare of the community and society. Male-bonding often takes place in the midst of praxis rather than just sharing their feelings. If ever they are going to share their problems, it will often be with other men they regard as friends. Thus, besides encouraging them to take active part in their community, it is important that they come together regularly as men to deepen their fellowship – prayer, sharing, planning, celebrating. Those who are married should be made aware of their responsibility as fathers, husband as well as co-leader of the Christian family – the domestic Church. 
The family remains a cause for concern. How to develop truly Christian families is a challenge for the Church when the family as an institution has been weakened due to migration, reduced size, and the influence of a globalized culture and technology. Family evangelization programs need to be developed as well as marriage-enrichment programs for couples. Pre-marriage/pre-Cana seminars needs to be updated.

In promoting communion and carrying out her mission – especially the prophetic evangelizing mission, the Church must make use of technology – whether in mass media and social media. The cyberspace or the internet is helpful in developing communion – connecting the members of the Church with one another and with their pastors no matter how distant they are physically. The Church needs to avail of technology to not just in imparting the teachings and doctrines of the Church but in the formation of conscience.
The participation of young people in liturgical celebrations and youth activities at the parish and diocesan levels remain high. But we cannot be complacent as the globalized secular and materialistic culture continue to influence young people. Formation/Evangelization programs for young people that will include formation of conscience and involvement in the prophetic and servant mission of the Church should be emphasized. The Church should not forget to address young people’s need for meaning and direction as well as appropriate spirituality. Hopefully, from among them will come the future priests and religious, as well as lay leaders.
Finally, the Church must address the issue of leadership in the Church which is a reflection of the crisis of leadership in society. The quality of leadership is very important if the Church is to survive and thrive and if society is to be transformed. So far, the models of leadership have been inadequate and so is the leadership-formation for clergy, seminarians, religious and lay people. Many of the clergy who are ordained are not prepared to exercise leadership roles in the parish and diocese although they may have adequate theological, spiritual and liturgical formation. Many continue to associate leadership primarily with power, privilege and status – influenced by the prevailing dominant cultural models. Thus, they turn out to be incompetent figureheads, or petty tyrants, or bureaucrats, or administrators operating in a maintenance mode. Worst of all, some become involved in sexual misconduct and corruption, lacking in conscience, failing to exercise with integrity ethical leadership. This is the kind of leadership that will weaken the Church and block Church’s renewal. Thus, the model of leadership promoted by Vatican II and PCP II must be imbibed – leadership motivated by humble and loving service (servant-leadership), being a compassionate good shepherd with the smell of the sheep. This leadership style is more participative, consultative, collegial or collaborative and inspired by vision (the vision of a Church renewed) – hence, visionary leadership. This type of leadership demands scrutinizing the signs of the times – viewing reality from a broader perspective – looking at the big picture and the long view. This type of leadership is more concerned with building up the Church as a living community rather than in building expensive churches or cathedrals. To avoid maintenance mode, this requires planning and strict implementation yet characterized by flexibility.  This kind of leadership requires courage -- the courage to speak out, to confront the wolves that threaten or wound the flock and to accept suffering and martyrdom if required. Without this kind of leadership, the vision of a renewed Church of Vatican II and PCP II will remain an empty dream -- forgotten beautiful documents relegated to the archives.
We should not expect that we can fully achieve the vision of a renewed Church in our own lifetime. It is a continuing effort, an ongoing journey. The Church, after all, is constantly reforming and renewing herself – ecclesia semper reformanda. Like the Kingdom of God, it is an “already-not-yet” reality. Hence, we must always be patient and do what we can. After all this is the work of the Spirit and we should rely on the guidance and the dynamism of the Holy Spirit. Vatican II was seen as a new Pentecost. It was just a new start. Those who started have already gone before us and it is our duty and obligation to continue what they started just as we hope the next generation will continue to do so. There is no turning back.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Responding to the Call to Solitude

It’s been a month since I started  another phase of my life – a life of solitude and silence as a hermit after so many years of active ministry.  I am living the life that I have always longed for.  Even as a young priest over 37 years ago, I was already attracted to this kind of life. But through the years, I could only spend a month each year alone on top of this mountain for rest, prayer, contemplation, reading, writing, running & biking, playing my flute & violin, practicing tai-chi, preparing dinner after fasting intermittently. It was my way of coping with the stress of missionary and pastoral ministry.  I considered this as part of the rhythm of my life – the contemplative dimension. This kept me from burning out. I came down from the mountain fully recharged to continue my pilgrim, missionary journey – evangelizing the poor, building Basic Ecclesial Communities, resisting a dictatorial regime and struggling against logging companies.
Being on top of this mountain has enabled me to have a closer encounter with my deeper self and with the One to whom I have offered my life. I have never felt alone or lonely. The mountaintop interlude has given me the opportunity to look at a big picture and a long view of my life and ministry. I have tried to live seriously the traditional image of the Redemptorist: Apostle abroad, Carthusian at home. This has been part of my effort to integrate the active and the contemplative dimension of my life as a religious priest which I try to do every day but which I need to do on extended periods.
In the midst of my busy life and hectic schedule, I always looked forward to going up to this sacred space. But I could never get enough of this. I planned to spend my Sabbatical Year here every ten years of my life. I also made a promise to spend the final phase of my life on this mountain. I built a bamboo hermitage which I could only occupy for three months since I was asked to do higher studies in Berkeley and Rome. When I came back, I spent the next sixteen years in Davao engaged in teaching, pastoral ministry, interreligious dialogue, life and peace advocacy and denouncing the killings perpetrated by the Davao Death Squad. Throughout those years, I continued my annual mountaintop interlude. I could only spend five months here during my Sabbatical due to my pastoral and academic responsibilities.
And now after over six years working at the CBCP  - promoting BECs all over the country  and denouncing  extrajudicial killings and authoritarian rule under the new regime over the last two years, I can finally fulfill the promise I made long ago. Last month, after Biking for Life & Peace from Manila to Mindanao,  I came up to this mountain to begin living as a full-time hermit.  I am occupying the room in the rest-house which I have been using annually after a typhoon destroyed the bamboo hermitage I built years ago.  In due time, I will be rebuilding with my own hands the hermitage in the woods. This will be my home for the next 10 to 20 years or more, God willing.
Some people – especially friends, confreres and fellow human rights activists – are asking why I am doing this now when there is still much I can do in my ministry and in the struggle against the forces of evil in society.
I just feel that now is the right time to answer the eremitical call. I am already a senior citizen and I want to do this before I am too old to live alone and take care of myself. I believe that this is where the Lord wants me to be at this time of my life. I won’t be active any more in organizing, giving talks or joining rallies anymore.  I will continue to struggle and speak out against evil in a different way – through prayer, fasting and writing. Echoing Mk 6:9 St. John Paul II affirmed: “Jesus himself has shown us by his own example that prayer and fasting are the first and the most effective weapons against the forces of evil.” Mahatma Gandhi said something similar: “My religion teaches me that whenever there is distress which one cannot remove, one must fast and pray.”
Coming up this mountain reminds me of the prophet Elijah whose life was threatened by King Ahab and Jezebel. He was weary and discouraged. It was amidst the silence and solitude on top of the mountain that he felt God’s presence and gave him courage to face death.  (1 Kings 19:1-14).  I did not come here to escape or hide from those who intend to end my life prematurely because of my prophetic stance – just like what they did recently to Fr. Mark Ventura.  I came here to fulfill a promise – to answer the Lord’s call to spend the remaining years of my life in solitude, silence and contemplation.  I came here to enter into a deeper communion with Him and to prepare myself for my final journey fully aware of my mortality.  I am encouraged by the words of a Carmelite hermit – Fr. Cornelius Wencel: “The solitude of the desert teaches a person to be at peace even in the face of death… The mere choice of solitude is an experience of kenosis and death. The hermit, with his childlike heart, approaches death fearlessly. He accepts it with quiet understanding and patience. He does not try to avoid death, to run away from it, or to forget the inevitable necessity of dying… By dying in Christ and rising in Christ, touching the mystery of Christ’s Passover, the hermit becomes a prophet sent to the people of today.”

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Bike for Life and Peace: Pre-Departure Statement

Today, here at the Shrine of Our Mother Perpetual Help,  I start my 1,500 km Bike for Life & Peace across Southern Luzon, Samar, Leyte and Northern Mindanao. This is the fifth bike advocacy I am doing.  In 2000 I biked for peace across the Philippines. In 2006 I biked for life and peace around Mindanao. In 2008 I biked for life and peace around the Philippines. In 2014, I did a climate ride from Manila to Mindanao. 
  During this ride, I will be fasting during the daytime and preach in the parish churches where I will stay overnight. 

1. Stop the killing, start the healing
2. Resume the peace talks between the Government and the National Democratic Front
3. End Martial Law in Mindanao.

Stop the killing. This is the appeal of the CBCP which echoes the cry of so many people in our land. Since the start of the War on Drugs under the Duterte administration, over 16,000 have died, many of them suspected drug users and pushers, most of them poor. The miserable condition of  the families of those who were killed have worsened.

EJK has been a strategic component of this war on drugs which has been proven to be ineffective. I join my voice to the appeal of the church and civil society for respect of human rights - especially the right to life - and the rule of law. The solution to the drug problem should focus on healing, on the rehabilitation of addicts. The problem of poverty, violence, dysfunctional families, psychological trauma and alienation that breed addiction should be addressed.
Resume peace talks. President Duterte promised that a peace agreement with the NDF will be reached during his term. There have been progress especially in  the substantive  talks regarding social and economic reforms that would address the roots of armed conflict. The collapse of the peace talks attributed to NPA tactical operations that claimed the lives of civilians and subsequent declaration of the government of the communists as terrorists have made peace elusive once again.  I join my voice to the clamor to resume the peace talks and come with a comprehensive peace agreement. There can be no military solution to the age-old insurgency problem.
End Martial Law in Mindanao. The basis for the declaration of Martial Law was the Marawi siege. The forces of Maute- ISIS have already been defeated. Yet Martial Law has been extended all over Mindanao even in the absence of actual invasion and widespread rebellion, simply on the basis of the threats of ISIS resurgence or expansion and the ongoing communist insurgency. Martial Law will lead to further human rights violation, the escalation of the armed conflict and the spiral of violence.  It closes the avenue to peace and will fail to address poverty, injustice, the destruction of the environment and underdevelopment. 
Extrajudicial Killings, total war and martial law will not solve the basic problems of our people.  Thus, I make this appeal to all concerned -- especially to President Duterte, government officials, the police and military:  Stop the Killing  start the healing. Resume Peace Talks. End Martial Law in Mindanao.

Someday we will face the judgment of God. We will have to give an account for our deeds and behavior. The basis for judgment will not be how much power and wealth that we have accumulated but how much good we have accomplished for the people. We will be judged by our love, mercy and compassion for the poor and the weak, by our respect for life, by our efforts to bring about peace, justice and progress in the land.

This will probably be the last long-distance advocacy `ride that I will do.  I am already a senior citizen - I will be 64 this year and I am starting the final phase of my life -- a life of solitude, silence and prayer as a hermit.  I know that my bike advocacy will not make a lot of difference. I am just a tiny voice or a mere point of light in the dark. But I believe and hope that even small acts that we do will add to the collective efforts to awaken the conscience of the nation and bring about goodness and decency in our country.

I am doing this fully aware of the risks and the danger I am facing. I am aware that I too can be a target of extrajudicial killing. In my youth, I was almost “salvaged” having undergone torture and imprisonment under Martial Law. I will not cower in fear. I will not back down. I  believe that there is still goodness and humanity within each one no matter how sinful. Even hardened killers can change. I have seen this in the former members of the DDS that I have met and who have gone through a process of conversion. I pray for the day when we recognize each as siblings and friends.
 So as I bike and preach the Gospel of Life and Peace, I put my trust in God to whom I have given my life. 

Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR
March 14, 2018

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Lamentation from EJK Land

The bullet-riddled corpses sprawl on the sidewalks,
  the dark alleys or inside the shanties 
  waiting to be laid to rest in public cemeteries
  or dumped in common graves.
  The inconsolable widows & orphans or shocked fathers and mothers 
cannot not afford to bury them
  for the police are making a killing out
  of the killings or mass murder
  ordered by the blood-thirsty ruler from the city of Davao.

The slums beside dumpsites, railways, waterways & cemeteries 
beyond the posh villages & subdivisions
   have become killing fields
  day by day,  night after night
  as the poor wait in fear & trembling
  for the executioners in uniform
  or masked hit-men riding in tandem

  imported from or trained in Davao.

Why do brutal, corrupt & incompetent men
 lord over this land like criminals?
Why do pious men and women who fill the churches Sunday after Sunday
and join processions in masse
or attend the Pope's Mass in millions
keep silent or approve of this and say
those addicts & enemies of the state deserve to die

Where is mercy and compassion
for those wounded by neglect, abuse,
  isolation and loneliness
  in need of healing and conversion?
Where is justice for those unjustly punished
  without due process,
deprived of human rights & dignity
while drug lords go scot-free
just because they are relatives, friends or partners?

O Lord, we believe that you will deliver us
 from evil as you did in times past –
especially at EDSA.
 But how long must we wait?
 How many more lives have to be wasted?
When will the people stand up and rise empowered by your Spirit?
In this dark night we toll the bells
 and light our candles full of despair
and hope.

Monday, December 25, 2017

My Last Christmas in Baclaran - Time to Say Goodbye

This is will be my 7th and last Christmas here in Baclaran. My resignation from CBCP takes effect on Dec 31, but I have already started saying goodbye during the National Gathering of BEC Directors and Coordinators on Nov 27-30 in Tagbilaran, during the CBCP Employees' Christmas Party on Dec 13, and during the formal turn-over to Msgr. Gabriel on Dec 18, two days before the start of the Christmas break of the CBCP offices. 

I haven't said goodbye yet to my Redemptorist confreres here in Baclaran. That will happen when I come back from the U.S. in February. I will be leaving for Chicago on the 2nd week of January to give a talk in DePaul University on “Extra-Judicial Killings in the Philippines and the Church's Response” on January 25.  I will also give a talk on EJK in Columbia University before I fly back to Manila. Then I will send my clothes and books to Cebu and ride my bicycle across Southern Luzon, Samar, Leyte, Northern Mindanao up to Iligan and from there take the boat to Cebu. 

When I was appointed as CBCP-BEC Executive Secretary over six years ago I decided to come to Manila on foot. Thus, I ran-walked for Life & Peace from Davao to Aparri covering over 2000 km in 56 days. My appeal was to put a stop to EJK in Davao & other cities, resume the peace process, put an end to mining & illegal logging. As I begin a new chapter of my life I will be biking 1,500 km for life and peace. My appeal will still be the same: stop the killing (EJK) all over the country, stop the war and resume the peace process, stop destroying the environment (stop mining, illegal logging &  coal-fired power plants). The biking priest rides again! I biked for life &  peace around  Mindanao in 2006 and around the Philippines in 2008. I did the Climate Ride in 2014 – from Manila to Iligan via Davao. This is probably my last ride. I am already 63 yrs old.  I will be starting a different mode of existence as a hermit - living a life of solitude, silence, prayer and writing till the end of my days. I have planned this a long time ago. I already received the permission of my superiors. 

Some of my friends and confreres are asking if this is the right move at this time especially with what is happening in our country. I should be more actively  involved in the resistance against an evil, dictatorial, brutal and corrupt Duterte regime. Am I fleeing the world  or escaping from reality? Have I given up the fight? I have done my best. Through the years I have been part of a group that monitored, exposed and opposed the activities of the Davao Death Squad. I have biked and ran for life and peace. I have helped the Commission on Human Rights and the Human Rights Watch  investigate  the killings. I have been featured in various local and international documentaries on the killings. My summary report on DDS has been widely circulated and  is now part of the documentation submitted to the International Criminal Court. I helped set up a network of clergy and religious that provide sanctuary to key witnesses of the EJK including former members of DDS . I have been a convenor of the Network Against Killings in the Philippines. I have joined various prayer  and protest rallies. Now, I am witnessing a growing movement of resistance to this authoritarian and brutal rule.

The time has come for me to shift to less active and more contemplative mode of existence as a hermit in a mountain far from the city. This does not mean that I will cease being prophetic.   I will continue to speak out, using  my  laptop computer.  I will continue to write  in my blog, my regular column, my articles and books. My voice will echo from the wilderness to cyberspace. Above all, I will continue to resist evil through  prayer and fasting.   As St. Paul writes: “For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. (Eph 6:12).” In the struggle to exorcise evil in society, there is another weapon that Jesus recommends to his disciples: “This can only come out by prayer and fasting. (Mk 6:9)”  I believe that just as in the past God did not abandon his people but empowered them in their struggle against darkness, God will again do so now and in the future. Thus, day and night I will be praying. I will fast, eating daily – eating only at night. This how I expect to live in the remaining time I have left on earth. This is what I look forward to  this coming new year 2018.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Priesthood and Martyrdom

          Over 14,000 Filipinos have become victims of extrajudicial killings since the beginning of  Duterte’s  reign. In recent times, the targets have not only been the poor – mostly suspected of being drug users and pushers -- but also those tagged as leftists and  enemies of the state.  Human rights activists have constantly been threatened. What is alarming is that religious leaders have also been added to the hit list as shown in  the recent killings of a Protestant pastor and a Catholic  priest – Fr. Tito Paez - a 72-year old priest of the diocese of San Jose, Nueva Ecija.

          So, priests have once again become targets of the death squads. This is reminiscent of the Marcos dictatorial era.  We can still remember Frs. Godofredo Alingal, Zacarias Agatep, Rudy Romano, Tulio Favale. Around the same period, in countries under dictatorial regimes like El Salvador, priests were also victims of extrajudicial killings. Among them were Fr. Rutilio Grande, the six Jesuit priests led by Fr. Ignacio Ellacuria, and Archbishop Oscar Romero. 
          Romero’s beatification as a martyr is Rome’s recognition of  a martyrdom that is a consequence of fulfilling the prophetic mission  -- of denouncing social evil and the culture of death, of injustice, oppression, violence, etc. and announcing the Gospel of love, peace, justice and liberation.
           Under the present Duterte Regime, with its authoritarian and repressive character, lack of respect for human rights and due process, and enmity towards the Church, Fr. Tito Paez might not be the last priest-victim of EJK.
         Of course, priests need not fear the death squads if they live a one-sided, one-dimensional model of ministry. There is nothing to fear if they simply say Mass and administer the sacraments, if they preach platitudes and remain blind, deaf and silent in the midst of evil – while majority of the people live miserable lives, victims poverty, injustice, violation of human rights.    During this Year of the Clergy and Consecrated Persons, we priests are being reminded and challenged to live our priestly vocation to the full – to a heroic degree, and avoid mediocrity.
          We need to go beyond the cultic model of priesthood and live according to the broader and integral model of the ordained ministry as promoted by Vatican II and PCP II.
          This means avoiding being in-ward looking and living luxurious lifestyle and operating on a maintenance mode. This requires leaving our comfort zones, and go out to the peripheries – among the poor, the marginalized and alienated from the Church. This requires pastoral and missionary dynamism.  
         We are called to be renewed servant-leaders -- good shepherds -- forming and leading truly genuine Christian communities in our parishes and Basic Ecclesial Communities – communities that live in communion and actively participate in mission.
         We are called to be prophets that denounce evil in all its form and announce the Good News of salvation and liberation, of peace and justice, of life and human dignity and human rights. We are called to be the conscience of society, calling people to conversion, and enabling our communities to be truly prophetic.
         We are called to act and mobilize our communities to make the kingdom of God a reality. This means enabling our communities to become agents of social transformation, that works for liberation and total human development, peace and justice, and that defends the environment.a
          We are called to embrace evangelical poverty, make an option for the poor and the enable the poor to actively participate in the Church’s life and mission.
          As priests, we are called not just to preside in and celebrate the Eucharist but also live the Eucharist in our day to day life – a life of communion with God and our flock, a life of prayer and thanksgiving, a life of total self-giving and self-sacrifice.
          “Do this in memory of me.” Our priesthood is expressed not just in our celebration but also in giving up our life in martyrdom – following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ.
          Martyrdom is the consequence of a prophetic ministry and the supreme expression of priesthood and of being a servant-leader and good shepherd.
         This is how Fr. Tito Paez lived and this is how he died. As priests, not all of us will be required to give up our life  in martyrdom – that is a grace not given to all. But what matters most is how we live our priestly life and ministry to the full.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

From the Year of the Parish as Communion of Communities to the Year of the Clergy & Religious

The Year of the Parish as Communion of Communities is about to end and we are about to begin the  Year of the Clergy and Consecrated Persons (or Religious).
  The focus of this year has been  building up the parish into a network of small communities – of Basic Ecclesial Communities.
  There have been a lot of efforts made in forming BECs as agents of communion, participation and mission.
  This should continue even beyond 2017. 
  The Greek word “Paroikia”  from which “parish” is derived is associated with “sojourner”  - journeying together. Thus, the parish and the BECs  within it may be regarded as a “journeying community” – a pilgrim community. This is what the Church is.
  The journey towards a new way of being Church continues . 
Focusing on the Clergy and Religious in 2018 does not mean forgetting  the themes of the previous years: the parish &BECs, the family & Eucharist, the poor, the laity, integral faith formation.
  All of these are interrelated and should be linked with the Clergy and Religious.
  The sub-theme for 2018 is the Renewed Servant-Leaders of New Evangelization.
  This is apparently  drawn from PCP II where the discussion on the Clergy and Religious is placed in part IV – Agents of  Renewed Evangelization.  
The section on the clergy in PCP II provides  a holistic vision of the ordained ministry based on Vatican II: the clergy are servant-leaders of the Christian Community which by nature and mission are:
  Prophetic and Evangelizing Communities
  Priestly & Eucharistic Communities
  Kingly, Servant Communities.
  This can be correlated with part III of PCP II document which affirms that renewed integral evangelization has three components:
  Renewed catechesis, renewed worship, renewed social apostolate.
  The vision of the ordained ministry based on the ecclesiology of Vatican  II and PCP II has five constitutive dimensions:
A ministry of pastoral leadership and  communion (building up the parish as communion of communities &  BECs)
  A prophetic  ministry -  a ministry of evangelization, integral faith formation, of denunciation of evil and formation of conscience
A liturgical/sacramental ministry - presiding over the priestly, worshipping community, promoting active participation in liturgical celebration
A ministry of service, of social action –working for integral development & liberation, justice & peace, promotion of human rights, environmental advocacy.
A ministry to the poor in the Church of  the Poor.
The five dimensions may be applied to the religious, consecrate life to a certain degree.
Pope John Paul II , in Vita Consecrata, affirms that religious life has often been the bearer of the communion model of the Church and that religious are experts of communion and should be engaged in the promotion of communion.
The apostolic, missionary character  of religious life should be constantly  emphasized. 
Religious communities are called to be prophetic communities and must take the lead in the work  of evangelization, integral faith formation, formation of  conscience, of denouncing and resisting evil in society.
Religious should take the lead in promoting active participation in liturgical celebration, in prayer and contemplation as an integral part of the Christian life.
  Religious should also take the lead in social action – in works of charity, development, in justice and peace, in the defense of the environment, in the promotion of human rights.
  Religious  must take the lead in making the Church of the Poor a reality as they embrace evangelical poverty and a simple lifestyle,   in the their love and option for the poor and in enabling the poor to actively participate in the Church liberating mission.
As the Clergy and  Religious exercise their role as servant leaders in the Church that is called to be a community of missionary disciples , they must do  this in active collaboration with the lay faithful who also share in the Church’s mission by virtue of their  baptism.
  The coming year , 2018, provides an opportunity for the clergy and religious to reflect on their life and ministry and assess how they have lived up to the  holistic and mission-oriented vision of the ordained ministry and religious life provided by Vatican II and PCP II
  It is high time to go beyond a narrow, cultic and exclusively spiritualist  view  of the ordained  ministry and religious life characterized by maintenance mode and lacking in missionary dynamism.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

I don't believe in your god

No, I don't believe in your god.
  The god who tolerates your evil ways
   who doesn't mind when you violate all the commandments
   when you curse all those who oppose you
   when you commit adultery and boast about your sexual conquests and rape fantasies
when you lie and bear false witness against those who oppose your rule
  when you enrich yourself and stash your loot in bank accounts (and you refuse to sign the waiver).
   No, I don't believe in your god whom you claim ordered you to kill
   over 14,000 people suspected of being users and pushers
  while you fail to go after the big drug lords - who are your friends and members of your family.
  No, I don't believe in your god, Digong.
  A god without mercy and compassion.
   A god who is unjust, a god without love.
  A  god you made in your image and likeness.
  Your god is the lord of darkness
  Soon,  you will join your god 

In Hell. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

Annus Horribilis - A Horrible Year

          Annus  Horribilis – a horrible year. A bloody  year. This is how Duterte’s first year in office can be defined. Daily, the newspapers and TV are filled with images of those killed in the streets, urban poor communities, prisons and those in the bombed out city in Marawi  and in some NPA base areas.
           The War on Drugs has resulted in over 10,000 deaths perpetrated by death squads – in uniform and out of uniform. Even those that surrendered in the Tokhang campaign were not spared by the death squads. There has been no investigation even as these cases have been re-named DUI (deaths under investigation).
          The Armed Conflict between NPA and Govt’ forces continue –with the peace negotiations stalled. NPA units have increased their tactical offensive in various parts of the country. This  year also witnessed the emergence of  ISIS-affiliated Maute group which led to the battle of Marawi and the imposition of Martial Law in the entire Mindanao.

         “In 3-6 months I will end drugs, crime and corruption and I’m putting my honor on it. I will immediately resign if I am not able to do this.” This was Duterte’s promise during the campaign period. He has failed to fulfill this promise.  After one year, illegal drugs continue to proliferate, drug addiction has not stopped, drug lords get off scot-free , criminality has not abated. Many of those tasked to carry out the War on Drugs are themselves involved in criminality, in drug distribution, extortion, kidnap and murder.
Corruption is still around. To ensure a supermajority politicians charged with corruption have become his allies in the senate and congress. There has been no systematic campaign against corruption in the government bureaucracy.
          He promised to end endo” – contractualization of labor-- but has failed to do so.
          He failed support the confirmation of Gina Lopez as secretary of DENR whose priority  to defend the environment undermined the mining industry.
           What is most worrisome for this administration is the obsession on the War on Drugs. It is based on an exaggerated claim that there are 4 million addicts (1.8 million users according Dangerous Drugs Board whose chairman was fired for insisting on this figure). It is also based on a faulty assessment of  the situation and problems of the country and a faulty strategy that relies on the killing of  suspected addicts and pushers as the solution to the problem. The obsession on the War on Drugs leads to a neglect in addressing the other major problems facing the country  such as poverty, corruption, ecological destruction, the armed conflict, and the growing terrorist threat, Peace remains elusive as Duterte failed to fulfill his promise of achieving a peace agreement with the communists.
           What is also worrisome is Duterte’s autocratic  style of leadership which a threat to democracy manifested not just in the declaration of  Martial Law  but in other moves that undermine the rule of the law  such as Extra-Judicial Killings (EJK),  the failure to call for a joint session of congress that will determine the validity of the factual basis for declaring Martial Law in the whole of Mindanao. I fear for our country and democracy as he consolidates and expands his autocratic rule, with a subservient legislative branch and a judiciary that is being bullied to submission. The system of check and balance has weakened. Congress has not convened a joint session as mandated by the constitution to determine on the validity of imposing Martial Law in the entire Mindanao when only Marawi City was attacked by the Maute group. He keeps talking about Martial law for the entire country and a revolutionary government as a quick solution to the country’s problems and achieve change. 
Yet Duterte’s ratings in poll surveys remain good. What does this show?   It could mean that many Filipinos are either blind to the reality of the situation or their consciences have become dulled that  they are unable to discern right from wrong, good from evil. Many of his supporters have come to believe  that there is nothing wrong with whatever he says and does: whether extrajudicial killings,  cursing the bishops and priests as hypocrites and threatening to destroy the Church, or telling soldiers that he will cover them if they rape, or defending policemen engaged in EKJ, or spreading false news, threatening to behead human rights advocates. He could as well break all the commandments and he would still come out good to many. He is their Messiah, their savior. This is worrisome.
          However, popularity rating is ephemeral. While Duterte’s ratings is still good, it has already gone down. Estrada was also very popular in 1999 but that did not prevent him from being ousted in 2000.
         After one year Duterte has already brought serious damage and ruin to the country with his style of governance, his incompetence and brutality.
          If he continues to govern like this in the next five years it will be a disaster and tragedy for our country. The bodies will pile up and could reach 70,000 by the end of his term. The democracy and rule of law would be undermined.  There could be increasing  terrorist attacks as the Philippines become a magnet to extremists. There are factors that can lead to economic crisis:  the  European Union suspension GSP + status on Philippine goods entering Europe due to human rights concern, flight of foreign capital due to unstable situation, debt servitude to China for high-interest loans to fund infra-structure projects, etc.
          The situation appears to be hopeless. It seems that there is very little that can be done within the country. The possibility of people power seems to  remote. We can continue speaking out but it will not make a big difference. One source of hope is the complaint or information filed in the International Criminal Court will progress and there will enough international pressure that can slow down or minimize EJK.
          His state of health remains a mystery. He has been out of public view from  4-6 days several times fueling rumors or speculation that he is terminally ill. He has not been transparent about this although the public has a right to know. The question in many people’s mind: will he be able to finish his term?
          In this seemingly hopeless situation, we can only rely in God’s help to deliver us from evil. While continuing to struggle against evil, there comes a time when what is left for us to do is to pray and cry out. God did not abandon his people in the past. Miracles can still happen.