Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Gathering of Former Activists

Last night I attended a gathering of some 60 former activists held at the covered court at the back of the monastery. The convenors called this event "Tapok-Tapok sa mga Tibak." Many of those who came are now in their 50s or 60s - among them are lawyers, an ex-Mayor, a ex-Congressman, a city councilor, media people, ex-priests, NGO workers, businessmen, etc. What we had in common was that during the 1970s up to the mid-1980s we were active in resisting the Marcos regime. Many started in the student movement of the so-called First Quarter Storm - the Kabataang Makabayan, SDK, Lakasdiwa, YCSP, etc. Many became Marxists-Maoists/National Democrats (Natdems) and joined the CPP and the NPA. Others were Social Democrats (Socdems). Many were arrested, tortured and imprisoned.

We shared our stories and experiences and where we are now. Some read their poems, others sang revolutionary songs. After dinner of lechon and other delicacies, we continued to talk in small groups. I was surprised to hear them talk about spirituality.

And now several decades later we find ourselves living different kinds of lives. The radicalism and idealism is gone. Most of us have abandoned the ideologies of our youth. But many still work with the poor without resorting to armed struggle - through cooperatives, the Gawad Kalinga, social development work, peace advocacy, governance, etc.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Manila Meeting (CBCP-BEC National Office)

I just came back from Manila today after attending the meeting of the CBCP-BEC National Office held at the Pius XII Center. This office is an arm of the Catholic Bishops' Conference that promotes the Basic Ecclesial Communities in the Philippines. It is chaired by Archbishop Quevedo with 7 other bishops who head other commissions. The executive secretary is Msgr. Elmer Abacahin. I am one of the consultants, together with Msgr. Jomari Delgado, Msgr. Manny Gabriel and Estela Padilla.

We talked about the plans of the BEC office for the year which Archbishop Quevedo was to present to the bishops from all over the country who are in Manila this week for their plenary assembly. Two of the things we discussed were the BEC participation in the Second Rural Congress this July 2008 and the BEC national assembly this coming November 2008 whic will be held in Cagayan de Oro. We agreed that the theme of the national assembly should be based on the Rural Congress - the Role of the BECs in rural development.

During the previous BEC national assembly in 2005 held in Cebu, I gave a talk on the role of BECs in Social Transformation. It was just one of the three topics that were tackled. This coming assembly will focus on how BECs are addressing and can address the problems that rural communities face -especially poverty, underdevelopment, etc.

I am glad to note how the bishops in the Philippines are fully supportive of the effort to promote BECs in the Philippines as the pastoral thrust. As far as I know, this is the only Bishops' Conference that has a national office devoted to BECs. In 2002, when we first organized the BEC national assembly, there were two resolutions that we submitted to the CBCP: the formation of a BEC national office and the holding of a BEC national assembly participated by the various dioceses in the country. Both of these resolutions were adopted by the CBCP.

There is still much to be done to make our dream of a renewed Church become a reality in the BECs. But what I find hopeful is that the bishops are right behind us. I still remember that there was a time during the martial law era when only a handful of bishops were open to forming BECs in their dioceses while many were suspicious of BECs as leftists.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Training for the Philippine Bike-Tour for Life and Peace

I am starting to intensify my training for my bike-tour this summer.
I only have 9 weeks to go and I am still feeling sluggish and out of shape. I am 173 lbs - I gained 7 lbs during the Christmas season. I need to lose at least 15 lbs.
The other day I biked for 6 hrs and 30 minutes. My pace was very slow and I had leg cramps after 4 hrs while ascending some hills. Luckily the cramp disappeared once I descended.
This morning after mass I went out for a relaxing 2 1/2 hrs bike ride.

So this will be the weekly training program I will be following starting tomorrow.

Monday - 6 hrs (road bike) - every other week
Tuesday - 3 hrs (mountain-bike)/ 6 hrs every other wk
1 hr strength-training (back, shoulders)
Wednesday - 2 hrs (mt-bike)
Thursday - 4 hrs (road bike), 1 hr strength-training (lower body)
Friday - 2 hrs mt-bike
Saturday - no biking, 1 hr strength-training (chest, arms)
Sunday - 2 hrs (mt-bike)

I hope I will be able to stick to this program. I have so many other things to do - teaching, celebrating the mass and other sacraments, praying, writing, attending meetings, etc.
I need to be fully prepared for my longest bike-tour so far - over 4000 km around the Philippines. I am excited just thinking about it. Besides biking for a cause, I will be setting a record for being the first to bike around the country - from Davao to the tip of Luzon and back. Seven years ago I already set the record for being the first to bike across the Philippines - from Davao to Pagudpud (2083 km). I took the bus and plane back to Davao. The other summer I also set the record for being the first to bike around Mindanao (2182 km).
I know that this time it will be more challenging since I am older (I am already 53 years old), overweight, recovering from atherosclerosis and myrocardial ischemia, and constantly threatened by gout. So I have to bike slowly and make sure that my heart rate does not go beyond 135 bpm - that's why I always wear my heart rate monitor.
Here's a video clip of my training ride last Friday.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Remembering my Father

I spent the whole day biking. When I came back to the monastery, I celebrated the mass for dead in the chapel. After a quick supper I went out for capuccino and a slice of brazo de mercedes. This is my way of observing my father's death anniversary.
Exactly 15 years ago my father died of heart attack. I was in Rome at that time and I had just arrived from New York where I spent my Christmas vacation. I had to go home immediately to Iligan. I presided at his funeral mass with 10 other priests concelebrating. After his burial I returned to Rome to finish my doctorate.

I was deeply affected by my father's death. We had grown closer -- especially the last summer I spent with him (which was in June 1991). I had just finished my graduate studies in Berkeley and came home for vacation before starting my studies in Rome.
As a little boy, I considered my father as a hero. He was fearless guerrilla officer during the World War II, and with his veteran's benefits he was able to finish civil engineering. I usually accompanied him to his projects - building roads, bridges, powerplants and dams. He often brought me along to church, to the barbershop, to the moviehouse, to the tennisc court and the restaurants. I wanted to be an engineer like him and he expected me to follow his footsteps. When I entered high school, I decided to become a priest. This disappointed him and at first he wouldn't allow me to enter the seminary until a priest visited our home and convinced him. He got angry with me when I was arrested and imprisoned for seven months during the eary years of martial law. Although, he visited me once in prison, the expression in his face showed anger and disappointment.

Through the years my relationship with my father became more distant. At 59 years old he had a stroke and had to stop working. My mother patiently took care of him but after she died he lived with my sister's family. I became very concerned whenever I heard that my father had conflicts with my brothers and sisters. He sometimes threatened to shoot them. He was an angry sick old man who had violent tendencies.
When I visited him that summer, I got so angry with him after seeing him slapped my sister. I decided to spend a lot of time with him at the beach and listened to his life-story. I found out where the anger came from. He was angry with his father whom he blamed for his mother's death. His mother died in an accident after a quarrel with his father over his infidelities. My father never forgave my grandfather. Years later the conflict worsened when his father deprived him and his siblings some parcel of land which they were supposed to inherit. The went to court against their father and they won. When my father married my mother, his father did not attend the wedding. My father harbored this anger up to his old age. And this affected his relationship with us.
Before, I left for Rome, I brought my father to my grandfather's grave. I asked my father if he was ready to forgive his father and reconcile with him. I waited for a long time and then he cried. "Father, for all the pain and hurt you have inflicted on us, I forgive you." The tears in his eyes softened his face. I could see the anger disappearing. He looked peaceful. The following day, I saw him walking with a cane, and smiling. He told me that the cane belong to his father which he kept. As we were walking down the street, we met an old friend and introduced me as his son the priest. I could see in his face that he was proud of me and pleased with me. I remember the gospel text: "This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased."
The last summer that I saw my father, he was at peace. He was freed of the anger that he carried with him for a long time. He learned to forgive and this led to an inner healing. He was ready to face death. And this is what I will always remember.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Way of Peace - Learning from Mandela

I'm back in Davao after spending my post-Christmas vacation in Iligan. Over the weekend, I finished reading the biography of Nelson Mandela.
What a fascinating man and an amazing life-story. As a young man, he was involved in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. He resorted to armed struggle after realizing that the non-violent resistance was ineffective against a repressive regime. He worked with communists and was accused of being a communist. He was arrested and imprisoned for 27 years. Even while in prison, his leadership over the revolutionary movement was recognized. He maintained his sense of dignity and inner freedom, and never harbored any bitterness and anger against enemies. As he got older and as the political and economic crisis deepened, he realized that the African National Congress and it guerrilla army could never seize power through armed struggle. The sanctions and international pressure against the government made it viable for a negotiated peace settlement. He was able to successfully pursue peace negotiation with President de Klerk's government. After his release, the Apartheid was dismantled and years later he was elected president. His passion for freedom was accompanied by his capacity for forgiveness. Above all his sense of of hope sustained him throughout those long years in prison. Mandela embodies the Christian values even if he was not pious or deeply religious.

I wish the Filipino revolutionary leaders , especially Joma Sison, would read Mandela's biography and learn from his experience. The armed struggle in the Philippines has been going on for 40 years. The peace negotiation, which started 20 years ago has not progressed. The NDF has set a preconditions for the resumption of the stalled peace talks - of being delisted as terrorist organization by the US and the European Union. Meanwhile, the NPA continue to conduct tactical offensives - like attacking remote military outposts and soft targets (cell sites, banana plantations, etc.). The revolutionary leaders continue to dream the impossible dream - of capturing state power through armed struggle. On the other hand, President Arroyo and her generals are not interested in pursuing peace negotiatitions and continue to dream the impossible dream - the total annihilation of the NPA - by 2010.

I think that it is time for revolutionary leaders to come to their senses. They can never succeed in transforming Philippine society through armed struggle. The most that they can do is to attack remote outposts and cell-sites and liquidate uncooperative barangay officials. The majority of the Filipinos do not support the so-called "People's War" and the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat.

The Arroyo government and the military generals should also come to their senses. They can never totally annihilate the NPA. The military solution cannot solve the insurgency problem for as long as the roots of armed conflict are not addressed.

The only way forward for the revolutionary movement and the government is to walk the way of peace. There is much to learn from the South African experience and from Nelson Mandela.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year's Day Homily

On this first day of the new year, we celebrate the feast of Mary the Mother of God.
This is also the day that the whole Church observes the world day of peace.

Mary Mother of God

One of the most ancient title for Mary is that of Mother of God – Theotokos – the God bearer. This title, does not teach about the divinity of Mary, but rather the divinity of the child that she gave birth to. It therefore reminds us that Mary has given birth not just to an ordinary human being but to the God made man – the savior of the world.
One of the titles of Jesus that the angels announced at his birth is that of the Prince of Peace. Peace is one of the blessings that the Messiah has brought into the world. “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of God will.”
If Jesus is the prince of peace, then Mary is the Queen of Peace and we continue to pray for her intercession as we long for peace in our land.

World Day of Peace

The Church has set aside every first day of the year to mark the World Day of Peace. We are called to reflect and carry out our mission to bring Christ’s message of peace to the world.
In the midst of a culture of death and violence – a situation of division and conflict – we the followers of the prince of peace are called to be peace-makers, to be peace-builders.
As we desire to bring peace to the world, let us always remember that peace should begin in each one of us and in our homes, in our neighborhood and in our communities.
In his message for the World Day of Peace today, Benedict XVI dwells on the theme of the Human Family as a Community of Peace.
The pope reminds us that the family is the first teacher of peace and the first environment where peace is experienced. He also emphasizes that mankind should consider itself as one family and should become a community of peace.
With this theme of the family as the community of peace, let us reflect on what is happening in our own families. We need to ask: can peace be experienced in our own family, in our home? Is our family truly a community of peace.
There are families that suffer division and conflict. Families afflicted by domestic violence. If this exist, it is important that we work for healing, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Achieving genuine peace in the family: this can be part of our new year’s resolution