Monday, March 31, 2008

Day 7 & 8: Dumaguete-Kabankalan-Bacolod

At 6:15 yesterday morning, I left Dumaguete with Patrick and 25 members of the Negros Oriental Bikers Association (NOBA). This is a unique biking group which usually bikes for a cause (recently they biked for truth and accountability in response to the corruption scandal)
The first two hours to Bais City was easy - mostly on flat road. Then the calvary started when we ascended to Mabinay. It was so hot and the climbs were tough, sections of the road were being repaired so it was also dusty. We had to make a lot of stops for rest and water.
We reached the Kan-anan sa Bungtod (restaurant on the mountain) near Mabinay at past12 noon. Fr. Rolex Nueva - the social action director of Kabankalan - was waiting for us. After lunch, we parted company with the NOBA bikers who were returning to Dumaguete. In their place, 8 bikers from Mabinay (including a protestant minister and a 10 year old boy) took over to accompany us to Kabankalan. This time there were a lot of downhill riding. But it was still hot and dusty. When we reached the boundary, parish lay leaders and bikers from Kabankalan were waiting for us. There were also som kids on their BMX bikes. A large streamer welcoming us was hanging on the side of the road. We proceeded to Kabankalan with motocycle cops with siren leading the way. We reached Kabankalan at 4 pm after biking for 130 km. I presided at the 6 pm mass with 5 priests concelebrating. The church was full. After the mass we had a sumptuous dinner prepared by the parish council.
We left Kabankalan at 7:o0 this morning accompanied by 15 Kabankanlan bikers and led by a police car. A biker from Bacolod named Carlo arrived on time to join us in this leg. The Kabankalan bikers went as far as Hinigaran (35 km from Kabankalan) and then turned back together with the police car. There were three of us left as we biked towards Bacolod led by Fr. Rolex who was driving his car. When we reached the outskirs of Bacolod at noontime, 10 motorcycle riders were waiting for us and escorted us to the Redemptorist Church. The ABS-CBN TV camera crew was waiting for us as we reached the place. When I looked at my cycling computer I saw that I have already biked for 740 km since I started a week ago.
After lunch, I went to the Bike Tote's to have my bike fixed. Two broken spokes were replaced and the wheel aligned. The owner did not charge me anything.
Patrick and I went over to the Bishop's residence for a courtesy call with Bishop Vicente Navarra - one the prophetic bishops in Western Visayas. He is very supportive.
I celebrated the Mass for Life and Peace at 5:30 pm. A press conference followed.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Day 6: Cebu-Santander-Dumaguete

At 6:20 this morning I continued my journey. This time, I have company: Patrick Loarca (who is biking with me for the next 5 days) , Sherwin and other members of the Cebu Extreme Bikers' Union, Councilor Boying Rodriguez and his Danao riders, and Rudy Weiler (a paraplygic), other bikers. There were over 20 of us biking along the scenic and rolling road to Santander.
We reached the pier of Liloan after 140 km of biking. While crossing the channel, the pumpboat stopped. There was no more fuel. Luckily there was some reserve. So I landed at the pier by 4 pm where we were met by some 15 members of the Negros Oriental Bikers Association.
I preached at the 5:30 pm mass.

While reading the papers tonight, my attention was caught by the news about the CPP ordering the NPA expand the guerrilla fronts in all the congressional districts and to increase the tactical offensives against the military. This is in defiance of the target set by the government to defeat the NPA by 2010.

My appeal to stop the war and to resume the peace negotiations is indeed urgent.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Day 4 & 5: Cagayan-Bohol-Cebu

Yesterday, after celebrating the five am mass, I had an early breakfast with Archbishop Ledesma. By 6:30 am I biked alone to the pier (followed by an ABS-CBN TV camera crew) and took the boat for Jagna.
The boat landed in Jagna at 1 pm. Mar Caballo, a biker friend from Bacleon, and his companion met at the pier and biked with me to Tagbilaran. It was an easy and pleasant bike-ride along a flat highway by the sea. We reached Tagbilaran after 5 pm (after biking 65 km) and proceeded to the bishop's residence beside the cathedral. I met Bishop Medroso during supper - he was very welcoming and supportive.
We celebrated the mass for life and peace at the Tagbilaran cathedral at 6:15 this morning. After breakfast, I packed my things and biked to the pier at 8:30 am. I took the supercat ferry and arived in Cebu by noontime. I was welcomed warmly by my Redemptorist confreres during lunch. I washed my clothes after lunch and then had a cup of cappucino at nearby coffee shop.
The press conference was at 4:30 pm followed by the Mass for Life and Peace at the Redemptorist church. 13 Redemptorist priests concelebrated and there was a big crowd who attended. I am touched by the support of my confreres.
Tomorrow will be a long day.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Day 3: Malaybalay-Cagayan de Oro

At 6.30 this morning I continued my journey to Cagayan accompanied by 2 priests (Frs. Erap and Teting), 1 baptist pastor (Rev. Serino) and 7 other Malaybalay bikers of TREK-M.
The weather was perfect for biking - cloudy, cool and a slight drizzle. There were lots of uphill and downhill riding. We went througn 3 canyons - the toughest was Mangima. My bike developed a mechanical problem and I had it fixed in Manolo Fortich. While there we had lunch of caldereta (goat meat) - courtesy of the parish priest.

We reached Cagayan at 2 pm, after biking 95 km. The bikers went back to Malaybalay riding a truck while I proceeded to the Archbishop's Residence. I celebrated the mass for life and peace at 5.30 pm in the St. Augustine's cathedral. Archbishop Tony Ledesma and Fr .Julius concelebrated. During dinner, Archbishop Ledesma asked me to say the 5:00 am mass before I leave for the pier at 6:00 am.

After three days of biking, my body is slowly adjusting - just mild muscle aches.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Day 1 & 2: Buda & Malaybalay

At 8:00 am yesterday, we gathered at the archbishop's residence for the press conference and send off. After giving my departure statement, Archbishop Capalla gave his blessing and I started my journey. There 15 bikers who accompanied me for the first leg - Bishop Colin Bagaforo and Fr. Armand of Cotabato, Fr. Pol and 5 bikers from Kidapawan, 4 diocesan priests from Davao and 3 local bikers.
After biking on flat road for 10 km, we began our ascent of the Davao and Bukidnon mountain ranges. It was a very hot day. The Davao priests biked as far as Calinan (30 km away from Davao). We had lunch in the parish of Lomondao at 1:30 pm. After an hour's rest we continued our journey. There were still much climbing to do but it became cooler as the clouds provided cover and we were more than 6000 ft above sea level. All in all, we must have climbed over 70 km. The last 8 km to Buda was all downhill. We reached the parish rectory before 6 pm after biking 95 km. After taking some snacks all the bikers returned to Davao riding the support vehicles. I met the parish priest, Fr. Vic Virador who had just came back from a barrio mass. After dinner and conversation, I went to bed at 9 pm.

I woke up at 4 pm this morning. Spent some time in morning prayer and then went over the homily which I was going to give for the morning mass. I celebrated the mass at 6:30 am - most of those who attended were students, with their teachers and parents. I continued my journey at 8:00 am. This time I was all alone. I savored the silence and solitude will pedaling up and down the mountain. By noontime, the heat became unbearable but I continued biking along the rough road of Busco. My right knee was painful - I was worried that my gouty arthritis was acting up. I took a flanax tablet and the pain disappeared after an hour. By 2:00, I was in Valencia and I stopped for a while for batchoy (noodles). The last 15 km to Malaybalay was mostly uphill and I slowed down, I was feeling exhausted. I reached Malaybalay by 5:00 pm after covering 105 km. By 5:30 pm I was celebrating the mass for life and peace attended by over 200 people. After the mass I found out that the brother of Vangie (a friend who attended the mass) had just been shot. I also heard that in Valencia earlier this afternoon, there was an encounter between the NPA and the military. Another manifestation of the culture of death.

I had dinner with the parish priest, Fr. Bob Salem and two biking priests who will accompany me to Cagayan tomorrow - Frs. Yrap and Teting. Fr. Yrap was one of the priests who accompanied in the Western Mindanao leg while I was biking around Mindanao two years ago.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Philippine Bike-Tour for Life and Peace

Tomorrow, I begin my bike-tour around the country. This will the longest bike ride in the Philippines - 5000 km around the archipelago in 56 days. I will be biking for life and peace as well as setting a record. Can I still do this? I am almost 54 years old, 170 lbs (still overweight), taking medication for hypertension, diagnosed with myocardial ischemia and atherosclerosis a year ago, and occasionally bothered by gout. But I have trained adequately and I believe that biking will add more years to my life rather than sitting on the couch and watching TV. I am biking for my life! I won't push myself, I'll enjoy the view and avoid overspeeding.

This is my itinerary:

3/24 M- Davao-Buda
3/25 T- Buda-Malaybalay
3/26 W- Malaybalay-Cagayan
3/27 Th- Ferry Cagayan to Jagna, Bohol– Tagbilaran
3/28 F - Ferry to Cebu (rest)
3/29 S - Cebu-Santander-Ferry to Dumaguete
3/30 Sn- Dumaguete- Kabangkalan, Negros
3/31 M- Kabangkalan-Bacolod
4/1 T - ferry to Iloilo (rest)
4/2 W- Iloilo-Kalibo
4/3 Th- Kalibo-Katiklan ferry to Roxas, Mindoro
4/4 F - Roxas-Calapan
4/5 S - Ferry to Batangas City -Lipa
4/6 Sn - Lipa-Manila (via Tagaytay)
4/7 M - (rest)
4/8 T – Manila (Baclaran) – Cabanatuan
4/9 W- Cabanatuan - Bayombong
4/10 Th Bayombong-Ilagan
4/11 F- Ilagan- Tuguegarao
4/12 S- Tuguegarao– Aparri
4/13 Sn – Aparri-Claveria
4/14 M – Claveria-Laoag
4/15 T- Rest
4/16 W- Laoag-Bangued
4/17 Th – Bangued-Malibcong
4/18 F - Malibcong-Lubuagan
4/19 S- Lubuagan-Bontoc
4/20 Sn – Bontoc-Abatan
4/21 M - Abatan -Baguio
4/22 T- Rest
4/23 W- Baguio-Alaminos
4/24 Th- Alaminos-Iba, Zambales
4/25 F – Iba-Balanga, Bataan
4/26 S- Balanga-Manila (Baclaran)
4/27 Sn- Bike around Manila , deliver letter to Malacanang, Preach at Manila Cathedral
4/28 M- Manila-Lucena
4/29 T - Lucena- Calauag
4/30 W- Calauag-Daet
5/1 Th- Daet-Naga
5/2 F - Naga- Sorsogon
5/3 S- Sorsogon-Matnog Ferry to Allen-Catarman, Samar
5/4 Sn - Catarman- Gamay
5/5 M- Gamay-Oras
5/6 T - Rest
5/7 W- Oras- Llorente
5/8 T – Llorente-Tacloban
5/9 F - Tacloban-Ormoc
5/10 S- Ormoc-Hilongos, Leyte
5/11 Sn- Hilongos- Liloan
5/12 M – Ferry Liloan-Surigao City (rest)
5/13 T - Surigao-Butuan
5/14 W - Butuan-San Francisco, Agusan
5/15 Th San Francisco-Mangagoy
5/16 Fri – Mangagoy – Cateel, Davao Oriental
5/17 S - Cateel-Compostela – Nabunturan
5/18 Sn – Nabunturan-Davao

This is the statement that I will be giving to the media in the press conference before my departure tomorrow at the Archbishop's residence at 8 pm.

Philippine Bike-Tour for Life and Peace:
Preaching the Gospel of Life amidst the Culture of Death
Departure statement of Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR

Today I begin my journey around the Philippine on a bicycle. I will be pedaling around 5,000 kilometers in 56 days – from Davao across Central and Western Visayas to the tip of Northern Luzon and traversing the Cordilleras on my way back to Davao through Southern Luzon, the Eastern Visayas and Eastern Mindanao. I will be biking the entire distance alone but I will be accompanied at times by local bikers as I pass their cities and towns.

In every parish where I will stay for the night, I will celebrate the Eucharist and preach the gospel of life and peace. I do this because we live in a land where the value and sanctity of life is disregarded, a society where the culture of death and violence prevails. There are various manifestations of this culture of death and I would like to focus on the following concerns:

(1) Abortion
(2) The ongoing armed conflict/war in the countryside,
(3) The spate of killings of militants, journalists and suspected petty criminals
(4) The environmental destruction
(5) Graft and corruption

1. Prevalence of abortion.
Millions of unborn children have been murdered in their mothers’ womb. Over 400,000 abortions are performed annually. Most of these are performed by doctors, nurses and hilots. There are groups that advocate the legalization of abortion following the trend in many countries. There is a lack of outcry to the ongoing mass murder of innocent and defenseless unborn children.

2. The continuing armed conflict.
The peace negotiations between the Government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) which started 20 years ago have not progressed and have practically been abandoned. The partial agreements arrived at have been ignored.
Hoping for an eventual military victory, the revolutionary movement is expanding the NPA guerrilla fronts and mass base and increasing tactical offensives. They attack soft targets like cell-sites and burn buses and equipment of companies who refuse to pay revolutionary taxes.
The revolutionary movement has resorted to assassination of so-called “enemies of the people”: uncooperative local government officials, police, suspected informers, former comrades, those belonging to other competing ideological groups, etc.
The Arroyo Government continues to classify the CPP/NDF/NPA as a terrorist group and has adopted a militarist solution to the insurgency problem which it hopes to eliminate or neutralize by 2010.
The NDF/CPP/NPA has made its “de-listing” as a terrorist organization by the US and the EU as a precondition for the resumption of the peace negotiation.
So many civilians have been caught in this crossfire which has consequently led to evacuations and to human rights violations.
The roots of the armed conflict have not been addressed – such as poverty, inequality, injustices, and exploitation. These lead to slow death and can provoke people to resort to violence or support the armed struggle.
While the ceasefire between the MILF and the Government is holding, a peace agreement is still elusive. Every time a breakthrough is almost reached, there are forces and events that sabotage the process.

3. The spate of killings of militants, journalists and suspected petty-criminals
Hundreds of members and leaders of legal groups accused of being fronts of the revolutionary movement have been abducted or assassinated. The United Nation special rapporteur, Alston, points to the involvement of elements within the military in these killings. They appear to be part of a counter-insurgency campaign.
Media people have not been spared from the cycle of violence. Journalists and radio commentators critical to actuations of government officials have been murdered.
While capital punishment has been abolished, suspected petty criminals have been summarily executed by death squads. According to the Alston report, these vigilante killings appear to be inspired or tolerated by local government officials. They appear to be supported by businessmen who proclaim that these killings are good for business.

4. The destruction of the environment
The land, seas, rivers, lakes and the air are polluted. The forests are disappearing. These have contributed to global warming. The destruction of the environment is one of the biggest threats to life. It harms not only this present generation but the future generations. The mining, logging and banana industry and other corporations have made huge profits while the local populace remain impoverished and their health and life put at risk. Our government policies favor these companies over the welfare of the people.

5. Corruption at all levels of government
Corruption is like a cancer that afflicts all levels of government – from top to bottom. The culture of corruption perpetuates the culture of death. The CBCP has condemned corruption as “death dealing” and “life-destroying plague” (1989). It perpetuates the poverty of the people and contributes to the continuation of the armed conflict. It allows the wanton destruction of the environment to continue.

Abortion, the armed conflict, extrajudicial killings, the environmental destruction and corruption. These are manifestations of the culture of death in our country. They cause so much suffering and death to our people. They manifest a total disregard for the value of life. It is in the midst of this culture that I wish to preach the gospel of life. Life is sacred. No to abortion, no to war (whether people’s war or the counter-insurgency war), no to the extrajudicial killings, no the destruction of the environment. No to graft and corruption.

I wish to dedicate this Bike-Tour to the victims of this culture of death:

For the millions of the aborted – the unborn children murdered in their mother’s womb.
For the casualties of the armed conflict – combatants and non-combatants
For the militants, journalists and suspected petty-criminals who have been executed
For the millions affected by the destruction of the environment.

I make the following appeal:

1. To women with unwanted pregnancy, those doctors, nurses, and hilots involved in abortion: Stop killing the unborn human beings. Abortion is not a right. It is crime, it is a grievous sin. Choose life not death. Allow the children to see the light of day. If you cannot care for them, let others who can take care of them and shower them with their love. Let us build a society that is child-friendly. Children are not a curse, they are a blessing. They are the hope of the future.

2. To the government and military leaders and leaders of the revolutionary movement, especially the NDF/CPP/NPA and the MILF: No more war. No more killings and destruction of property. Resume the peace negotiation without precondition and come up with a peace settlement that addresses the roots of the armed conflict.

To ordinary citizens, civil society groups and the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs): Be peace-makers. Let us build up the peace movement, help create more peace zones and pressure the government and the revolutionary movements to pursue the path of peace.

3. To the Government and Military Leadership: Put an end to extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances and bring the perpetrators to justice. Respect the rule of law and human rights.

4. Respect and defend the environment. Impose a total log ban nationwide. Repeal the mining act. Ban aerial spraying in banana plantations.

5. Stop corruption at all levels of society – from top to bottom.

Life is precious, life is sacred. Let us put a stop to this culture of death, violence and corruption. May the fullness of life and peace of the risen Christ prevail in our land.

Easter Monday, March 24, 2008.

Homily for Easter Sunday

When the story of our life is told, how does it end?. For many of us, it ends with our death. The last scene of the story is probably our burial-- in the tomb or the grave. A story that ends with death is a tragedy. It is a sad story. The question: is that really how our stories should end?

Last Friday, we recalled the story of Jesus' suffering and death. He was falsely accused by the powers that be, and brutally executed. Before nightfall, he was buried in the tomb. His disciples had dispersed, some were in hiding, filled with grief, feeling hopelessly defeated. They thought that the story of Jesus ended on Good Friday in a tomb.

Today, Easter Sunday, we recall the continuation of Jesus' story. When the women and some of disciples led by Peter came to the tomb, they found it empty. Jesus had risen from the dead. He has conquered death, he has defeated the power of sin .

Thus, the story of his life has not ended in the tomb -- it continues.

What we celebrated this Holy Week was not just the story of Jesus' suffering and death. We are celebrating his passage from death to life, from darkness to light. This is what Easter is all about.

As we celebrate Jesus' paschal mystery -- his passover, his passage from death to life
we remember our own baptism which signifies our own passage from death to life, from darkness to light. By our baptism we share in Christ's paschal mystery. We have died to sin and we have risen to new life.

This is what we are called to do every of our life -- to continue to die to sin and live a new life in Christ, a life that is freed from the power of sin and selfishness, a life lived in love and service to God and our fellowmen.

Easter also reminds us, that the story of our life is not meant to end in the grave or the tomb. Our destiny is everlasting life, in God's kingdom.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Homily on Good Friday

The most important symbol of Christianity is the crucifix – the image of Jesus hanging on the cross.
We have gotten used to this symbol but if we look more closely, we realize that it is gruesome image – we see a person being executed in the most brutal, painful and humiliating way. An electric chair or lethal injection would be less shocking.

What did he do to deserve such a punishment?

We have to bear in mind that crucifixion was a punishment that was reserved for the worst criminals and especially those guilty of rebellion against the Roman Empire.

Was Jesus a rebel?

He was not a Zealot. He did not take up arms against the Roman occupiers. But what did he do that made those in authority think that he was a dangerous man?

He came to preach the coming of God’s kingdom – this was the Good News of salvation – the good news that God will save them from sin and all forms of evil, slavery and oppression. He denounced evil in society and called people to conversion. Above all he cleansed the temple and drove out the money-changers – those who used the temple trade to exploit the people.

This was surely good news to the poor and to those who were longed for freedom and salvation. But this was not good news to those who benefited from the sinful structures and systems. His message was dangerous – it would subvert the existing kingdom and empire that was under the dominion of sin and evil.

He came to serve the poor and the needy, those who were hungry and sick. By doing so, many believed that he was the awaited Kingly-Messiah – the Son of David. He was welcomed as king when he entered Jerusalem. Naturally, the authorities and the Romans were afraid that he would lead a rebellion against Rome.

Thus, in the eyes of those in power, Jesus was a dangerous man, a threat to the status quo. The proclamation of the coming of the kingdom of God was a threat to their existing kingdom and empire. He had to be put away.

The cross at first glance symbolize the brutal reality of sin. Where sin reigns, the just man suffers and die. Jesus on the cross experienced the suffering of so many people in the world who have been victimized by the sinful situations and systems.

The cross at a deeper view symbolize the love of God for humanity – the God who gave up his son for our salvation. It is also the greatest expression of Christ’s love. As Jesus said during the last supper: no greater love a man has than to lay down his life for his friends. The cross reminds us that it is the power of love that will ultimately free us from the power of sin and death.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Biking and advocacy

The Philippine Daily Inquirer yesterday came out with an article about my forthcoming Bike-Tour starting next week. The title: Priest to Bike 4750 km to ask GMA for Reforms.

I do not like the heading of the article because it gives an impression that the main purpose of my biking is to ask the president for reforms. It also emphasizes that I am not asking the embattled president to resign.

The primary purpose of my biking and preaching is to draw attention to the culture of death and corruption that afflicts Philippine society - from top to bottom (from Malacanang to the barangay). Delivering a letter to Malacanang is just a side-trip and I don't expect the President to meet me or to read the letter - it is just symbolic. I will make the contents of the letter public - in it I will denounce the President for perpetuating the culture of death and corruption and for being a hypocrite (she goes to mass everyday and claims that it is God's will that she is president). Although I want her to resign, I will not be demanding her resignation because I know that it will be futile - she will continue to cling to power at all cost. I will just tell her that she will face the judgment of history and of God. Her worst punishment will be to live the rest of her life in shame and disgrace - knowing that the majority of the people have condemned her as a corrupt, greedy and powerhungry president - no better than Marcos and Estrada. But I don't want to focus all my energy in just denouncing the president.

As I bike around the Philippines (from Davao to Aparri and back), I will be preaching the Gospel of Life and Peace. I will speak out against the culture of death and corruption in society. I will focus my advocacy on 5 specific concerns which I believe are manifestations of the culture of death: abortion, the ongoing armed conflict, extrajudicial killings, the destruction of the environment (especially through logging and mining) and graft & corruption. What links all my other advocacies is the call to respect life. This means stopping abortion, stopping the war (call for resumption of peace negotiations), stopping extrajudicial killings, stopping the destruction of the environment (an appeal for total log ban and the repeal of the mining act), and stopping graft & corruption (search for truth and accountability, abolish pork barrel).

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Weekend with the Redemptorist Youth Mission Team

This weekend, I facilitated the evaluation and planning session of the DRYM team (Davao Redemptorist Youth Mission team which was held in our beach house in Dasag, Samal Island. There were seventeen participants. On Saturday morning, seven members of the team joined me in biking towards the place - after crossing to the island on the ferry boat.
I really enjoy being with the members of the Youth Mission team and working with them. I helped train them since 2002 and they have been active helping organize the youth program in the parish and the BECs. They are all volunteers, some are still students and some have graduated and are now working as teachers and nurses. Recently, I trained them to facilitate the BEC youth fellowship seminars - an evangelization seminar for young people at the grassroots communities. Every year during the Mindanao Week of Peace, they provide assistance for the Bike for Peace which I organize.