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Measuring the impact of advocacy programmes

Financial inclusion and Shari’ah financing

Our Nanays, our community heroes

SRI LANKA: Black Sunday - Mourning the death of criminal investigating capacity

Beware of the excesses of idealism

A safer registration process

Bring in the Christian perspective

Malacañang’s response to Callamard: An indication of disrespect for human rights






Paglambo Project: Promoting financial inclusion for Muslim communities

July 11, 2022

President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. has declared July 9 a regular holiday in observance of Eid al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice), one of the two greatest Islam holidays. Eid al-Adha marks the end of hajj, a key pillar of Islam that able-bodied Muslims must undertake at least once in their lives. This observance of an important holiday for our Muslim brothers and sisters is good for inclusive development. Islam is practiced by roughly five percent of Filipinos from a variety of ethnolinguistic groups, over half of whom live in Mindanao.

Beyond the observance of holidays, however, is a serious need for the government to address the poverty situation in Muslim communities. The three poorest provinces in the country are predominantly Muslim. Based on the 2018 Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES) of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the poorest regions are ARMM, Region 9, Region 8, CARAGA, and Region 12. Four of these regions are in Mindanao, but the most impoverished is the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, which has a poverty incidence of 61.3 percent. This means that three out of every five persons in the region are poor. The situation is even worse in the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Sulu, and Basilan, where nearly two out of every three people are poor.

Financially Excluded

According to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), about 7 in 10 adult Filipinos are financially excluded and do not have accounts, or access to much-needed financial services. Financial exclusion affects millions of Filipinos in the lower income class, the youth, the unemployed, and the less educated. Financial exclusion is also prevalent among senior citizens, migrant workers and their families, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, forcibly displaced persons, and others who are unable to get access to finance due to their religious beliefs.

There is a religious and cultural dimension to the issue of Muslim Filipinos’ lack of access to financial services which could help raise their productivity and standard of living. Sharīʿah (also spelled sharia) is the Islamic religious law that governs the day-to-day life of Muslims. The sharia prohibits interest charging, as this equates with usury (riba). It forbids speculative transactions involving risks (gharar), and avoids transactions on sinful things (haram), such as pork, alcohol and gambling. These tenets limit Muslims’ participation in the formal financial system.

A truly inclusive financial system necessitates sharia-compliant financial services for Muslims. This is problematic because there is only one Islamic bank in the country, the Al-Amanah Islamic Investment Bank. In the meantime, a few microfinance institutions (coops and NGOs in Mindanao) supported by Peace and Equity Foundation; the ASA Philippines Foundation; and the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD) are filling in the gap, making banking, credit, microinsurance, remittance, and other financial services available to Muslim communities.

The Paglambo Project

The Paglambo Project is a sharia-inspired microfinancing program that CARD started in 2018. It resulted from a series of dialogues and learning visits between two Ramon Magsaysay awardees: the Dompet Dhuafa, an Indonesian non-profit organization, which won the Magsaysay Award in 2016, and CARD MRI, which won the Magsaysay Award for Public Service in 2008. CARD developed the Paglambo Project based on the Dompet Dhuafa’s successful Islamic microfinance and banking scheme in Indonesia.

Starting with only two units composed of clients from 56 Muslim families in Marawi, Lanao del Sur and Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, the Paglambo Project expanded quickly. Attesting to the urgent need for financing in the area, clients grew to more than 4,000 after only a year of operation. As of June 2022, the Paglambo Project has 54 units in Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Zamboanga City, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi. There are now more than 76,000 clients, with a capital build-up of more than 164 million pesos. Their average loan repayment rate is very high, at 99.35 percent. In 2021, its unit in Kapatagan, Maguindanao had a 100% repayment rate despite the COVID pandemic.


The success of the project lies in its sharia-compliant financial products and services. For instance, it has an education loan program based on Islam’s Murabahah. The Murabahah concept allows the borrower to obtain money from the lender to buy goods for his business. The parties agree on the mark-up on the goods, thus, the lender gets a fixed profit based on the agreement. This eliminates the interest system, which Islam prohibits. A Kafalah Islamic contract was added to the existing financing contract, since many Muslim families also needed funds for their children’s school expenses.

Apart from designing financial products suited to the needs of the community, all staff are trained to observe cultural sensitivity. Courtesy calls to Muslim elders were made to introduce the program, as well as coordination with village leaders and local organizations. Communication was key, as attested by the manager in Kapatagan, whose unit clients grew because she was able to explain that the financial products under Paglambo is halal or in accord with the Islamic faith.

The Paglambo Project shows that financial inclusion in Muslim areas is possible via Islamic microfinance. The government can assist community-based organizations that deliver sharia-compliant products by putting up needed infrastructure to make hard-to-reach areas accessible. Apart from providing more funds for financial services targeting the poor and vulnerable, it could also set aside Islamic financing to help micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) offering halal products and services. Partnerships between public and private providers should be encouraged, to serve more Muslim communities.

Again, Eid al-Adha Mubarak to our Muslim brothers and sister! Wishing your families peace, harmony, happiness, good health and prosperity!





Make war to gain peace

July 10, 2022

THAT is not a smart-alecky statement. It has to be taken seriously, since in a sense it comes from Christ himself. Note what he said in the Gospel of St. Matthew:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s enemies will be those of his household.” (10,34-36)

But lest we think such statement is just a capricious, if not evil desire of Christ, he made some clarification. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (10,37-39)

It’s clear that Christ wants us to make war against anything that would prevent us from being with him. And it is only with him when we can have our true and lasting joy and peace.

We just have to make sure though that when we wage war as suggested by Christ, we do it not out of hatred against anybody or anything, since God loves everyone and everything that he created. We have to do it with the same love God has for everyone and everything. It’s actually a war of peace and love.

We have to understand that in this life we have to make war to have peace. And peace can only come about, at least in this life, as a consequence of some war. Our life here on earth will always be a war of peace. We should not be surprised by this phenomenon anymore. It should be a given.

The war we will be waging here on earth will be a constructive war, not destructive. It is a war to win our way toward heaven. It is a war to make ourselves “another Christ,” a new man, stepping out of the old man that we all are due to sin. Any obstacle along the way, including those who are very close to us but who compete with God for our love, should be fought and rejected.

We have to remember that we always have to contend with powerful enemies in our spiritual life. The first one would be our own selves, our own flesh that has been weakened by sin. There is such thing as concupiscence, a certain attraction to evil that leads us to have a lust of the eye, lust of the flesh and the pride of life.

Yes, our Christian life here on earth will always involve some war, some struggle and effort, some combat. But all of this would be done in peace and for peace. The combination may sound incredible, but that is what Christ is showing and telling us.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace,” he told his disciples. “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16,33) If by faith and effort, we do our best to stick with Christ, we know that victory is always assured for us. Peace is gained by making some war.





Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist

June 14, 2022

WE have to make sure that our faith in the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is always kept alive and strong. Let’s take advantage of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of the Lord (Corpus Christi) to check our faith in this most crucial truth. We know that we never do enough in this regard, since what we have before us is truly tremendous and overwhelming a mystery.

In the gospel of this year’s celebration of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, we are presented again with that story of the multiplication of the 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. (cfr. Lk 9,11-17) We are made to understand that the mystery of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist goes far beyond what we can see and understand. We have to go strictly by faith.

It’s when we can capture this truth of our faith that we become Eucharistic souls. To be Eucharistic souls means to be a real person who is both grounded and oriented properly. Yes, we need to be Eucharistic in mind and heart, because the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is where we have our most precious treasure, our everything, our light, our purification, our salvation.

That’s where we have Christ not only in real presence, as in the Blessed Sacrament, nor as spiritual food, as in the Holy Communion, but primarily as our savior who continues to offer his life on the cross for us, as in the Holy Mass.

We need to be theological in our thinking to capture this reality and live in accordance to it not only from time to time, but rather all the time and everywhere, whatever our situation is.

We have to overcome the very common phenomenon of treating the Holy Eucharist as just a special part of our life that we may attend to in some special moments of the day or on Sundays and holy days of obligation only.

If we believe that God is everything to us, then we have to believe also that Christ, the son of God who became man, is also everything to us. That’s why he said he is “the way, the truth and the life, no one goes to the Father except through me.”

Now, if we believe in Christ as everything to us, then it follows that we have to believe in the Holy Eucharist also as everything to us, since it is the Holy Eucharist where the whole redemptive life of Christ is summarized and sacramentalized, that is to say, made present to us through time.

With the Holy Eucharist, we become contemporaries of Christ in his most supreme act of salvific love for us. But, alas, how many of us realize this, and among those of us who do, how many have the skill to turn this realization into a living reality?

We need to do a lot of catechizing and discussion if only to air out the many possibilities and practical considerations we can have to make the Holy Eucharist everything to us not only in theory and aspiration, but also in practice in our daily grind.

We therefore need to enkindle our Eucharistic amazement and to intensify our Eucharistic piety. In this matter, we can never overdo things. We should try our best that our Eucharistic piety continues to grow strong and deep.





What does Pentecost mean?

June 1, 2022

EVEN if Christ already died and ascended into heaven, his presence and mission continues to be with us, this time through the Holy Spirit. “I will not leave you as orphans,” he said. “I will come to you.” (Jn 14,18) It is the Holy Spirit who will make Christ present in us and who will involve us in the continuing redemptive work of Christ.

We have to understand that the Holy Spirit perpetuates the presence and redemptive action of Christ all throughout time, with all the drama, vagaries, ups and downs that we men make in our history.

It has been prophesied that God will pour out his Spirit upon all men. The Holy Spirit is intended for all of us. We are all meant to be filled with the Holy Spirit. But this divine will obviously has to contend with the way we receive and do things, and that is, that we take to this reality in stages involving a whole range of human means of teaching, evangelizing, etc.

We need the Holy Spirit because only in him can we truly recognize Christ. Only in him will we be able to have Christ in our life, to remember all his words and even to develop them to attune them to current needs and situations.

Only in him can we see things properly. Especially these days when truth, justice and charity have become very slippery, and people are left confounded and vulnerable to fall into scepticism and cynicism, we need to be in the Holy Spirit to be able to sort things out and stay away from the mess.

We need the Holy Spirit to be able to read the signs of the times properly. The world is getting very complicated, and we definitely need the Holy Spirit to guide us. We cannot rely anymore on our politicians and other leaders. We, including politicians and especially them, actually always need the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit acts on each one of us in different ways but always for the common good. St. Cyril has this to say about how the Holy Spirit comes to us:

“The Spirit comes gently and makes himself known by his fragrance. He is not felt as a burden, for he is light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge stream before him as he approaches.

“The Spirit comes with the tenderness of a true friend and protector to save, to heal, to teach, to counsel, to strengthen, to console. The Spirit comes to enlighten the mind first of the one who receives him, and then, through him, the minds of others as well.”

We have to understand that Christ’s redemptive mission is very much an ongoing affair, and he involves all of us actually in this business. Those words that he addressed to his apostles, giving them their mission, can be considered as addressed to us also. And we can carry out that mission because of the abiding work of the Holy Spirit in us. All we have to do is to correspond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

We need to be familiar with this Christian duty. We have to do apostolate, and we need to see to it that the zeal for it is always nourished, stoked and fanned to its most intense degree.

Yes, we are all meant to be “another Christ” through the Holy Spirit, with the lifelong concern for our sanctification and apostolate, taking advantage of all the occasions and situations in life to pursue those goals!





Why it’s difficult to believe in Christ

May 10, 2022

“HOW long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (Jn 10,24)

Perhaps we too can ask the same question. In spite of what we already know about Christ, we may still be harboring doubts as to whether Christ is really the one he presents himself to be.

I believe the simple answer is that to believe in Christ requires the grace of God. If we just rely on our human faculties, like our intelligence and common sense, we would actually not go very far. At a certain point, we would start to entertain doubts about who Christ really is.

And that is also simply because Christ, while truly a man, is first of all divine. He is a supernatural being. In fact, he is the Supreme Being who has no beginning and no end. While we can know him through his words and deeds as recorded in the gospel, he will always remain a mystery still to us. He overwhelms our capacity to know him.

With him, what we have to do is to believe first before we can start to understand him more deeply. With him, we need to have faith first before the operations of our intelligence and our other faculties do their thing.

Thus, both St. Augustine and St. Anselm enunciated the proper way to understand and believe in Christ. “Credo ut intellegam” (I believe that I might understand) was what they were saying. They made an appeal to follow first our faith before we start to use our intelligence. Or better said, we have to make our reasoning be inspired by our faith first.

We therefore have to see to it that we develop an operative faith. Our faith should not remain only in the theoretical, intellectual level. It has to be a functioning one, giving shape and direction in our thoughts and intentions, our words and deeds. In fact, it should shape our whole life.

The ideal is that we feel it immediately. Indeed, it should be like an instinct such that whatever we think, say or do, or whenever we have to react to something, it is our faith that should guide us.

We have to understand that it is our faith that gives us the global picture of things, since it is God’s gift to us, a gratuitous sharing of what God knows about himself and about the whole of creation. It is meant for our own good, for us to live out our true dignity as children of God.

It is a kind of knowledge that will lead us to our eternal life. It will make us relate everything in our earthly life, both the good and the bad, to this ultimate goal in life which is to be in heaven with God, a state that is supernatural. But it is a divine gift that we need to take care of. It is like a seed that has to grow until it becomes a big tree and bears fruit.

For this, we really need to have a living contact with Christ who is the fullness of God’s revelation to us. He is the substance, the content and the spirit of our faith. So, the first thing that we have to do is to look for him always whatever we may be thinking, saying or doing. Never mind if we do not understand him fully. We should just follow him!





The praises of womanhood


April 30, 2022

Dietrich Von Hildebrand, a christian philosopher, once explained that by nature women are superior to men. They are more gentle, they are more sweet, they are more beautiful, they have more charm etc. The only area perhaps in which men are more right than women is that men love women while women love men.

Such praises to women have been sung by the wise, since philosophy has begun. Admittedly, there are those who degrade womanhood. Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that virtues -the paragon of moral perfection- are portrayed by women.

The four cardinal virtues of Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude are portrayed by women. Even Severinus Boethius expresses most eloquently his adoration to wisdom in person: Lady Philosophy.

The wise have always adored women. And if women are indeed better, the failure to adore them would be unwise.

After all, who else can be mothers but women? Who else can be wives but women? Who else can be daughters but women? Whose was the face that could launch a thousand ships but that of a woman? Who else can have men at their fingertips but women? Who else did God choose to be his Mother but a woman.

Edith Stein, a Philosopher, Student of Edmund Husserl, and contemporary of Hildebrand explained that the Woman is better. “Women,” she said, “understand not only with the intellect but also with the heart.” “Women naturally seek,” she continues, “to embrace what is living, personal, integral.” Most beautifully, she explains that “To heal, watch over, protect, nourish, and favor growth is her natural maternal desire” because “The soul of a woman is fashioned as a shelter in which other souls may unfold.”

It seems, therefore, to be a great absurdity for some who pose under the guise of pseudo-intellectualism to hiss at women who prefer to be mothers, who prefer to be a wife, who prefer to perfect their womanhood in such noble a state. Women, they say, must have a career, must have glittering achievements. Women must not only be house wives, must not only be mothers, must not be homemakers because these, they say, degrade her womanhood. In short, to them, unless a woman is like a man, she does not have a life worth living. This is tragic considering how they think that to be fulfilled woman must be like a man.

It is interesting to note that the same pseudo-intellectuals hold it as unquestionable and absolute dogmatic truth that all the evils of the world are caused by the patriarchy. They further say that all evil actions are in substance misogyny. This they hold with religious assent and unquestioning faith.

How can it be, as these insist, that having a full time career, no time for family, no time to personally raise their children be more ontologically valuable for a woman that being a mother who raises and looks after the children -the future citizens of the earth and of heaven-? How is the task of raising up great men and women of virtue so demeaning and so worthless compared to working for a company, to working for some corporation? How can one say that being a mother and wife is so demeaning when studies have shown that a great majority of those who have problems in adulthood are those who did not have good family lives as children?

How can these be demeaning when these are the most perfect exercise of the characteristics endowed on a woman’s soul? “Woman,” says Edith Stein “naturally seeks to embrace that which is living, personal, and whole. To cherish, guard, protect, nourish and advance growth is her natural, maternal yearning.”

And that women in top positions is not an issue here. One cannot but admire Margaret Thatcher who stirred Britain so well, or Catherine the great who reformed Russia, or Olga of Kiev who ruled a kingdom, or Teresa of Avila or Catherine of Sienna who reformed the Church. But let no one tell mothers, wives, and daughters that they do not have a life worth living simply because they chose a more domestic life.

Thus, Edith Stein beautifully puts it: “Each woman who lives in the light of eternity can fulfill her vocation, no matter if it is in marriage, in a religious order, or in a worldly profession.”

Let us keep these in our minds in this month of May, the month of the greatest woman who ever lived and will ever live.





Never doubt God’s love for us

April 26, 2022

“JESUS said to Philip, ‘Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?’ He said this to test Philip, because he himself knew what he was going to do.” (Jn 6,5-6)

With these words, we should realize that we should never doubt God’s constant love for us, especially when we encounter difficulties and severe trials in our life. God allows these things to happen if only to test us, that is, to see if we also truly love him in return, a love that is expressed in complete trust in God’s will and ways.

Yes, we have to be clear that there in nothing in our life, no moment or situation where God does not test us. We have to explode the myth that consists in the thinking that there are times when we are freed from this test. Even in our moments of rest and recreation, we are being tested.

And that’s simply because the only purpose of these tests is to see if we keep ourselves always with God as we should. In this regard, let’s remember these relevant words of Christ. “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” (Mt 12,30) There is no neutral ground in our relationship with God. We are either for him or against him.

And being created in the image and likeness of God, we are meant to be always with God, much like what Christ himself said about the vine and branches. (cfr. Jn 15,5) Otherwise, we die in the sense of living a life that is not proper to us, like the branches that are separated from the vine.

So, we cannot overemphasize our need to do everything to always be with God. We know very well how easily we can think and live as if we can simply be by ourselves. Especially when life seems to be going well for us, we easily tend to take God for granted. We usually go to him only when we find ourselves with difficulties.

Yes, we have to understand that God’s tests us not only in our difficulties, but also in our good and easy moments of our life. In fact, the latter tests can be more difficult to tackle.

It’s always good to frequently meditate on what God has done for us, if only to enjoy the confidence he has put in us. This is to help us repay his love with our love. Thus, Christ told us, “Without cost you have received. Without cost you are to give.” (Mt 10,8)

For sure, with these words of Christ, we are strongly reminded to be generous, to give ourselves completely to God and to others, sparing and keeping nothing for ourselves, because God has been generous with us. He gave nothing less than himself to us. And he wants to share what we have with everybody else.

Thus, in Christ’s commissioning of his disciples that should include all of us, his believers and followers, he encourages us not to worry so much about what to have or what to bring. “Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals or walking stick. The laborer deserves his keep.” We need to develop a keen sense of generosity and self-giving that is also a result of detachment.





Investing to make a difference

April 20, 2022

The annual inflation rate in the Philippines rose to 4.0% in March from 3.0% in February. The increase in the prices of goods is at an all-time high as Russia’s attack on Ukraine sent oil and commodity prices soaring worldwide. In an environment where inflation risks are high, oil prices are surging and current macroeconomic forecasts paint a challenging picture, there is a popular Filipino proverb or salawikain that comes to mind:

“Kapag may itinanim, may aanihin.”

This gem of folk wisdom literally translates to “if you plant, you will harvest something,” but it actually means “your future will be the result of the effort you put in today.” Its message is the same as that of the classic Filipino tale, Si Langgam at Si Tipaklong, where the ant stacked up grains in anticipation of the rainy days while the happy-go-lucky grasshopper danced the day away. Unlike the frugal and industrious langgam, the tipaklong suffered when the rains came.

The question now is this: do we want to become ants or grasshoppers?

These uncertain times demand that we prepare for the rainy days. We need to be like the ant and allocate a portion of our present income for future needs, like the education of our children, sickness or emergencies, and even retirement, as there will definitely come a time that we will grow old and can no longer work.

Aside from savings, we can also make sound investments. While many Filipinos believe that the only way to make money is by working for it (either by being paid for one’s labors or by running a business), there is another way: by making your money work for you. This entails investing your money so that it earns more money.

Investments, Benefits and Risks

According to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) 2019 financial inclusion survey, only 25% of Filipinos have some sort of investment. An investment is an asset purchased with the hope that it will generate income or appreciate in the future. You invest when you buy an asset and sell it later, when its value has increased. You also invest when you put your money in ventures that earn interest over time. There are two key factors: time and appreciation. When you invest, you open up multiple income streams. You get something extra, aside from what you earn from work or business. It allows you to meet your financial goals faster. It also helps build wealth, because over time, you accumulate assets that increase your net worth.

Risk, of course, is part of investing. There is the risk of capital loss. There is also the risk of not meeting your expected returns. Knowing that there are risks should not stop you from looking into investment opportunities. Instead, you should learn and find the best ways to manage them.

Investment for Beginners

There is a wide range of investment opportunities available for beginners. Investment decisions are based on one’s goals (short, medium, or long-term) or risk appetite (conservative or aggressive). There are many options, but a beginning investor may look into:

• PAG-IBIG and SSS Investment Programs - The BSP financial inclusion survey shows that SSS (88%) and Pag-IBIG Fund (52%) are the most common types of investments for Filipinos. The SSS PESO Fund starts for as low as P1,000, while the Modified Pag-IBIG II starts for as low as P500, making them one of the cheapest investments for beginners.

• Stock Market – When you buy stocks, you buy shares in a company, giving you the right to a portion of the company’s value and income. Stock investments have high income potential. They are also considered to be the riskiest, thus, suited for aggressive investors. One needs to monitor business developments to invest and learn when is the best time to buy and sell stocks.

• Bonds and Mutual Funds – The risk-averse can try investing in bonds, which are debt obligations issued by companies. Bonds are low-risk but low-profit investments, paying a set amount over a certain period of time. Mutual funds are pooled from different investors and invested in various assets by professional fund managers.

• Variable Life Insurance - These are combined life insurance and investment products that are ideal for first-time investors.

Investing for Social Inclusion

The options above are commercial investment opportunities. There is another path which a beginning investor may consider. It is called microfinance, which is distinguished from traditional finance because of its social dimension. Microfinance is a form of impact investing. It caters to the poor and marginalized sectors, making sure that those who do not have access to banks would have access to much-needed financial services. Aside from the financial gain, microfinance measures the social impact of its performance.

Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) provide loans, savings, micro-insurance and related products to low-income groups, as well as micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). This is important, particularly in the Philippines, where 7 out of 10 adults are financially excluded. Thus, MFIs are crucial to the BSP’ National Strategy for Financial Inclusion (NSFI), which outlines a financial landscape with 4,450 microfinance non-government organizations and 23 mutual benefit associations targeting the unserved and underserved: the poor, the unemployed, MSMEs, and the informal workers, especially those living in rural areas and far-flung communities.

A beginning investor may look into MFIs as an opportunity not just to earn money, but to help others. MFIs, after all, enable income-generating activities that help people to break out of poverty. They are regulated by the government, with adequate safeguards imposed for the public’s protection. Let us look at CARD MRI, for instance. This is one of the biggest microfinance groups in the Philippines, with 7.9 million clients and 3,391 offices nationwide. It has a loan portfolio of P33.4 billion, with savings or capital build-up of 32.7 billion. It has more than 76 billion in assets, with a financial self-sufficiency ratio of 118%. CARD has maintained a loan repayment rate of 95.73% even at the height of the COVID pandemic.

Social impact investor and worldwide cooperative Oikocredit is also a case in point. For 46 years now, Oikocredit has been funding organizations that promote financial inclusion, agriculture and renewable energy. It provides loans, equity investments and capacity-building support to enable people on low incomes in Africa, Asia, and Latin America to sustainably improve their living standards. Oikocredit has financed 563 partners, with total outstanding capital of €845 million in 2021. Its partners served 32.2 million individuals and 770,000 SMEs. The network bolstered agriculture by assisting 542,000 farmers; it also provided 68,000 households with clean energy. Private and institutional investors can invest in Oikocredit via its network of support associations. One of the world’s largest financiers of the microfinance sector, Oikocredit has been financing partners in the Philippines since 1983.

Apart from the financial returns, microfinance also offers diversification benefits that are important in the current environment of slowing economic momentum. You can put your money in any BSP-registered MFI and watch it make a difference in the lives of others. CARD, for example, provides microfinance loans for household expenses, housing, education, and microinsurance. It helps micro-entrepreneurs by providing business loans as small as P1,000. Just imagine the multiplier effect of your investment on the lives of these people! Investment returns are good, yes, but at the end of the day, it is about human beings, about individual stories, and about families. Impact investing, after all, is really about the transformative power of hope.

By investing to make a difference, not only are you making your money work for you; you are making it work to help others and to build a better world. As businessman and author Robert Kiyosaki once said, “It’s not how much money you make, but how much money you keep, how hard it works for you, and how many generations you keep it for.”





Do we really believe in Christ?

April 7, 2022

IT’S a question that we have to ask ourselves, since there are many indications that even those who profess to believe in Christ do so more out of formality. They do not really know him, much less, love him, because if they do, they would be burning with desire to follow him and to bring him to others.

In the gospel, many of the leading Jews during Christ’s time were always skeptical of him. They even went to the extent of doing him harm, and eventually of putting him to death. (cfr. Jn 10,31-42) Some of the people, of course, believed in him, due to the miracles and the splendid preaching he did. Truly, Christ was and continues to be a sign of contradiction.

We have to understand that with Christ, it is not enough to know him. We also have to love him. With Christ, to know him truly is to love him also. In fact, we cannot say we really know him unless we love him too, that is, we become like him.

With him, these two spiritual operations of ours merge into a unity, although they have different directions. In knowing, the object known is in the knower. It has an inward movement. The knower possesses the known object.

In loving, the lover is in the beloved. It has an outward movement. It is the beloved that possesses the lover. The lover gets identified with the beloved. The lover becomes what he loves.

In knowing, the knower abstracts things from his object of interest and keeps them to himself. In loving, the lover gives himself to the beloved. In a sense, the lover loses himself and identifies himself with the beloved.

Of course, there are many things that we know but which we do not have to love, or even that we should not love. We can know a lot of evils, but we should never love them. If anything at all, our knowledge of them is just for the sake of prudence.

But whatever good we know, we should also love, otherwise we would fall into some anomaly of inconsistency. In whatever is good, we should not be contented with knowing it only. We should love it. Let’s remember what St. Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians in this regard:

“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” (8,1-2)

And we can add that if one is known by God, he somehow already knows everything that he ought to know since God, who possesses him because he loves God, knows everything. In other words, he shares in the knowledge of God.

Since Christ is for us the highest good we can have, we should both know and love him to the max. We should not just know him and not love him, nor should we just love him without knowing him—or at least, trying to know him the best way that we can, since being God, Christ has aspects that are a mystery to us, that is, beyond our capacity to know him fully.

We can know Christ by studying the gospels and the Church’s teachings about him. But in order to love him, we should put this knowledge of God into practice, converting it into our life itself, to such an extent that we become “another Christ.”





Believe in Christ

March 31, 2022

“IF you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (Jn 5,46-47)

With these words, it’s like Christ is begging that we believe in him, for he truly is our savior, the very pattern of our humanity, our everything, in fact! It’s like he is trying to identify himself to us and how we need him. He should be the very center of our life.

We should therefore develop the instinct of always looking for Christ, making him alive in our life and patterning our life after his. This business of always looking for Christ is a basic duty of ours, a grave responsibility, in fact.

We have to understand that without him, we would just be on our own, relying simply on our own light and powers that, no matter how excellent, can never accomplish our real ultimate need of our own salvation, our own perfection as a person and as a child of God.

We need to look for Christ so we can find him, and in finding him, we can start to love and serve him which is what we are expected to do to be ‘another Christ.’ This has basis on what Christ himself said: “Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you…” (Mt 7,7)

And finding him means that we make Christ alive in our life. He is not just a historical figure. Let’s remember that before he went up to heaven, he promised the coming of the Holy Spirit who would bring to us everything that Christ did and said. More than that, the Holy Spirit brings Christ alive in us.

We just have to exercise our faith to the hilt. With it we enter into a reality that goes beyond what we simply can see and touch and understand. With it we can feel at home even with the mysteries which, by the way, abound in our life since we are not confined only to the sensible and material realities. Our world includes the spiritual and the supernatural.

But we also have to realize that with Christ, it is not enough just to know him. We also have to love him. With Christ, to know him truly is to love him also. In fact, we cannot say we really know him unless we love him too.

With him, these two spiritual operations of ours merge into a unity, although they have different directions. In knowing, the object known is in the knower. It has an inward movement. The knower possesses the known object.

In loving, the lover is in the beloved. It has an outward movement. It is the beloved that possesses the lover. The lover gets identified with the beloved. The lover becomes what he loves.

In knowing, the knower abstracts things from his object of interest and keeps them to himself. In loving, the lover gives himself to the beloved. In a sense, the lover loses himself in the beloved.

Of course, there are many things that we know but which we do not have to love, or even that we should not love. We can know a lot of evils, but we should never love them. If anything at all, our knowledge of them is just for the sake of prudence, so we can truly be with Christ and become “another Christ” as we should be.





We stand with Ukraine

TUCP supports the global call condemning Russia’s violent and abhorrent aggression of Ukraine
March 24, 2022

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), the country’s largest labor group, stands in solidarity with our Ukrainian brothers and sisters as well as our brothers and sisters in the international trade union movement in calling for the global condemnation of the abhorrent aggression of the Russian Federation against the people of Ukraine.

TUCP also urges the Philippine Government to reiterate its position condemning the Russian Federation’s unlawful acts of war – being against the principles of international law and undermining the sanctity of global peace.

“We stand with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as he calls for the global condemnation of Russia’s actions. It has been exactly one month since the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine, which has resulted to the unnecessary loss of thousands of innocent lives, and millions of homeless refugees seeking safety. This mindless war must be stopped,” said TUCP President Raymond Mendoza.

As of the writing of this article, there has been an estimated 977 civilian casualties, 1,594 wounded, and around 3 million Ukrainian refugees. Add to that the thousands of military casualties that increase as the war continues.

“TUCP stands in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the trade union movement of Ukraine in calling for peace, reason, and restraint. We firmly believe that the way to justice is through peace. We cannot allow violence and aggression to dictate international and local public policy – democracy must always prevail,” added Mendoza.

“Moscow has claimed that the presence of its troops in Ukrainian soil is for the purpose of defending its “independent states under attack from Ukrainian Aggression”. But make no mistake, it is Ukraine which is under attack. It is Ukrainians who are being bombed. It is Ukrainians who are seeking safety in bomb shelters, desperately praying not to be hit by missiles. It is Ukrainians who are fleeing the country, entering foreign land homeless as refugees,” further said Mendoza.

The actions of the Russian Federation do not reflect that of a peacekeeping mission. These are acts of war, not only against Ukraine but also against democracy and the very fabric of the free world.

“In this day and age, there is no longer room for violence and war. This is, and should continue to be the era of truth, peace, and freedom. We will not stand idly by as this misguided aggression continues to trample our fellow human’s rights. And as Ukraine continues to fight for its integrity and sovereignty, we continue to call for justice through peace,” said the lawmaker.

In these trying times, may the spirit of brotherhood and democracy prevail.





God will always forgive us

March 23, 2022

NEVER doubt this truth of our Christian faith. As illustrated in that beautiful parable of the prodigal son (cfr. Lk 15,11-32), God is always ready to forgive us, no matter what sin we commit. All we have to do is just to go back to him in repentance, just like what the prodigal son did.

In life, anything can happen. We try to do what is good, but sometimes our idea of what is good can actually be bad. We just have to remember that even in our worst possible scenario, we can always count on God’s ever-ready mercy as long as we decide to come home to him.

We should always strengthen our faith in God’s mercy and compassion. Of course. We should also try not to abuse God’s goodness, even if we know that despite our best efforts we may end up abusing it just the same. But whatever happens, we should come home. Just come home to our Father God. That’s what matters in the end.

We need to strengthen our spirit of divine filiation—that God is our father who is all merciful and compassionate, who is all willing to do anything for us just to get us back to him. He knows that even if he has made us to be his image and likeness, that dignity often spoils us, and so we get into trouble.

This truth about our divine filiation is worth reiterating. It is what truly grounds us to the foundation of our life and nature, giving us the meaning and purpose of our existence. It’s a source of joy, confidence and serenity. It tells us what our filial rights and duties are.

More importantly, it tells us who we are and gives us an abiding sense that we are never alone, or worse, just on our own. It fills us with the conviction that we are children of God, that no matter what happens, God will always be with us and for us unless we reject him.

We have to be wary of our tendency to think that we are just on our own. That would be an attitude that can be suggested only by the devil who will always tell lies. Sad to say, many people are succumbing to this trick of the devil. That’s why many now fall into some deep despair when misfortune comes their way. They feel there’s no one else to run to anymore. We should do everything to strengthen our spirit of divine filiation.

Let’s always remember that God “takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they return from their ways and live.” (Ez 33,11) And as shown by Christ, God does not wait for man to turn back to him. He takes the initiative to reach out to us, sinners.

In all the miracles that he performed, Christ was more interested in forgiving the sins of those involved than in healing them of their infirmities and predicaments. His love and compassion went beyond the concern for the bodily health of those characters. He focused more on their spiritual recovery.

We have to see to it that in proclaiming the gospel to the others, in our effort to present Christ to the others, we should not simply talk about the strictness of God’s demands and expectations from us, the high standard that he is setting for us. This will scare people more than attract them to Christ. We should always include God’s mercy in all our preaching and counseling.





Creating Jobs

March 21, 2022

Like breathing fresh air after being cooped up for too long, people rejoiced after Alert level 1 was declared in NCR and many regions this month. Mobility has returned to pre-pandemic levels, a clear signal that the country is recovering from the COVID-19 Omicron surge. Of course, optimism is offset by concerns about developments in Ukraine and its global repercussions. Right here and now, we are reeling from the dramatic increase in fuel prices and bracing ourselves for the expected surge in the cost of basic commodities.

The news that the Philippine unemployment rate dropped to 6.4% in January 2022 as against the 6.6% in December 2021 is, thus, welcome. This is equivalent to 2.93 million jobless Filipinos, lower than the 3.27 million unemployed in December last year. It is also lower than the 3.96 million jobless Filipinos in January 2021. The employment rate increased to 93.6%, higher than the 93.4% in December 2021 and the 91.2% in January 2021. In terms of magnitude, the number of employed persons increased by 1.77 million. This increase in our labor participation rate is a sign that our economy is beginning to recover. The declaration of the lowest quarantine restrictions in Metro Manila and nearby provinces, which account for about two-thirds of the economy, raises hope for our economic recovery.

Emilia Gabin is one of the many Filipinos who hope that the reopening of the economy will not only help recover losses, but also bring back the jobs wiped out by the pandemic. Emilia is a micro-entrepreneur from Barangay Alejandrea in Jiabong, Western Samar. Her food processing enterprise produces adobong tahong, tahong and shrimp crackers, and squid chips. Emilia started her venture by selling the snacks at P1 per pack in nearby schools and bus stations. She joined CARD, a microfinance organization which lent her money to increase production, and her micro-enterprise grew.

Misfortune touched Emilia’s business in 2013, when Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) devastated Visayas. With perseverance, she and her family were able to turn things around. The capital infusion and marketing support from CARD helped them open branches in Tacloban and Catbalogan. After the products were registered with the DTI in 2015, her business expanded, and she opened more stores to sell her brand of JJED Food products. She developed new seafood-based products, sourced raw materials from the community, and her micro-enterprise provided jobs and livelihood to many. She even started to market their products in Metro Manila.

Then the pandemic happened. At that time, JJED was heavily into production, preparing for a DTI Trade Fair in Manila. This did not push through due to the pandemic, and the lockdowns had devastating effects on the micro-enterprise. Product distribution became difficult, and eventually, they had to close stores because there were very few walk-in customers. When their stocks expired in storage, they decided to just stop production. The business stoppage was heartbreaking for Emilia, not just because of worries for her family, but because her workers and their families also lost their livelihood. Her suppliers also lost their source of income.

COVID-19 concerns aggravated their economic woes, but Emilia did not lose hope. She reopened her business as soon as the quarantine restrictions were lifted in 2020. Her employees happily returned to work and resumed production. But everything has changed due to the pandemic: mobility remained limited, and safety concerns made everything difficult. So, Emilia decided to diversify, and thought of products which she can easily sell to neighbors and nearby communities.

She made lumpia, mixing JJED’s main ingredient, tahong and other seafoods, with local vegetables in their area. It was a hit, and soon, Emilia was selling lumpia even in places as far as Leyte. This product allowed Emilia’s enterprise to survive and serve many areas which remained on high community alert levels throughout the pandemic. Eventually, the economy began to reopen and her clients from NCR and other provinces returned. With the support of CARD, she re-opened her stores and actively sold her products online. Soon, she has resellers from as far as Canada and Dubai.

Emilia and her family admit that 2020 and 2021 were difficult years for their small business. But they never thought of giving up it up, thinking of the workers and suppliers who depend on them for livelihood. And so, they plod on, participating in DTI Trade Fairs, exploring new markets opportunities and developing new products. Their food production enterprise is not big, but the employment and livelihood opportunities it provides cannot be gainsaid.

Enterprises like those of Emilia’s, with an asset size of up to P100 million and less than 200 employees are classified as micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). The sector is responsible for 40 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employ more than 5 million workers or approximately 63 percent of our workforce.

We need to support MSMEs, as they are the key to economic recovery. They are engines of growth, helping in poverty reduction by creating jobs for our growing labor force. How can we help Emilia and entrepreneurs like her? There are a few things we can do:

1. Provide financial support – the government can provide loans, grants or subsidies to provide MSMEs immediate relief. As proposed in the Bayanihan stimulus package, it should incentivize financial institutions to provide credit to give the sector much-needed capital infusion. In the long-term, tax relief and wage subsidy programs for key industries may even be considered.

2. Ease the regulatory burden – simplify registration requirements and reduce the cost of doing business. This is important, especially since majority of MSMEs are into food production.

3. Business development support – provide financial literacy and business development training to help MSMEs access credit, ensure viability and address liquidity issues. Given the pandemic-shaped landscape, they also need training on how to operate in a digitalized market environment.

Big things often have small beginnings. Let us support our MSMEs.





The true value of suffering

March 16, 2022

“BEHOLD, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” (Mt 20,18-19)

With these words, we have to understand that like Christ we have to learn to suffer, to see the redemptive value of suffering. We have to realize that in this life of ours in this world, we can never avoid suffering in one form or another.

Suffering is part of our human condition that is wounded by sin and all sorts of weaknesses and our natural human limitations, and the fact that we are meant to live a supernatural life which we can never attain unless we are truly with God, and the fact is, we seldom are truly with God. We can only be completely suffering-free when we are with God in heaven.

But we are given a way of how to handle our suffering properly, to the extent of converting our suffering as a way to our own salvation and eternal happiness. And that is always to follow the example of Christ as he went through all the suffering in his redemptive life here on earth.

We have to be willing to suffer the way Christ suffered for all of us. That way, we attain the true essence of our humanity which is love, channeling the love of God for us in us. No wonder then that Christ himself said: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn 15,13)

No wonder also that as St. Peter said in his first Letter, “He (Christ) did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.” (2,23) We have to learn to restrain our urge to make revenge whenever we are offended in some way by others.

It is this willingness to suffer that would show how, like Christ, we can go all the way to giving ourselves completely to everyone, irrespective of how they are. That is also why Christ commanded us, as an integral component of true love, that we even love our enemies.

In true love, the lover goes all the way to identifying himself with the beloved with the view of giving the beloved what is objectively good for both the lover and the beloved. There is a kind of unification between the two that is based on what is objectively good for both.

We have to train ourselves to develop this kind of love. And we can use the usual conditions, concerns and circumstances in our daily dealings with others to develop that kind of love. Whenever some differences and conflicts occur among ourselves, we should be willing to suffer for the others, bearing their burdens, even if we also try to sort out and settle these differences and conflicts as peacefully and charitably as possible.

This willingness to suffer should be an active thing, not a passive one, waiting for suffering to come. We have to look for the opportunities to suffer. That would be a real proof that we are truly in love. What is more, such attitude would help us in protecting ourselves from temptations, sins and all other forms of evil!





NAMFREL welcomes the new COMELEC Chairman and Commissioners as it urges more transparency in the 2022 elections

A press statement by the National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL)
March 10, 2022

NAMFREL wishes the new Chairman and Commissioners of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) all the best in their new posts. Their appointment comes at a crucial period as the Commission prepares for the upcoming May 9, 2022 elections.

Foremost of the challenges ahead is securing the elections and ensuring that it is conducted in a fair and free manner. The Automated Election System Law requires that the electoral process "shall be transparent and credible, and that the results shall be fast, accurate and reflective of the genuine will of the people" (Section 2, Republic Act No. 9369).

NAMFREL believes that the Commission's adherence to this policy of transparency and inclusivity is important in order to earn public confidence and to boost the integrity of the Commission, and of the elections.

NAMFREL commends efforts by the Comelec, the Department of Education, and the Department of Information and Communications Technology to require teachers who will serve in the Electoral Boards (EBs) to enroll in the Philippine National Public Key Infrastructure (PNPKI). The enrollment would have allowed them to use their personal digital signatures on the Election Returns. This would have enhanced the security of the 2022 election results compared to previous elections, when only a pre-generated signature of the vote-counting machine was used.

However, with only nine weeks before election day, NAMFREL expresses concern on the following issues in the preparations by the Comelec, as observed by stakeholders, and which were made public during the March 9, 2022 Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms and People’s Participation hearing.

1. The difficulties met by Comelec in procuring the cable assembly needed to connect the I-Button readers to a server in order to produce the I-Buttons for digital signing. This has reduced the adoption of digital signing by the teachers who will serve as EBs merely to a pilot test in some areas, instead of nationwide. NAMFREL urges the Comelec to pursue other alternatives like seeking local companies with the capacity to fabricate the required cable assembly. A last resort, NAMFREL recommends making the election results transmission package -- which shall include the electronically transmitted election returns – in protobuf format, which shall include the xml sig and public key certificates for validation available through the transparency server.

2. Observation of the ballot printing at the National Printing Office and in the operations at the Comelec Sta. Rosa warehouse has not been opened to election observation groups, including accredited citizens’ arms. NAMFREL observers were invited to these in previous elections. NAMFREL urges the Comelec to open the ballot printing and the operations at the Sta. Rosa warehouse for observation by stakeholders, including accredited citizens' arms.

Stakeholders’ request for information on the regional hubs which the COMELEC plans to set up with DOST and DICT, and to allow observation on election day, remains pending. NAMFREL recommends opening up the facilities for observation during the election period until termination of operations.

3. The unresolved issue of the alleged hacking reported on January 10, which may impact on the credibility of the election results, and which has the potential of inviting questions on the ability of the Comelec to secure the elections. NAMFREL recommends speedy resolution of the issue.

4. The lack of guidelines as of this date to open up observation by accredited election monitors of the operations in the various data centers where the Comelec Central Server, backup server, and the transparency server are located, including access to regional hubs. NAMFREL recommends the issuance of such guidelines and to allow stakeholders, including accredited citizens' arms, to field observers in the various data centers and regional hubs during the election period until termination of operations.

NAMFREL understands the challenges that the Comelec is facing as it prepares for the elections given the varying COVID-19 alert levels. However, this should not be an excuse to curtail observation activities and to deny access to pertinent data. The Comelec may livestream activities, such as ballot printing, logistics, and Pre-election Logic and Accuracy Test (preLAT), which is not new to the Commission, as it already streams on social media the e-Rallies of national candidates daily, and its Memorandum of Agreement signing events.

The Comelec should be commended for finding ways to ensure that voters and election workers will be safe on Election Day. However, it has been recommended that the Comelec extend this diligence to the pre-election and post-election periods, ensuring the safety of other election stakeholders like election monitoring organizations, media, political parties, and other concerned groups, without preventing said stakeholders from doing their monitoring work. The cornerstone of the trust and confidence bestowed on the elections is anchored on the inclusiveness and visibility of these various processes and information to the voting public.





Our inherent desire for heaven

February 27, 2022

THAT’S true. Despite our weaknesses, mistakes, sins, etc., we have in our heart of hearts an inherent desire for heaven. As the Catechism would put it, “This desire (for happiness) is of divine origin: God has placed it in the human heart in order to draw man to the One who alone can fulfill it.” (1718)

This truth of our faith is illustrated in that gospel episode where a rich young man approached Christ, asking what he had to do to gain eternal life. (cfr. Mk 10,17-27) As that gospel story unfolded, Christ told him first to follow the commandments, and when the young man said that he had observed all those, Christ then told him to “sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

Well, we know how the young man reacted to that response of Christ. It was a sad ending, precisely because the young man found it hard and was unwilling to follow what Christ told him. That’s when Christ said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!...It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”

We have to realize that to meet our inherent desire for eternal happiness, for heaven, we need to free ourselves from any attachments to earthly things, even as we use them and even enjoy them in our earthly affairs. The things of this world should be a means for us to be with God. They should not be a competitor with God.

That is why we have to live in the strictest sense possible the virtue of Christian poverty that allows us to use the things of this world to give glory to God and to lead us to heaven.

We cannot overemphasize the strategic relevance of this virtue. With all the glut of material and temporal things now on us, we need to be more conscious and adept in living and developing this virtue of detachment.

I don’t think we can afford to be casual about this concern anymore. The worldly things are now so attractive, so tempting and so riveting that if we are not careful, there’s no way but be swept away by its rampaging worldly laws and impulses.

This virtue has the primary purpose of emptying our mind and heart of anything that can compete or, worse, replace the love for God and for others which is proper to all of us.

It’s not about running away from worldly things, much less, of hating the goods of the earth and our temporal affairs, but of knowing how to handle them, so as not to compromise the fundamental law of love that should rule us.

To repeat, it is not just a matter of emptying ourselves but rather of filling ourselves with what is proper to us. In short, we practice detachment to acquire and enhance the attachment that is proper to us as God’s image and likeness and as God’s children.

It’s quite clear that a requirement for entering heaven is detachment from earthly things. This should be clear to all of us, and should guide us in the way we use the things of the world. These things should lead us to God and to others, not isolate us, building up our own world and destiny.





Commemorating EDSA 1, the lessons we must learn

NCCP statement for the 36th year commemoration of EDSA People Power Uprising
February 25, 2022

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) is one with the Filipino people in celebrating the 36th anniversary of the 1986 EDSA People Power Uprising. This momentous event in history showed to the world how we as a people acted valiantly together to put an end to a much-abhorred dictatorship. As we commemorate this occasion, we invite the faithful for a deep and meaningful reflection.

Those who stood their ground during those dark times taught us that we should not take for granted the basic freedoms that are now enshrined in our Bill of Rights. We should never forget that during the dark days of Martial Law, basic rights like the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the freedom to peaceably assemble, to name a few, were violently curtailed. The numbers speak for themselves: around 70,000 people were imprisoned; 34,000 were tortured; and, 3,240 were killed.

While the people’s civil and political rights were being violated, the country was being robbed blind by the dictator, his family, and his cronies. These were all documented and proven in court. Ferdinand E. Marcos and his wife Imelda were even listed in the World Guinness Book of Records with the dubious distinction of committing the “The Greatest Robbery of a Government”.

Several administrations have passed, and the promise that was the 1986 People Power Uprising seems to have been squandered. Under the different post-Marcos governments, the majority of our people remain mired in poverty while only a handful became richer. Human rights violations also persisted and the climate and culture of impunity worsened.

Under the present dispensation, these problems became even more glaring and we have been common witnesses to the erosion of human rights and the dignity of the people. The War on Drugs that took thousands of lives, the various reports of corruption, the militarized and unscientific handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the negligence during typhoons and other natural catastrophes, and the special favors given to Pres. Duterte’s friends and allies were all reminiscent of the dark years of Martial Law.

Nevertheless, we must never forget the courage and vigilance of the people that spurred EDSA 1. Moreover, EDSA 1 taught us the lesson that if the state fails to honor democracy and freedom that must be enjoyed in full by its citizens, then it becomes the people’s responsibility to fight for and restore it. It is a reminder for the sovereign people and a warning to government officials that the people’s collective power is capable of bringing down rulers from their thrones and sending the rich empty (cf. Luke 1: 52-53), especially when human life, rights, and dignity are threatened and disrespected. Denouncing evils in our society is a sacred task and we must work collectively to ensure God’s plan of ushering peace and justice in our land.

Now that the National Elections is imminent, may we muster the same courage, vigilance, and active participation of those who fought 36 years ago. Let us choose candidates who have a proven record and platform for respecting human rights, promoting peace, and advocating for people’s economic agenda. We must resist any candidate that will potentially bring back, in any form, the Martial law years. May we continue to guard our democracy by making sure that no dictator or those who benefited from the plunder of our nation, will ever gain a foothold in Malacañang ever again. Let us continue to pray, act and hold fast in protecting our rights and democracy. May the spirit of those who fought for freedom during the 1986 People Power uprising continue to guide us.





Love, education and poverty
(Valentine ruminations)

February 12, 2022

There are many reasons to celebrate this month. February 1 marks the Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year, which will be celebrated across the world until February 15. Omicron may have given us an inauspicious start in January, but I am so glad that we are kicking off the Year of the Water Tiger with news that COVID-19 cases are declining nationwide.

February 14, of course, is Valentine’s Day. Many lucky couples will celebrate this holiday with love, flowers and chocolates. My wife and I will make do with our usual morning tête-à-tête over kapeng barako and pandesal, our weathered hearts full of celebrations past. With our kids and apos, the love of friends and colleagues who are like extended family to us, every day feels like Valentine’s. And we are grateful for that.

I am also praying that the IATF will brighten our hearts on February 14, when it announces the updated alert levels as it continues to monitor existing restrictions in light of the decline in COVID-19 infections. The Philippines is now back to moderate risk status, an improvement from the previous high and critical risk classification. I hope that we can all look forward to the reopening of the economy. Let us show our love for others by following health safety standards like frequent handwashing, observing physical distance, and wearing of face masks.

There is another reason to celebrate February 14. It is the 21st anniversary of the CARD-MRI Development Institute (CMDI), a globally-recognized learning institution grown from our humble corner of the world, the scenic province of Laguna. How CMDI came about is also a love story, hewn from our decades of rural development work with the marginalized sectors.

CMDI began as the training unit for personnel of the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD), a non-government organization, which provides microfinance and related services to poor women. As CARD grew into several mutually-reinforcing institutions (MRIs) in response to the needs of our expanding clientele, our capacity-building needs also became more complex. We were rather naïve when we started CARD in 1986. Full of idealism, armed with limited funds and boundless hope, we thought we only needed to provide microcredit to transform the lives of our clients. But things were not that simple.

You see, poverty has many roots, and lack of education is one of them. Working directly with the poor --especially those in the rural areas -- we saw this firsthand. Our clients suffer many forms of deprivation and their needs go beyond microfinance. Providing them with funds for livelihood is good, yes, but more is needed: financial literacy, training in microenterprises, marketing support, microinsurance, and a host of other things.

Thus, we established the CARD Training Center in 2000 in Barangay Tranca, Bay, Laguna. In there, we trained not just our staff, but our clients. Later on, other organizations also approached us for their training needs. And this is how our training unit evolved into the CMDI: a learning resources network that provides an array of practitioner-led training and education services to our staff and members, as well as other microfinance practitioners seeking advanced education in applied microfinance. It is now a government-recognized educational institution with facilities in Baguio, Pasay, and Masbate, as well as a campus in Tagum, Davao.

Nelson Mandela once said that “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” The story of CMDI certainly proves this truth. As of December 2021, CMDI has trained 1,570,848 clients under its Credit with Education (CwE) program. Imagine the multiplier effect that more than a million individuals trained on health, business, microinsurance, disaster preparedness, and credit discipline could have on their communities. The impact of these trainings had been felt not just by our clients and their families. Through many disasters and emergencies, our clients have become community leaders, sharing with others what they have learned from us.

To help break the inter-generational cycle of poverty, CMDI now offers affordable education to clients and their children. It offers Senior High School, TESDA-accredited courses and baccalaureate programs. CMDI has granted more than 15,000 educational scholarships to poor and deserving students.

Why focus on education?

Education is crucial because it directly correlates with many solutions to poverty, including economic growth and reduced income inequality. It is also the highest aspirations of our clients: that their children get an education. To poor parents, sending their children to school is the greatest act of love.

Many Filipinos lack access to education. According to DepEd, more than 3 million were not able to enroll last year, while the latest PSA data (2017) show that we have 3.53 million out-of-school youth, half of them from families whose income fall within the bottom 30 percent of the population. Based on PSA’s 2018 Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), which serves to complement the income-based measure of poverty, indicators on educational attainment consistently had the highest incidence of deprivation among Filipino families.

CMDI, then, is our humble contribution to filling this educational gap. Providing training to clients empowers and enables them to change their lives. We provide affordable quality education to help our clients realize their dream of securing their children’s future. It is also an act of love on our part.

And because February is the month of love, let me end with this quote from Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire: “Education is an act of love, thus, an act of courage.”

We are courageous in our love.





Let’s go viral and trending

January 20, 2022

LIKE Christ, we should try to attract as many people as possible in order to lead them to Christ. In a sense, we should be like today’s influencers in the media and the cyberworld who with their gimmicks manage to go viral and trending with whatever messages they want to convey.

Of course, we should do this with the proper rectitude of intention, which is that everything should be done for the glory of God and to truly help people in their spiritual life and in their relation with God and with everybody else. We have to rid ourselves of any ulterior motive.

In the gospel, we can see how Christ managed to attract many people mainly due to his tremendous power of preaching and the miracles he made. But in all these, he always warned the people not to make him known. He did all the wonderful things trying his best to pass unnoticed. This can be observed, for example, in the gospel of Mark, chapter 3, verses 7 to 12.

We need to realize more deeply that we are meant to have a universal sense of apostolate, of helping lead people back to God. Let’s always keep in mind that mandate Christ gave to his apostles before he ascended into heaven. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28,19-20)

It’s a mandate that is actually meant for all the disciples of Christ and believers of God. We have to have a universal sense of apostolate. As one saint would put it, of 100 souls we should be interested in 100.
For this purpose, we cannot exaggerate the need for us to master the teachings of Christ, the doctrine of our Christian faith. Of course, we can only achieve that if we make the effort to identify ourselves more closely with Christ, who is not only a historical character, but a living person who continues to guide us and to share his power with us.

We also have to learn how to adapt our language to the mentality of the people, always taking note of their culture, their temperament, and all the other conditionings that describe them. Let’s remember that the Christian faith is full of mysteries that certainly are over our head, and the challenge is for us to know how to make them appreciated, loved and lived. Obviously, we always need to beg for God’s grace for this purpose.

But we have to know how to convey the supernatural truths of our faith in a human and attractive way, without compromising the integrity of these truths. We should always be monitoring the developments of the world as we go along, so that we would know how to present the Christian doctrine in a way that flows with the wavelength of the people today, especially the young.

This is when we can try to use appropriate memes and other catchy slogans, so popular these days. With rectitude of intention, let’s not be shy from making our evangelization to go viral and trending.

Again, in all of these, we should never forget that the first means we have to use are the spiritual and supernatural ones: prayer, sacrifices, recourse to the sacraments, continuing study of doctrine and formation, etc.





Best gifts for the season

December 23, 2021

Pandemic or not, the Christmas season is here. With the cool amihan wind comes a hopeful air, so soothing after almost two years of uncertainty and fear. These days, Christmas carols play in malls and radio stations, parols light the streets, and holiday decorations brighten our homes. Many Filipinos, young and old, are preoccupied with gifts: what to gifts to give, what gifts to receive, worries about being unable to give to loved ones. The devastation wrought by Typhoon Odette has put a damper on things, but, like what happened in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, the catastrophe has brought out the best of the Filipino. People from all walks of life are trying to chip in, with social media filled with news about donation drives, prayers for those affected and a myriad of stories of how people are reaching out to those affected.

Gift giving at Christmas is a Christian tradition that is widely practiced around the world, symbolic of the tributes made to the baby Jesus by the Three Wise Men in the story of the Nativity. It is heartening to see that in this difficult time, in the wake of Odette’s devastation, even with the threat of Omicron and fears of another COVID-19 surge, people are rising above difficulties to give the best gift of all: themselves.

Unusual, but Necessary Gifts

We all strive to give gifts that our families and friends would appreciate. The internet is full of lists of gift suggestions – food, toys, bags, shoes, books, household, and office items. Everything from day-to-day stuff to the bizarre and unusual is being offered. And there is also my personal favorite, the list of gifts that give back. These are the ones that support important causes, with proceeds going to charities, non-profits, and communities.

This year, I hope we give gifts that transform lives. We can still give our loved ones their favorite stuff, but we can buy from sources where part of the proceeds goes to charity. We can also make donations in the name of our loved ones to support causes that are important to them.

Maybe, instead of giving cash or toys to our inaanaks, we can open a kiddie savings account for them, giving not just the monetary value of the items we originally intended to give but also paving the way for financial literacy. This is important, because recent studies show that Filipinos struggle to understand basic financial concepts, with a Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) survey showing that 41% of Filipinos can only answer one of three financial literacy questions correctly and a meager eight percent can answer three. BSP data also show that about 36.9 million Filipino adults have no bank accounts. This significant number of unbanked Filipinos (48% of the country's adult population) is brought on by factors other than low-income levels. To address the situation, BSP is promoting financial inclusion. The DepEd is integrating financial education in the K to 12 Basic Education Curriculum. The private sector is also helping, with fintechs and banks reaching out to low-income groups and helping microfinance institutions serve the poor in remote and underserved areas. This Christmas, we can help their initiatives in our own little ways. Aside from kiddie savings, we can get kids started on financial literacy by giving them books or board games that help explain basic financial concepts.

We can also give the gift of education, probably the most transformative gift of all. We can donate to scholarship funds. Finance a poor kid’s education for a semester. Or enroll family members in online courses or projects that will give them new skills – painting, designing, photography, pottery, cooking, baking. The possibilities are endless.

The gift of livelihood is another great offering. While not everyone is in the position to offer direct employment to others, we can still open doors by giving referrals and linking people to those with job openings. We can also tell our kasambahays about government offices or MFIs that provide livelihood opportunities so they can encourage their family members to join. Maybe, we help someone turn their hobby into a business. If your teenager enjoys writing fiction, you can give him a subscription to online resources that would help him get published. If your sister makes lovely artworks or handicrafts, you can enroll her in courses that would help her sell her creations online. You can help your titos and titas who like to bake get started on their online food delivery business. Or you can refer them to organizations like the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development Mutually Reinforcing Institutions (CARD MRI), which supports micro-small-and medium enterprises.

As we are now almost two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, health is important. Let us give loved ones gifts that will help them take care of their health. Give healthier versions of your friends’ favorite foods. Give them fitness tracker gadgets to help them monitor their daily goals. Or give them yoga mats, water bottles, small exercise gears like dumbbells and jump ropes. And because we live in the midst of a pandemic, the best gift of all would be face masks. Washable ones, so we can minimize the carbon footprint. In fact, it would be good if we can give away face masks to strangers.

And in the wake of Typhoon Odette which displaced hundreds of thousands of our kababayans, let us give the gift of charity. Join one of the many donation drives to assist victims. Government agencies and private sector have called for volunteers. Many MFIs and mutual benefit associations are also playing a big role in helping clients in relief and rehabilitation. Let us all join these efforts and help affected communities in Palawan, Southern Leyte, Eastern Samar, Agusan, Surigao, Cebu and Bohol. They have lost their homes, livelihood, loved ones. The communities are still submerged in floods, infrastructures had been destroyed, and so they lack food, water, clothing, and other basic necessities. Helping them would be among the best gift we can give this Christmas.

Letting Gifts into Our Lives

It has been a difficult two years since COVID-19 entered our lives. Then, just as things were beginning to improve, Typhoon Odette came. Yet, amidst its devastation, the all-important Filipino value – malasakit – still pervades. Filipinos are helping those affected by Odette, giving their resources, time and effort to even in this difficult time of pandemic. It is a giving of self that should be celebrated.

Gifts are signs of affection. It is an important part of human interaction, defining relationships and strengthening bonds. And it is often the giver, rather than the recipient, who reaps the biggest rewards from a gift.

And so, as we greet the holidays, let us give the best gifts we can: gifts that will help our loved ones cope with the changes and challenges of the times. Let us give lasting gifts. The gift of hope. The gift of education. The gift of trust. The gift of livelihood opportunities. The gift of financial literacy. Gifts that contribute to people’s financial security and health. These are unusual gifts, true, but they have the greatest potential for transforming people’s lives.

Life itself is a gift. Let us give gifts that will keep on giving.





Economic recovery and going back to the basics

December 20, 2021

The sun always comes out after a storm. The adage is true, as slowly, the country is moving from a pandemic to an endemic mindset. All regions are now classified as minimal to low-risk from COVID-19, and over 40 million Filipinos (almost 40% of the population) have been fully vaccinated. Herd immunity is becoming a reality, as the Government eyes a second mass vaccination drive to raise the number of fully inoculated to 54 million before the year ends.

Truly, we have a lot of things to be grateful for as the Christmas season approaches. Public transport capacity has expanded, the economy is reopening, and quarantine requirements had been relaxed. Already, economists and multilateral agencies have raised the Philippine growth forecast for this year and 2022.

COVID is still around, yes, but we are learning to live with it. As a social development practitioner and financial inclusion advocate, I propose going back to the basics to sustain these gains. Finally, we are on our way to rebounding from the deep economic contraction in 2020. The challenge for us is to push the momentum towards full economic recovery and social renewal.

Microfinance and Financial Inclusion

Going back to the basics means revisiting our roots. Nowadays, the term “microfinance” is almost passé, having been swallowed by the broader phrase “financial inclusion.” But microfinance practitioners should rally behind the fact that microfinance is the heart and soul of financial inclusion, since the industry pioneered the transformative vision of making financial services accessible to poor people. Much remains to be done to reach the unserved and underserved. The COVID-19 pandemic has aggravated the situation, with more people becoming poor, and the poor becoming even poorer. While digital transformation among microfinance providers -- as well as the rise of fintechs -- have improved access to financial services, the digital divide remains a challenge among the poor population.

Why is there a need to focus on microfinance? From a developmental perspective, any improvement in capital markets reaching the margins is a good thing. A lot of research has examined the positive impact of microfinance on peoples’ lives and its positive benefits to the country’s economy. At first glance, microfinance seems counter-intuitive given its goal of facilitating poor people’s access to much-needed financial services and integrating them in the formal financial system. In a manner of speaking, the goal is to ‘graduate’ them from microfinance, and therein lies the rub.

Microfinance has a long way to go. Because the problem of the poor is more than just access to financial services. Poverty eradication advocates and microfinance advocates understand this. Giving financial aid is crucial, but beyond that, the poor needs financial literacy, capacity-building, marketing support, and a gamut of services that will allow them to be productive members and change-agents in their communities.

And how does microfinance relate to financial inclusion? Microfinance -- the extension of financial and other support services to low income groups -- is a very important economic conduit designed to facilitate their inclusion in the formal financial system and assist the poor to work their way out of poverty. Financial inclusion aims to give everyone access to banking and other useful financial tools, while microfinance seeks to ensure that the use of those tools leads to positive benefits for the poor. Simply put, microfinance aims to address more than the problem of access; its ultimate goal is to give impoverished people an opportunity to become self-sufficient. And that is why microfinance is more important than ever.

Rural Development and Agricultural Financing

We also need to revisit the crucial role of microfinance in the rural development process. Agriculture remains the backbone of the Philippine economy, and 75% of poor Filipinos live in rural and agricultural areas. The way is clear, as we should go where we are needed – that is, towards providing financial support to help farmers, agricultural workers and agri-preneurs. Agricultural financing will help us make a dent in the country’s poverty situation while also contributing to our food security. The latter is especially important, as the COVID pandemic has disrupted the food supply chain, which is everybody’s concern.

The Philippine Statistics Authority has reported that the Philippines’ value of production in agriculture fell by 2.6% in the third quarter of 2021. The drop was attributed to the decline in production of crops, livestock and fisheries during the quarter. The provision by the government of agricultural credit, the opening of the economy and the relaxation of rules on travel and community quarantine have given breathing space to farmers and fishers, but a lot remains to be done to help them recoup their losses from this year’s typhoons and the pandemic.

To respond to this need and also given its background, the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development Mutually-Reinforcing Institutions (CARD MRI) has always prioritized support for agricultural and agribusiness endeavors. Its approach is holistic. CARD MRI provides microcredit, microinsurance, capacity-building, and market support to farming families, giving priority to poor women in rural areas. Its agri-loan program finances agricultural production and related activities, e.g., acquisition of farm equipment, poultry and livestock, fishery products, crops, fruits and vegetables production, seedlings and ornamental plants production. In addition, the CARD Crop Assistance Program (CCAP) assists clients whose agricultural business has been damaged by natural calamities. It also implements a credit-with-education program as part of its agri-loan product, and links clients to individual and institutional buyers. Its business development services include trade fairs for agri-preneurs and facilitation of their clients’ partnership with industrial buyers. CARD MRI has a long-standing partnership with the LBP, IFC, BPI, BDO, PNB, and other commercial banks for the provision of microcredit to poor people in rural areas.

Why Advocacy is Crucial

Be that as it may, and despite its outreach of 7.8 million clients nationwide, CARD MRI is just one industry player in an ever-growing sea of low-income agricultural families needing support.

Thus, we need to intensify our advocacy and place microfinance, financial inclusion, and yes, agriculture, at the forefront of policy debates as the country braces for the 2022 election. A vibrant agricultural sector is the key to faster economic recovery, and our next batch of leaders should be made cognizant of this, as well as the crucial role that the microfinance industry plays in the country’s development and in combating poverty.

Microfinance is important because we need more than just institutions providing financial aid to the needy; we need a transformative relationship that goes beyond access to banks or credit provision. The government must ensure that those who are marginalized even by the digital revolution are served. And we need to stay the course, because when there are a lot of challenges, the only way to go is forward.

We are now on the right track to economic recovery. Even with the threat of new COVID variants emerging, the Philippines -- like the rest of the world -- can move forward. We can do this if we will just go back to the basics, and not lose sight of our poor brethren.





What really is God’s word?

November 25, 2021

“HEAVEN and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Lk 21,33)

With these words of Christ, we should feel the need to know what exactly is God’s word. Why will it not pass away?

The simple answer is that God’s word is not just an idea, a doctrine, an ideology. It’s not just a strategy, a culture or a lifestyle. Of course, God’s word involves all these, but unless we understand God’s word as Christ himself, the God who became man to reveal to us all that we need to know, all that we need to do to be God’s image and likeness as God wants us to be, we will miss the real essence and character of God’s word.

We have to realize that the word of God cannot be separated from God himself. That’s because God is so perfect as to be in absolute simplicity. As such, God has no parts, no aspects, no quality or property that are distinct from his very being. His word and his being are just one. There is no distinction at all in him.

Of course, from our point of view, we cannot help but to describe God according to our own terms and ways that cannot help but make distinctions between the essence of a being and its properties and qualities. But in himself, God does not have distinction between his essence and the properties that we attribute to him.

Of course, this is a mystery, a supernatural truth that our reason cannot fully fathom. That is why we need to have a strong faith to be able to accept this truth. And once we accept by faith the absolute unity between God and his word, then we will realize that reading and meditating on the gospel is actually having a living encounter with God through Christ.

Thus, St. Jerome, a father of the Church, once said that to read the Scripture is to converse with God—“If you pray, you speak with the Spouse. If you read, it is he who speaks to you,” he said.

Only when we realize that God’s word is Christ himself and that reading it is like having an encounter with Christ can God’s word truly be as the Letter to the Hebrews described it: “Alive and active. Sharper than any double-edge sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (4,12)

Of course, we have to be that good, rich soil referred to in that parable for God’s word to take root in us and be fruitful. Otherwise, no matter how powerfully effective God’s word is, if the reader of that word does not have the right condition, that word would have no effect. It would fail to produce fruit, “thirty, sixty and even a hundredfold,” as Christ assured us.

That means that we should handle the word of God with great faith and piety. We should not just treat it as some literary or historical or cultural reading. We have to realize that we are listening to Christ and that what we hear from him should be taken very seriously.

That means that we have to involve our whole being when reading God’s word. It should not just be an intellectual affair, though we have to make full use of our intelligence and all our other faculties when reading and meditating on it.





An urgent call for the full transparency on the sale of the Malampaya natural gas resource

A press statement by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)
November 24, 2021

The Malampaya Deepwater Gas-to-Power Project under Petroleum Service Contract (“SC”) No. 38 is a vital resource in the country’s energy mix. The project employs deepwater technology to draw natural gas that fuels three gas-fired power plants and provides 30% of Luzon's power generation requirements. Data from the Department of Energy (“DOE”) indicate that given the present production level and continuous decrease in reservoir pressure, the drop in supply is expected by 2022. SC 38 will expire in 2024 with no certainty of an extension. Only through further exploration will the extent of Malampaya’s life is determined.

It is thus with deep apprehension and concern that the Integrated Bar of the Philippines view the latest developments surrounding the ongoing divestment being done by two parties, Chevron Malampaya LLC (“Chevron”) and Shell Philippines Exploration B.V. (“SPEX”), the operator, under the Joint Operating Agreement (“JOA”) of SC 38.

There have been numerous allegations against the assignment of Chevron’s 45% interest to a subsidiary of Udenna Corp. and the ongoing divestment of SPEX’s 45% in favor of another Udenna subsidiary. The assignment of interests, which will ultimately enable Udenna to takeover the Malampaya facility is allegedly detrimental to national security and interest. Regarding the transfer of Chevron’s 45% interest to Udenna’s subsidiary, UC Malampaya, a criminal complaint was filed with the Ombudsman on 18 October 2021 against officials of the DOE, Udenna, Chevron, SPEX, and the state-owned Philippine National Oil Corporation (“PNOC”) and its subsidiary PNOC-Exploration Corporation, alleging among others:

• Udenna’s subsidiary is financially and technically unqualified to be the as- signee of the interest;

• The DOE and PNOC grossly and inexcusably neglected government’s right to match Udenna’s offer to buy out Chevron’s 45% interest; and

• Officials of the DOE and PNOC criminally conspired with the private respondents to give unwarranted benefits to Udenna and its subsidiary causing undue injury to the government arising from the questioned sale transaction.

In light of the strategic importance of the Malampaya energy resource to national security and economic interest, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (“IBP”) supports the ongoing Senate Committee on Energy’s investigation in aid of legislation on the interest divestments to the Udenna subsidiaries. The ongoing Senate investigation will determine if the DOE was transparent in determining the financial and technical qualifications of the Udenna companies to acquire the 90% interest in SC 38. In the meantime, while the Senate investigation is ongoing, the IBP calls on the DOE to:

• rescind its approval of Chevron’s transfer of its 45% interest in Malampaya to Udenna’s subsidiary, UC Malampaya; and

• hold in abeyance, its approval of SPEX’s transfer of its 45% to another Udennna subsidiary, Malampaya Energy XP.

The IBP also calls on the DOE to thoroughly review, study, and consider the extension of SC 38 in favor of the original Malampaya consortium – SPEX, Chevron, and PNOC EC. In this way, the original consortium will be able to conduct further exploration on SC 38 in light of the forthcoming depletion of the Malampaya natural gas field. The extension will also incentivize the original consortium to continue operating SC 38 with their proven technical and financial track record in petroleum exploration and development in contrast to a buyer with no proven experience in operating a highly-technical and capital- intensive operation.

In the event that Chevron and SPEX proceed with their plans to divest their respective interests in Malampaya, the IBP calls for PNOC to exercise its right to match any offer laid before Chevron and SPEX under the JOA. The IBP believes that PNOC being a state-owned petroleum company has the mandate and wherewithal to raise funds for acquiring the controlling interests in Malampaya. A PNOC takeover of SC 38 will be financially advantageous to the Philippine government since Malampaya is a producing field with an existing infrastructure for other petroleum discoveries. In view of this, the IBP calls on Philippine legislators to review and amend the possible legal restrictions imposed by various legislations on PNOC-EC as a government-owned and controlled corporation, such as Republic Act (“RA”) No. 9184, “Procurement Law”, and RA 10149, “the Government-Owned and Controlled Corporations Governance Law”.

Malampaya’s 500-kilometer gas pipeline to mainland Luzon is a vital link to the possible development of potential natural gas resources in the Recto Bank, located within the disputed West Philippine Sea maritime area. With PNOC assuming control of the Malampaya operations, the Philippines can be assured that its energy resources will be protected from any possible foreign interference inimical to national security and interests. To fund further exploration and development, a buyer who is not technically and financially capable of operating Malampaya may tap companies from foreign countries having adverse interests in the West Philippine Sea dispute. This will place our strategic energy resources and infrastructure in the hands of hostile foreign interest.

Finally, the IBP calls on the Office of the Ombudsman to expeditiously resolve the complaint against the officials of the DOE, Udenna, Chevron, SPEX, and PNOC in light of the fact that this matter is of utmost economic urgency since the Malampaya field is nearing its depletion and the DOE appears to have no viable alternative to replace a major source of power for Luzon. The DOE must exercise transparency in evaluating transactions in relation to critical energy resources and ensure that developers are financially and technically competent. In this way, the government can forge a sustainable balance in creating a stable investment climate and establishing good governance practice in the management of the country’s energy resources.





Hope on the horizon: Amidst COVID, microinsurance protects the poor

October 26, 2021

With 2,643,494 recorded cases and 39,232 deaths as of October 8, 2021, COVID has wrought unprecedented hardship for the Philippines – despite the adoption of stringent lockdowns since the pandemic started in 2020. The spikes in COVID cases, especially the recent surge caused by the Delta variant, not only placed pressure on the national health care system, it also hampered plans to expand health insurance coverage due to the ensuing economic challenges. It highlighted the insurance gap in the Philippines, where penetration stands at around 1.71 percent of GDP.

But there is a silver lining. With the health crisis came an increase in insurance awareness and greater demand for health insurance. Even those from low-income groups now understand the need for financial protection against unexpected shocks, recognizing that an illness or death in the family could bring them deeper into poverty. Last May, the Insurance Commission (IC) reported that the number of lives covered by microinsurance products in 2020 hit 50.35 million, an 11.56 percent increase from 45.13 million in 2019. Amidst the COVID pandemic, microinsurance has become a lifeline for Filipinos, even those with low income and limited access to mainstream insurance services.

Clearly, the government needs to support microinsurance and facilitate protection coverage to the most vulnerable sectors. This is crucial, especially during this pandemic.

Microinsurance MBAs

Poverty alleviation is central to our development agenda, as outlined in “AmBisyon Natin 2040” and the “Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022.” This involves building people’s socioeconomic resilience through the provision of universal and transformative social protection, including insurance mobilization. Unfortunately, health insurance under PhilHealth, with its limited coverage and benefits, remains inadequate, while mainstream insurance companies have failed to penetrate the low-income and poor market segment.

Enter microinsurance. As the name suggests, this pertains to affordable insurance products intended for the poor and low-income families. These are usually offered by mutual benefit associations (MBAs) which must register with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and apply for license from the Insurance Commission (IC) as a non-stock, nonprofit association and insurance provider in line with Sec. 404 of the Revised Insurance Code. The IC laid down the policy framework for microinsurance fifteen years ago, through Memorandum Circular 9-2006, which introduced Microinsurance Mutual Benefit Associations (Mi-MBAs). These are member-owned and governed microinsurance providers that offer insurance to members, pay claim faster (within a few days from the date of claims notice), and distribute products using the social distribution network of partner microfinance institutions (MFIs). This Circular regularized previously informal MFI and NGO arrangements in microinsurance provision, and Mi-MBAs eventually became key drivers of microinsurance development, providing simple, affordable, and accessible microinsurance products to low-income families.

The 2010 National Strategy and the Regulatory Framework for Microinsurance facilitated further growth of the microinsurance industry, with rural banks, thrift banks, and even mainstream insurance outfits and fintech companies becoming players. Within this ecosystem is a niche for Mi-MBAs, led by the Microinsurance MBA Association of the Philippines (MiMAP), which presently covers 62 per cent of the microinsurance market.

A total of eighteen Mi-MBAs under MiMAP have a combined outreach of 7 million individual members nationwide, majority of whom are micro-entrepreneurs, small farmers and fishermen. As microinsurance coverage is extended to the members’ families (with 4 as average family size), MiMAP currently insures 28 million Filipinos. The Mi-MBAs provide basic life family microinsurance plans and a range of optional life plans that include coverage for health and retirement. In 2019, the mobilization of such membership accumulated a total of P4.81 billion in contributions and premiums, paid P1.43 billion in claims benefits, and reserved P1.95 billion in refundable equity value to members. These Mi-MBAs have significantly contributed to greater financial inclusion and financial literacy for poor and low-income Filipinos.

Tax Exemption

Mi-MBAs are crucial to financial inclusion, as they are community-based organizations able to penetrate hard-to-reach and frontier areas where conventional insurance providers dare not go. During this period of pandemic, Mi-MBAs helped in alleviating the plight of the poor and those most vulnerable to economic shocks. Even as they suspended the collection of contributions and extended the grace period for payments, Mi-MBAs continued to pay claims benefits. Under very difficult operational and business circumstances during the first five months of community quarantine from March to August 2020, Mi-MBAs paid a total of 27,657 death claims worth P613.54 million, 667 of which are COVID-related deaths.

Since Mi-MBAs are non-stock, non-profit microinsurance providers that operate for the exclusive benefit of their members, they are exempted from paying tax on corporations, tax on life insurance premiums and documentary stamp tax under the Insurance Code and the National Internal Revenue Code. Unfortunately, not all Mi-MBAs are able to avail of these exemptions as tax authorities vary in their interpretation of the applicable provisions. MiMAP reports that some of their members have been issued notices of tax deficiencies, while others were denied tax exemption status. Many Mi-MBAs, in fact, are still waiting for the BIR ruling on their application for tax exemption.

This is sad, since Mi-MBAs already operate on very thin margins because of their restricted capacity to spend only up to a maximum 20% of their contributions for administrative and operating expenses. The situation exacerbates their resource constraints, inhibiting them from optimizing or upgrading their management information systems.

It behooves the government to ensure that Mi-MBAs enjoy the tax exemptions granted to them under the law. Mi-MBAs, after all, are managed by grassroots organizations composed of low-income families. Their members and target clients are also poor, mostly belonging to the informal sector. They provide necessary financial services to the most vulnerable, contributing to poverty alleviation and financial inclusion. Mi-MBAs could serve more Filipinos if they can fully enjoy their tax exemptions, which could help them digitize their operations – a necessity given that mobility and face-to-face interaction are greatly limited by the pandemic.

Tax Reduction for Non-Life Insurance

Tax rules also impede market development with respect to non-life insurance. Usually, as the market matures, a more diverse range of products is expected, to serve broader customer needs and to diversify insurers’ risk portfolio. This is not the case here, because general taxation for the non-life insurance sector reaches as high as 27 percent, one of the highest in Southeast Asia. This discourages insurers from offering complex products, such as disaster and agricultural insurance, both highly relevant to the low-income population. The tax on nonlife insurance products, including crop insurance, should be reduced to 2 percent, or the current rate imposed on life insurance products. Cutting the tax on non-life insurance premium will significantly raise the number of private insurance offerings. There will be no need for government to subsidize agri-insurance because the regime will be market-driven.

Microinsurance has come a long way in the Philippines. From a coverage of less than three million low-income Filipinos in 2007, the number has surged to more than 50 million last year. Microinsurance MBAs, in particular, significantly contribute to poverty alleviation, financial inclusion and literacy by providing affordable and relevant risk protection to poor and underserved households. But millions of poor families remain unprotected and vulnerable. With natural disasters always a possibility given climate change, and the threats posed by the COVID pandemic, we should find ways to support the growth of the microinsurance industry. As the 2022 election draws near, those who aspire to be the country’s next leaders should champion financial inclusion for the poor, and include microfinance and microinsurance in their battle-cry. Their campaign to provide affordable and relevant risk protection to millions of Filipinos from low-income families would serve them well come election time.





On the proposed directive in barring cabinet members from attending the hearings in the senate

A press statement by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines
October 5, 2021

It is the objective and purpose of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines to uphold the rule of law, improve and assist in the administration of justice and foster and maintain high ideals of integrity, public service and conduct. This call to service is engraved not only in its By-Laws but in the very Rules of Court (Section 1, Rule 139-A).

In view of the brewing conflict between the Executive and the Legislative branches of the government, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines calls for calm, sobriety, and unity among the said two (2) branches of government and its agencies, and for the same to cooperate and work together to combat corruption and abuse.

It is imperative for our government to fight corruption, wherever it maybe, and to assist, rather than obstruct, any investigation that seeks to identify the root of corruption and the perpetrators behind them.

Corruption is measured not just in the billions of pesos of our taxpayers’ money lost to government malfeasance, but more importantly, in the deficiency of effective healthcare and medicine that could have saved the lives of many of our countrymen, as well as financial assistance to households and businesses in distress due to the pandemic.

A transparent government is one of the hallmarks of a truly republican state. The only way to succeed is for all branches of government to work together in combating corruption and abuse.

We call on the President to heed the words of the Supreme Court in the case of Senate vs. Ermita (G.R. No. 169777, April 20, 2006) which provides as follows:

Ultimately, the power of Congress to compel the appearance of executive officials under Section 21 and the lack of it under Section 22 find their basis in the principle of separation of powers. While the executive branch is a co-equal branch of the legislature, it cannot frustrate the power of Congress to legislate by refusing to comply with its demands for information.

We thus urge the President to reconsider his decision to bar his Cabinet from attending the Senate investigation on the alleged irregularities in the Department of Health (DOH) spending related to the COVID-19 pandemic program. It is only by granting our Congress free access to information that we can empower them to formulate policies that fully reflect the will of our people.





The true nature and purpose of marriage

October 1, 2021

THERE is no doubt that we need to revisit the true nature and purpose of marriage, since this basic human and Christian institution is now besieged with so many misconceptions and malpractices. What the gospel once narrated about some leading Jews asking and testing Christ whether divorce was lawful (cfr. Mt 10,2-12) is now being played out even in our own country.

With all the forces and elements now undermining the true nature and purpose of marriage, there is an urgent need to clarify and show the real face and beauty of this human, natural as well as supernatural institution.

Countries and nations, supposedly developed and quite rich, are now legalizing forms of marriage that really have nothing to do with marriage. Same-sex unions, divorce, civil marriages among Catholic, temporary unions and cohabitations are not only spreading but are also getting legalized.

There are those who are quite convinced, and wrongly convinced, if I may say, that marital problems can be solved by legalizing divorce. We need to talk a lot about this issue.

Our problem is that we now have a world culture that has lost the capacity to think deeply and thoroughly. It’s an ethos that is held captive by the quick and easy way of thinking and reacting, dominated mainly by worldly values like convenience, practicality, popularity, etc.

The full and global picture of who and what we are is ignored if not ridiculed. This, of course, determines our proper attitude and praxis about marriage and the other institutions related to it—family, education...

The spiritual and supernatural dimension of man is set aside. Instead only the material and social aspects are considered. The dynamism of today’s world, now heavily dependent on new technologies, has made people to be thinking, studying and praying less, and to be just more practical, if not more self-absorbed and self-seeking.

There is a need to realize and appreciate more deeply that marriage, not only as a natural institution but also and especially as a sacrament, is a path to sanctity not only for the husband and wife but also for the family, and from the family, for the society and the Church in general.

We need to see the organic link among these key elements: the marriage between man and woman, and the family they generate, as well as the society of which the family is the basic cell and the universal Church of which the family is considered the domestic church.

Seeing that link, we would appreciate the crucial and strategic role that marriage plays in the life of men and women in the world. We would appreciate the tremendous potential good that marriage can give to all of us.

That is why everything has to be done to make marriage achieve its fullest dignity. And that means that we have to purify and elevate the love that is the very germ of marriage to the supernatural order.

That love has to develop from simply being natural and body-emotion-world reliant to being more and more spiritual and supernatural, driven by grace rather than by mere natural forces.

With the sacrament of marriage, the love between husband and wife is already guaranteed to have all the graces needed to make that marriage reach its fullness. What is needed is the faithful and generous correspondence of the parties concerned to those graces.





Angels are real

September 28, 2021

ON the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael (September 29), we are presented with that amusing gospel episode about the calling of Nathanael. (cfr. Jn 1,47-51) We might be wondering how Nathanael’s vocation is related to the existence of angels.

My personal take on this question is that Nathanael, whom Christ described as a man without guile, must have been enabled to recognize Christ as the Son of God, the King of Israel, through the help of the angels.

When Christ told him, in response to Nathanael’s question about how Christ knew him, that Christ saw him under the fig tree before Philip came, some angels must have been involved in that event.

We can somehow support that speculation by referring to the fact that at the end of gospel episode, Christ told Nathanael, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” What Nathanael was doing under the fig tree must have something to do about who the Son of Man is, and about heaven and angels.

In any event, our faith tells us that angels are real and that they are our great ally, helping us in all our needs, from the most trivial to the most important. Yes, angels exist. They are real. We need to say this now since angels, if they are ever referred to nowadays, are often considered as mere figments of our imagination that at best can be used as literary and sentimental devices.

Obviously, faith is needed to believe in angels. They are creatures whose presence goes beyond what our senses can perceive. They can however assume bodily forms as mentioned several times in the Bible. But essentially, they are pure spirits. As such, they are readily available to help us, since they are not limited by time and space.

We have to develop and popularize a devotion to angels, especially to the archangels. They are great allies that we can count on especially during our difficult moments. They are so close and so identified with God that we can refer to them as God’s organic or vital extensions of his own self, if we may describe them that.

Remember what Christ said about angels in general? It was when he talked about the angels of little children whom the disciples wanted to shoo away from Christ for being a disturbance. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones,” he said. “For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” (Mt 18,10)

Our guardian angels, for example, are very helpful to us in our task of navigating the most tricky spiritual and supernatural realities. When there are strong temptations, or when some unknown evil spirits seem to bother us, or when we are undertaking a spiritual and supernatural project like coming up with an apostolic initiative, our guardian angels make themselves available to help us in any way.

It’s important that we be aware of the existence of these very powerful angels who, for sure, would be most willing and most happy to help us in their own way. We just have to enliven our faith in them and develop the appropriate devotion.

Many great saints have benefited from the help of the angels. It would be good if we train ourselves to develop an intimate relationship with them. To be sure, only good things can come out of such relationship!


Last updated: 11/10/2022

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