Thursday, September 24, 2009

Peace Forum (Brokeshire College)

A Peace Forum was held at the Brokenshire College here in Davao as one of the activities for the peace week observed by the college. There were two speakers invited: a Muslim scholar and religious leader (Aleem Jamal Munib) and yours truly. ALeem Jamal gave a talk on peace from Islamic perspective. I gave a talk on peace from a Christian perspective. After the talks, the open forum followed with the students asking questions and each of us giving answers from our respective religious perspectives.
What struck me while listening to Aleem Jamal was that there were so many things Muslims and Christians hold in common especially about the theme of peace. Aleem Jamal started his talk with the the greetings "peace be with you" (which is the english translation of the Arabic aSalaam' Alaykum) and I also started mine with the same greeting which echoes Jesus' greetings to his disciples during his post-resurrection appearance (shalom aleichim in Hebrew). Aleem Jamal also spoke about the theme of the love of God and the love of one's fellowmen and the golden rule which is found both in the Qur'an and the Bible.
Aleem Jamal reminded the audience that Islam is a religion of peace. When asked about Jihad he corrected the popular misconception of Jihad as referring primaly to Holy War. He said that terrorism perpetrated by extremist groups such is Abu Sayaf, which targets innocent civilians, does not represent Islam. He said that Jihad means striving for peace, justice and freedom and defense against oppression. The greater Jihad is the struggle against evil within oneself. These are ideas that are similar to Christians themes of struggling against sin and evil within oneself and in society. I am reminded of what Pope John XXIII said: "what unites us is greater than what divides us."
In my talk, I emphasized the mission and responsibility of Christians to be peacemakers (echoing Jesus' sermon on the mount - Blessed are the Peacemakers). I started by talking about the situation of unpeace - the spiral of violence and the culture of death. I then asserted that peace must begin within each one, in the homes, in the neighborhood, and extends to the region and nation. Echoing Paul VI, I emphasized that peace is not just the absence of war. Peace involves justice, reconciation, healing and forgiveness. It is brought about by dialogue. The sources of conflict must be addressed and the injustice corrected. The fruits of peace are development and harmony. I ended my talk by quoting Isaiah and by sharing my own version of Isaiah's vision of peace:
"He shall judge between the nations
and impose terms on many peoples,
They shall beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks
One nation shall not raise the sword against another
nor shall they train for war again." (Isaiah 2:4)
This is my own vision of peace which I shared during the focus group discussion for the Konsult-Mindanaw:
Someday we will live together as neighbors, friends
and brother/sisters rather than strangers and enemies.
The battlefields will be transformed into rice-fields.
The tanks will be turned to bulldozers
The only blood shed will be that of chickens and cows for feasting.
The only explosions will come from fireworks in the sky.
The land and its resouces will be shared by everyone
and no one will wallow in poverty.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Biking for the Environment: Joining the Protest Against Coal Fired Power Plant Project in Maasim

Jump off from the Davao Redemptorist Monastery


with biking priests of Marbel diocese: Frs. Cristito Holoro, Rodrigo Gigoni & Giovanni Oncog before jump off Gensan-Maasim

bikers entering Maasim followed by a caravan from various parishes and POs

bikers with the parishioners of Maasim opposing the Coal Fired Power Plant project

members of the Basic Ecclesial Communities (or GKK) joining the protest march

delegation from various parishes of Marble diocese

Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez at the interfaith rally, with Muslim leaders, pastors, lumad leaders and the army commander, Colonel de Leon.

Yesterday morning at 8:15, after celebrating the 6 am mass, I and 5 others biked from Davao to General Santos City. A Redemptorist seminarian (Clint Jan) biked part of the way while 2 other seminarians (Ryan and Natz) were on the support vehicle. Eugene, the Singaporean Redemptorist seminarian escorted us on the motorbike. This was the first leg of the "Bike for the Environment" to support of the protest against the Maasim Coal-Fired Power Plant Project led by the diocese of Marbel and in collaboration with other NGOs, People's Organization and other Christian and Muslim groups. It took us over nine hours to bike the 148 km distance. We were met by Fr. Giovannie Oncog and proceeded to the parish of Our Lady of Good Voyage for dinner. We slept at the Passionist retreat house.
Early this morning at 6:30 we continued the second leg of the journey - Gensan to Maasim. Three priests joined us (Frs. Giovannie, Cristito and Rodrigo). A protestant pastor (Ricky) was also part of the group. Seven other members of the GS MORBA (General Santos Matutum Offroad Bikers Association) joined us. They could only muster this number since it is a working day. It took us over two hours to bike the 45 km distance. We stopped 3km before the town and waited for a while for the convoy of vehicles from various parishes before we proceeded to the parish church at the head of the caravan. We were welcomed by the parish priest and the members of the Redemptorist Mission Team who have been helping in stregthening the Basic Ecclesial Communites in the parish.
I concelebrated at the fiesta mass presided by Bishop Gutierrez together with over 20 priests of the diocese. After the mass the people marched to the town plaza for the interfaith rally agains the coal fired power plant project. There were so many people - from the 48 Basic Ecclesial Communities of the parish and delegations from other parishes of the Marbel diocese, from other Christian denominations, Muslim groups, lumad groups, etc. I was amazed to see parents bringing their children, carrying placards and streamers. There were four speakers during the rally: a Lumad leader, a Muslim ustadz, an Aglipayan priest and Bishop Gutierrez. The rally ended with a cultural presentation of the parish youth. Then this was followed by a festive meal. What an extraordinary fiesta celebration! This is the first time that the people in the parish with the suppor of the diocese and other groups have come out in full force to oppose the coal power plant project. The mayor and his council who supports the project must be nervous now.
After lunch, we placed our bikes on our support vehicle and drove back to Davao. We reached the monastery at past seven.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Noynoy Aquino's Spiritual Retreat

I heard that Noynoy Aquino arrived here in Davao this morning and flew to Zamboanga this evening where he will be undergoing a retreat at the Carmelite monastery. Since the death of her mother (ex-president Cory Aquino) last month, there has been a growing clamor for him to run for president. Mar Roxas' withdrawal from the presidential race the other day and his support for Noynoy's candidacy has increased the pressure for Noynoy to heed this clamor.

Before Cory's death I never imagined Noynoy as a presidential contender (he wasn't really impressive as congressman and as a senator). Besides, I wasn't excited or interested about the coming elections. I didn't bother to register. I wasnt' planning to vote (I planned to leave for my sabbatical in Rome before the elections). The bottom line: I have lost faith and hope in our political system. What's the use of voting when it is still the traditional corrupt and power-hungry politicians who will run and only those who have the most money and popularity will win? A very wealthy senator under investigation in the senate for anomalies is leading the surveys, followed by an ex-president convicted of plunder. Besides the other traditional politicians several religious personalities have expressed their intention to run for president - Fr. Ed Panlilio, Eddie Villanueva, Mike Velarde.

During the wake and funeral of Cory, I became aware that "people power" was not dead and buried. It was on the rise again. I also became aware of the unfinished EDSA revolution. When Conrad de Quiros started writing about Noynoy as a presidential candidate that can continue the legacy of Ninoy and Cory, I dismissed this as one his wild ideas that deserves to be ignored. Alex Magno (who became a Gloria apologist and whose columns I stopped reading long time ago) wrote about the "game-changer" and the emergence of Noynoy as a viable candidate. Listening to Noynoy's interview with Pia Hontiveros and Tina Monzon Palma convinced me that here is the one that we can believe in and that carry the hope of many of our people. What impressed me most about Noynoy is that he indeed embodies the values of his parents: selflessnes, decency, integrity, sense of duty, service. He is not corrupt. He is not ambitious. He does not see himself as a "messiah. He consults people and he seeks their active participation in the proces of change. Unlike the other politicians, he is not seeking the presidency but rather, it is the presidency that is seeking him. The fact, the Mar Roxas would give up his presidential aspirations and support Noynoy reveals not only Mar's decency and selflessness but also his faith in Noynoy's capability to lead the people in reforming and changing Philippine society.

There are many who doubt his ability to lead, due to his lack of experience. But what kind of experience do the other candidates boast of - experience of corruption and patronage politics? Many doubt whether he will win because he does not have the money and the machinery. But what he has is the trust of people. If "people power" is still alive, then that is enough. He will have a lot of volunteers. It will be the people who will give him money for his campaign He will also get the youth vote.

As Noynoy starts his retreat/discernment tomorrow, I will pray for him. I pray that he will have the courage to respond to the call of the people that he continue what Ninoy and Cory and many of the older generation started - the unfinished revolution of EDSA. He should not expect to hear God's voice telling him that it is God's will that he will be president. All he need to listen to is the voice of people who believe in him.

We priests are not supposed to engage in partisan politics. We cannot endorse any candidate. We cannot dictate to the people who to vote for. We cannot campaign for any candidate. But if someone comes to me and asks me who to vote for, I will whisper the name of the one who I believe carries the legacy of EDSA. I have also set aside a little amount from my allowance as a donation for his campaign (I have never done this for any candidate before).
We have been looking for our own Obama. I think we have have found him.
Of course, all of these could just be the product of the imagination or wishful thinking of a few dreamers who misread the recent events. We will find out in May whether it will be politics as usual or people power is really alive.

NoyPI ako.