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.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Martial Law - Again!

Finally, President Duterte has declared Martial Law in Mindanao after threatening to do so several times since last year. He said he is thinking of extending it to Visayas  or even the whole country. There is no doubt he will do it when he find the excuse. Apparently, this is what he always wanted to do which is consistent with the only leadership style he knows - autocratic. This is the model used by tyrants and dictators including his idols - Hitler and Marcos.

Was declaring Martial Law in Mindanao (with a land area of 105,000 sq km) necessary when the only place affected was Marawi City (land area 33 square km)? The Maute group which expressed allegiance to ISIS does not even have a sizable force and mass base.  What has been happening is neither a rebellion nor an invasion.  It was a PNP/AFP operation to arrest ASG Isnilon Hapilon that had gone awry and which transmogrified into the hostage-taking of Fr. Chito Suganob together with some parishioners and the burning of the cathedral and other buildings to evade capture.  The report that the hospital of Amay Pakpak was taken over was false, so was the supposed beheading of  the chief of police. These were cited as part of the justification for Martial Law. 

The Secretary of National Defense denied that he recommended the declaration Martial Law and  he admitted that the situation can be resolved even without Martial Law.  It appeared that the president made the decision to declare Martial Law all over Mindanao while he was  far away  in Moscow lacking due consultation and deliberation. Meanwhile, there is a humanitarian crisis as thousands of families have fled their burning city that has been bombed. Meanwhile the PNP chief is echoing the president's story that the Maute group is being supported not just by ISIS but also by drug lords.

Majority of the senators and representatives have expressed their support for Martial Law and did not convene as a joint body as commanded by the Constitution to discuss and debate the validity of the martial law declaration. This can give a signal that the president can freely expand Martial Law over the whole country without any opposition. He has vowed to defy the Supreme Court should it rule against Martial Law. In the absence of check and balance, the country is sliding to another dictatorship.

This president behaves as if he is above the law - that he is the law. He has ignored the rule of law, and  human rights, which has led to Extrajudicial Killings of over 10,000 people, mostly users and majority of them from the lower class. He promised that the killings will continue and will reach 50,000. He threatened to behead human rights advocates. These are not empty threats or jokes. 
Meanwhile, the peace negotiation with the NDF has been suspended as the CPP  ordered the NPA to step up tactical offensive as a response to Martial Law. The MILF is still waiting for the implementation of the peace agreement. Unless this is implemented the armed conflict will persist and drive more Muslims to the side of the more radical and extremist Moro groups like the BIFF and Maute. Martial Law cannot solve the Mindanao problem.
As in the past, the Church remains the only institution that can stand up against this  autocratic rule.  Will it continue to do so?  Can the new CBCP  leadership that will be elected and soon take over have the courage to be prophetic in this dark period of our history as a nation? Will the clergy, religious and lay people overcome fear and apathy and speak out?
  We who survived and struggled to end the Marcos dictatorial rule cried out: Never Again!  Will this be an empty  wish?

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Nature of Addiction

I've been trying to understand the nature of  addiction. The most helpful, so far, is a book written by Dr. Gabor Mate - In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close  Encounter with Addiction. 
Here's a poem I wrote based on  insights I gained from the book and my own reflection on the “War on Drugs” waged by the present government.


You lurk in the shadows
craving for your next fix,
filled with terror
knowing the death squad/police
will finally find you and end your misery.
But you cannot help yourself
even if you have already surrendered
because your name is on the list.

You must have your fix.

Are you still human?
They say you have lost your right to life.
You will kill, steal, rape, and push
just to get your next fix.
Isolated, rejected, hunted,
you have lost control of yourself.
You must be stopped, neutralized
eliminated, terminated
like the zombies in the movies
because you are a threat to all of us.
This is war. You are the enemy.
That's what we have been made to believe.
 Are you really the enemy?

What kind of  pain & stress does your drug
try to alleviate or soothe?
What childhood trauma keeps haunting you?
What abuse was inflicted on you?
Why couldn't your parents provide you
with their consistent loving care & presence?
Why do you always feel anxious and insecure? Why the emptiness?
What effect did poverty and violence have on you?
Or even if you lived in comfort &  luxury why still the pain?
Is this why  your brain can’t produce your own endorphins and dopamine to soothe  the pain, and make you feel loved, alive and be energized?
 Is this why your cortex that regulates your impulses is impaired
 that you can no longer say NO and stop your addiction?

Do you really deserve to die?
Or  languish in a stinking, overcrowded prison cell?
All you need is to experience mercy and compassion,
to be healed, to feel alive, to be accepted, loved, embraced, fed
as brother, sister, part of the family.

You are not the enemy.
You are us.
You are our shadow.
You are our dark side and our mirror.
You remind us that we too are like you
or can be like you.
The only difference is our drug of choice.
Cocaine? ShabuFentanyl? Rugby?
Alcohol? Nicotine? Gambling? Sex?  ?  Food? Sugar?
Shopping? Power? Killing? Stealing? Accumulating wealth?
Your condition reveals to us the nature of our society:
a society that breeds addicts to numb the pain that it inflicts.
That is why many - especially the president and his minions - hate you.
You remind most of us of who we really are or can be.

  The reason why the War on Drugs is bound to fail is ignorance about the nature of addiction. Unless we know what addiction really is all about, we will not be able to deal with the problem. The “War” metaphor is the wrong approach. Drug addiction is just one form of addiction. The War on Drugs is based on the presumption that drugs – such as shabu, heroin, cocaine and even marijuana -- cause addiction which is regarded as the main cause of criminality – murder, theft, rape, etc. Thus, the main targets of the War on Drugs here in the Philippines are drug users and pushers – most of whom are poor. In other countries, the drug lords and their minions are the key targets but not here in the country. It seems that the War on Drugs is being used to satisfy one man’s addiction to absolute power. This War also feeds on the addiction of many police officers to the accumulation of wealth. They, together with politicians and drug lords, are making a killing from this War on Drugs. This War brings out the worst and the dark side of every one – especially those in power and authority.

The drug trade follows the so-called “law of supply and demand.” The War on Drugs does not address adequately the “demand” side – the addiction itself. It is based on the fallacy that addicts will stop using drugs out of fear of being killed by the death squads, imprisonment or the scarcity of supply due to interdiction or elimination of pushers.  The fear and anxiety heighten the cravings and they will continue using drugs since the impulse control of the cortex is impaired, and the root cause of addiction is not addressed – which is the pain, trauma and stress which increases the need for endorphins and dopamine that drugs provide. For as long as there is widespread demand for drugs, there will always be drug lords in connivance with the politicians and police that will take care of  “supply.” 
The “War on Drugs” metaphor – which is a brutal and ineffective approach --  should be abandoned and replaced with the “Healing” metaphor which is more holistic and radical. What is needed is a more compassionate, communitarian, scientific and spiritual approach to the problem of addiction. This should not just focus on the problem of drug addiction but all forms of addiction caused not by drugs or any substance and behavior but by the trauma and stress of the prevailing social environment and condition – such as poverty, breakdown of the family, inadequate nutrition and parental care, violence, sexual abuse, individualism and lack of solidarity. A community-based rehabilitation program should therefore be adopted that should include poverty-alleviation, counseling, a sense of belonging or communion, friendship, physical exercise, prayer and meditation. All of these can help overcome addiction by increasing the endorphins and dopamine levels in the brain without drugs or destructive behavior. What is most important is to transform communities and society that will no longer be a breeding ground for addiction. The antidote to addiction is communion -  the experience of belonging, friendship, support and loving care.