Wednesday, January 23, 2019

A Great Catholic Nation?

For over a month, we have once again witnessed  apparent display of faith which has led many, including Pope Francis, to conclude that the Philippines is a great Catholic Nation.
For nine days leading to Christmas, the churches were overflowing with the faithful for the Misa de Gallo or Simbang Gabi. A couple of weeks later, millions of devotees attended the procession of the statue of Jesus Nazareno – black Nazarene – which lasted for over 20 hours. On the third Sunday of January, millions again attended the procession of the child Jesus – the Sto. Nino – in Cebu and other parts of the country. We should not forget that around this time four years ago, an estimated seven million faithful attended the Mass presided by Pope Francis  in Luneta – a world record that remains unsurpassed. We are also impressed by the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary - especially to the Mother of Perpetual Help whose novena is held every Wednesday in Baclaran and in most of the churches all over the country.
Is the Philippines really a great Catholic nation? What is the quality of the faith of the Filipino Catholics?

Let us remember that the Catholic majority – including many priests and religious – voted into office and continue to support a president who cursed the pope, who is trying to destroy the Church, who calls God stupid, who regards the doctrine of the Trinity and the crucified Christ silly, who tells his audience not to go to church and build their own chapel, who encourages them to rob and kill bishops, who is disrespectful of women, and who is waging a war on drugs and on “enemies of the state” which has resulted in over 30,000 extrajudicial killings. This is the same Catholic majority who elected senators and representatives who are crafting laws that lower the age of criminal liability to nine years old and wants to bring back the death penalty. Majority of our politicians, government bureaucrats, police officers and military personnel are Catholics (many of them are products of Catholic schools and universities)  yet many are complicit to the corruption, injustices, violence and criminality that continue to spread like cancer in our society.
So, what kind of faith do majority of Filipinos really have that gives an impression that we are a Catholic nation? The kind faith that is most prevalent is the faith that is expressed in participation in the liturgy, in novenas, in processions, in devotions to the saints, in fiestas. This is associated with popular religiosity which is often seasonal and occasional – it comes out during the advent and Christmas season, the Lenten and Easter season, and the feasts of the patron saints. This is an important manifestation of faith - the faith that is celebrated and that expresses a deep trust in the Triune God, in Mary and the saints who can intervene miraculously and make their lives better. This is the kind faith that enables them to believe and hope that God will never abandon them. In its extreme, this is the kind of faith that makes them passively wait for miracles to happen. But this can be a one-sided kind of faith unless is it accompanied by knowledge and adherence to the truths of the faith – not just the dogmas, but the moral and social teachings grounded on the Word of God as interpreted and taught by the Church. This faith has also to be lived daily and shown in one’s behavior and action – expressed in love, service, compassion, respect for the rights of others, truthfulness, honesty, etc. Without this, faith is dead. This is the kind of faith that is often absent in majority of the faithful. This explains why the so-called great Catholic nation is a nation where evil continues to reign - a nation governed by corrupt, greedy and incompetent politicians, a nation where there is so much injustice, poverty and violence, where the culture of death reigns. 
While respecting and appreciating popular piety and religiosity, we should not romanticize it nor should we be satisfied with it. It is a faith that needs to grow and mature. It should not remain superficial, nominal or seasonal. There is still much to be done in terms of evangelization and integral faith formation, in doctrinal and moral catechesis, and in awakening the conscience of the faithful. Above all, our processions should symbolize our journey and march for freedom and liberation, for life, for justice and peace. We have done this before and we can do this again.
Meanwhile, we should stop calling the Philippines a great Catholic nation. We do not deserve it. Besides, there are also Christians of other denominations, Muslims and other religious groups.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Lamentation from the Land of the Mourning

With tears in my eyes and a heavy heart
I look at my land with despair.
The streets, shanties and farms have become killing fields
as widows and orphans multiply.
The ruler promised to wage war on drugs,
on poverty and on corruption - in 3-6 months!
But the casualties were the poor-- users, lumads, farmers and their defenders
murdered by death squads with or without uniform
killed by bullets or hunger and they could not even afford
to bury their dead and feed those left behind.

The prices of everything continue to rise.

Rice, vegetable, fish, meat, medicine, tuition fee, oil & fare.

Except the price of shabu - they have gone down, thanks to the drug lords,
the Bureau of Customs and the president and his friends.
The phony war on drugs have successfully killed over 20 thousand
 yet tons of drug continue to flood the streets.
Meanwhile,  the Department of Justice is busy filing false charges
against the enemies of the president abetted by congress and 

and the supreme court while plunderers are set free.

We are governed by incompetent politicians
whose qualification is their fame and wealth -
political dynasties, actors, boxers, drug lords
whose only concern is to multiply their wealth
and perpetuate themselves in power.
They craft laws to benefit only themselves and their families.
Those who maintain law and order are criminals
they lie, steal, murder, peddle drugs, kidnap.

With tears in my heart and a heavy heart
I grieve for friends I lost – some of them priests, nuns, parishioners,
and even relatives- who supported this cruel dictator
and allowed this slaughter to happen.
As a people our collective IQ is so low that we allowed
an incompetent corrupt criminal to lead this nation.
He mocks our beliefs, calling our God stupid
Telling us to stop going to church and kill our bishops.
In spite of all this, so many continue to put their trust in him.
How stupid can we be?

What happened to the heroic people
who deposed a mighty, corrupt and brutal dictator?
What happened to the courageous people
who deposed an immoral & corrupt president
What can this generation be proud of?
No, God has not abandoned us.
Rather, this stupid generation put its trust on the false messiah.
 With tears in my eyes and a heavy heart
full of despair grasping for hope,
I long for the day when we will rise up again
and put an end to this reign of evil.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Duterte's War Against the Church

"Kill your bishops, they are useless fools. All they do is criticize." This is what President Duterte told his audience in a speech in Malacañang on Dec. 5, 2018. He also said that 90 percent of priests are gay and the Church should therefore not moralize. Earlier on, he falsely accused Bishop Pablo David of stealing from the church's offerings and suspected him of being an addict. He threatened that if he catches him involved in drugs, he will behead him. In another speech, Duterte told Catholics to stop going to church and build their own chapels at home.  Statements like these are unprecedented which no previous president in the Philippines or elsewhere in the world have ever done. These are statements that one does not expect from any sane government leader, not even in non-Christian countries, how much more in a great Catholic nation. No amount of spinning can justify this statement as just a joke. After inspiring the police and death squads to commit extrajudicial killings, Duterte is inciting people to murder bishops. This deserves condemnation and should be added to the complaint against him in the International Criminal Court. 
It appears that Duterte has stepped up his war on the Catholic Church in the Philippines which he regards as the enemy.  He already started doing this before being elected when he called Pope Francis son of a whore for the traffic caused during the papal visit in 2015. As president he continued his tirade against the Church calling her the most hypocritical institution that is full of shit. He vowed to destroy the Church by exposing the abuses of the clergy. At one time he falsely accused Bishop Teodoro Bacani of having two wives. He declared that the Church will be irrelevant within thirty years. In several speeches he declared that he doesn't believe in the God of the Catholics - whom he called a stupid God due to the creation story in the bible which he considered ridiculous. He has been distributing copies of the book "Altar of Secrets."  His attack on the Church appeared to take a violent turn when three priests were killed one after another and while one was wounded. Another priest was able to evade an assassination attempt. The president's latest statement against Bishop David and other bishops indicate that the leaders of the Church, especially those critical against him are fair targets for assassination. Being a priest or bishop will not keep one safe from the death squads. 
What has become obvious is that Duterte is waging a war against the Church. The question is why is he doing this?  Many people believe that his controversial statements are simply a way of diverting the people's attention from the real issues raised against him: the failed war on drugs - in spite of the extrajudicial killings that has reached of over 27,000 victims, the unchecked entry of tons of drugs into the country and the suspicion of the involvement of his own family, the worsening poverty, rising prices, rampant corruption, the sell-out to China, the collapse of the peace process with the NDF, etc. His failure to address these problems has revealed his gross incompetence, greed and brutality. Others would see his behavior and statements as signs of physical and mental sickness worsened by drug abuse. He has admitted to using fentanyl – an opioid more addictive and powerful than heroin - and marijuana. Others would say that he is just joking. Others believe that his hatred for the Church stem from adverse childhood experiences:  of allegedly being molested by a priest and of being physically abused by his mother (who was very pious and close to priests and nuns). 
Duterte's war on the Church may also be traced to a mixture of fear and anger vis-a-vis the Church which he believes has a capacity to resist him and bring him down. This is based on his awareness that the Catholic Church had a vital role in bringing down the Marcos dictatorship and also the Estrada presidency. Since becoming president, the Church - through the CBCP and various religious groups – has criticized the culture of death, documented EJK, provided assistance to families of victims, given sanctuary to witnesses and assisted in the filing of complaints to the International Criminal Court. The CBCP came out with several statements critical of the extrajudicial killings and upholding the value of life. The latest CBCP statement of concern in support of Bishop David could have led him to urge Catholics to kill their bishops. Instead of just venting his ire on Bishop David he has widened his target. The threat of violence is meant to intimidate the leaders of the Church, to instill fear in their hearts so that they will remain silent and will not be a threat to his authoritarian rule.
How should the Church leaders and the vast majority of the faithful respond to the attacks against the Church?
There is no need to be afraid. The Lord has promised that no power on earth can destroy the Church. For the last two thousand years the Church has survived crisis and persecutions and outlived kings and emperors who tried to destroy her.
In no way should this be seen as a struggle between the Church and State. The Church should not be seen as an institution defending its interest or asserting its power. It is not a question of which one is more powerful. The Church must be prepared to become a powerless, persecuted Church. It is time for Catholics to make a choice: to remain members of the Church or obey the president (stop going to church, build your own chapel, kill your bishops) - in other words, join the Iglesia ni Duterte. The time for appeasing Duterte is over. Dialogue with someone who intends to destroy the Church is futile. 
When it comes to cases of clerical abuse, the Church should not be defensive or engage in cover up. Those who are guilty of sexual abuse, financial anomalies and corruption should be held accountable. The prosecution of these cases will not weaken the Church but rather purify and strengthen her. The Church should continue her mission as prophet and humble servant - speaking truth to power, promoting the gospel values of the sacredness of life, of justice and peace and of compassion. The clergy should inspire the lay faithful to be actively involved in the defense of life and human rights, in the peaceful struggle against corruption and injustice, in the work for the common good and the transformation of society. The leaders of the Church, especially the bishops and priests, should be prepared to act as compassionate and courageous good shepherds, ready to offer their life as they prevent the slaughter of the flock especially the poor. They must be ready to embrace martyrdom if necessary. 
Meanwhile, instead of engaging in a word war, the Church should just continue praying for Rodrigo Duterte – that he will repent and undergo conversion after finally listening to his conscience, that he will experience inner healing, that he will reconcile with the Church into which he was baptized, that he will become compassionate, that he will fulfill his promises, that he will make amends for whatever wrongs he has committed, that he will be ready to face judgment from either the International Criminal Court or the Divine Judge whom he called stupid. And when the time comes, let him rest in peace. Amen.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

St. Oscar Romero: Bishop and Martyr

On March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was shot to death by a right-wing death squad while celebrating the Eucharist.  Since then, the people of El Salvador and many others from various parts of the world have revered him as a martyr. After more than three decades, Rome has finally officially recognized his martyrdom. He was beatified on May 23, 2015 and will be canonized on October 14, 2018. Why is Oscar Romero honored as a saint? What is the meaning of his martyrdom?
 Traditionally, the recognition of martyrdom was reserved for those put to death in “odium fidei” or in hatred of the faith during times of persecution. There were times in the past when Christians were hated on account of their faith. They were persecuted for being Christians. Many were given the choice of renouncing their faith and thus save their life or hold on to the faith and lose their life. The focus of martyrdom was their suffering and death which was seen as the consequence of confessing and holding on to their faith. Those who persecuted them were mostly non-Christian rulers who rejected the faith and who were filled with hatred for the Christian faith and those propagating it. This was the case during the first three centuries of Christianity and during the period of missionary expansion in Asia.
The circumstances of Romero’s death was different. El Salvador was governed by a repressive regime made up of Christian Democrats who were controlled by the military. Many believe that Romero was assassinated for defending the rights of the poor and for denouncing the injustices and repression carried out by the regime. There were doubts whether he was really murdered in odium fidei. This was one of the reasons for the slow progress of his cause. In 2014, when asked about Romero’s martyrdom, Pope Francis commented:
“What I would like is a clarification about martyrdom in odium fidei, whether it can occur either for having confessed the Creed or for having done the works which Jesus commands with regard to one’s neighbor. And this is a task for theologians.”
Thus, in Feb 2015, when asking Pope Francis to recognize Romero’s martyrdom, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints affirmed:
“He was killed at the altar. Through him, they wanted to strike the church that flowed from the Second Vatican Council. His assassination was not caused by motives that were simply political, but by hatred for a faith that, imbued with charity, would not be silent in the face of the injustices that relentless and cruelly slaughtered the poor and their defenders.”
While the congregation broadened the understanding of odium fidei to justify Romero’s martyrdom, there is a need to explore further the meaning of his martyrdom. This is necessary so that the martyrdom of many others – clergy, religious, lay faithful, members of Basic Ecclesial Communities - who were murdered in El Salvador and in other places in Latin America and the Philippines may be recognized. 
I propose that in looking at martyrdom there is a need to clarify and deepen the understanding of the faith. Faith is not simply a set of divine truths or Church doctrines that we profess, affirm or hold on to. This faith is not only expressed through the celebration of the sacraments and devotion to the saints. It is also shown by giving witness to the faith through acts of love, justice, mercy and compassion. The love of one’s neighbor especially the poor and the oppressed is a concrete expression of this faith.  This is the faith that does justice. This is the faith expressed in liberating praxis. This is the kind of faith  that Archbishop Oscar Romero and the Church of El Salvador tried to live. This kind of faith was considered subversive – a threat to National Security. The persecution in El Salvador and the martyrdom of Oscar Romero and others can be seen from this perspective – in hatred of a faith that is integral and liberating.
There is another framework for understanding Romero’s martyrdom that goes beyond odium fidei.  We can use the framework of Vatican II – the so-called Triplex Munus. The prophetic, kingly/pastoral and priestly mission of Christ, the Church, the clergy and the lay-faithful. Like Jesus, the cross – martyrdom – is the consequence and expression of faithfully carrying out the three-fold mission within a hostile environment.

The martyrdom of Romero may be seen as the consequence of exercising his prophetic mission. Romero denounced the sinful situation in his country perpetuated by those who monopolized wealth and power. He became the voice of the voiceless. He denounced the oppression of the people especially the poor, the injustices, the poverty, inequality, the spiral of violence, the idolatry of the National Security ideology. He called people to conversion – especially those who were responsible for the social evils. He also preached the Good News of the kingdom – of liberation, of justice and peace to all especially to the poor. Romero gave hope to those who found themselves in a helpless and intolerable situation.
The martyrdom of Romero can also be regarded as the consequence and  the ultimate expression of his loving service as  the pastor, the good shepherd of the flock, who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as ransom for many. He was the shepherd who had the smell of the sheep. He ministered to them – especially to the poor who were the majority. He did not run away upon seeing his flock being attacked by wolves – the forces of the repressive regime.
His martyrdom at the hands of the death squads while celebrating the Eucharist can be regarded as the ultimate expression of his priesthood. He did not only offer the body and blood of the risen Christ on the altar, he also offered his own body and blood in memory of Him who died on the cross and rose from the dead. He sacrificed his own life following the example of Christ. This is what priesthood ultimately means.
Thus, Oscar Romero lived to the full what it means to be a follower of Christ. Like Christ he suffered and died to fulfill his mission as prophet, pastor and priest. He walked the way Jesus – the way of the cross. He embraced his own cross – the cost of discipleship. Shortly before he gave up his life, Archbishop Oscar Romero said:
“As a pastor, I am obligated by divine commandment to give my life for those I love… For that reason I offer to God my blood for the redemption and resurrection of El Salvador… Martyrdom is a grace that I don’t believe I merit. But if God accepts the sacrifice of my life, may my death, if it is accepted by God, be for the liberation of my people and a testimony of hope in the future.”

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Cancer Treatment: A Holistic Approach

Cancer is one of the most difficult disease to cure or heal. So far, no effective treatment for cancer has been found – especially when it has metastasized or spread to other vital organs. Standard medical treatment such as chemotherapy, surgery and radio-therapy does not always work. They are very expensive and there is no guarantee of a cure. These can only extend the life of a patient for a few months or years. That is why for many, being diagnosed with cancer is like being handed the death sentence.
Why is a cure for cancer so elusive? The problem comes from lack of understanding of what cancer truly is and what causes it. The dominant paradigm is that cancer is purely a physiological ailment that requires medical treatment. It is the invasion and spread of malignant cells in the body. These cells may come from the food and substances that are considered carcinogenic -- including smoking. Thus, it is necessary to wage war on these cells – search and destroy – using whatever means necessary: chemical/laser warfare, surgical strikes, etc. Only doctors (especially oncologists & surgeons), nurses and medical technicians can be relied on in this war against cancer. The patient must have the will to fight cancer. Oftentimes it ends in death which is considered a defeat.
To regard cancer as purely a physiological and medical problem is most likely one of the main reasons why it is difficult to cure cancer. It is based on a dichotomy between the body and the mind.  A more revolutionary approach to cancer treatment promoted by oncologists such as Drs. Carl Simonton and Bernie Siegel is to regard cancer as a psycho-somatic disease that requires a more holistic approach to healing. Instead of looking at a particular part of the body or an organ that is affected by cancer, it is helpful to understand the person as whole - the joyful and sorrowful mystery of his/her life, the frustrations, anger, grief, alienation, shattered dreams, failed relationship, etc. It is important to know his/her story. The body is affected by the state of the mind and the soul. Thus, the question that should be asked is: what has been happening to this person before the onset of cancer. One of the findings in studies conducted among patients is that stress caused by sense of loss, anger, guilt and anxiety, a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness can lower the body’s natural defense or immune system and contribute to the growth of malignant tumors and cells.
The question that also needs to be asked is: what are the benefits of having cancer?
For some, it is experiencing the loving care and concern which is lacking in one’s life.
It could also be a means of escape from an intolerable situation, the inner pain or hurt that one has been carrying. It can be an honorable exit, a subconscious suicide. The mind has a powerful effect on the body – it can contribute to sickness as well as to wellness or healing.
Thus, in dealing with cancer patients, there are three dimensions of healing that we should look at:  physical (body), psychological (mind) and spiritual (soul). All these are connected and they influence each other. That is why healing must be holistic.  A more holistic approach can mobilize the power of the mind and of belief. That is why psycho-therapy, counseling, meditation, visualization, prayer and other eastern modalities can be helpful in this.
The healing of cancer patients can no longer be left just to medical practitioners - the doctors and nurses -- and drug companies. Psychologists, priests, spiritual healers and other practitioners of alternative medicine should also be involved. This requires humility on the part of those in the medical profession and openness to collaboration with others in the healing process.
The physical disease may be a symptom for the need for inner healing. Forgiveness and reconciliation form part of the healing process. The healing of the mind and soul may lead to the healing of the body. But even if it does not lead to physical healing, the inner healing itself can already be considered as an achievement. Death, if it comes, will no longer be seen as a defeat.

Monday, September 24, 2018


The theme of the Year of the Clergy and Consecrated Life focuses on “Servant-Leadership.”  This theme is based on Vatican II  emphasis that the clergy should “exercise leadership and authority in the spirit of service following the example of Christ who came not to be served but to serve and lay down his life for his sheep.” (Lumen Gentium 27)
There are several texts in the Gospels where Jesus’ teaching on leadership can be found. The first is from the Gospel of Matthew (20:25-28) which has parallels in other Gospels:
 “But Jesus summoned them and said, you know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life for the ransom of many.”
In this text, Jesus criticizes the usual way of exercising leadership which is the use of authority motivated by the drive for power, prestige and privilege.  Jesus offers another way of exercising leadership that he prescribed to his disciples -- humble service. He refers himself as the model: “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve.”  At the heart of Jesus’ teaching of leadership is servanthood – servant-leadership. This is manifested in a symbolic way at the last supper when he washed that feet of his disciples. After doing this he says:
“If I, therefore, the master and teacher have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (John 13:14-15)
This text sums up what Jesus’ life signify and what his death on the cross the following day mean. Jesus’ washing the feet of the disciples must have been a shocking and confusing act for the disciples. It is a demeaning act. Only servants do this.  Jesus’ washing of the feet is a symbolic act to dramatize his view of leadership – humble and loving service. This should be the underlying motivation in the exercise of leadership. Jesus presents himself as the model and asks his disciples to follow his example. St. Paul in the letter to the Philippians also highlights this:
“If there is encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking not for his own interests, but everyone for those of others. Have among you the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself taking the form of a servant, coming in human likeness and found human appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on the cross.” (Phil 2:1-8)
Society tends to regard leadership as a high position. The leader is placed on a pedestal. He looks down on his followers who look up to him. He looks at those below him as his subordinates who should obey him. He occupies the top position and is served by those below him. Thus, leadership is viewed from a vertical perspective – top to bottom – like a pyramid. This is not how Jesus regards authority and leadership. Christ the King is Jesus the servant. He came to serve and not to be served. The ultimate symbol is the washing of the feet. He lowered himself and knelt to wash the feet of his disciples. To be a humble servant. This is what servant-leadership is all about. A leader should not look at himself as above the rest, occupying the dizzy heights and feeling lonely at the top. To occupy a leadership role is not to ascend to a high, exalted position but to be humble and lower oneself. It is a descent, not an ascent, for a servant is not higher than those he serves. Thus, like Jesus this requires kenosis: self-emptying. This requires emptying oneself of pride and superiority complex -- of thinking of oneself as god-like. This also requires emptying oneself of the drive to dominate and hold on to the trappings of power, pomp and privilege, of selfishness and self-centeredness. Humble and loving service – this is what is required of a servant-leader. This is what is means to be a good shepherd.
The emphasis on servant-leadership does away with the sense of entitlement, privilege and prestige that is often associated with the position of leadership and authority. The leader should not expect or demand special treatment. The leader must always remember that, like Christ, he is sent to serve and not to be served. As servant, he is not greater or higher than those he serves. Leadership is not a position of honor or glory but of humble service – a position of responsibility. There is no room for vain-glory or pomposity.
Servant-leadership is carried out vis-à-vis the Christian community – the Church – whether at the parish or the diocesan level. The pastor is called to be the shepherd and servant of the flock. His responsibility is to gather and lead the Christian community and to lead it in the spirit of service. Community building and formation is essential that is why it is necessary to form Basic Ecclesial Communities that makes up the parish. The goal is to lead a community whose members live in communion and participate in Christ’s mission as a prophetic, priestly and servant community. In doing so it becomes a community of missionary disciples and an expression of the Church of the Poor. Thus, leadership is always service to the community of God’s people, for the good of the community. The focus of the leader’s attention is the community and not oneself or one’s personal gain. The poor in a special way are the objects of the servant-leader’s loving concern. The shepherd loves and serves the flock more than himself and is willing to give up his life for his flock.

The Church for a long time has been plagued by clericalism. This is the view of the clergy as a privileged elite class in the Church that is placed on a pedestal and wields control and power. This is often accompanied by careerism – of constantly striving for higher position in the Church. The emphasis on servant-leadership can overcome clericalism and careerism in the Church.
Servant leadership – this is what the Church needs, this is what society also needs. Emphasis on this can overcome the dark side of leadership.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Silence of the Shepherds

As the death toll of the government’s war on drugs reach over twenty-five thousand after two years, one of the questions frequently asked is: “why are many priests silent?” Day after day, the mass media report and show images of extra-judicial killings of suspected users and pushers perpetrated by police and by death squads. Yet, many if not most of the members of the clergy – with a few exceptions - remain silent even as the CBCP  came out with several pastoral letters the one of which was supposed to be read in churches all over the Philippines. So, how can the silence of many priests be explained?
Based on my own personal observation and from what I have heard, there are many reasons for this. For many priests who view their priesthood  exclusively in sacramental or cultic terms, speaking out or denouncing evil perpetrated by those in power is not part of the priestly ministry. They think their sole duty is to say Mass and administer the sacraments. They regard their ministry as purely spiritual and reject any involvement in the temporal sphere – especially on issues that they think are political in nature. So the extra-judicial killings, the abuses, corruption and criminality within the government and the police are not their concern. After all, there is separation between Church and State.
There are priests who are not aware of these killings, the abuse of power and the injustices. They live in their own world of comfort and luxury -- within the ambit of the church and the rectory. They do not know and do not care about what’s happening around them. They are far from their poor flock. They are blind and deaf to the suffering and evil around them.  So naturally they are dumb – they cannot and do not speak out.

There are priests who support these killings or turn a blind eye. They think that this is acceptable for the common good. This is the only way to solve the problem of drug addiction. Our country needs a strong leader who can save our country. They believe that he has the political will to bring about change in our land – to bring peace, to eradicate poverty, eliminate corruption and protect the environment. That is why they campaigned and voted for the president and continue to support him. They were even proud to show pictures of their iron fist salute (complete with baller) on Facebook. These priests are often annoyed and angry when the CBCP comes up with pastoral letters that they judge as critical of the present government. They believe in the official reports that those killed fought back and the government has nothing to do with the death squads. 

There are priests who are afraid that if they speak out, the president will hit back - below the belt - and expose the sexual abuses of the clergy and be called hypocrites. Others are afraid that they could be in the hit list of the death squads and martyred if they speak out.

So there many reasons why many priests – even many bishops -- are silent. Perhaps, these could be the same reasons why many religious and lay-faithful are also silent.
If this continues, the bodies will continue to pile up and reach over 70,000 victims by the end of Duterte’s term. The other problems – such as poverty and corruption will not be addressed. As the CBCP letter reminds us: “to consent and keep silent in front of evil is to be an accomplice to it.”
Let us pray that someday the priests who are silent will be able to see the evil around them, find their voice and have the courage to exercise their prophetic ministry – to form the moral conscience of their flock so that they may recognize and denounce the manifestation of evil and the culture of death and to announce the Gospel of life and freedom. Let us pray they may become good shepherds, ready to offer their lives for the flock.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Dark Side of Leadership

Nowadays, we often hear of government leaders who are incompetent and who use their position of leadership for their self-interest: they are corrupt, despotic, immoral, power-hungry, materialistic, abusive, and who are more concerned about their image or status. This can be found also in the police and military organization as well as the corporate world.  Sadly, this kind of leadership may also be found in the Church. The scandals that rock the Church are not just about sexual abuse or misconduct, but also the self-serving way leadership is exercised. Pope Francis in a homily on June 15, 2014 acknowledged the presence of corruption not just among politicians and businessmen but also some members of the clergy:
“We hear too much talk of a prelate who has become rich too and left his pastoral duty to care for his power.  So, the corrupt politicians, the corrupt businessmen and the corrupt clergy, are to be found everywhere – and we have to tell the truth:  corruption is precisely the sin that the person with authority – whether political, economic or ecclesiastical – over others has most readily at hand. We are all tempted to corruption. It is a ‘handy’ sin, for, when one has authority, one feels powerful, one feels almost like God.”
The great temptation of those having authority is to “feel powerful and almost like God” -- that one is above the law and can do anything he likes. Jesus warned his disciples about this kind of leadership: “you know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you.” (Mt 20:25)
Many of these problems and scandals may be caused by the failure to recognize and overcome the dark side. There is a dark side of leadership which has to be brought out into the open, into the light. The dark side which is often toxic and destructive brings out the worst version of the self.
From a psychological perspective, the dark side is often associated with personality disorder and abnormal behavior which has roots in the unconscious. Among the manifestations are narcissism, insecurity, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsions, despotic behavior, aggression, uncontrolled anger or intermittent explosive disorder, addictive behavior, sexual abuse, etc. More often, the underlying causes of such disorder is complex – some involving childhood psychological trauma, abuse, rejection, etc. Christian tradition often associates the manifestation of the dark side with the so-called seven deadly sins or cardinal sins: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth. Every human being, including priests, are prone to these “capital vices.”  The dark side is associated with the four cravings or basic temptations that try to dominate the life of each human being, especially those in leadership position: (1) the craving for sensual pleasure; (2) the craving for material possession; (3) the craving for power and influence, (4) the craving for popularity, fame and glory.
One basic temptation for a leader is to gratify one’s sensual desire. The leader has at his disposal whatever he wants and he can easily indulge in addictive behavior – whether it be food, alcohol, gambling, drugs or sex. The leader can spend a lot of time in the casino, cockfighting arena or the mahjong table. In order to deal with the pain – whether physical or psychological – he can become a drug addict (which is a form self-medication). Another temptation is to indulge in illicit sexual behavior/misconduct (whether heterosexual or homosexual) – keeping a mistress/or concubine, including abuse of minors.
A leader has access to huge amount of money. The big temptation is to use his position to accumulate wealth and material possessions. The dark side of leadership becomes evident when this becomes his main motivation. His heart is full of greed and avarice. He needs more to maintain a luxurious lifestyle – a palatial home, the latest fleet of cars, clothes, gadgets, etc. This is also necessary to maintain his vices and addiction – to drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex or in seducing minors.
For many politicians and government officials, a leadership position becomes a source for accumulating wealth and material possessions. This is also a means for gaining and maintaining political power. This is often associated with patronage politics. No wonder, many will run for office – as local government officials (barangay leaders, mayors, governors), as representatives and senators, as presidents. There is money in public office and government bureaucracy. Running for office requires huge amount (campaign staff, advertisement, vote-buying, etc.) and once in office, he needs to recoup his expenses and generate funds for re-election. The temptation of wealth and material possessions can also lead many police and military personnel to engage in criminal activities (kidnapping, hold-up, extortion, drug-pushing, gambling, etc.). The temptation of wealth is the main source of corruption in the government. It is like cancer that metastasize or spread in all levels – from the highest to the lowest. 
When a person occupies a position of authority and leadership, he often feels powerful. Traditionally, this power is associated with the capacity to impose his will and dominate others. He makes decisions and expects to be obeyed. He can threaten and coerce others to do his bidding, to demand respect and even fear. He can even have the power of life and death over others. He can get away with murder. This power comes with perks and privileges. He has at his disposal the wealth and resources that comes with the office. Power tends to be aphrodisiac. Sexual abuse can be an assertion of power. He thinks he is the law, that he is above the law. This is the biggest and most destructive temptation of leadership – the drive for power. How to come to power, how to exercise power and how to perpetuate himself in power. When this becomes the dominant motivating force, the dark side of leadership is fully manifested.  Lord Acton’s popular dictum is correct: power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. A person who is narcissistic and lacks a sense of remorse and guilt and who thinks of himself as god is most dangerous when he is in a leadership position.
The leader is often placed in the limelight. He is the focus or center of attention – especially from followers and the media. Honor, fame, popularity and prestige tend to accompany the position of authority and leadership. The dark side is evident when seeking fame and being conscious of one’s image become the underlying motive of the leader’s behavior and decisions. He is full of vanity. This can also be accompanied by a sense of entitlement and the expectation of being given a VIP treatment.
The biggest temptation that a leader faces is to use his position as means for satisfying these drives, to allow himself to be dominated by one or all of these drives. The account of the temptation in the desert was symbolic of Jesus’ struggle and rejection against this type of leadership – motivated primarily by self-gratification, wealth, power and privilege.
Thus, everyone occupying leadership positions are subject to one or more of these diabolical temptations.  This is part of the fallen, sinful nature of human beings.  At the core of all these is selfishness, greed and pride. The dark side is associated with ignoring or breaking God’s commandment and falling into sin. When he does this, the leader makes himself a god – failing to recognize that he is only a creature and there is someone greater than himself to whom he is accountable. He thinks that he is above the law and does not have to follow or observe the law – whether it be the divine law or the laws of society. He can easily lie, cheat, steal or use coercion or violence to get what he wants – whether it be sensual pleasure, wealth, power or fame.  He does not respect the dignity and rights of others. He does not listen to his conscience or has a dull conscience. He lacks moral compass and becomes immoral. Sexual misconduct or abuse come easy. For him, there is nothing wrong with cursing others or even God. He lacks a sense of remorse and guilt. He becomes cruel and corrupt. Having a hardened heart, he does not  care if others suffer as a consequence of his acts and decisions. All he cares about is himself. This kind of leader can be encountered in the political and economic arena. This can also be found in the religious sphere. The dark side of leadership is responsible for the reign of evil in the world -- for the corruption, violence, injustice, poverty, inequality, tyranny, violation of human rights, the destruction of the environment, etc.
The Church has been wracked with scandal and weakened due to her leaders who have been dominated by the dark side. This should never be allowed to happen again. There is indeed a need to confront the dark side of leadership in the society and the Church.  The Church must exercise a prophetic role vis-à-vis the political and economic leaders and systems dominated by the dark side. In order to be credible, this prophetic role must also be exercised within the Church and directed to Church leaders. The clergy must listen to the prophetic voices within the Church – whether priests, religious or laity. There have been saints who by their witness of life have been a conscience to the Church whose leaders have succumbed to the temptation of wealth, power and glory and failed to become good shepherds. There is a need to develop a corporate culture among the clergy where everyone is encouraged and inspired to live up to the high standards of the priesthood and those whose behavior is inappropriate or sinful can be corrected or held accountable. Such culture, while compassionate, should be intolerant of any wrong-doing. They should never cover-up the misconduct and immoral deeds of their fellow priests. Ultimately, the only way to overcome the dark side of leadership is to live in the light, to undergo a constant process of conversion and to become humble, loving, compassionate good shepherds and servant-leaders, following the example of Jesus.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Coming Down the Mountain, Evading the Death Squad

Two weeks ago (August 11) , I  almost became a victim of extrajudicial killing and the 4th priest to be killed under the Duterte Regime had I stuck to my routine.
For over four months, I have been living a quiet life as a hermit on top of the mountain overlooking the city of Cebu, spending my time in silence, solitude, prayer and writing. I usually go down to the Redemptorist monastery in Cebu twice a month to bond with my fellow Redemptorists, check my email and FB, get my food supplies and go to the coffee shop nearby before dinner. At first, I didn’t realize this routine would put my life at risk.
Since 2017, I was receiving information that the death squad was going to target priests and that I was on top of the list. When the three priests were killed, I was certain that I could be next. I even received an email message accusing me of being a drug addict. Before I left Manila last March to start my life as a hermit, I received a text message from a reliable source confirming that I was indeed going to be targeted for assassination by a death squad. When I asked him if they knew where I was my informant told me that they were still looking for me. I anticipated that if they knew that I was in Cebu, the first place that they would put under surveillance would be the Redemptorist Monastery in Cebu. I still felt confident that they won’t find my hermitage in the mountain.

On August 6, I went down to the Redemptorist Monastery in Cebu to attend the community recollection and meeting. By chance, I met the gardener who told me that several days before (on August 2) while working in the church ground, a man on motorbike with another companion asked him: “Do you know, Picx Picardal? Is he here?” He denied that I was around. He was suspicious because they did not take off their helmets and kept watching the monastery. He remembered that a month earlier, on July 7, two men riding in tandem also asked him the same question. On those two occasions, I recalled that I was in the monastery a day before so they just missed me. Upon realizing this, I became more cautious and careful not to follow my usual routine of going out.

Then on the evening of August 11, the security guard informed me that there were six men on three motorbikes with full-faced helmets near the entrance of the monastery and the church between 5 pm to 6 pm that afternoon. That was usually the time I would go out to the supermarket and the coffee shop. I immediately concluded that they were the death squad and I was the target. Had I gone out, there would have been no escape for me. I recognized  their modus operandi – that’s what I learned from a former member of the Davao Death Squad when we were documenting the extrajudicial killings years before. It was a close call. I  thank God for protecting me.
I am not out of danger yet. Some of our priests and staff noticed that men riding in tandem continue to keep watch outside the monastery for several days after that. So my superiors told me that it would be dangerous to go back to the hermitage and so I have to move to a more secure location and avoid public exposure. They are determined to complete their “project”,  otherwise, they won’t be paid.

Why am I being targeted by the death squad? Who is behind this “project”? The only explanation is because:  I preached and wrote against the extrajudicial killings for the last 20 years – since I was assigned in Davao and up to now. I was the spokesperson of the Coalition Against Summary Execution which monitored these killings and assisted the Commission on Human Rights (headed by Leila De lima) and the Human Rights Watch to investigate the killings. I also posted the Collated Report of these killings carried out by the Davao Death Squad (1998-2015) which was included in the complaint submitted to the International Criminal Court by Atty. Jude Sabio. I also helped provide sanctuary to former members of the DDS  who will be the witnesses in the ICC case. I was one of the convenors of the Network Against Killings in the PhiIippines.  I  granted interviews to the media – both local and foreign. I have also gone around the country and in the US to give talks on EJK and the Church’s response. The media  labeled me as one of the fiercest critic of the president but all I intended to do is to be a conscience of society.  So, I am not surprised that the president is mad at me. Many years before, when I was in Davao, someone warned me that I should be careful because the mayor was angry at me. He lambasted me three times in his TV program “Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa.” I was confident at that time that he wouldn’t order the DDS to kill a priest – after all I am not a drug addict or pusher.
Has President Duterte finally ordered my hit? Or is it just some zealous henchman trying to please him? My source informed me that that the order came from Malacanang.  But I cannot confirm it. I do not have the complete answer. All I know is that there is a death squad determined to kill me. Whatever happens  to me – whether the order came from him or not -- the blame will be placed on him for under his regime the culture of death has claimed the lives of over 25,000 people. This regime has nothing to gain in creating a martyr so those behind the project should think twice before carrying out their evil plan.
I always knew that my life would be at risk and I have accepted this as a consequence of fulfilling my prophetic mission. I am not afraid of death. I am ready to accept martyrdom if they catch up with me, but I do not seek it nor do I make myself an easy target. Thus, I have decided to temporarily vacate my hermitage up in the mountain and continue to spend my life of silence, solitude, prayer and writing in a more secure location. I will continue to speak out against evil in society through my writings and will fast and pray that the Lord will deliver us for evil. Meanwhile, I ask my friends to pray for our country and to pray for my safety. Someday, I hope I will be able to go back to my sacred space in the mountain of Busay where I intend to spend the remaining years of my life as a hermit.