An opinion column by Teresa R. Tunay, OCDS, in "The CBCP Monitor", the official publication of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines. For feedback, please email teresatunay@gmail.com. Thank you!

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Duterte to found a new religion


Davao City, August 7, 2018—What had been mere speculation weeks ago is now a reality: President Rodrigo Duterte is determined to found a new religion.  Making a surprise appearance today at the ongoing 4th National Catholic Media Convention in Davao where his daughter, Davao City mayor Sarah Duterte-Carpio failed to show up to give the Welcome Remarks at the Opening Mass on August 6, the president announced to the 141 Catholic media practitioners from all over the country that he is, indeed, bent on founding a new religion.
Bishop of Pasig and chair of the Episcopal Commission on Social Communications Mylo Hubert Vergara, was attending a meeting with Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles at the latter’s residence when Duterte popped up at the Mergrande Ocean Resort where the annual convention is being held.  To the surprise and delight of the media people present, President Duterte held a no-holds-barred impromptu press conference, and said, “You are in Davao, you are all my guests, so I will be generous.  So fire away!  Ask me anything and I’ll give you scoops I will not give to the stupid Manila media!”
The first question, from Edwin Lopez of EWTN, was “Why are you starting a new religion?” to which Duterte replied, “There is a need for one.  I am not satisfied with the existing religions—they are all useless.  None of them can help the suffering of our people.  Puro sila seremonya, kanta-kanta, bibliya-bibliya!  Makain mo bang bibliya, putang-ina!  The only religious service worth watching is Quiboloy’s—ang gaganda ng mga babae don, nakakalaway!  Dapat yang mga pari, mag-switch na ke Quiboloy, stop being hypocrites!” 
A follow up question was: “Would your founding a new religion mean total war against the Catholic Church?  You are always attacking the priests…”  Duterte replied, “Eh sinong gusto mong tirahin ko, mga Mormons? Suminga lang ako, patay na sila!  Siyempre mas malaking challenge na tirahin yang mga Katoliko—may kato na, baliko pa!  They are the powerful ones, and being powerful they can be oppressive toward the people, sa totoo lang!  Look, all the Catholic nations have poverty as a major problem!  Huwag kayong tatanga-tanga, mag-research kayo!  In countries where Catholics are a majority, there is an unbridgeable gap between the rich and the poor!”
A parish pastoral worker from Albay, John Paul Gutierrez, asked, “How do you propose to start your new religion—isn’t it a tedious process?”  His reply:  “I am the President of the Philippines.  If any country boy can start a religion that would become an international sensation, why not a President of a republic?  I can do what I want not only because I have the power to do so, but because I have the passion for it.  Kayo, kahit ang Pope niyo, hindi magawa iyan!”
Follow up question:  “But wouldn’t your founding a religion be a slap in the face of the Iglesia ni Kristo who all voted for you?”  Duterte grinned and said, “Ah, I love the Iglesia ni Kristo—they are not an enemy.  In fact, I intend to make them a sister-religion.  Yung sa akin, Iglesia ni Digong.”  Sr. Everlyn Miramar, a nun from St. Paul, stood up boldly and asked, “Will your new religion also have nuns, sir?”  Duterte snorted and said, “Ay siyempre naman, sister, kung wala, sino na magpunas ng puwet ng mga pari?”  Laughter followed, then Duterte rebounded, “Joke lang Sister, wag mo siryosohin.  Na-kyutan lang ako sa iyo. Hindi ko pa alam kung magkaroon ng mga madre ang relihiyon ko, but I suppose they will be useful for rehabilitating drug addicts, or as caregivers to politicians in the departure area, you know, like Enrile, etc.”
Minnie Agdeppa from the Diocese of Novaliches asked, “Mr. President, how do you plan to win decent followers to your new religion when you cannot keep your promise to clean your language?”  Without missing a beat, the president said, “Why are you media people always criticizing my language?  That’s who I am.  That’s how I get things done.  That’s how I got voted into office.  Pero sa totoo lang, walang masama diyan sa akin!  I have foul language because I eat durian for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  What’s so immoral about that?”       
Apolinario Samar, who works at the Pasig Diocesan office, politely asked, “What will be the principal teaching of your religion, sir?”  Duterte replied, “You know. I cannot rush these things.  You have to give me time.  I am still waiting for inspiration, maybe in six months it will come.  However, I am sure na sa relihiyon ko, walang bawal-bawal!  You can do anything you want!  Pero dapat meron ding Ten Commandments…”  The crowd speechlessly hung on to the president’s word:  “Siyempre you can’t take that away from me.  I was raised a Catholic—ang nanay ko, rosary yan umaga, tanghali, gabi, para ako bumait. 
Duterte the boy.  Photo courtesy of Pinterest
Sabi niya sa akin nung bata pa ako, hindi pa ako tuli non, ‘Panoorin mo yang Ten Commandments para maniwala ka sa Diyos.’  So pinanood ko sa sine, favorite ko diyan yung nabiyak yung dagat, and the stupid Egyptians drowned. Because the god of the Israelites was a smart god.  Naniwala nga ako sa diyos.  Ok, I have time for one last question, hinintay na ako ni Honeylet, baka isipin non ka-date ko si Mocha Uson.”  A voice from the back row asked, “Sir, may we have your Ten Commandments?”  Duterte snapped, “Of course, I said you are my guests, I’ll tell you everything.  Here they are:
1.     I am the Lodi your god.  Thou shalt not have other Lodis before me.
2.    Thou shalt not speak the name of your Lodi in vain, because I am not a stupid god.
3.    Honor the Sabbath Day—kung wala kang pahinga, mamatay ka maaga.
4.    Honor thy father and thy mother—otherwise hindi ka nila pamanahan.
5.    Thou shalt not kill—puwera lang kung nanlaban.
6.    Thou shalt not commit adultery—but it’s okay to kiss thy neighbor’s wife.
7.    Thou shalt not steal anything below six million pesos—and don’t get caught, please.
8.    Thou shalt not bear false witness against me—that’s fake news.
9.    Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife—kill the husband first to legalize your lust.
10.  Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods—unless you’re Chinese.”
The media people took selfies with the president on his way out, but they admitted they were reluctant to file stories anywhere, because one never knows when the president is joking or serious.  The encounter, however, became the highlight of the day at the convention whose theme is “Fake News and Journalism for Peace.”
As you may have noticed by now, dear readers, the above news item is fake news.  And that’s the truth.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

After ‘stupid god’, what?


I’ve been asked repeatedly about my take on the “stupid God” issue, and all I’d say was, “Maybe I’ll say it in one of my columns.”
Initially I dismissed the remark as I would his typical outbursts—something issuing from a form of verbal diarrhea that the president apparently has been suffering from.  His foul language is legend by now and so what’s new?  Bothering would be stooping to level of a stupid remark—“Hindi na pinapatulan yan!”,  I’d say, and add that we can expect worse pronouncements from him as long as he lives.  But when someone tried to drag me into voting for the “better shepherd”, I said, Oops, time to speak.  Instead of just jumping into the fray, I think we should step back and examine where our zeal is taking us.
Mr. Duterte’s “stupid God” remark disturbed the believers’ beehive,  and the bees, taking offense, went abuzz with fervor—some more noisily than others, many inclined to rabble rouse, and a few poised to sting with justifiable anger and heart-rending prose.
I am not about to stop Christians who fight tooth and nail to “defend our God.”  I honestly believe all of them sincerely feel that it is what God wants them to do.  If militant types want to attack the president with swords and clubs, whether in social media or the pulpit, I’m okay with that.  But when these zealous fighters sneer, hoot, and call “cowards” other Christians for not joining them in the combat zone, then they’re playing into the devil’s trap.  That’s exactly what the devil wants, isn’t it?  See Satan licking his chops over that!  Nothing empowers the devil more than a divided Church, and no one is more qualified as a collaborator of the devil than the self-righteous believer himself.
We let the devil score when we idolize our shepherds and pit them against one another: Francis vs. Benedict; Benedict vs. John Paul; Archbishop This vs. Cardinal That.  It saddens me to see that in the midst of this “stupid god” hoopla, some people— members of a praying community, at that—would compare Church leaders and cheer those whose fighting stance is to their liking, and sneer at those who appeal for sobriety.  “I admire Fr. So-and-So for his guts.  Fr. Etc. is too soft,” is a typical remark.  (Hey guys, are we watching a boxing match here?)
We Catholics profess the same Credo, we share fundamental beliefs, and the beauty of it is we are free to express and defend our beliefs in an endless variety of ways and styles, all of which are valid, given that we are proceeding from a place of Love—Love as our Lord Jesus taught.
Look at the apostles: Peter in anger cut off the ear of a Roman soldier, remember?  John was not heard from then, in Gethsemane.  But in Golgotha, at the foot of the cross as Jesus hung dying, John was there, Peter was not.  This doesn’t mean one apostle is better than the other, or that one is brave and the other is a coward; it just shows we have been given different gifts as individual as our fingerprints, and so we must trust that our Creator knows how to use them all for His purpose.

Those who feel offended by Duterte’s “insulting our God” and tend to react by hitting back may need to ask themselves if they really believe anyone can insult God.  Really!  It is possible that they feel “offended” because their belief in God is so fragile that it can be threatened by a “stupid god” remark.  Is it really God who’s been insulted or just the God they think is God?  And why say “our God” when there is only one God?  People who bash God in anyway do it because they do not know God, and if we Christians are truly doing as Christ asks us to, shouldn’t we care enough to bring God to them?
Let us not bite the devil’s bait and be carried away by the presidential fireworks.  Even at prayer the devil comes to distract us, but we must hold on to God’s hand.  In dealing with this matter, let us balance emotion and devotion with calm and an effective trust in God; turning our anger into an inward look at ourselves. 
Allow me to share an insight that came through years of persevering in prayer even when I thought God was not listening.  You may have known how competitive the media profession is, how fierce professional jealousy can be, and how vicious some practitioners could get to cling to the perks and power of position.  After years of often being maligned, thought of as ambitious, suspected of sowing intrigues, I would wring my mind dry asking the Lord, Why?  “Why, when all I want is to serve You?”  No answer.  I would cry, but still, no answer came.  For years.  Just the pain inflicted by a silent God.  But I hung on.  Then one day, the words crossed my mind, but I swear they didn’t come from me:  “Lord, please help me see what it is about myself that is making these people sin by maligning me.  I don’t want anyone to sin because of me.”  Those words changed my suffering to inner peace.  Because God finally answered by opening my eyes.
So it’s the same with this “stupid god” issue.  If Mr. Duterte is bashing the Church, calling us hypocrites, mocking our theology, and maligning our priests, instead of bashing him back and calling him the nastiest sinner of all, shouldn’t we as Church keep on praying and waiting in silence for God to show us what it is about ourselves that is making him sin? 
A silly remark should concern us, but not cause us to panic and fall into a trap.  As the great St. Teresa of Avila wrote in her Autobiography, “Do we not know that Satan cannot stir without the permission of God?”   Over the centuries, the Church has been demonized over and over again, Dutertes have come and gone, and surely they have done so with an omniscient God’s permission?  Perhaps in all humility we who claim to belong to God’s Church should in a spirit of penance fast and pray, not only for three days, but for as long as Love demands.  And that’s the truth.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Building, building, building

While we are all kept agog over sensational headlines about continued killing of “nanlaban” suspects, “anti-tambay” arrests, corruption in high places, Dengvaxia damage and denials, the contentious TRAIN law and the rising cost of everything, politicians’ bickerings, celebrity squabbles, and trending presidential antics (just a fortnight ago, it was a scandalous kiss in Korea, now it’s his “stupid God” remark), China is still stealthily building, building, building fortresses on reefs in our territory.  In, our, territory!
For more photos, visit:  http://www.inquirer.net/specials/exclusive-china-militarization-south-china-sea
Photographs released exclusively by the Philippine Daily Inquirer in February this year are alarming, to say the least, and if they fail to make you seethe with righteous anger, chances are you’re one of those ashamed to sing our national anthem at movie houses.  The authenticated photos, taken from an altitude of 1.5 km., clearly show such islands now studded with naval bases and military installations, but sadly the expose could boast of only 41, 213 shares.  Mocha Uson’s 5.3 million blog followers could have done something to make a difference—if they only truly cared.
According to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), 2017 proved to be a bumper year for China’s base building in the heavily disputed South China Sea.  The three-kilometer runways for the three biggest reefs—Kagitingan, Zamora, and Panganiban (which the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague has ruled as belonging to the Philippines)—were apparently ready for use as of November 15, 2017, complemented by hangars, radars and high-frequency antennas, lighthouses, missile shelters, and multi-story buildings.  Photos of the smaller reefs Burgos, Calderon, Mabini, and McKennan revealed the presence of helipads, observation and communication towers, radomes, and wind turbines.  In the waters, the ubiquitous cargo ships (transporting construction materials), coast guard patrolers, and military ships were photographed so clearly their ID numbers were legible.
“With its construction unrestrained,” the report said, “China will soon have military bastions on Kagitingan Reef, known internationally as Fiery Cross Reef; Calderon (Cuarteron), Burgos (Gaven), Mabini (Johnson South), Panganiban (Mischief), Zamora (Subi) and McKennan (Hughes) reefs from which to project its power throughout the region.”  To see for yourself, go to: http://www.inquirer.net/specials/exclusive-china-militarization-south-china-sea#ixzz5Jb2LLm5S
For videos of what China is doing in disuted waters, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YPFGRkI4XQ

From the days when our biggest territory-related problem was shooing away Chinese fishing vessels from Panatag shoal and jailing the poachers for loading their dynamite equipped boats with marine turtles, corals, and giant clams, China has certainly come a long way.  In 1974 the Philippine government built an airstrip on Pag-asa, the biggest island of the Kalayaan group; the airstrip was the first ever constructed in the Spratly archipelago, and it was big enough for use by C-130 transport planes.  Pag-asa then also boasted of a fully-armed army and marine detachment, but as the winds of politics blew hither and thither, securing Pag-asa was pushed down the priority list of succeeding administrations.  Meanwhile, the Chinese fishermen continued to brave the Philippine coast guard’s patrol boats and to doggedly harvest goodies from our rich marine resources.  And now, looking at the photos of China’s military installations in the region—wouldn’t you even suspect that those Chinese fishermen were actually spies?
I wouldn’t wonder.  Years back, we at the FOCAP (Foreign Correspondents’ Association of the Philippines) were almost sure that the correspondents from Xinhua News Agency, a nice, well-mannered husband-and-wife tandem, were spies in disguise.  It wouldn’t be impossible, we were told, that their hotel room was bugged, and that they were also under oath to spy on each other!  That’s Chinese espionage for you—but, given China’s determination to become the number one imperial world power, its espionage methods have grown so sophisticated through the years that its cyber espionage has been considered a threat to national security by their enemies.
But lest we fear that we are the only one being bullied by China’s powers-that-be, let us look at the bigger picture in the hope to see the real root behind China’s land-grabbing binge.  Would you believe local authorities in China bully even their own farmers?  Here’s just one instance of farmers tearfully protesting land seizures and being beaten with metal pipes by their own countrymen, filmed by Al Jazeera:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBO8UL-INXA.
China has also been eating up the Himalayan borderland it shares with India—“bite by kilometer-size bite.”   As reported in The Wall Street Journal in September 2014, there have been 1,171 Chinese transgressions from January 2012 to June 2014 along the 2,500-mile-long border.  One of India’s foremost strategic thinkers, Brahma Chellaney, likens China’s land-grabbing strategy in India to its tactics in the South China Sea.  In India, China first sends civilians like herders, farmers, and grazers to settle the land.  (In the Philippines, these “civilians” would be the fishermen.)  Once the civilians are in place, says the report, the People’s Liberation Army comes in to provide protection, allowing them to establish a more permanent presence in the area.  When a foothold is gained, Chellaney says China begins “cutting off access to an adversary’s previously controlled territory and gradually surrounding it with multiple civilian and security layers.”   While no single action may be construed as an alarming aggression, over time, the territorial grab expands.  Sounds familiar, right?
Just last April, the Pentagon expressed concern for the US over China’s reported massive land grabbing in Maldives, which is in India’s backyard.  “We have seen concerning developments in Maldives as far as the Chinese influence is concerned,” said Joe Felter, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, in a report in the Hindustan Times, corroborating the allegation made by a former foreign minister of Maldives, Ahmed Naseem, that China was meddling in the island nation’s internal affairs and appeared to be keen on building a base which one day may house warships and submarines.  Maldives’ former president Mohamed Nasheed last February also revealed in an interview with the Times of India that the Chinese who have taken control of 17 islands in the Maldives, are “talking about investing $ 40 million in each of the islands but we don’t really know what is the purpose for that.”
And who could forget how China in 1950 invaded Tibet for its natural resources, seized the Potala Palace for its treasures, and drove Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, out of their sacred land and into exile, in order to militarize the strategically important border with India?  The Dalai Lama—speaking of the atrocities the Chinese invaders inflicted upon his people then—told me in 1981, when we met in Bali, Indonesia, “No other people on earth could be more charming than the Chinese, just as none could match them in their brutality.”  The whys and wherefores of that land-grab could fill volumes, and it could show us that China will stop at nothing to expand its territories—plans for which at present include the Moon and Mars. 
Remarkable strides in China’s space program seem to show that the Chinese Communist Party is bent on making its mark on the space race.  In 2013, president Xi Jinping promised his people that China will send a taikonaut (Chinese astronaut) to the moon by the 2030s, but now they are speaking of sending colonies to the moon and Mars, targeting to beat the US and Russia to it.  Those planets are no man’s territory as far as China is concerned—thus, the first one who gets there gets to own it, and to make maps to subsequently prove their ownership.  China announced last April that it would send late this year a lunar probe that would conduct biological experiments unprecedented in space history, such as planting potatoes and cultivating silkworm.  Huh?  From military installations on reclaimed islands in the South China Sea to planting potatoes in the moon—what’s China up to?
A 73-year old Party official, aerospace engineer and head of the Chinese lunar exploration program, Ye Peijan, sums it up when asked (at the CCP’s annual plenary sessions in Beijing last year) why China is going to the moon: “The universe is an ocean, the moon is the Diaoyu Islands, Mars is Huangyan Island. If we don't go there now even though we’re capable of doing so, then we will be blamed by our descendants. If others go there, then they will take over, and you won’t be able to go even if you want to. This is reason enough.”
Does that sound Confucian or confusing?  The Diaoyu Islands Ye Peijan speaks of refers to Senkaku in Japan, and Huangyan Island is Panatag Shoal.  Why Ye should cite such names when the topic is lunar occupation mirrors the CCP’s stand that China goes into space not as a matter of national pride or scientific achievement, but simply to beat their competitors in wresting control of new land from other nations.
Where does that leave us now—supposedly God-fearing people who love fiestas in a country whose president calls their God “stupid” and is playing dangerous footsies with China?  It's more obvious than obvious that it's not just siopao or hopia factories China has been building in territory that is legally ours.  War is out of the question—our weapons are but blowguns compared to China’s, but how can we really rely on diplomacy with a control-obsessed Leninist leadership that acknowledges no authority above itself?
Many see our situation as helpless.  But are we, really, that helpless?  These are times to go down on our knees and invoke the mercy of our God, the One who led His people out of slavery and parted the Red Sea for their safe passage (Exodus 14:21-31)— the same Living God who sent fire upon Elijah’s sacrifice in Mt. Carmel for all to see that his God is God (1 Kings 18:16-45).  In spite of their best intentions, our politicians are never saviors; even the most brilliant among them cannot stand up to a fire-breathing dragon.  But we have God and His promise to rely on:  “If my people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”  Mr. President, call me stupid, but I do believe this, with all my being.  And that’s the truth.



Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang


After kissing a married woman on the lips in public, what will Chief Executive Digong do next?  I didn’t get the details when I first heard of that “historic kiss” over the radio, and so I dismissed it as just another Du30 gimmick.  He was probably fishing for approval from the OFWs during his visit to South Korea, so what’s new?  But when station after station rattled on about “the kiss”, and I learned soon after that the kiss was on the lips, and that the woman was married, and that our showman-of-a-president demanded the kiss in return for a scandalous book, I thought, “Uh-oh, that’s material for a my next column.”
And then came the videos, and the blasts from social media, pro and con.  I had to watch the video before I could judge the act (without being judgmental).  I saw the lady’s reluctance, the president’s insistence, and the kiss which, truth to tell, wasn’t intimate enough to spread a virus, but why did it go viral just the same?   Why did CNN, BBC, Time, CBS, Washington Post among others think it was newsworthy?  The head of state who is known for getting into hot water because of his mouth has done it again—this time not because of cussing but because of kissing; caused not by a joke, but by a joke of a kiss.     
The uproar was like thunder rolling from east to west, north to south—why?  Because—as the song goes, “You must remember this, a kiss is still a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh… The fundamental things apply, as time goes by…”   A kiss is a kiss is a kiss, and a kiss on the lips is big time in our culture.  See how a lips-to-lips kiss caps our wedding ceremonies, where the groom waits until the priest/minister says “You may now kiss the bride” before lifting her veil and kissing her lips?  Suddenly you have this mischievous president soliciting a kiss from somebody else’s wife.  What the ….!  That would have constituted sexual harassment in the corporate world!
But besides the fact of the kiss, it’s the public reaction to the president’s intention that needs examination.  The audience shrieked and hooted their approval of the act—why?   Was it okay that their country’s leader turned a kiss into live entertainment?  Is it more important to be “made happy” than to be made proud of your well-mannered president?  True to form, Digong said of his critics, “Inggit lang kayo!” while his spokesman said that kiss is an “act of endearment” to show the president does love the OFWs.  (OmG, roll your eyes and chuckle, it’s Mediocrity Unlimited.)
I’m sorry for the lady—Bea Kim, married to a Korean national, mother of two—who seemed to think she had no choice.  There were two Filipinas on stage reportedly; the first one offered her cheek which the president kissed without a fuss.  But Bea, upon Digong’s insistence, relented and allowed him to do as he’d wanted.  That’s what’s pathetic.  Well, maybe she is not old enough to stand shoulder to shoulder with the president.  She could have said, smiling, “No way, Mr. President, my husband will divorce me!  Sa pisngi na lang po!”  Or she could have given her hand to be kissed instead.  I wonder what Mr. Kim feels now, or how that viral video of his wife being kissed by a notoriously womanizing president will affect their marital life from now on.  I also wonder what Sarah Duterte or Honeylet or ex-wife Elizabeth think of it?  Or what Kitty feels among her schoolmates talking behind her back.  What’s even more regrettable is how Mrs. Kim apparently felt obliged to defend the president’s temerity by telling media that there’s “no malice” in that kiss which “didn’t mean anything except to entertain and make other Filipinos in the gathering happy.”
Okay, “no malice” then.  But is anyone asking about the choice of the book the president gave away to Overseas Filipino Workers in South Korea?  “Altar of Secrets: Sex, Money and Politics in the Philippine Catholic Church”—a pathetic rehash of the author’s previously published articles which didn’t quite make the cut due to its glaring lack of depth.  Why did the president choose to spread this “book” instead of giving the overseas Pinoys something really useful and constructive?  Like maybe a coffee table book about the beauty of the Philippines to show off to their non-Filipino friends.  Or maybe a volume on Workers’ Rights to educate and empower the OFWs.  Or perhaps an Etiquette Book that may help them deal smoothly with their employers and other people they meet abroad?  Why of all books, this one?  No malice?  Giving that book to people and then asking for a kiss in return—hello, presidential advisers, do you love your country?  It’s like giving rotting fish for people to eat and then ordering them to pay a steep price for it.  All in the name of “making them happy”?
And so the fuss over the kiss went on, overshadowing much more important issues.  On the same day of “the kiss”, June 6, Beijing must have bristled as a US military ship—the USNS Milinocket, which can transport troops, boasts of a helipad and has loading ramps for military vehicles—was reported to have docked in Palawan, which faces the South China Sea.  On top of that, two nuclear-capable US bombers flew near Spratly Islands, in the wake of the accusation by US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis of China’s “intimidation and coercion” in the South China Sea.  Do Pinoys care about that? 
On the same day, a 64-year-old Catholic priest, Fr. Rey Urmeneta of St. Michael the Archangel parish in Calamba was on his way to a church meeting when two would be assassins shot him.  He sustained two gunshot wounds but survived the attack.  More shootings: also on June 6, police gunned down two suspected robbers in separate incidents in Cavite—the first was one of two motorcycle-riders who tried to steal from a convenience store in Silang; the second was a trespasser in a subdivision in Tagaytay. 
Because we Pinoys love circuses, we seem to have become deaf to the gunshots around us, or even to the threat of war.  A kissing here, a shooting there—made me title this piece “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”, although this has nothing to do with the Hollywood black comedy bearing that name.  I’d like to echo the women’s sentiments during their Independence Day march last June 12.  Enraged over the kissing incident in South Korea, the marchers—bearing a huge streamer that said “Babae Ako, Lumalaban!”—protested Duterte’s “misogynistic” ways and challenged him to step down.  Recalling his unabashed admission of his womanizing, his rape jokes, and his order for soldiers to shoot rebel women in their private parts, the over a thousand women said “We have had enough”.   For your own good, Mr. President, enough of kiss kiss bang bang—and do be careful.  Next time you kiss a woman in public, they might just take you down with a bang.  And that’s the truth.


Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Faith by numbers



I don’t understand why supposedly prayerful, polite, educated, civilized persons would forward chain messages (via Messenger) that urge you to pray, and then to pass on the same prayer to a number of people in order to be divinely rewarded.  Here’s just one example:  “jesus christ is giving you mystery to take care of your family, you will give good news after 29 minutes nag try ako totoo, swerte daw ang makabasa nito kya pinasahan kita. Panginoon tulungan mo kami na malutas ang aming mga problema, bukas andyan na yong good news. Please sacrifice huwag mo tong buburahin hanggat di mo naipapasa sa 25 na tao. start now.”  There’s also one that urges you to make a wish and then pray just one Hail Mary, but it ends with “send this novena to 30 persons including me.  Don’t break the chain, you wish will not be granted.”  And there are so many others similar in purpose and in tone.
There’s no doubt the sender means well (I close my eyes to the ridiculous claims), but I can’t help wondering: why the particular numbers 25, 29, 30, or sometimes 18, 9 12, et al.  Have the superstitions about numbers crept into our consciousness, too, like for instance the Chinese?  Or is there something about their beliefs that needs to be “adjusted” by proper catechism?  
A broker friend of mine complains that “It’s very difficult to sell condo units with numbers that end in “4” because, as she rightly concludes, majority of condo buyers are Chinese investors, and that is also why condominium developers build high rises without a fourth floor.  In fact, their elevators skip the fourth floor.  The Chinese believe “4” is an “unlucky number” because it sounds like the word for “death”.  My broker friend observes “Nag-uunahan yung mga intsik sa units with number 8 because for them it’s a very lucky number. In fact the units on the 8th floor sell fastest, and sometimes even at a higher price.”   Interesting to note that many elevators also skip the 13th floor, “13” being believed as an unlucky number, this time by Americans. 
It is reported that the United States loses about a billion dollars on a Friday, the 13th.  The normally acquisitive American wouldn’t want to make a major purchase—car, house, boat, etc.—or sign a major contract on a Friday that falls on the 13th of the month.  “It’s bad luck”, a thought that has magnified into a phobia that has seemed to affect the rest of the civilized world, including numerologists.
One numerologist I know is a devout Catholic, but who sincerely, really sincerely believes there are “auspicious dates” for making big decisions or moves.  He once cautioned me against flying on a certain date I had decided to fly.  I didn’t listen to him because, as I teasingly spoke his language, “I have my own superstitions about numbers.  No number is a bad number for me; they all bring me good luck.  Try me.  Pick any number from 1 to 10.”
He said, “Four, the dreaded number.”   Easy, I quipped: four ends of the cross, proof of God’s love for us, reaching out to all four corners of the earth, east, west, north, south.  “Eight?”  Infinity—on and on and on, like the love of God.  “Six?”  Mary, the six-point star Star of Israel.  “Three?”  The Indwelling Trinity.  “Five?”  Jesus’ wounds on the cross. 
I interrupted our little game by playfully volunteering related information using his own science: “Our house stands on a rock, supported by 12 concrete posts—12 apostles.  From the street level to living room entrance you climb 39 steps—the 39 lashes Jesus suffered.  Our house is a simple box—four corners for the ground floor plus 4 corners for the second floor equals eight corners, infinity, remember?  Our street address is number 41:  “4” represents M (as in Mary), the 13th letter of the alphabet, 1+3=4; and “1” represents J (as in Jesus or Joseph), the 10th letter of the alphabet, 1+0=1.  You want more of my superstitions?  So don’t try to scare me with yours!”
It would be nice to study biblical numerology but really, I believe we don’t need such knowledge to rise above the petty threats of chain messages, or to brush aside the sincere but unnecessary anxieties of our “psychic” friends.  Just as all roads lead to Rome, for me all numbers lead to Jesus.  Then I can embrace as His will whatever comes.  And that’s the truth.  

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Lost in fake news


Question 1:  Why would people—often brilliant ones—create fake news? 
Question 2:  Why would supposedly intelligent and educated people believe and spread fake news?
Question 3:  If someone spreads fake news in social media with the intention of “informing everybody”—does it mean he or she may be straying from The Truth?
Answer 1:  People create fake news to gain power and to make money.    The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus defines “fake news” as “false stories that appear to be news, spread on the internet or using other media, usually created to influence political views or as a joke.”   Wikipedia adds:  “Fake news is a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media…  with the intent to mislead in order to damage an agency, entity, or person, and/or gain financially or politically, often using sensationalist, dishonest, or outright fabricated headlines…”  And from Pope Francis’ Message (for World Communications Day 2018): “…fake news refers to the spreading of disinformation on line or in the traditional media.  It has to do with false information based on non-existent or distorted data meant to deceive and manipulate the reader.  Spreading fake news can serve to advance specific goals, influence political decisions, and serve economic interests.”
That’s pretty clear—fake news generators aim to gain power by influencing public opinion.  Plus, they make money twice—from the client who hires them to do the job, and from the so-called internet click revenue.  Fake news fabricators use websites to run fake news, and these websites accept advertisers.  Each time a reader clicks on an ad, money comes in for the website creator.  Fake news creators are experts at making sensational headlines or “clickbaits”—for example, “Pope endorses Trump”—to attract readers “who want to know the truth”.  Lies are big business, you see?   
Answer 2:  Even supposedly intelligent and educated people like some lawyers and doctors and university professors may unwittingly become purveyors of fake news.  People have a conscious desire for true information, but due to carelessness or personal bias, they are prone to consume—and spread—false information.  Messages may appeal to people because they respond to their own desires or prejudices, thus they not only accept such messages on faith, but also forward them without verification.  Classic examples of these are fake news that either praise or lambast political candidates, dignitaries. and celebrities.
What is called the “illusory truth effect” also plays a huge part in the propagation of fake news.  Recent research in psychology reveals that exposure to fake stories leaves a subtle impression each time.  Experiments prove that each time we receive a forwarded false story on Facebook, and then receive the same multiple times from more friends and friends of friends, the story grows more familiar and that familiarity, according to the experts, casts the illusion of truth: “The illusory truth effect comes to play when we hear or read fake news claims repeated, no matter how ridiculous or illogical they sound.”   Remember that law of propaganda attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels: “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.”  A piece of fake news is a lie, so….?
Answer 3:   Yes, someone who spreads fake news in social media, even with the intention of “informing everybody”, may be straying from The Truth because he/she has become so anxious, contemptuous, angry, and emotionally fired up that he/she loses sight of what is good and doesn’t bother anymore to discern the data received in the light of Christ’s teachings.  (That’s what you get for squandering your hours on social media).  Pope Francis says “The tragedy of disinformation is that it discredits others, presenting them as enemies, to the point of demonizing them and fomenting conflict.  Fake news is a sign of intolerant and hypersensitive attitudes, and leads only to the spread of arrogance and hatred.  That is the end result of untruth.”
If you’ve been dragged into participating in this fake news thing, is there an easy fix to the problem?  It is correct to see it as a problem because one who is lost in the world of fake news has a divided heart. There is a sure fix but it may not be that easy: abstain from social media and reconnect with The Truth “I am the truth…” (John 12:6) until He makes you whole again.  And that’s the truth.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

‘Walang forever’ is fake news


Isn’t it ironic that on March 19, the Solemnity of St. Joseph—family man par excellence who chose not to divorce Mary, the mother of Jesus—the divorce bill was approved on its third and final reading by Congress?  Officially known as House Bill 7303 or “An Act Instituting Absolute Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage in the Philippines”, the bill was voted on 134-57.  To date, the Philippines and the Vatican are the only states where divorce is illegal, and Filipino Catholics take pride in that.  But with a vote of 134 vs. 57… who knows what Senate will say? 
Filipinos are a family-loving people, we celebrate births and birthdays, we respect life, we love wedding anniversaries and happily-ever-after movies, and we truly believe that “walang forever” is fake news, manufactured by the broken hearted.  There is forever, and with the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux in our midst (since January 12) until May 2018, we may yet be inspired to imitate her parents, St. Zelie and St. Louis, to help us form virtuous spouses who would love their children enough to rule out divorce as an escape from marital trials—and yes, stay together, forever.
The Church did not make Louis and Zelie Saints because their daughter is a Saint; rather, the Church acknowledges that their daughter became a Saint because she was raised by saintly parents.  When Therese wrote “Holiness consists simply in doing God’s will, and being just what God wants us to be”, she must have had her parents in mind.
Before they met, both Zelie and Louis had wanted the religious life—he as a monk and she as a nun—but God wanted something else.  So they met (curiously, on a bridge) and barely four months later got married on July 12, 1858; he was 34, she was 26.  Still, with their consuming desire for sanctity, Louis and Zelie decided they would, while married, live a “celibate” life together—but God didn’t allow that either.  A priest soon advised them to do as married people normally do, have children, and raise them for God.  They obeyed the priest, but prayed for sons with the noble intention of offering them to the Lord as priests—but again, God had other plans.  They had nine children, and the only two boys God took back in their infancy, along with two girls in their childhood, leaving the couple five girls who grew up into adulthood and became nuns, all of them.  For decimating all of their dreams, did Zelie and Louis balk at God’s alternatives?  No, they would go with the flow.
Although their respective crafts and businesses kept Louis and Zelie busy, they were never too busy for their children.  Zelie would set aside her lace-making for two hours to “have a dinner party” with the girls and their dolls, and Louis would likewise play along, saying “I am a big child with my children.”  Unlike the other businessmen of their day, Louis and Zelie refused to open shop on Sundays, a day reserved exclusively for worship and enjoyment with the family.  The Martins’ devotional practices included early morning Mass daily, family prayers said regularly, and spiritual reading of favorites like “The Imitation of Christ” and biographies of French Saints.  In May, they would surround the statue of Our Lady of the Smile with plants and flowers in keeping with the Catholic tradition of devoting the month to Mary.  They would also go on pilgrimages—Louis visiting local churches and shrines on foot, and Zelie to Lourdes by train when she suffered from breast cancer.
The death of four of their nine children, while painful for the God-fearing parents, were to become tragedies that intensified their love for each other.  Instead of wallowing in their shared grief, Louis and Zelie poured out their affection on the surviving children, all girls: Marie, 12; Pauline, 11; Leonie, 9; Celine, 3; and the new-born, blonde and blue-eyed Marie Therese Francoise, who would after a hundred years come to be known as St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower of Jesus.  
About the pain of losing her children to death, Zelie would write in one of her letters: “When I closed the eyes of my dear little children and when I buried them, I felt great pain, but it was always with resignation. I didn’t regret the sorrows and the problems I had endured for them. Several people said to me, ‘It would be better to never have had them.’ I can’t bear that kind of talk. I don’t think the sorrows and problems could be weighed against the eternal happiness of my children. So they weren’t lost forever. Life is short and full of misery. We’ll see them again in Heaven.”  And in another letter, Zelie summed up the essence of parenthood: “When we had our children, our ideas changed somewhat.  We lived only for them.  They were all our happiness, and we never found any except in them.  In short, nothing was too difficult, and the world was no longer a burden for us.  For me, our children were a great compensation, so I wanted to have a lot of them in order to raise them for Heaven.”
Perhaps this is one value to be learned from the fourth visit of the relics of St. Therese of the Child Jesus in the Philippines.  Returning to our shores at a time when we are losing our children due to disasters, human traffickers, war, or a contentious vaccine, could Therese be hinting that we befriend and imitate her parents so that we may also cherish and raise our children as gifts from a loving God?
Relics bring the presence of Saints in our midst. No doubt there will be more stories of miracles or favors granted during the six-month duration of St. Therese’s relics’ visit in our country; churches again will overflow with people pleading for succor, even those who hardly go to church.  As we queue up to kiss or touch these holy remains and pray for favors through the Saints’ intercession, may we realize that our Church presents Saints to us not only for our edification or comfort but more so for our imitation.  But what if we do not receive the miracle we pray for?  Again, we take a cue from St. Zelie Martin who, dying of cancer, went on pilgrimage to Lourdes (France), praying to be cured.  Denied her request, she wrote in a letter:  “The Blessed Mother didn’t cure me in Lourdes.  What can you do, my time is at an end, and God wants me to rest elsewhere other than on earth.”
A faith that does not hinge on miracles but aims for surrender to God’s will—we can bring ourselves to ask that from God through Sts. Zelie and Louis.  Besides lobbying against divorce, perhaps there is little or nothing else we can do to sway our pro-divorce lawmakers’ thinking to ours.  We do not want divorce, but if worse comes to worst and it is passed into law we will in complete trust continue to be docile to God’s, persevering in marriage and parenthood, and like Zelie and Louis Martin, focused on “raising children for heaven”.  Because we know that deep within our hearts, God has planted the seed of forever.  And that’s the truth.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Clean our souls


Health is wealth—it is true.  Ask those who have lost it, and you’ll know how sickness reduces one to a pathetic level of poverty that’s worse than mere economic want.  That is why when we are blessed with good health we should do our best to preserve it by using moderation in everything we do: no overeating, over-drinking, overworking, over-playing, over-worrying—no over-anything.  But there are those who—over confident of their “great health” and “fantastic immune system”—dismiss sound  health advice; when they finally fall ill and are put on a diet they would continue indulging their appetites, reasoning that “Me gamot naman eh!” (There are medicines anyway!).  This attitude afflicts many people whether they are learned or not, rich or poor, male or female, clergy or consecrated persons.  Then, when science or their doctors give up on them, they run to Padre Pio, or buy a pilgrimage to Lourdes, or light candles in some other popular shrine—begging for miracles.  I actually know of a few terminally ill persons who zealously did so, only to die without receiving the miracle they prayed for.  It is sad to see them die with eyes open and mouth gaping wide, still hoping for healing. 
The healing of the leper by Jesus (Mark 1: 40-45) is a story with many layers to it.  Usually, we see only the level that is readily visible, and that’s the kind of miracle people are wont to pray for—instant healing.  But isn’t it rather disrespectful to live carelessly—apart from Jesus—and then to ask Him to free us from the disastrous consequences of our carelessness?  It is, of course, unjust, but we Christians are taught that there is also God’s mercy to beg for, and so we go down on our knees and try to feel sorry for our sins.
Like the leper we ask Jesus to “clean me”.  Unlike the leper, our skin may be clean but our souls may not be.  Perhaps the leper’s skin is filthy but his soul is pure—who can say?  Note how he recognizes the Lord’s power, aware of his own deplorable condition.  And so the leper says, “If you wish, you can make me clean.”  Humble in his helplessness he leaves it entirely up to Jesus to make him whole again.
When we ask God to heal our bodies, why not first implore Him to help us clean our souls?  And so we humbly say, as the leper does, “If you wish…”

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

An open letter to my daughter, the nun


My dearest daughter:  Let me begin this letter with a plea for pardon.  I am aware that what I am about to say may sting you, and yet in conscience I believe that my silence might hurt you more.  I have spent countless nights turning these thoughts over and over in my head—specifically since last Christmas when for a few days we had the privilege of having you at home with us and enjoying all those family reunions and parties—agonizing over how I could share with you my observations without sounding like a meddler.  I do not know how it happened but after you had gone and life went back to normal, bits and pieces of those holiday moments with you would flash back to mind, very much like a silent movie trailer challenging me to listen to what was left unsaid.
Strangely I would catch myself seeing you not just as a nun but also as a daughter I had given up for good, for God.  In fact, I would see through your religious habit the tomboyish grade-schooler, the spunky papa’s girl, the teen-ager beginning to notice boys and scare them away with her high IQ, the budding young woman we had hoped to give us brilliant grandchildren in time, and the radiant “bride of Christ” crowned with roses on her “wedding day.”  As the women’s lib generation would say: “You’ve come a long way, baby!”  Maybe your mom is just getting old and worrisome, but I cannot help singing to you along with Diana Ross your own favorite song, “Do you know where you’re going to?”
Where you are going, my daughter, is my rightful concern, too, in spite of the security you enjoy within the convent walls.  Your being a nun creates expectations in others, whether you like it or not—expectations which, by the nature of your vocation, you may not just take for granted.  The public expects you to be different—because they believe you to be several notches above us in virtue or holiness.  You are aware of this, as your numerous anecdotes about receiving special treatment from strangers reveal.  We, your family, have our own expectations, too, that in the spirit of fairness must not be ignored.  Like all others, rightly or wrongly we do believe you are somehow morally superior to us, after all, you have “given up everything” for God.  As a consecrated person, do you not feel obliged, for love of God, to be what people expect and believe you to be?  And does not God have expectations of you as well?
I hope you will not take offense at my temerity, but for now I do not want to call you “Sister”; instead I just want to think of you as Nina, my daughter who happens to be a nun. I as the woman who brought you to this world feel morally obliged to speak out now, for I do believe God has expectations of me, too.  I may not have a Ph. D. as you do, but child, if your two doctorate degrees teach you to dismiss as grumblings the observations of one who has given birth to and raised six children, then I will not think twice about twisting your ear so you can hear your mother ask, “Do you know where you’re going to?”
As a much younger nun, you were a perfect blessing to us, I’d dare say.  You were much easier to get along with, for one.  You were a model of congeniality and humility for all of us; your nephews and nieces adored you and listened eagerly to your bible stories; your cousins sought your advice; even our house help revered you as you would always volunteer to do the dishes, sweep the floor or change the curtains while vacationing with us.  Your father and I secretly felt very proud of you as we did not have any doubts anymore that you were in the place God had called you to be.  But last Christmas, I sensed a disconnect between that young nun and the 45-year old “Superiora” you are now.  What bothers me is you seem unaware of the effects your ways now have on others.  Or, do you care at all? 
Take, for example, that time when, besides the lechon paksiw and other holiday take-home food you had been given, you asked for the unopened bags of chips and chocolates.  Did you not notice the furtive glances from those at the table as you—loading them into a huge bag—were saying “Walang ganito sa kumbento eh!”  I was quiet lest you think I was depriving you of a little luxury, but I was thinking, “My child, if they don’t give you junk food in the convent, there must be a good reason for it.”  It alarms me as your mother to realize that your appetite for such “goodies” has made you forgetful of your doctor’s warning about the threat of diabetes—and your very own concern about weight gain.
I also noticed something in your conversation.  While it was good that you sounded very well informed about world news—and your nieces and nephews said  you were “cool” to be abreast of internet trends and social media—I missed the way you used to make us see mundane affairs in the light of the gospel.    It was something only you in the family could do—lead us to the Lord through your insights as a daughter of the Church.  Years ago I had felt sure your higher studies, your travels abroad, your interaction with anointed men, and your assignments to important posts would make you an even better story-teller, enriching our lives and drawing people closer to the Lord, but last Christmas I saw that it did not happen.  At one point you even expressed dissatisfaction over the homily of a bishop.  If I had been blind (and therefore could not see your religious habit), I could swear I was just listening to a college professor who may not even be Catholic at all!  I felt sad. 
I as a mother also felt sad for your siblings when you acted disappointed since none of them could accommodate your request for a ride back to your convent.  I know they had done that for you willingly before, but people’s needs change, and so do their priorities, and it upset me that you, Sister Nina, were too insensitive to empathize with them.  They now have growing families, with countless familial duties to cope with, but because they—not even your kuya—could not directly beg off and risk displeasing you, they had to rely on me, your mother, to plead for your consideration.  When I suggested you take a taxi instead, and you snapped, “Such a small favor to ask, and no one can help?  You know I’m afraid to take taxis!” I seethed inside and managed to stifle a curt “Afraid?  So where is your God?”  That night I couldn’t sleep.  I wondered what traumatic thing you had suffered that made you dread taxi rides; you used to take taxis, jeepneys, buses, and tricycles without fuss before you entered the convent.
Your religious habit opens many doors for you—you know how our people hold priests and nuns in high esteem.  People believe you are “malakas kay Lord” and count on your “hotline to God” to obtain favors for them.  But not all of those whom you help are poor, and those who are not have rewarded your friendship and intercession with gifts only the well-off can afford—like iPads, gadgets, branded bags and shoes, etc.  Has this gotten into your head?  Subtly ignited a sense of entitlement in you?  Or am I just guilty of inordinately taking your religious vows more seriously than you are?  Nina, my child, forgive me if I have been too harsh on you, but I only wish to let you know that with what I have seen and heard of you now, I am missing the young nun  we all knew many years ago who by her purity and simplicity spoke to us of a divine reality to strive for in this life.  I have a few more years left before I join your father in the afterlife.  I pray you will look for that young “bride of Christ” and find her still alive in the core of your being, because when I am finally reunited with your father, I am sure he will ask about you; I do not want to have to tell him, “I am sorry I lost her.”