Monday, January 26, 2009

Effect of long distance biking on my blood pressure

before biking

immediately after biking

one hour after biking

Today, I biked from Davao to Tagum and back. This is part of my preparation for the Bike for Hope initiated by Senator Pia Cayetano this coming Saturday. (I got an invitation from her to lead the prayer and participate in the event on Jan. 31).
It took me 5 hours and 30 minutes to cover 104 km. It's been 7 months since I did some long distance biking so I just pedaled at a very relaxed pace averaging 20 km per hour. It was a very wonderful ride - I just enjoyed the feeling of the wind caressing my face. Time went by so quickly. It was a moving meditation - zen on a bike. I imagined myself biking around the Philippines once again. Biking for many hours (or even days) is one of the activities that I enjoy most. For me, there is no such thing as the loneliness of the long-distance biker or runner.
Before the ride I measured my blood pressure: 138/89 (that's a bit high) and my heart rate (50 beats per minute). Immediately after biking I measured it again: 104/56! That's incredibly low. After an hour it was 119/62. Long-distance biking (as well as long-distance running) has an unusual effect on my blood pressure. Instead of going up, it goes down. I once asked my cardiologist about this and he told me that there are two reasons. The first is that because it is a very relaxing activity for me, my blood pressure goes down (meditation has a similar effect). The other reason is that my blood produces more nitric oxide when I do long-distance exercise and so my blood become thinner and vessels expand. The lesson is clear. I can cure my hypertension with out medication. All I need to do is to meditate and exercise. The longer the better. That's why I am no longer dependent on my hypertension pills. I haven't taken them for a long time.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Davao Death Squads: The Killing Continues

This afternoon at five pm, I attended the meeting of the Council of Leaders of the Coalition Against Summary Execution (CASE). Among them were two lawyers who are also heads of the IBP (Integrated Bar of the Philippines) and the FLAG (Free Legal Assistance Group). There were also those coming from NGOs.

We discussed the latest communication from the office of Mr. Allston, the UN rapporteur, who conducted an investigation of the extra-judicial killings in the Philippines. We were asked whether the recommendations made by Allston were acted on by the government, especially those pertaining to the death squads.

We all agreed that the situation has worsened. Last year, there were 269 victims of the DDS. It seems that during the first three weeks of this month, 29 people were killed by the Davao Death Squad (DDS). Yesterday, two dead bodies were found somewhere in Maa. There is no public outcry against these killings. Many think that these are justified. After all, the victims were suspected petty criminals - juvenile delinquents, addicts, drug-pushers, thieves. They were just meted the death penalty by those who have become judge, jury, executioner. What is even alarming is that this type of killing is expanding to other cities in the country.

We have kept on denouncing these killings over the years and it seems that we have failed to stop them. We have been reduced to counting the victims of the DDS. What is more frustrating is that the government, both national and local, have not done anything to investigate these killings. It makes us wonder if they are being tolerated, sanctioned or even inspired by the powers that be. After all, a top local government executive was quoted in the newspapers as saying: the death penalty was never been lifted in Davao.

All we can do is to keep on raising our voices against these killings. I guess, this is another manifestation of the culture of death the pervades in our land. I hope that someday, those responsible for these killings will face God's judgment - in this life or the next.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Mass for MAAS - Movement Against Aerial Spraying

Members of the MAAS (the movement against aerial spraying) arrived this morning in Davao. After being met by city officials at the city hall, they proceeded to our church for mass. They all looked sad and felt defeated.
For two months - from the first week of November up to the middle of January - they were camping infront of the court of appeals in Cagayan de Oro - to press the court to make a ruling that would affirm the decision of the regional court in Davao upholding the constitutionality of the ban on aerial spray that was passed by the city council. They braved the heat and the rain, including police harrassment while waiting for the decision of the court. They even spent Christmas and New Year in their tent. Last week, the court came out with the decision - 4 justices favoring the banana plantation owners and 1 dissenting opinion. This means that the planes will once again spray pesticides over the banana plantations and the nearby farms and villages and endanger the health of the people.
During the mass, the members of MAAS shared their experiences and their frustration. They felt that their efforts were in vain. When it was my time to speak, I tried to console them and give them hope. This is the gist of my homily (which was delivered in Cebuano):
The last time you came to this church last year, you were so happy and felt victorious. It was a thanksgiving mass. The judge had ruled that the aerial spray ban which the city government passed was constitutional.
Now you are back, filled with sadness and grief. You feel defeated. Yet it is important that you count your blessings -what did you win?
You won the support of so many people from various sectors of society all over the country - from the Archdiocese of Cagayan, the diocese of Malaybalay, the CBCP-BEC national assembly, the various schools and communities, local government officials. I heard that Congressman Rufus Rodriguez is going to file a bill that would ban aerial spraying all over country.
You were able to pressure the Court of Appeals to make a ruling. So the case will now be heard at the Supreme Court where we will have a better chance since the justices cannot be bought. For the last several months, the media has reported about alleged corruption in the judiciary especially at the Court of Appeals. There is a perception that these honorable judges can be bought. So you have succeeded in moving the case up to the Supreme Court -this is an achievement. There have been cases that have been unresolved at the Court of Appeals even after so many years.
The struggle continues. We do not give up hope. The terrain of struggle will be carried out in Manila and also here in Davao - in the courts, in the streets and in the farms.
Remember the story of Jesus did not end in Good Friday - there was an Easter Sunday. I hope that the next time you come to this church, your hearts will be filled with joy. It will be a victory celebration.
After the mass, the leaders and members of MAAS held a press conference. They first presented a copy of the dissenting opinion of Justice Borja which they praised. And then they also presented a copies of the majority opinion which favored the Philippine Banana Growers and Employers Association (PGBEA), and they tore these to pieces. The affirmed their commitment to continue their struggle.
It is still too early for the PGBEA to celebrate. I just pray and hope that their consciences will be awakened to the harm that they are doing to people near the banana plantations.
The signs in the t-shirt of the MAAS people says it all: "Dili kami Peste." (We are not pests!)
As one of the farmers said: "they spray pesticides on us and our children and we get sick so that they can have shiny and unblemished bananas that they can sell abroad."
I am filled with disgust and indignation at the banana plantation owners who put profit above the welfare and health of the poor people.
I am filled with contempt for those in the judiciary who perpetuate this injustice.
Woe to you - someday, the Lord's justice will prevail.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Silsilah Dialogue Forum: Visitors from the US

This afternoon we had our Silsilah Davao dialogue forum which was held at the Sasa Barangay hall. Over forty Muslim and Christians came -among them 2 ustdadzes, 3 Imams, two priests, 8 religious sisters, 4 seminarians. My dear friend Ustadz Mahmod Adilao was around.
We had eight visitors from the US who belong to an interfaith group - Several Muslims, a Jewish Rabbi, and Christian ministers. Listening to their experience of interreligious dialogue was very inspiring. They have been going around Mindanao to also learn from our experience. They stayed for just two hours, they had to go to anothe place.
After the merienda we continued on our own and broke into small groups for sharing of our thoughts and experiences based on the theme: loving God and our neighbor. Each group was given a text from the Qur'an and the Bible on the theme. Afterwards we had reporting.
It is appropriate that we reflect on the theme of love of God and neighbor since this was the theme of the recent dialogue between Muslim and Christian leaders in Rome.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

You are my beloved son

Today, I remember my father, Tony, in a special way. It is the 16th anniversary of his death. He died of a heart attack while I was studying for my doctorate in Rome. He was only 70 years old.

As usual, I celebrated his anniversary by going out for lunch in a restaurant. I then went to a coffee shop for capuccino. Later, I watched a movie.

Today happens also to be the feast of the Lord's baptism in the river Jordan. According to the Markan account, as Jesus emerged from the water, he heard the voice from heaven saying: "You are my beloved son, my favor rests in you." (Mk 1:17)

I believe this text is very appropriate as I remember my father. After so many years I have come to realize that it sums up who I am in relation to my father.

The Spanish translation of "my beloved son" is "mi hijo amado." When I was baptized my father gave me the name "Amado" - the beloved.

As I was growing up, I wasn't really fully aware that I was his beloved son. He was not demonstrative with his feelings or affection for me. He appeared stern and strict. He spanked me occasionally whenever I misbehaved. But what I treasure most were the times I spent with him. He would bring me to his various projects - he was building roads, bridges, cement plants and power plants. He called me his bodyguard. He boasted to others that I would be an engineer like him when I grow up. I would accompany him to the tennis court when he played tennis with his friends. He would bring me to see the movies and then to a restaurant afterwards. He would bring me to church for confession, for the station of the cross and to hear mass. He asked me to accompany him whenever he attended the monthly meeting of the Knights of Columbus. In the evening when the family gathered after supper to pray the rosary in front of the statue of the Sacred Heart, he would ask me to lead. Once I saw a meditation book in his bedside which I sometimes read.
According to Robert Bly, many boys grow up with fathers who are absent or distant. This lack of bonding can lead to alienation. Sons grow up without experiencing their father's love, without learning what it means to be men and I may add, without imbibing their spirituality. Many men have "father-wounds." They grew up with hurt, resentment or hatred for their fathers - or even indifference. I realized years later, after hearing his stories that this was my father's experience. He was angry with his father for being a philandering husband, he blamed his father for his mother's accidental death. His father did not support him in his studies and was not even present for his wedding. He did not experience his father's love.
No wonder that it was difficult for my father to be affectionate with me and my siblings. It was difficult for him to give what he did not receive. Yet he tried to give me and my siblings what his father failed to give him. As he got older and became ill, it became more difficult. All in all, he was still a good father compared to his father.
The last summer before he died, I spent some time with him listening to his stories. We did what we used to do together when I was a little boy - watching movies, eating at the restaurant, going to the beach. Whenever we went out to the city and meet his friends, he would introduce me to them with pride. I could sense that he was pleased with me and proud of what I have become.
I still remember that scene in the cemetery when we visited his father's grave. He was crying and telling him that he had forgiven him. As we went home, I became aware that he was at peace. The anger, hurt and resentment was gone.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Marathon Challenge: Keeping a Promise

When I was a young priest more than 28 years ago, I made a promise to myself that I will be running a marathon every year until my 80th birthday. I was able to keep my promise from 1980 to 1989. Every year I ran the PAL-Manila International Marathon. When I went abroad for further studies I wasn't able to do it every year anymore. I ran the California International Marathon in 1991 and then ran the Rome Marathon in 1995. Since then, I haven't ran any marathon. I shifted to biking and biked for peace around Mindanao and around the Philippines. But I always longed to run the marathon again. I remembered the promise I made to myself. I tried several times to make a comeback but I failed. I thought, maybe, I was just too old to do it.

Several months ago, I took up running again and decided to train for the marathon. I was planning to run the International Philippine Marathon for the Pasig River early this year (March). But my progress has been very slow and I had a problem with my calf muscles in December. I haven't run regularly for the last four weeks until this week when I can run without pain. This morning I was able to run for 30 minutes, so I am back in training again. Instead of running this March, I will run the Quezon City International Marathon this October. After that I will keep running every year until my 80th birthday.

I sometimes doubt if I can still do it at my age. I am overweight -- 173.6 lbs. When I was running marathons, I usuall weighed 130 lbs. I hope that by October, I will be at least 140 lbs. Let's see. I still dream of breaking my personal record of 3:33:15 for the 42 km. This year, I will just aim to finish the race and in the coming years, I will go below 3:30 and maybe break 3 hrs someday. I intend to keep my promise.

Running the marathon is a symbol of the other promises I made in my youth, such as:
remaining a priest and a Redemptorist until I die
keeping my vows of chastity, poverty and obedience
preaching the good news especially to the poor and most abandoned
forming basic ecclesial communities
working for peace, justice and development
praying and meditating regularly
spending time in the mountain of Busay as an occasional hermit
fasting every Friday
bike for a cause around the country

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep
but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep
and mile to go before I sleep." R. Frost

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Prospects for Peace in the Years to Come in the Philippines

As we celebrate the Christmas season and the coming of the New Year which the Church marks as the World Day of Peace, we note the absence of peace in our land- especially in Mindanao. The cycle of violence and war continues.

Since the breakdown of the peace negotiations a few months ago, rogue units of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) continue to carry out attacks against civilian and military targets in Central Mindanao. In response, government troops are going after them. Air Force planes have been bombing areas where these MILF units are believed to be hiding. Civilians have been caught in the crossfire.

In another front, the New People’s Army (NPA) have been increasing tactical offensives not just in Mindanao but in other areas of Luzon and Visayas. As government military operations are conducted in the “red areas”, more civilians are evacuating. Leaders of legal militant organizations suspected of being leftist fronts have been abducted and executed by suspected military units.

What is happening at present is similar to the situation that prevailed over twenty five years ago. The end of the Marcos dictatorial regime in EDSA I, brought hope that peace will finally come. But the peace negotiations broke down between the Government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) under the Aquino administration. In 1996, under the Ramos administration, a peace agreement was reached between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Peace talks with the MILF started. The peace process with the NDF was revived. With the election of Estrada, the “macho” president adopted an “all-out war” policy. These peace talks were abandoned. The EDSA II which deposed Estrada and brought Gloria M. Arroyo to power once again renewed hope that peace will finally reign. The peace negotiations were again revived. But these could not be sustained. Now near the end of her term there is still no peace. Why is it difficult to achieve peace? There are many factors.

A major factor is President Gloria Macapaga Arroyo herself. She is not serious about pursuing peace negotiations. Coming up with a peace settlement with the MILF and the NDF is not a priority of her administration. Her main concern is staying in power and extending her reign beyond her term of office. All her acts can be seen from this perspective - even the MOA-AD which requires charter change. She lacks credibility and political will. Majority of the people question her motives and do not support her peace efforts. The MILF and NDF do not trust her to abide by whatever agreement they can reach. What she really wants is to defeat the NPA by 2010 and to neutralize the MILF. The military operations carried out have affected civilians. Under an Arroyo Government we cannot expect peace to prevail. She has become a lame-duck president and time is running out.

The MILF central leadership has not been able to maintain control and discipline within its rank. It has failed to hold the units of Commanders Bravo and Kato accountable for the atrocities against civilians. The MILF will only come back to the negotiating table if the GRP sign the MOA-AD which has been rejected by the majority and by the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, more radical elements have emerged demanding an independent Islamic republic and suspected of engaging in terrorist activities.

The NDF - led by the CPP with its military arm- the NPA continues to hold on to its Maoist dogma and strategy of people's war. Insisting on the dictum that political power comes from the barrel of the gun, the NDF regards the armed struggle as the primary means to seize state power and impose radical change in society. While the NDF is appealing for the resumption of peace negotiations, it considers the peace process in tactical rather than strategic terms in view of the primacy of armed struggle.

Congress continues to be dominated by landlords and big business whose primary concern is to protect their vested interests and the president. This congress has failed to pass enabling laws that will implement the anti-dynasty law. It has failed to come up with genuine agrarian reform law and extended the present law for six month but made it useless by making it voluntary. This same congress protected President Arroyo from impeachment proceedings for charges of corruption and abuse of power. This is the same congress that is trying to convert itself as a constituent assembly to change the constitution that will do away with the nationalist provisions, abolish term limits, change the system of government that will allow the president to perpetuate her rule.

This congress is incapable of bringing about justice and alleviating poverty in our country. With this kind of congress it will be difficult to convince those who are trying to change society through armed struggle to lay down their arms. Frustration with this political system will continue drive young people to the hills.

Another factor why peace remains elusive is a very weak peace constituency. There is no critical mass of people actively working for peace. The peace movement has not grown and expanded There are only a handful of individuals and groups who are actively engaged in peace advocacy. Activities organized by these groups are poorly attended. The groups are not united. Some of them have been accused by the military of being sympathetic to the cause of the MILF or the NDF. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines has from time to time came up with statements appealing for end to war and continue the peace process. The Bishops-Ulama Conference has also been actively involved in peace advocacy. But their statements have often been ignored. Many of the individual bishops, priests and religious are not concerned about peace advocacy. There have been cases of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) and local grassroots communities involved in peace-advocacy and in forming Zones of Peace but these have not been replicated.

So the various factors mentioned above can explain why peace remains elusive in our country. Peace remains a dream. Around this time we pray and hope that the New Year will be more peaceful. The prospect for peace in the years to come is not bright. Yet we continue hoping. What should we hope for?

We hope that a new breed of national and local leaders will emerge, especially with the elections in 2010. Enough of corrupt, self-serving leaders, without principles, convictions and vision. Never again to presidents like Marcos, Macapagal-Arroyo or Estrada. No to presidents whose only qualification is their popularity, wealth and electability. We expect our leaders to have the credibility and political will to come up with a negotiated peace settlement with the various groups. They should be able to address the roots of violence and armed conflict. We need leaders whose primary concern is not staying in power or enriching themselves but the good of all, especially the majority who are poor. Their primary concern should be how to bring about justice, peace, and development in our land. We need leaders who realize that a military solution to the insurgency problem is costly and ineffective.

We hope that the CPP/NPA/NDF will realize that transforming Philippine society through armed struggle or people’s war is an impossible dream. After 40 years of fighting, their military capability and mass base remain insignificant. In fact, they have not grown or expanded, but have dwindled. They can carry out tactical offensives against soft targets but are not capable of reaching the strategic offensive stage. They have lost so many brave comrades over the years. They cannot expect a critical mass of people to support the “protracted people’s war.” People are simply tired of all the violence and of war. It is high time to abandon the Maoist dogma and come up with new paradigms in transforming society. The peace negotiations should be seen from a strategic framework like what revolutionaries in South Africa , El Salvador and Northern Ireland have done.

We hope that the MILF will be able to punish erring commanders, control their units and prevent them from committing further atrocities against the civilian population. We hope that they will realize that carving out an independent Islamic republic in Mindanao is an impossible dream. They have to accept the reality that Mindanao is now the home of the Muslims, Christians and Lumads. The signing of the MOA-AD should not be the precondition for the resumption of the peace negotiations. Rather, the MOA-AD can be the working document from which both parties can continue negotiating until they agree which provisions are acceptable to all and which are not. Areas where Christians and Lumads are the majority should not be included in the proposed BJE. In different circumstances, when Arroyo is no longer president, the proposal for changing the constitution to shift to a federal form of government can be more acceptable.

We hope that a time will come when congress will truly become the house of the representatives of the people – and not of the landowning and business elite. It will be a congress that is capable of passing laws that will truly benefit the majority and that will bring about peace, justice and progress in the land. It will truly be independent from the president yet will work with the president for crafting legislations beneficial to all. It will be a congress where those belonging to various ideologies will have a chance to pursue their programs that will benefit their people.
This will require a change in the political culture. This will mean changing the way we Filipinos elect our public officials – not by their wealth and popularity but by their competence, integrity and spirit of service. This means that elected officials change the way they perceive their office – not as a means for self-enrichment, power and domination. This means doing away with patronage politics.

We hope that the peace constituency and movement will expand. More and more people will expressly reject violence and war, imbibe the culture of life and peace, and will actively be involved in peace advocacy. We hope that communities at the grassroots – Christians and Muslims, Basic Ecclesial Communities – will be involved in establishing zones of peace. This will require the leadership and support of the CBCP, each bishop, each priest and religious in collaboration with other religious leaders – belonging to other Christian dominations and Muslims. This also means working with civil society groups and organizations.

Peace is elusive but it is possible. There is always hope and we should not stop working for peace.