Friday, October 16, 2015

Our political circus

With the Comelec premises reportedly looking like a plaza on a fiesta during the week of politicians filing their Certificate of Candidacy (COC), the air waves are sizzling with more news and interviews related to the forthcoming 2016 elections.
            With candidates of rather colorful public images, character or background, the scene is getting to look like a veritable circus—with barkers, freak shows, and animals big and small. Some candidates roar (like lions), some come on heavy (like elephants), some inspire fear (like snakes), some look cute (like talking parrots), some are funny and amusing (like monkeys)—and all of them contribute to the season’s entertainment.
            A discerning voter without vested interests would realize that much about the candidates’ image is determined by how media portray them, and since media seem unable to be a hundred percent accurate, objective, and fair about doing their job in spite of their best intentions, voters must not depend solely on “what others say” in choosing candidates to vote for.  Much of what is currently surfacing in the political field can serve not only as directional arrows to guide our choice, but also as indicators of our level of sophistication and intelligence as an electorate, and maybe even of who we are as a people.  And so we try to look beneath the surface and in the process come to probe our psyche.
            For instance, most candidates do not speak meaningfully on issues.  Even when hard-pressed for comment on, say, the conflict with China in the west Philippine Sea, or the Bangsamoro Basic Law, answers are “generic” and noncommittal.  Doing your own research aided by Google won’t yield anything along this line.  Does this silence mean candidates are simply playing safe, or lack knowledge of the given situation?
            Most candidates tell stories instead of discussing policies.  Full of self-confidence, they say they’re the man for the job but offer nothing solid about how they’re going to do the job.  Coached no doubt by their publicists on the kind of image to project in order to appeal to as many people as possible, candidates score high at “porma” but almost zero on “plataporma”.  If their avowed desire to “serve the people” is true, shouldn’t they at least “do their homework” and let the people know what to expect should they win?
            Surveys left and right are exploited and depicted by media as reliable indicators of candidates’ future performance at the polls.  They are not presented for what they truly are—the voice of 1,000 or so voters out of 53,000,000.  Ultimately the victims of such media’s magnification of survey’s significance are the poor and the majority of us who are not aware that like any human endeavor, surveys can be manipulated—if the price is right.
            It’s alarming to find out how many “political dynasties” we have, and that some of these dynasties include even extramarital family members.  Following tradition and the ways of the world, all of such dynasties belong to the moneyed minority in our society.  The “poor” candidates’ names are usually not found in the roster of dynasties.  What does this imply, besides the already known fact that more often than not you need loads of money to run for public office?  That only the multimillionaires are capable of serving the public?  If cash is synonymous with clout in the political arena, does it follow that competent potential candidates may never have a crack at offices higher than that of barangay captain’s?  If the existence of political dynasties proves anything at all, it is that power is addictive.

(To be continued)            

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Living Flesh from Buenos Aires

Despite our collective rejoicing and gratitude over Pope Francis’ voluntary visit to the Philippines last January (evidenced by the 7-million strong crowd that attended his concluding Mass at the Luneta), not a few people will admit to being “slightly disappointed” that his visit then meant the Pontiff could not be expected to return in order to be present at the International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) to be held in January 2016 in Cebu.
Take heart!  There could be another way through which the erstwhile Bishop of Buenos Aires, now Bishop of Rome and “the people’s pope”, could somehow be with us on this monumental event—by opening the IEC’s doors to what a growing number of people believe to be the “Eucharistic miracle of Buenos Aires”—with the prerequisite blessing of the Holy See, of course.
Documents, photos and videos point to the existence of a “Eucharistic phenomenon” that reportedly took place on August 18, 1996 at St. Mary Catholic Church in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  As Padre Alejandro Pezet was finishing distribution of the Holy Communion, a woman came up to say she’d found a host someone had dropped and refused to pick up to consume it as it had been soiled.  Fr. Pezet took the host and as is customary in such instances placed it in a container with water and kept it locked in the tabernacle.
On August 26, Fr. Pezet assumed the host had been dissolved and that he could then respectfully water a plant with it, but to his amazement he found that instead of being dissolved the host had turned into a seemingly bloody substance.  He reported it to Mons. Jorge Bergoglio, then Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires.  Antonio Cardinal Quarracino, then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, instructed that the host be professionally photographed and the event studied and documented.  On September 6, 1996, photographs taken showed a significant increase in the host’s size.  On the instruction of Cardinal Quarracino, the whole affair was kept a secret.  The host was kept in a container of distilled water in the tabernacle; meanwhile, photographs and documents were reportedly submitted to Rome. 
Three years later, the host still showed no signs of visible decomposition, thus in 1999, the now Archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Bergoglio followed the case through.  He deemed it best that the host be subjected to scientific examination.  On Oct. 5, 1999, Dr. Ricardo Castanon, a neuro-psycho-physiologist who happens to be an atheist, was allowed to take a sample of the bloody substance which he was to take to the United States for analysis following typical FBI procedures.  To ensure a prejudice-free study, Dr. Castanon purposely concealed the origin of the bloody fragment from the team of scientists who would do the study.
The team determined that what had been analyzed was real flesh and blood, containing human DNA. One of these scientists, Dr. Frederick Zugibe, a well-known cardiologist and forensic pathologist, stated: “The analyzed material is a fragment of the heart muscle found in the wall of the left ventricle close to the valves. This muscle is responsible for the contraction of the heart. It should be borne in mind that the left cardiac ventricle pumps blood to all parts of the body. The heart muscle is in an inflammatory condition and contains a large number of white blood cells. This indicates that the heart was alive at the time the sample was taken. It is my contention that the heart was alive, since white blood cells die outside a living organism. They require a living organism to sustain them. Thus, their presence indicates that the heart was alive when the sample was taken. What is more, these white blood cells had penetrated the tissue, which further indicates that the heart had been under severe stress, as if the owner had been beaten severely about the chest.”
Witnessing these tests were two Australians, journalist Mike Willesee and lawyer Ron Tesoriero; both men knew the background of the sample, and were naturally stunned to hear Dr. Zugibe’s testimony.  Willessee asked Dr. Zugibe, “How long would white blood cells have remained alive if they have come from a human tissue which had been kept in water?”  Dr. Zugibe replied, “They would have ceased to exist in a matter of minutes.”  Willessee, gradually unveiling the truth, informed Dr. Zugibe that before it reached the doctor’s hands, the sample was “from a tissue that had first been kept in ordinary water for a month and then in a bowl with distilled water for three years.”  As Dr. Zugibe had no scientific explanation for it, Willessee finally told him the truth, that “the analyzed sample came from a consecrated host.”  Astonished, Dr. Zugibe replied that “how and why a host would change its character to become living flesh and blood would remain an inexplicable mystery to science, a mystery totally beyond my competence.”
Dr. Castanon then arranged to have the lab reports be compared to those made of a relic of the similar miracle which took place in Lanciano (Italy) in the eighth century.  The experts making the comparison were not told of the origin of the samples; nonetheless they concluded that “the two lab reports must have originated from samples obtained from the same person.” They further added that both samples revealed an AB positive blood type, all characteristic of a man who was born and who lived in the Middle East region.
Dr. Castanon, reportedly an avowed atheist, set out to disprove the Eucharistic miracle in Buenos Aires and ended up converting to Catholicism.  Author of the book Cuando La Palabra Hiere (“When the Word Hurts”) he is now committed to his mission of traveling the world, investigating Catholic mystical phenomena and running scientific tests to prove or disprove them.
We know and understand how long it takes for a “miracle” to be officially approved by the Church.  It should be so, otherwise, any religious phenomenon could be used to lead the innocent and the ignorant to perdition.  On the other hand we have also seen how many a cold heart has been inflamed by the sight or the feel of a saint’s relic.  A countless number of church-goers take Holy Communion barely knowing its grave significance.  Even priests sometimes admit to taking the Host for granted—having celebrated Holy Mass for years, sometimes up to seven times on a Sunday, “the celebration part is gone, only the obligation part remains.”  So why not try and bring the Living Flesh from Buenos Aires to the Philippines for the Eucharistic Congress?  Then we’ll have not just the Pope from Buenos Aires but the Lord Himself in our land.  Our nation is in dire need of it.  We are aware that this suggestion is a shot at the moon.  But remembering what Pope Francis said to the young people of Cuba—“Dream on!”—we dream on and leave our dreams at the feet of the Crucified Christ, fully trusting in God’s plan for us.  And that’s the truth.      

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Veil of Manoppello

Not many of us are familiar with or even have heard of the “Veil of Manoppello”, a piece of “sea silk” that bears what is believed to be the Holy Face of the Risen Christ.  Perhaps a visit to Bagumbayan Taguig City one of these days could introduce us to it.  A replica of “Holy Face of Manoppello” was enshrined at the Sagrada Familia Parish in Bagumbayan, Taguig City last September 14, Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  The replica, housed in its own chapel, is a special gift from the Rector of the Basilica of Volto Santo in Manoppello and Mrs. Daisy Neves of Seattle, USA, to the Philippines and the Christian community of Bagumbayan, “a gift from the Risen Lord in order to help us persevere in believing”, says Fr. Danny Flores, Sagrada Familia parish priest who is “on loan” from Rome.
      Allow us to lend this space to the story told of the Veil of Manoppello and handed down to this column by Fr. Flores: The account of the resurrection of the Lord (Jn. 20: 1-9) narrates that inside the empty tomb where Jesus was laid down, several burial clothes were found including the cloth that covered Jesus’ head. John entered the tomb after Peter; the former firmly fixed his eyes on the cloth. “He saw and believed” that indeed Jesus is Risen from the dead.
      According to the Jewish tradition, several clothes were used in the burial customs of the Jews. Insofar as Jesus was regarded as Rabbi whose teaching came from above, the most solemn of all the burial clothes were used to bury his body. These clothes that covered the dead body of Jesus were the ‘sindon munda of Joseph of Arimathea’, ‘sudarium of Aachen’, ‘shroud of Turin’, ‘coif of Cahors’, ‘sudarium of Oviedo’ and the ‘veil of Manoppello’. Famous among these burial clothes are the four-meter linen cloth used to wrap the whole body of the dead Jesus commonly known as the ‘shroud of Turin’, the towel used to absorb the blood and water coming out from the nose and mouth of Jesus while being brought down from the cross, known as the ‘sudarium of Oviedo’ and the marine byssus that was placed over the head of Jesus as the last homage to the divine King, or the so-called ‘veil of Jerusalem’, otherwise known as the ‘Veil of Veronica’ enshrined today in the Basilica del Volto Santo a Manoppello in Italy.
      St. John found the ‘veil of Jerusalem’, which covered the face of Jesus while in the tomb; he saw on it the ‘imprinted image of the face of the Risen Lord’ and after observing it, he believed that in fact the Lord Jesus Christ is alive.
The tradition says that during the apostolic times, all the burial clothes, already considered relics of the ‘Suffering, Dead and Risen Lord’, were taken care of by His Holy Mother and were later entrusted to some of the Apostles. These relics were then transferred in different places and were entrusted to various persons for safekeeping and veneration until, compelled by events and various circumstances in the history of the early Christian communities, those clothes were handed over to some civil and religious authorities in different countries and in various manners.
The ‘Veil of Jerusalem’ underwent the same fate. It journeyed from Jerusalem (c. 33-40? AD) to Edessa (now Syria) between c. 40-50 where it was called the ‘mandylion of Edessa’; then, from Edessa to Kamulia (Urfa, Turkey) in 392 (‘veil of Camulia’) down to Constantinople in the year 574 where it was kept until the siege of the city. In Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) like in Kamulia, the veil was venerated as an ‘acheiropoietos’ because of its mysterious origin, that is, an image ‘not painted by human hands’. It was then brought to Rome in c. 705 in St. John Lateran Apostolic Palace and venerated at the chapel of the ‘Sancta Sanctorum’ (Church of St. Lawrence in Palatio in Scala Santa) and later on was brought to St. Peter’s Basilica in 1200 and kept at the chapel of the Veronica until the siege of Rome on May 6, 1527. In Rome the ‘acheiropetos’ was successively called the ‘Veil of Veronica’ or simply ‘Veronica’.
It is interesting to know the meaning of the word ‘veronica’; a word that was coined in order to express the mystery of the veil. Veronica is the combination of two words: the Latin ‘vera’  meaning ‘true’ and the Greek ‘eikona meaning ‘image’, which put together form a single word ‘veraicon’ or ‘veronica’.  The veil, therefore, is the ‘true image’ of the face of the Risen Lord. In fact, the image of the ‘just awakened Christ’ was impressed onto the marine byssus at the very first moment of the resurrection. This special kind of woven mussel silk, the costliest fabric in the ancient world known as byssus, captured and immortalized the very first instance when the Lord Jesus takes back the life He himself offered by dying on the cross.
To protect the precious relic of the Resurrection of the Lord during the sack of Rome, the ‘Veil of Veronica’ was brought to a small town of Manoppello (c. 1506; 1608) in the central part of Italy in the region of Abruzzo. From then onward until today it is kept and venerated by the faithful of the city as the ‘Volto Santo di Manoppello’ or the ‘Holy Face of Manoppello’.
      Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was the first Roman Pontiff to visit the Shrine and venerate the ‘Holy Face of Manoppello’ on September 1, 2006. After contemplating the human face of God imprinted on the Veil of Manoppello, it had become the trademark of his pontificate.  In fact, in January 2013 he mentioned the ‘face of God’ nineteen times during the public audience and in his last public audience prior to his resignation he pronounced it again for twenty-five times; thereby, sealing his pontificate with the “Human Face of God”.  Pope Benedict’s address then to the pilgrims on that historic visit may as well be an invitation to us to gaze on the Holy Face: “As the Psalms say, we are all ‘seeking the face of the Lord.’  And this is also the meaning of my visit.  Let us seek together to know the Face of the Lord even better, and in the Face of the Lord let us find this impetus of love and peace which also reveals to us the path of our life.”

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Torre de Babel, Conclusion

If monuments are a symbol of heroism and skyscrapers are a symbol of progress, may they not stand side by side with one another?  If my memory serves me right, Rizal himself in his El Filibusterismo wrote about a character’s satisfaction—while on a pleasure cruise down the Pasig river—at seeing “the factories in Mandaluyong”, clear symbols of progress among a people he did not wish to be forever colonized.  
In 1927, the tallest structure in the Philippines was the newly built Main Building of the University of Santo Tomas. The cross crowning its tower (from which Manila Bay was reportedly visible) also served as Kilometer 0 from which all distances to any point in Luzon were measured.  The cross symbolizes the Pontifical University’s “mission of salvation through the Cross of Christ”, and within the 21.5-hectare UST campus, no structure was allowed to be built higher than the tower’s cross.
On January 25, 2010, the UST Main Building was declared by the Philippine National Museum a “National Cultural Treasure”, along with the Central Seminary, the Arch of the Centuries and the Open Space fronting the Grandstand. In May 2011, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines declared the UST a “National  Historical Landmark”, citing its “major historical significance in Philippine history from the Spanish to contemporary times.”     
At present, the 12-storey Blessed Buenaventura Garcia Paredes, OP Building—inaugurated in 2014, standing where formerly stood the UST gymnasium—apparently rises higher than the Main Building tower’s cross, but is anyone saying it is desecrating what that cross stands for?  I dare say, not even the UST’s most illustrious son, Jose Rizal, would see anything sacrilegious about that.  Nor would the 403-year-old UST itself balk at the mushrooming of Torre This or Tower That, condominiums and dormitories on the periphery of its revered campus.  I think the venerable 403-year-old UST, for all its contribution to Philippine culture, history and human growth, understands the price of urban development.  That’s the wisdom of the old and mellowed by experience.  Compelled to suspend its function as an institution of learning during the Second World War—when its campus was used by the Japanese military forces an internment camp for allied prisoners—the UST stands as testimony to the fact that while wars and the march of progress can mar a symbol of greatness, it can not kill the spirit of greatness it represents.
Luneta’s Rizal monument is now Kilometer 0, and the Philippines is no longer a colony—do Filipinos still think a photo bummer could diminish the nobility of the hero that his monument honors?  Andres Bonifacio’s handsome monument (Cry of Balintawak) is all but choked by the commercial establishments surrounding it, but why is no one complaining?  Does this mean we see Andres Bonifacio as a second class hero?
If the appearance of the Rizal Monument were so significant, why are the loud voices being heard only now, now that over 40 floors have already been built?  If I were DMCI, or bought a unit at Torre, I’d complain. Government agencies involved should pull their act together to avoid repetition of the same.  I’d like to give the benefit of the doubt to DMCI, after all, oral arguments reveal that it has not violated any law in the process.  Besides, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines has testified that “the Torre de Manila project site is outside the boundaries of the Rizal Park and well to the rear (789 meters) of the Rizal National Monument; hence it cannot possibly obstruct the front view of the said National Monument.”  Judging from DMCI’s projects, of all the developments in its class, DMCI has the best eye for the aesthetic aspects of condo-dwelling—they are not afraid to “waste” space in order to secure beauty and healthful living for the residents.  Their low-rise communities are a picture of order and harmony, ideal places for young families to grow in.  Most other condo buildings look like artless shoe boxes stacked to towering heights, but DMCI for the same price as those “shoe box towers” offers middle-income families with spacious recreational facilities, well appointed study rooms, a gorgeous lobbies, and reception areas residents may be proud to entertain in.
If I seem to be taking sides on this issue, you can be sure it’s only the side of reason and common sense.  Torre de Manila’s bashers are an energetic lot and it’s sad to see that much energy being aimed at a mere “photo bummer” as though the country (or even Manila alone) were a picture of an immaculate paradise.  Hellooow!  There are other sights in Metromanila that “violate the visual integrity” of our beloved landmarks and are a real affront to the ideals our heroes fought and died for.  Open thine eyes to the scores of other photo bummers littering our metropolis!  Ever since I took my first job in the Manila Times (of Chino Roces days) I’ve been calling readers’ attention to various ills—beggar syndicates, prostitution, child abuse, illegal recruitment, OFWs’ broken families, mediocre television programming, fraudulent advertising, garbage mountains on our streets, squatter shanties and clogged waterways, unfair labor practices, etc.  I’m already hoarse from crying for families living on the sidewalks, small children begging, girls selling sampaguita in the rain, boys gambling off alms money from scrupulous Christians, to name a few.
Instead of bashing well-meaning urban developers and adding to the noise that reduces Torre de Manila into a Torre de Babel, perhaps the erudite and cultured members of our society can combine forces and encourage the production of superior, well-researched films on our heroes—real heroes who have been dead at least 50 years, not political figures catapulted to hero status by sheer luck.  Produce concerts or plays on their lives so that our youth may be inspired by them instead of just screaming over One Direction or paying thousands of pesos to see Madonna.  To our beauty pageants, add essay writing contests that draw out the Filipinas’ feminine genius —remember what Rizal wrote to the young women of Malolos?
The Torre?  Leave it be.  And let other developers even out the skyline.  The problem will solve itself if handled with reason.  While still under construction, high-risers will naturally be an eyesore, but once finished they will provide an appropriately lit backdrop for Rizal’s monument, hopefully luring promenaders to the park, back from air conditioned malls.  Then I can hope I won’t hear anymore what I heard from a Latin American meeting a Filipino for the first time: “Before I met you I used to think people in the Philippines were like monkeys, living in trees…”   Hah!  Living in trees!  The world will come to salute a blazing Rizal monument with twinkling condo lights in the background!  And that’s the truth.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Torre de Babel, Part 2

The longer the Torre de Manila controversy drags on, the more ridiculous the debate becomes.  Because louder and louder the protesters’ battle cry appears to be only the building’s being a “photo bummer”.  Really?  How shallow can we be?  As some TV hosts might say, “How babaw naman we are, promise!”  Why do we insist that a photo bummer in our eyes is tantamount to disrespect in our hearts for a great hero?  How babaw talaga!

      Meanwhile, the enterprising photographers at the park have boosted their income with a new “raket”: instant photos of yourselves and the monument but no Torre de Manila anywhere!  Incredible?  Not with Photoshop, the park photogs quip.
      Ongoing hearings reveal that no law has been violated, so why the fuss?  Surely we will not change the law to please a noisy few?  If protesters blast the Torre because they are running out of relevant causes to fight, why don’t we all calm down and “use our coconut” in the name of damage control?
      To begin with we can urge the Noynoy administration to proclaim—finally—Dr. Jose Rizal as the National Hero of the Philippines.  We have been taught from grade school that Gat. Jose P. Rizal is our national hero.  The presence in many Philippine towns and cities of a street, plaza, school, hospital, factory, karinderia, and even a funeraria reflects a nationwide acceptance of him as a national hero indeed.  But would you believe that there is no official record of Rizal’s proclamation as the Philippines’ national hero?  We have an officially proclaimed national tree (narra), national flower (sampaguita), national bird (Philippine eagle), national gem (south sea pearl), and national sport (arnis)—but no national hero.  In fact, the National Heroes Committee recommended in 1995 Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo, Marcelo del Pilar, Juan Luna, Apolinario Mabini, Sultan Dipatuan Kudarat, Melchora Aquino and Gabriela Silang for recognition as national heroes, but nothing has come of that move to this day.  Why?
      We may not have a properly proclaimed national hero, but we do have a national habit of not questioning things, and so all these years we have accepted what we have been told—that we do have a national dance (tinikling), national animal (carabao), national fish (bangus), national leaf (anahaw), national fruit (mango), national costume (barong Tagalog and baro’t saya), national footwear (bakya), national game (sipa) national house (nipa hut), and even a national dish, the deadly lechon. (Doesn’t that last one make you wonder why it’s not the more affordable daing na galunggong, or the more sought-after sinigang, crispy pata, kare-kare, or the tourist’s favorite, adobo?  We might as well have a national snack, too—kwek-kwek.  Hmmm).  No matter how much we identify with those icons, the truth is, they have no official “national” status.  So, our beloved heroes in effect are in the same category as our bakya, kalabaw and sipa.  And while we’re at it, we might as well ask, too, Why is Lapu Lapu not enlisted as a hero—after all he killed someone who “trampled our sacred shores”, thus his magnificent monument in Mactan, Cebu.  Or is it enough that he is honored in the Pinoy’s menu as Prito, Escabeche, or Steamed with Soy Sauce?)
      So let’s go back to our beloved Rizal.  If this protracted investigation of the Torre de Manila case proves that there indeed has been corruption in the construction’s approval, then by all means, punish the guilty.  Tongue-in-cheek we can recommend some “penalties”.  Compel DMCI to:
      --rebuild/restore the many Rizal monuments in the provinces that have been neglected by the local governments.  They are usually made of concrete, surrounded by scraggly shrubs in chipped concrete plant pots, and some of them have become moldy.  They look pathetic in the daytime, and without a single lamp post, forlorn at night.
      --improve the lighting of the Rizal Park and focus the limelight, so to speak, on the monument itself, so that the contentious structure would be so brilliant as to overshadow anything burning below 1,000 watts.  Meralco bill to be shared by the guilty parties.
      --give Torre de Manila the competition it deserves: allow the construction of two dozen other 49-storey condos on the same road.   
      --chop down the Torre to a reasonable height (which means “acceptable” to the noisy protesters), refund the buyers, and split the loss between DMCI and the corrupt officials.
      --partner with the government in building mass-housing projects and developing satellite towns for the homeless “informal settlers” of Metromanila.  Everybody deserves decent dwelling—not just the condo buyers.  Who knows, this might work so well that finally we will have no more need to cover up the shanties whenever kings or ambassadors or popes come to visit. 
(To be concluded)