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A safer registration process

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

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Fake news - a major threat to the work for promotion of rule of law and human rights






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!





Measuring the impact of advocacy programmes

September 3, 2021

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

The word advocacy is used for various purposes and in each case, there is a different connotation attached to it. Commercial advertisements advocate the buying of their products and the promotion of other commercially-related objectives; political parties use the ideas of advocacy very often to promote their parties with the view that the voters may select them when there are in an electoral contest; politicians who are pursuing modernisation policies would use the word advocacy to mean greater industrialisation and improvement of modern technology in their countries within a given period of time; a dictator like Adolf Hitler would use advocacy to promote his reasons for going to war and to create public support for their approach; and an authoritarian, totalitarian leader like Joseph Stalin would use advocacy to mean the brainwashing of the entire population not only for a political programme but to completely change social relations and to justify extreme forms of repression.

Thus, in each area of human activity, there is an element of advocacy, and more and more with communication-related changes, and especially with modern communication, it changes what is meant by the term advocacy with various other names and plays a central role in almost every activity.

In this short essay, we use advocacy to mean those efforts to promote understanding and to win support for matters relating to human dignity, equality before the law and respect for human rights. This unique use of the meaning of the term advocacy needs to be thoroughly grasped in attempting to evolve the methods pertaining to the various measures that are taken for such advocacy.

This general theme of the promotion of human dignity, the rule of law and human rights is broken down to separate aspects when people have to work at particular times, under particular historical circumstances and on particular types of changes that are needed to achieve the overall goal. Thus, each project to use the term that is usually used in modern funders jargon has a specificity.

In measuring a particular advocacy programme, the first issue that needs to be grasped is what is specific to this project. Some examples will be useful. Respect for equality before the law is a general objective. Winning equality for the coloured people in the US, particularly those who are called the black people is a specific issue. The promotion of women’s rights is a general issue. However, getting the right to education for the girl child in a particular society is a specific objective.

The prevention of torture is a general human rights objective. However, the prevention of the torture of political prisoners is a specific project. Preventing torture in normal criminal justice processes by the police is again a specific objective within the general framework. The promotion of the freedom of expression, association and assembly is a general objective. Dealing with persons who have been persecuted for the use of the freedom of expression within a given political regime is a specific objective. Similar examples can be given in various areas.

Distinguishing the specific and the general in terms of the actual work is at the core of effective advocacy. For example, the US Constitution guarantees the freedom of expression to everyone. However, for many centuries that ‘everyone’ only meant the white people of the US. If the advocacy is done to promote the freedom of expression of the black community who are now called African-Americans, that is an extremely unique historical task beset with extremely unique problems relating to repression, the law, police behaviour and above all relating to the attitude of the different communities. On that specific issue, a larger section of the white community would think in one way and the Afro American community would think and experience it in a different way.

By merely promoting the freedom of expression in the US, we cannot address the issue of the problem relating to the freedom of expression in the black community, and nowadays in other communities from other parts of the world who have since come to the US. If we cannot understand that specificity, we simply cannot understand the particular struggle of that particular people.

This brings us to the issue that every serious advocacy issue in terms of human dignity, equality before the law and human rights is very specific in nature. It is a historic task. The history of every country and every locality is unique and specific. What that means is that there are unique problems in particular societies and particular communities at particular times. The geographical, cultural, political and other sociological boundaries including the psychological factors of the human attitudes are all uniquely expressed within unique contexts.

This brings us to a very vital issue as to who is an outsider to a struggle and who is an insider to a struggle. Depending on whether one is an outsider or insider, one’s view will take a different shape.

Let us once again go back to the issue of the black people (African-Americans now) in the US. Frederick Douglass, a former slave who escaped after suffering during the early part of his life as a slave, brought into the movement against slavery the unique perspective of an insider. He was the product of the very problems that he was struggling against, The manner in which he articulated the problem could not be articulated by anyone else even if he/she was sympathetic to the cause because they did not have the existential experience of being a part of the problem as well as the existential experience of being a part of the struggle. Any advocacy programme that loses this distinction about the work of insiders and that of the outsiders, the latter who may be sympathetic or not, misses the point of an advocacy programme.

We may explain this insider-outsider perspective from another well known historical example, this time from South Asia. Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was from an untouchable family which means people who were so completely discriminated that they were considered to be so contemptible that no kind of contact could be had with them. He grew up with all the experiences and the sufferings associated with untouchability as a schoolchild and even after being qualified with two doctorates from Europe and England. When a very sympathetic ruler gave him a position, none of his subordinates wanted to come close to him. Nobody was willing to rent him an apartment. He had to pretend to have a different name and be of a different caste in order to even get a place to stay. And of course, these are simply lists of such desperation that goes into thousands of things that he went through all his life.

He emerged as the leader of these people and he even changed the name of the untouchables to Dalit, meaning those who are engaged in a struggle. In all his contributions, both as a legislator, the secretary of the committee drafting the Constitution and the Law Minister and above all his organisational work and writings, he articulated the perspective of an insider giving guidance to his people as to how they could struggle to liberate themselves from their historical social imprisonment.

Mahatma Gandhi was also sympathetic towards the untouchables. He considered the existence of untouchability as one of the greatest sins of Indian civilisation. However, he was not able to provide the kind of vision and guidance to the Dalit population as Dr. Ambedkar did. Dr. Ambedkar is still the main inspiration of the Dalit movement in India and he has also influenced other movements like the black movement in the US. His was an insider’s vision, somebody who knew the problem from the existential point of view and was looking for an existential answer. Gandhi was a well-meaning good person who wished these others well and did whatever he could.

However, when it came to the Independence struggle, Gandhi was an insider. Gandhi was a part of the people who were subjugated under a colony. The British Empire dominated their lives. Their country belonged to the British crown. In that, his vision was to gain Independence from Britain at all costs. In that struggle, he was an insider. Colonialism was an existential problem for him and Independence was an existential solution to that problem.

The philosophical explanation of the insider-outsider perspective

Friedrich Nietzsche famously said something to the effect that if a person knows why he/she could do anything. Knowing why you do something is the most essential philosophical question that is associated with an advocacy programme.

The same idea was later rearticulated many times by Viktor Frankl, the former concentration camp survivor who wrote the famous book Man’s Search for Meaning and articulated the problem of the search for meaning, reducing it to knowing why. Martin Luther King Jr. in the US further elaborated the problem by saying that if anyone could answer why they would find the how. Thus, when assessing an advocacy programme, the most important issue that should be considered is why this programme was developed and whether it is justifiable to answer partially or fully that question as to why this is being undertaken. If that point is missed, then everything is missed. In terms of a particular project, unique to a particular country, what should be asked is why that project should be undertaken under those particular historical circumstances. If our project is about dealing with the institutional backwardness or obstructions to access to justice as a methodology to deprive all rights including the defeat of all attempts to improve the conditions of the poor, then the question that should be asked is whether this is a fundamentally valid idea.

When we say fundamentally valid, it does not merely mean a good idea or something that is alright but something which is far more fundamental. That is, do the historical conditions of this particular country or particular countries justify the selection of this particular objective as an answer to a problem that requires an answer? And it does not merely require some answer but it requires an answer without which the society cannot achieve the overall objectives of human dignity, equality before the law and human rights. Thus, we come to the core of ourselves. In short, it means that the objectives articulated in Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) {State Parties undertake to respect and ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or another opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or another status} and the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 of the UN for 2030 {Promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies with peace, justice and strong institutions} are so fundamental to these societies, that without which, not a single step can be taken forward in achieving the other overall goals.

Therefore, considerable time should be spent on measuring the validity of this project. That means the validity of the answer to why meaning the justification for the particular objective in the particular historical context in the particular society.

Who would answer that question as to the validity of these objectives? Above all, those who can answer that are the insiders, meaning those who live in these countries and who suffer from the absence of the realisation of these objectives. They have an existential experience as to whether one could achieve respect for human dignity if for example the policing system of the country is so backward and it relies heavily on the use of torture and ill-treatment of the poor as their tool for investigating into crime and also of social control. It is only an insider who knows what it means to go to a court which will frustrate all his/her requests for justice and instead push them back to a worse position than from where they started.

It is a rape victim who would know whether the justice system in her country would be able to grant justice. It is a young woman who has to go out of her house for education, or to the office for work, or for social purposes who could answer the question as to whether they feel safe and protected outside their homes.

It is the trade unionists of a particular country who answer whether the rights of trade unions are respected in that country or not. It is the people engaged in media work that could assess whether they are exposed to direct or indirect censorship and other kinds of punishments if they engage in the free exercise of their profession. To this we can add a whole other list.

For an insider to answer these questions, they do not need to read books or engage in any other kind of references. They can talk about these problems from their life experiences. If their life experiences show that everything is fine and that all these rights are guaranteed, then the insider story is one that affirms that the system is working well. But if the general will of the insider is such that it is negative, either completely or to a great degree, that means that the proper problem has been understood in terms of advocacy work to change it.

Therefore, any proper measurement or evaluation must first answer the question: is the objective of pursuing Article 2 of the ICCPR and SDG 16 valid and a fundamentally important issue to be pursued in the particular context in which this project is being operated. Without answering the why, going into all other factors will only be a diversion of the discussion towards trivialities rather than to the fundamentals.





Always go to Christ

August 31, 2021

Especially when we find ourselves in some difficult, if not impossible, situations, we should readily go to Christ to seek at least some relief. He always gives it, perhaps not in the form we want, but always in a way that would be beneficial to us.

This can be the lesson we can learn from that gospel episode where Christ went to St. Peter’s house where he was presented with Peter’s sick mother-in-law whom he readily cured. After that, all those in the neighborhood who had some sickness were brought to Christ for curing. And he did! (cfr. Lk 4,38-44)

We have to learn how to deal with the difficult and the impossible things in our life. Let’s remember that as long as we are here on earth, we have to contend with all sorts of difficulties, trials and temptations.

And as if these are not enough, we also have to contend with the truth of our faith that tells us that we are meant to pursue a supernatural goal that definitely cannot be achieved simply with our own human powers, no matter how excellent they are.

The secret is always to go and to be with God through Christ in the Holy Spirit who can make the impossible possible. In all our affairs and situations in life, we should always go to God to ask for his help and guidance, and to trust his ways and his providence, even if the outcome of our prayers and petitions appears unanswered, if not, contradicted.

This should be the attitude to have. It’s an attitude that can only indicate our unconditional faith and love for God who is always in control of things, and at the same time can also leave us in peace and joy even at the worst of the possibilities.

We just have to remember that Christ never abandons us and is, in fact, all ready and prompt to come to our aid, albeit in ways that we may not realize, at first, just like what happened in that story of the two disciples who were on their way to Emmaus. (cfr. Lk 24,13-25)

We should not allow our feelings of sadness to be so dominant and pervasive that we shut off Christ’s many and often mysterious ways of helping us. If we do not pose a deliberate impediment to Christ’s ways, there is always hope. In our darkest moments, some light will always come piercing and dispelling the darkness away.

In so many ways, Christ will remind us, as he did to the two disciples, about the meaning of all human suffering, and of how our suffering can be a way to our joy, to our fulfillment as a man and as a child of God. He will explain to us why we have suffering in this life and how we can take advantage of it to derive something good from it.

Our difficulties and problems, including our failures and sins, can be good occasions to get close to God and to draw his mercy and grace to keep us moving on with renewed spirit.

God is always with us. He continues to guide us all throughout our life. As creator and savior, he is actually shaping our life. Anything that happens in our life, including the negative ones, serves some purpose in God’s loving providence over us.





Inclusive Economic Recovery 101: Why helping MSMEs and strengthening the FDA is crucial

August 27, 2021

Like a bad refrain, strict quarantines were declared again in response to the surge of COVID cases from the highly infectious delta variant. While government-mandated quarantines are essential to contain the pandemic, the economy suffers, leading to business closures and loss of jobs. The pandemic’s impact on micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) has been excruciating. This is worrisome, as MSMEs account for 99.5 percent of all businesses in the country.

Recently, quarantine classifications had been relaxed, in line with efforts to regenerate the economy and prop up MSMEs. Unfortunately, those in the food processing industry face a perennial bottleneck: licensing and registration. This has been a continuing challenge for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency tasked to ensure that all food and medicines used in the Philippines are safe for public consumption. The FDA is under the Department of Health (DOH) and very much in demand, as it also reviews medicines for use in COVID vaccination programs.

Clearly, there is a need to strengthen the FDA to enable it to fulfill its urgent mandate in these trying times.

Burden of Regulatory Compliance

Enterprises with an asset size of up to PhP100 million and less than 200 employees are classified as MSMEs. The sector is responsible for 40 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and plays an important role in our economy. MSMEs pave the way for new entrepreneurs and help in poverty reduction by creating jobs for our growing labor force. As suppliers and providers of support services, MSMEs serve as valuable partners to large enterprises. MSMEs stimulate economic development in rural and far-flung areas. Overall, MSMEs employ more than 5 million workers or approximately 63 percent of the country’s workforce.

Many MSMEs are into food production and processing and are required to get a license to operate (LTO) and a certificate of product registration (CPR) from the FDA. MSMEs selling food products without FDA registration are subject to sanctions. The FDA is empowered to issue a cease-and-desist order, as well as impose fines, to prevent the sale of unregistered products. It also issues a public warning against products that are not registered.

To ensure public health and safety, as well as to protect consumer rights, the FDA, and the business sector, including MSMEs, have a mutual interest in ensuring that regulatory requirements are met. This is especially important at this time of pandemic when business processes are being reengineered to respond to the new normal of limited mobility and human contact. Unfortunately, the difficulties that MSMEs face in FDA registration hinder the industry’s growth and potentials.

Perennial Backlog

The backlog in FDA’s processing of applications for license and registration had been the subject of lamentation for years. The agency has tried to address this, with the FDA Director-General even instituting an agency-wide “Project Backlog” in 2018, to settle some 80,000 pending applications. That year, FDA also piloted a program with the Department of Trade and Industry to fast-track the permit process for micro-enterprises producing low-risk food products.

However, the problem persists. In Nov. 2019, the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) instructed FDA to address its backlog of 11,000 CPR applications. Then, in Feb. 2020, the ARTA pushed for the deputization of local government units (LGUs) to conduct inspections on food-processing MSMEs with low-risk products. This program was pilot implemented in Quezon City, where LGU inspectors were trained and provided with the standard checklist for conducting inspections in line with FDA Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) regulations.

MSMEs in the provinces face even more difficulties. While applications may now be submitted online, the approval process still takes time because FDA’s system remains highly centralized. Laboratory tests and nutritional value analyses for products are done in Manila, due to lack of laboratory facilities in FDA regional offices. The situation is aggravated by lack of manpower.

Social media is rife with tales of start-up businesses who experience difficulty in getting their FDA licenses and certificates of registration. Those in the microfinance industry also know that their clients who engage in food production or food processing are usually stymied by the complex and lengthy FDA registration process, sometimes leading to the discontinuance of their micro-enterprises.

Reforms Needed

The FDA has adopted measures, including automation, to improve its processes. However, as people explore alternative sources of income due to the pandemic, more applications are filed, and efficiency becomes more important.

The government must invest in updating FDA’s information technology (IT) infrastructure, to enable it to cope with the rising number of license and registration applications online. The approval of FDA’s pending request for the hiring of additional inspectors and evaluators should also be prioritized. It would be good for FDA to roll out the pilot programs implemented in NCR, where DTI Negosyo Centers and the LGU were deputized to conduct inspections. FDA should also consider alternative tools, such as remote video and other digital channels, to facilitate remote and live interactions in inspecting products and establishments.

FDA’s centralized registration process also needs to be reexamined. It could delegate to the regions the approval of micro-enterprises engaged in the production of low-risk food products, for instance. FDA should also consider partnering with academic and other institutions with facilities and technical expertise for laboratory testing and inspection at the local level. It could even partner with the private sector, such as the Philippine Food Processors and Exporters Organization Inc. (PhilFoodEx), to facilitate testing procedures.

MSMEs play a crucial role in our economic recovery. Looking for solutions is surely a better option than tolerating an untenable situation where FDA is swamped with backlogs and MSMEs are forced to operate outside the ambit of regulations or discouraged from continuing their enterprises. We need to help MSMEs flourish even as we ensure compliance to regulatory requirements. The best way to do this is to make the licensing and registration process easier.





Church group decries Duterte government’s litany of corruption: ‘immoral, unjust and a betrayal of public trust’

A press statement by Promotion of Church People’s Response on government corruption
August 22, 2021


Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. (Ephesians 5:11, NRSV)

“One whiff of corruption and you’re out.” Five years ago, then president-elect Rodrigo Duterte vowed to stamp out corruption in government.

Fast forward to today, the continued coddling of Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque by Pres. Duterte and the latter’s tirades against the Commission on Audit (CoA) highlights government’s continued lip service to good governance. Duterte has not only ordered the agencies to ignore the CoA reports, he has ‘ordered’ the body to stop publishing their initial findings that purportedly create impressions that they are corrupt.

CoA is an independent constitutional body responsible for checks and balances in the handling of public funds. It is mandated to publish its reports and is not accountable to the country’s Chief Executive.

An emotional Duque utterly failed in explaining the misuse of some PhP67 B funds before an ongoing Senate inquiry. This demonstrates the height of incompetence, at the helm of the main agency supposedly directing the country’s battle against the pandemic. It also sorely lays bare the Duterte government’s brazen lack of accountability, of hurling vitriols and attacks against critics (including activists exercising basic rights and in this case, COA, for performing its mandate), and promotion of widespread disinformation that paints a narrative starkly different from ground realities.

Based on the latest CoA reports alone and as reflected in various news reports, the stench of anomalies extends to other agencies and instrumentalities as well. Some of these include:

Dept. of Budget and Management (DBM) – questioned for securing Covid-19 personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies, buying high-priced ones from private suppliers that are slow moving. These are now in the depots because client agencies do not want to buy them anymore.

Dept. of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) – CoA has suspended DPWH’s disbursements worth more than P4.2 B for various infrastructure projects made ‘without proper and complete supporting documents.’ State auditors noted that 3,283 infrastructure projects worth over P108 B have been delayed or are no longer implemented due to the “absence of proper coordination” with local government units and other government agencies. COA also noted that government lost over P681.9 M of advance payments to contractors.

Dept. of National Defense (DND) – bought P14.5 M worth of surveillance and security equipment without producing some necessary documentary requirements provided for under RA 9184 or Government Procurement Reform Act. It also did not submit the basis for the contract’s approved budget. CoA likewise flagged the agency for its 20 unauthorized bank accounts worth P1.8 B and dozens of incomplete projects amounting to P6.8 B. [In 2020, COA questioned the agency for spending P6.4 M for costly air-conditioning units and showers in its comfort rooms.]

Dept. of Interior and Local Government (DILG) – over P3 B worth of projects across many years have not been completely liquidated. This included fund transfers to local government units worth P2.6 B (the biggest chunk) for projects supposedly for poor and conflict-affected communities, including war-torn Marawi. Of the P372 M unliquidated by national government agencies, P223 M was transferred by the DILG between 2011 and 2019.

Technical Education and Services Development Authority (TESDA) – despite the absence of authority, transferred P160 M to the NTF-ELCAC (EO 70). The biggest chunk (P41 M) went to its regional office in Davao, an act COA found “highly questionable”. TESDA’s budget did not include activities for the NTF-ELCAC, which constitutes grounds for technical malversation. Technical malversation is a crime of corruption, punishable under the Revised Penal Code.

Dept. of Social Welfare and Development (DWSD) – disbursed P1.28 M for 330 supposed rebels under the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP), while P4.4 M was released for the Livelihood Settlement Grant (LSG) assistance with inadequate documentation casting doubt on the validity of the transactions. This includes absence of government-issued IDs to determine veracity of the rebels. The so-called validity is limited to a certification by the Joint AFP-PNP Intelligence Committee.

People’s Television (PTV4) – the state media network was called out for granting P1.8 M in salaries to employees without seeking for approval from the Office of the President, as required by law. A total P7.4 M was also unliquidated cash advances for travel and other expenses.

Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) – was asked to explain expenditures worth P1.2 M for the purchase of sanitary napkins, hygiene kits and thermal scanners, alas, from a hardware store. Upon the audit team’s ocular check of the hardware store, it was nowhere to be found. Among OWWA’s administrators is a rabid spreader of false information, Mocha Uson.

Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) – its training compound in San Fernando, La Union spent P6.5 M on an infinity pool and jacuzzi. Other amenities worth P10.8 M included guest rooms, pergola, and a decorative rockwall. The budget was "realigned from a supposed new port development project" in Camarines Sur.

The list goes on. And it is not only about the past year but also the previous ones, which can be listed altogether. This immoral, unjust betrayal of public trust must end. Public money badly needed, especially during these times, has been pilfered and squandered. This is totally unacceptable. We must persist to hold leaders to account, no matter their crocodile tears or expletives.

As the pandemic rages on, we reiterate the need for an overhaul in the government’s response starting with removing Duque and retired military generals from directing a health crisis. We stress the urgent need to strengthen the public health system (especially at community levels), ramp up targeted, free mass-testing, conduct serious contact-tracing, hasten vaccine roll out, and deliver expediently just compensation for health workers and other frontliners. Much-needed economic aid must be provided for all those affected by the endless lockdowns: healthworkers, workers (including those in the informal economy as well as displaced or stranded Overseas Filipino Workers), farmers, teachers, and students. The rights of the people, at all times, must be upheld; however, attacks continue, including a most recent illegal arrest and detention of farmers in Southern Tagalog. Militarist lockdowns – that penalize people and fail to see them as central and most important in any policy or program – must end.

These glaring reports of a daylight robbery of the people’s resources for almost six years make clear that the people have lost much. We must lend our voices in saying NO to this regime.





Christian poverty

August 17, 2021

“IT will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, 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.” (Mt 19,23)

For sure, everytime we read these words of Christ, we can have the same reaction as his disciples had. “Who then can be saved?” To which, Christ answered, “For men this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

We need to understand this message from Christ well, especially nowadays when there are many indications we are not living this Christian spirit of poverty. Many of us are trapped with their perishable treasures on earth when the real treasure is in heaven.

The big problem of the rich of this world is his attachment to his wealth such that he cannot give himself fully to God. He may give the appearance that he is giving a lot, but if it is not the whole of himself, then it is not total self-giving which God deserves and expects from each one of us.

Let us always remember that God wants the whole of ourselves. He wants our entire heart, not a divided heart. He wants to be everything to us, the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega. He wants to be given priority over everything else, including our own life.

This is not selfishness on his part, an act of ego-tripping. It is simply in recognition of the basic truth that everything, including our life, comes from him and also belongs to him. We have no right whatsoever to expropriate as our own what actually comes and belongs to God.

We need to understand that our intelligence and will, our freedom and rights that enable us to be and to do what we want, and to be rich in many ways, also come from God and belong to him. They can only be properly exercised when used in accord with God’s will and ways.

And to be rich here does not mean only those with a lot of money and resources. It can mean those who are well-endowed in the other aspects of life—power, fame, health, intelligence, luck, etc.

We need to remind ourselves constantly that even if we can say we are the owners of such wealth, resources, talents, power, fame, and indeed of our whole life, we actually are at best only stewards who have to give account to the absolute owner and source of all these things that we possess.

Our total self-giving to God and to others is when we start entering the supernatural character that our life possesses, since we are the very image and likeness of God, children of his, meant to share in God’s very life that obviously is supernatural.

We are not meant to live a purely natural life. There is no such thing. Our nature opens us to make a choice between a supernatural life with God or an infranatural life. But make no mistake. Our supernatural life with God does not eliminate or suppress what is natural in us. What it does is to purify and elevate to the supernatural order what is natural in us. Christian poverty actually enriches us. That’s when we achieve our human and Christian perfection!





Financial inclusion and Shari’ah financing

August 2, 2021

President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his last State of the Nation Address last week, but economists say poverty and unemployment will remain high even after his term ends. The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) projected the country’s poverty rate to average between 15.5% and 17.5% this year, partly due to the coronavirus pandemic’s adverse effects on the economy. NEDA also noted that joblessness will remain elevated at around 7% to 9% by 2022.

These projections highlight the need for financial inclusion – that state wherein everyone, especially the poor and vulnerable, have effective access to financial services that could help improve lives. Millions of Filipino families are poor, while economic and social inequality remains a challenge. This is especially true in the case of Muslim Filipinos, who comprise 10% of our population. The three poorest provinces in the country are predominantly Muslim.

We must strive to enable our Muslim brothers and sisters to lift themselves from the quagmire of poverty. One way of doing this is by giving them access to financial services that are in accord with their laws and traditions.

Most Impoverished

The poorest regions, based on PSA’s 2018 Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES), 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 whopping 61.3% poverty incidence. This means that 3 out of every 5 persons in the region are poor. The situation is even worse in the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Sulu, and Basilan, where nearly 2 out of every 3 people are poor.

The situation is aggravated by the fact that many Muslim Filipinos do not have access to financial services which could help raise their productivity and standard of living. Islam prohibits interest charging, as this equates with usury (riba); forbids speculative transactions involving risks (gharar); and avoids transactions on sinful things (haram), such as pork, alcohol and gambling. With these tenets, Muslims’ participation in the formal financial system remains low.

Shari’ah-Compliant Financing

Sharīʿah (also spelled sharia) is the Islamic religious law that governs the day-to-day life of all Muslims. As it covers all aspects of life, a truly inclusive financial system necessitates Sharia-compliant financial services for Muslim Filipinos.

In recent years, there has been much interest in Islamic financing in the Philippines. Conferences on the topic, initially led by civil society organizations, were held as early as 2015, followed up by forums sponsored by international financial institutions and government agencies. In 2018, the Bangsamoro Organic Law mandated the development of an Islamic banking and finance system in the country. This was strengthened by the passage of RA No. 11439 in 2019, which allowed the operation of domestic and foreign Islamic banking players, to facilitate the development of Islamic finance in the country.

Despite these laws, however, there remains only one Islamic bank in the country, the Al-Amanah Islamic Investment Bank. There are reports that foreign Islamic banks – including Qatar Bank and Malaysian institutions CIMB Islamic and City Credit Investment Bank – had expressed an interest in setting up operations here, but these are yet to come to fruition. In the meantime, a few microfinance institutions, such as the Peace and Equity Foundation, the ASA Philippines Foundation, and the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD) are filling in the gap, making financial services such as banking, credit, microinsurance, remittance, and other services available to Muslim communities.

The Paglambo Project

The Paglambo Project is a Sharia-inspired microfinancing program that CARD started in 2018. It was the product of 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, which won the Magsaysay Award for Public Service in 2008. The Dompet Dhuafa ran a very successful Islamic microfinance and banking scheme, which inspired CARD to develop a similar Sharia-compliant program for Muslims in areas where they operate.

Initially, Paglambo only had two units in Marawi, Lanao del Sur and Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao. However, the program expanded quickly, proving the need for microfinance to serve Muslim communities. The project grew from only 56 Muslim families as members to 4,182 after only a year of operation. Following a visit by project staff to Dompet Dhuafa’s offices in Indonesia, the project introduced an education loan program which uses the Murabahah concept of the Islamic financial system. The Murabahah concept allows the borrower to obtain money from the lender to buy goods for his or her business. The parties agree on the mark-up on the goods, thus, the lender gets a fixed profit based on the agreement, and eliminates the interest system which Islam prohibits. Since many Muslim families needed help to support their children’s schooling, a Kafalah Islamic contract was added to the existing Sharia financing contract. This is just one of many ways by which CARD redesigned its financial products to respond to the needs of the community.

To date, the Paglambo Project has 35 units in Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Zamboanga City, Basilan and Tawi-tawi. Its client-members number 43,000, with a capital build-up of P76.5M. The average loan repayment rate is very high, at 96.54%. Notably, its unit in Kapatagan, Maguindanao had a 100% repayment rate despite the COVID pandemic.

Among the contributory factors are cultural sensitivity and respect for the community. CARD’s staff made courtesy calls to Muslim elders to introduce the program. They also coordinated with village leaders and like-minded organizations in the area. Communication was key, as attested by the manager in Kapatagan, whose unit members grew because she was able to explain that the financial products under Paglambo is halal or in accord with Islamic faith. When the pandemic hit the region, they had initial setbacks, but she created a viber group to keep communication lines open. This spelled the difference, as daily interaction in the group made the members feel a sense of unity and encouragement, which supported them through the challenges of the pandemic. She said that this was the key to their 100% loan repayment rate.

Call to Action

Islamic microfinance can deepen financial inclusion. Not only because it delivers Sharia-compliant products for Muslim communities, but also because it is specifically created to support the needs of the poor and underserved. The need for public and private financial institutions to offer Islamic banking and financing service is urgent, especially amid the pandemic that is wreaking havoc on the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable. Islamic financing can help micro, small and medium enterprises offering Halal products and services. With more providers, we can help our Muslim kababayans thrive even during this pandemic.

* * * * *

Dr. Jaime Aristotle B. Alip is a poverty eradication advocate, with more than 35 years of experience in microfinance and social development. He is the founder of the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development Mutually-Reinforcing Institutions (CARD MRI), a group of 23 organizations that provide social development services to 7.4 million economically-disadvantaged Filipinos nationwide and insuring more than 28 million lives. CARD’s innovative financial and enterprise development services targeting the poor has won many accolades, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service in 2008, and for Dr. Alip, the prestigious Ramon V. del Rosario Award for Nation Building in 2019. Dr. Alip is an alumnus of the Harvard Business School, the Southeast Asia Interdisciplinary Development Institute and the University of the Philippines.





The many benefits of prayer

August 2, 2021

“After he dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.” (Mt 14,23)

Let’s take note of how Christ himself always gave priority to prayer, despite the hectic schedule he had to follow during his preaching trips. He found not only time for it, but also the appropriate place for it. In spite of being God himself who became man, Christ always felt the need to pray and did his best to meet the relevant requirements for prayer.

He is actually showing us how to carry out a very important duty that is incumbent on all of us if we want to keep our humanity intact, let alone, our Christianity. It is the duty to pray always because that is our fundamental way of being in touch with God, our Creator and Father. We need to be always with God. We will only have trouble when we lose touch with him.

God, being our Creator, is not only the giver of our existence but also the keeper or maintainer of it. As such, he is always with us, trying to shape us the way he wants us to be, that is, to be his image and likeness, children of his, sharers of his divine life.

But he does this, respecting always our freedom, precisely because being like him, we have to freely correspond to God’s will for us. This is a fundamental truth about ourselves that we should never forget. In fact, we should try our best to faithfully, consistently and generously act on it.

And that correspondence to God’s will for us is basically done through prayer. We have to understand that prayer is our first way to connect ourselves with God. It is so basic that we have to learn to turn everything in our life, from our thoughts and intentions to our words and deeds, into some form of prayer. That’s how important prayer is!

When we pray, we start to share what God has with us—his knowledge, his wisdom, his power, etc. We get to see and understand things the way God sees and understands them. When we pray, we get to see his will and ways, and learn how to follow them. When we pray, we can manage to handle any kind of situations and predicaments, challenges, trials, difficulties, etc., properly.

When we pray, we would be more able to love everyone, including our so-called enemies, just as God himself, as shown in Christ, loves everyone. We would learn how to be patient and merciful, how to be “all things to all men,” how to be both strong and tough, on the one hand, and also gentle and tender, on the other hand.

And if God would grant us the honor and the privilege, we can be empowered to do some extraordinary things like performing some miracles and receiving some special charisms that would redound to the good of everyone. Prayer makes our faith active, our hope alive and our charity burning.

Of course, we also have to understand that prayer can lend itself to many different ways. There’s vocal prayer, mental prayer, contemplative prayer, liturgical prayer, etc. It can adapt itself to different situations and conditions.

The absolutely important thing that makes prayer real prayer is when we manage to give all our mind and heart to God in whatever thing we do or in whatever situation we may find ourselves in. It need not be expressed in words or deeds. It should start and end with our desire to be with God!





Let the victims’ voices lead the way


Philippine Interfaith Movement Against Human Trafficking (PIMAHT) statement in observance of WDAT 2021
July 30, 2021

"He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; His understanding has no limit. The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground." (Ps. 147:3-6 NIV)

PIMAHT joins the global community in observing World Day Against Trafficking today, July 30. We especially affirm this year’s theme, ‘Victims’ Voices Lead the Way,’ upholding the dignity, desires and dreams of our brothers and sisters who have fallen victim to human trafficking. Truly, they should be included, heard, and involved as we seek to address this social problem.

Even with the current status of the Philippines as a Tier 1 rank by the US Department of State TIP REPORT, human trafficking still thrives in the crevices of poverty, hunger, and massive joblessness. This is even aggravated as majority of the population are poor families struggling to survive from the economic backlash of the pandemic. Early this year, we have witnessed the exposition of well-coordinated trafficking of women in Syria, although reports were already made that all the victims were already repatriated back home. What was alarming was it involved officials in the government bureaucracy that made it a large-scale scheme.

Since the pandemic, thousands have been repatriated or have returned back to the country, facing the cyclical problem of unemployment, hunger and poverty, the same reasons why they had to leave our country. They join the many other Filipinos who are grappling against the economic impact of the prolonged lockdown in the country, unable to support their families who are relying on them. In a study released by IOM Philippines in May 2021, 83% of those who were able to return home remain unemployed. These are the Filipinos who became victims of human trafficking. At the same time, the Philippines recorded a significant increase of 264% cases of online sexual exploitation of children (OSEC) according to the Department of Justice, Office of Cybercrime (DOJ-OOC).

This affirmed our concern that when a humanitarian crisis breaks out under extreme conditions of poverty, social problems like OSEC thrive. Children become easy prey in times when families are barely surviving and grappling with hunger. Thus, government agencies, churches, faith communities and organizations must work hand in hand to support and protect vulnerable groups like children and make communities safer for them especially at this time of pandemic.

PIMAHT, with its mission to see Filipino communities of faith working together to eradicate human trafficking in the Philippines, is continuously tapping other organizations for partnerships in strengthening awareness and prevention campaigns against human trafficking and providing assistance to those at-risk, victims and survivors.

The organization, spearheaded by its three executive members: Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), and Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) together with member organizations, Philippine Children’s Ministries Network (PCMN), International Justice Mission (IJM) Philippines, and Talitha Kum Philippines (TKP), vow to prevent and serve as a shield against human trafficking through awareness campaigns, consultations, and provision of social services to assist and bring justice to survivors. In addition, the organization and its partner churches always open their doors to provide a safe space and sanctuary, help the survivors restore their life through psychological and financial support, and accompany them to a journey of healing caused by the nightmares of human trafficking.

As PIMAHT, we call on the faith community to keep extending mercy, compassion, and solidarity to the victims of human trafficking. Let us offer our spaces and resources for their needs. Let's continue accompanying them in their quest for justice and accountability. As the faith community has a strong presence in the local communities, we encourage our churches to also strengthen the information drives to increase the awareness of sectors of the community as a pivot on preventing human trafficking.

We call on our government to intensify its campaign against human trafficking. We especially hope that it will finally address the root causes of trafficking - create life-sustaining jobs at home and extend basic social services to the poor to enable them to better their situations. We also call for the government to justly prosecute its officials involved in these schemes.

As PIMAHT, we continue to pray and extend our acts of solidarity to those who have fallen victims. Though all may come from different faith or religion, the passion and eagerness to cease human trafficking in the Philippines binds us together. United in faith through service and advocacy, we can provide justice and restore the dignity of the oppressed.

* * * * *

PIMAHT is composed of the 3 largest Christian Church Councils in the country -The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), and the Philippines Council of Evangelical Churches, together with Talitha Kum - Philippines, International Justice Mission Philippines, and the Philippine Children’s Ministries Network (PCMN). It is committed to stand against human trafficking in all its diverse forms and to support victims of human trafficking to reclaim their dignity and to seek justice, affirming the basic human right that every person bears ‘to life, liberty and security’ and that ‘no one shall be held in slavery or servitude’.





Why education matters

July 27, 2021

July started with a bang for the Philippine education sector with the publication of a World Bank (WB) report lamenting that Filipino students do not meet learning standards. Education Secretary Leonor Briones immediately took WB to task, stating that the report lacked historical context and failed to include corrective measures by the government. Groups advocating reforms chided the Department of Education (DepEd), reiterating the need for improvement in our educational system. The WB has apologized and removed the publication from its website, but the debate on issues plaguing Philippine education rages on.

Beyond the issue of education quality, however, lies an even deeper problem: inequality and access. Out-of-school youths (OSYs) continue to increase, particularly at this time when inequities are aggravated by the Covid-9 pandemic. DepEd data show that close to 4 million students were not able to enroll last school year. The good news is that last June, DepEd reported that 4.5 million learners registered early for SY 2021-2022, achieving a 99% turnout compared to last year’s figure. Nevertheless, in a country with high poverty incidence and where income inequality correlates with educational inequality, all efforts must be extended to ensure access to education.

Poverty, like a tree, has many roots. By ensuring education for all, we can cut down one of the root causes of poverty in the country.

Education and Poverty

According to UNESCO, if all students in low-income countries had just basic reading skills, an estimated 171 million people could escape extreme poverty. If all adults completed secondary education, we could cut the global poverty rate by more than half.

Education directly correlates with many solutions to poverty, including economic growth, reduced income inequality, reduced infant and maternal deaths, reduced stunting, reduced vulnerability to HIV and AIDS, reduced violence at home and in society. For this reason, UN has made education as the fourth Sustainable Development Goal. SDG 4 of the 2030 Agenda aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

Inequity and Access to Education

In the Philippines, unemployment is high, inflation is high and there is a huge income inequality. The Labor Force Survey of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) in May 2021 places the country’s unemployment rate at 7.7%. This translates to 3.73 million unemployed individuals who are 15 years old and above. In June, inflation was at 4.1%, much higher than the 2.5% level last year, which reflects the continuing rise in the prices of goods and services. The poorest 20% Filipinos own less than 5% of the country’s total income, based on data from the Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES). This is unfortunate, as studies have shown that income equality directly correlates with educational inequality. Education defines living standards: lack of education of the household head limits the earning potential of the household.

Many Filipinos lack access to education. Apart from DepEd’s report that more than 3 million were not able to enroll last year, the latest PSA data on OSY places them at 3.53 million in 2017. Financial concerns, or the high cost of education, was among the most common reasons given for not attending school. Around 50% of OSYs belong to families whose income fall within the bottom 30% of the population.

The PSA also reported that Filipinos are most deprived in education. This is based on the 2018 Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), which serves to complement the income-based measure of poverty. Out of 13 indicators, educational attainment consistently had the highest incidence of deprivation among families.

Breaking Inter-generational Poverty

Grassroots organizations, microfinance institutions (MFIs), NGOs, and others working with the poor are aware of this sad reality. The Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (CARD) saw firsthand how socially-and economically marginalized families yearn for their children to finish school, hoping for better things for their progeny. CARD has been providing much-needed financial services to the poor for more than three decades, but as our understanding of our clients grew, so did our services because we had to respond to their needs.

Since our aim is to break inter-generational poverty, we wanted to make education accessible to our members’ children. In 2011, I was talking to my friend and mentor, Dr. Washington SyCip, who is known for his philanthropy and advocacies of poverty alleviation and quality education for all. Both of us believed that education is the pathway to breaking the poverty cycle, so we conceptualized a program that would help children of poor families to at least finish elementary. With his help, CARD started the “Zero Drop-out Program,” which is a microloan facility offered to support children’s school expenses. Its objective is to encourage members to continuously send their children to school, by providing support without depriving them of funds needed for their basic necessities. Over the years, the elementary student-beneficiaries graduated to high school, thus, the program extended its support to high school and senior high school students, consistent with the advocacy of zeroing the school dropouts. This program has assisted 1,220,476 students so far.

Gradually, CARD ventured into providing affordable education. Initially, we only had a training unit for our personnel. Then, we began training our members on financial literacy and microenterprise development. Later on, MFIs and other organizations approached us, and so, in 2000, we formally established the CARD Training Center in Bay, Laguna. This was transformed into the CARD MRI Development Institute (CMDI) in 2005. CMDI now has facilities in Baguio, Pasay, and Masbate, as well as a campus in Tagum, Davao.

As of June 2021, CMDI has trained 1,237,897 under the Credit with Education (CwE) training program. This is a training program on health, business, microinsurance, disaster preparedness, and credit discipline – skills needed by our members, mostly rural poor women, to help them become change agents in their communities.

In line with the goal of providing affordable education, CMDI now offers Senior High School, TESDA-accredited courses and baccalaureate programs. Being a practitioner-led and practice-based learning institution, CMDI’s focus is on business courses, entrepreneurship, microfinance, and information management. It strives to make educational opportunities accessible to the poor by accepting DepEd vouchers and offering scholarships. CMDI has granted 15,761 educational scholarships to poor and deserving students, especially the children of CARD’s members. It has already graduated 9,783 scholars.

CARD MRI has also partnered with PHINMA Education, which caters to first-generation college students who would otherwise not be able to afford private education. Its Laguna Network, which includes Rizal College of Laguna and Union College of Laguna, offer Flex and RAD learning programs on Criminology, Accounting, Business Administration, and Education. They also provide scholarships to qualified students. CARD MRI encourages its members and their children to study in PHINMA schools to avail of these scholarships. The partnership also allows PHINMA students to benefit from CARD MRI’s loan programs, internships, and employment opportunities.

Education matters. It is often referred to as the great equalizer, because it offers doors to skills, jobs and resources that a family needs to not just survive but thrive. It is my fervent hope that there will be more providers of affordable, quality education for our marginalized youth. After all, investing in their education is investing in our country’s future.

* * * * *

Dr. Jaime Aristotle B. Alip is a poverty eradication advocate, with more than 35 years of experience in microfinance and social development. He is the founder of the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development Mutually Reinforcing Institutions (CARD MRI), a group of 23 organizations that provide social development services to 7.4 million economically disadvantaged Filipinos nationwide and insuring more than 28 million lives. CARD’s innovative financial and enterprise development services, targeting the poor, has won many accolades including the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service in 2008, and for Dr. Alip, the prestigious Ramon V. del Rosario Award for Nation Building in 2019. Dr. Alip is an alumnus of the Harvard Business School, the Southeast Asia Interdisciplinary Development Institute, and the University of the Philippines.





Increasing lawyer killings a cause for alarm

A press statement by Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) on the killing of Begtang
July 24, 2021

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) condemns the brazen and shocking murder of Deputy City Prosecutor Victor Begtang Jr. in the afternoon of June 23, 2021 right inside the comfort of his home in Conner, Apayao. Prosecutor Begtang is the ninth prosecutor to be killed during this administration.

With the recent killing of Atty. Sitti Gilda Mahinay-Sapie in Davao City on July 14, 2021, this now makes the death toll of lawyers killed during this administration at 63.

The IBP extends its deepest condolences to the family, relatives, and friends of Prosecutor Begtang and will endeavor to immediately process the release of the IBP benefits due to his heirs. It will likewise assist in, and monitor the investigation and prosecution of his case so that the perpetrators can be identified and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

The IBP grieves and is appalled by the increasing and sheer number of assassinations of lawyers, judges, and prosecutors with impunity.

In stark contrast, the number of lawyers killed during the previous administrations stretching way back to 1972 was no less than 10 for each administration, with one administration even having no lawyer death ever recorded. Indeed, the numbers, as these now stand under the present administration, have alarmingly increased by as much as 500%.

As such, the IBP will continue to work with the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police to address and arrest these rising attacks against its members just as it calls upon our police and investigative agencies to formulate and implement specific measures to improve the security of lawyers, judges and prosecutors and to expeditiously resolve its investigations on these killings so that the perpetrators are swiftly and truly held accountable.





Closing the door to a peaceful resolution

Statement of The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) over the designation of the NDFP as a terrorist group by the Anti-Terrorism Council
July 21, 2021

The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) joins all peace advocates in sounding the alarm over the designation of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) as a terrorist group by the Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC). This designation tragically closes the door to what is truly called for: a peaceful resolution of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and NDFP conflict.

Sadly, with this action the ATC buried 29 years of laborious and painstaking agreements and gradual steps toward peace. The government seems to be ignoring that peace is a sacred right of all people and guaranteed as a fundamental duty of the state.

It also confirms that the Anti-terrorism Law (ATL) is a huge hurdle to the promise of peace for everyone as it is being used as a weapon in a total war against so-called terrorists. The case against two Aetas, which thankfully was dismissed, shows that the terror law can be used to fabricate charges and arbitrarily designate persons and groups.

The ATC designation demonstrates that the government is using its full resources to subdue the CPP/NPA/NDF. It does not fully recognize that violence will not resolve the conflict, that the most judicious way to address its roots – poverty, landlessness, inequitable access to resources – is to resume the formal peace talks. The designation and the present course that relies on the use of violent means only increase the likelihood of more violations in human rights and international and humanitarian law.

We are therefore greatly concerned about the escalation of civilian populations being harmed as seen in the rising cases of killings, threats, harassment, and restriction of movements of farming and indigenous communities in remote rural areas.

This latest designation by the ATC also begs the question: Are groups supporting or calling for the resumption of the formal peace talks with “designated terrorists” next in the ATC’s crosshairs as well? It is not far-fetched since they unjustifiably froze the accounts and properties of church ministries like that of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) and the Haran Center of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) in Davao City, allegedly for supporting terrorist activities.

This also comes after the ATC designated 19 individuals, including peace consultants, as terrorists a few months ago. The list includes peace consultants Rey Claro Casambre of the Philippine Peace Center and Vicente Ladlad. Their assets were simultaneously frozen by the Anti-Money-Laundering Council (AMLC). Mr. Ladlad’s bank account contains the funds awarded by the Human Rights Claims Board while Mr. Casambre’s were savings from his allowances as an NGO worker, various honoraria and gifts from family members. It is not enough that they, and other peace consultants, are languishing in jail right now after trusting the government that they were supposed to be covered by their mutual agreement, the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG), but their savings cannot be accessed by their families as well.

As church leaders, we are highly alarmed at these developments. However, we will not falter in our belief and call that the most viable option for a just and lasting peace is through a negotiated peace settlement coupled with meaningful social and economic reforms. We affirm that a peace process that addresses social injustices is the will of God and we will not stop working for it.

We appeal to the government to rescind its designation of the NDFP as a terrorist organization and recognize the lasting devastation this will have on the Filipino people’s trust in the government’s competence to resolve internal conflicts through peaceful negotiations.

We continue to appeal to both parties to return to the negotiating table. We also call on our people to pray and work for peace and support prospective candidates in the coming elections who are committed to genuine peace. Let us find inspiration in these words from the Bible: “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:18, NIV).

Issued and signed this 21st day of July 2021.





Do we really know Christ?

June 28, 2021

WE really need to know who Christ is. That’s question that Christ asked his disciples and should be rightly answered by us, the way Peter answered it. “Who do people say that I am?” This is very important for the simple reason that we are supposed to be “another Christ,” if not “Christ himself.” We are meant for nothing less than that.

As we all know, most of his disciples only had some general and vague idea of who Christ really is. “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” It was Peter who hit it bull’s eye. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

We have to be clear about this point. We are meant to assume the identity of Christ. And that is not a gratuitous, baseless assertion, much less, a fiction or a fantasy. It is founded on a fundamental truth of our faith that we have been created by God in his own image and likeness. We are meant to be conformed to Christ who as the Son of God is the perfect image God has of his own self.

Since we have been made in the image and likeness of God, we have to understand that we have been patterned after Christ, the Son of God who became man to recover us from our state of alienation from God due to our sin.

So we have been patterned after Christ, and if Christ is truly alive and is actively intervening in our life lives, we should ask ourselves if we manage to see him and deal with him today and always. We know all too well that very often we are good in words only, but not in deeds, in theory but not in practice. We need to close the gap.

Let’s remember that Christ himself said: “I am always with you until the end of time.” (Mt 28,20) If we have faith, these words should never be considered as mere bluff. They are true and operative. We have to learn to conform ourselves to that reality and to behave accordingly.

Christ should not just be a Christ of faith or a Christ of history, as some theologians have described him. The Christ of faith and the Christ of history is one and the same person, and he continues not only to be with us but also to work with us, showing us the way how to live, how to work, how to decide, how to choose, etc.

We need to be clear about who we really are. Before we identify ourselves by the name we bear, or by the many other data that describe our identity, like our gender, our nationality and legal status, our place and date of birth, our residence, etc., we have to know that we are first of all creatures of God, raised to be his image and likeness, children of his, and in spite of our defects and mistakes, redeemed and continually loved by him.

This is our core identity on which all the other specifications of our person are based and through which they are all animated. When we identify ourselves or distinguish ourselves from everybody else, we should not forget that we are first of all creatures and children of God.

Our proper relation with God can only take place when we assume the very identity of Christ!





Beware of false prophets

June 22, 2021

THAT’S what Christ told his disciples. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.” (Mt 7,15)

We have to be wary of these characters because the world is now awash with false prophets and demagogues. It even looks like we have an infestation. Whether we look at the fields of politics, business, the sciences, sports and entertainment, and yes, even in religion, we can readily find dishonest and corrupt leaders, false prophets and lying teachers.

It actually should be no surprise. Since time immemorial, and even during the time of Christ, demagogues proliferated. Our human condition, if not grounded on God, is vulnerable to it. We can´t help it. Our world can easily produce the pertinent elements and factors that give rise to them. And we can never run out of potential materials.

In this, we have received enough warnings from Sacred Scripture. “Beloved,” St. John, for example, in his first letter tells us, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (4,1)

There are many kinds of spirits roaming around the world, and we have to learn how to discern them. There is the spirit of God, the spirit of Christ as opposed to the antichrist. There is also the evil spirit, and the spirit of the world that is dominated by the evil one. There is also the spirit of the flesh.

St. John was explicit as to which spirit is proper to us. “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already.” (1 Jn 4,2-3)

And among the most dangerous false prophets we can have today are those clerics who get into partisan politics. They clearly would not be following the teaching and example of Christ who, even if he knew the shenanigans in the political world of his time, did not make any definitive stand on a specific political issue.

That’s because, I suppose, Christ knew he would be adding unnecessary division among the people if he would get into partisan politics. Politics is such a complicated area where things can never be black and white, totally right or totally wrong. It’s always grey, since the issues involved are matters of opinion and preferences that can give rise to a variety of different and even conflicting positions of the people.

The mixture of good and evil in politics, benefits and dangers are so intertwined that to separate one from the other would practically be impossible and most likely be more harmful than helpful.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Christ talked about the parable of the wheat and the weeds. (cfr. Mt 13,24-30) It would not be wise and prudent, according to the lesson of that parable, to uproot the weeds at the moment since the wheat may also be uprooted. We just have to wait for the harvest, the final reckoning, when the due separation can be made.

In the meantime, we just have to be patient, even as we also should try to purify and clarify things, but done always in a Christian spirit, that is, with charity and cordiality, with willingness to suffer the consequences of evil, without bitterness, anger and the impulse for revenge.


Last updated: 04/24/2022

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