Insights and opinions from our contributors on the current issues happening in the region

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Time for US to step aside and let the Philippines give peace a chance

When religion is abused

Loving the cross is genuine sign of hope

Pinoy in Rome: At the Door of the Jubilee Year of Mercy (IV)

Outgoing regime, unaddressed violations

Two years Leyte

What is Government’s priority, Money or People?

Filipino WW II Vets on the return of Balangiga Bells to Eastern Samar

Pray, pray and pray some more

Rosary most relevant today




Cultivating a sense of media responsibility

July 14, 2016

I remember an interesting study made some years ago in an American paper about the effects of media on children.

Distilled from some 173 researches done over a period of the past 30 years, the report said there’s strong and disturbing correlation between children spending a lot of time with TV, video games, Internet, etc. and a variety of negative health effects.

“In a clear majority of those studies, more time with television, films, video games, magazines, music and the Internet was linked to rises in childhood obesity, tobacco use and sexual behavior,” it said.

“A majority also showed strong correlations – what the researchers deemed statistically significant associations – with drug and alcohol use and low academic achievement,” it continued.

The report is expectedly done in a language considered as politically correct at the moment. When it said that children’s overexposure to media can affect their brain development, I think they mean it can deform their consciences. When it said such exposure leads children to risky sexual behavior, I think they mean immoral, that is, sinful sexual practices. But, ok, I understand.

Those behind the study vowed to continue monitoring and studying the developments in this area of concern. One of them was surprised to find an absence of research into the impact of new technologies.

He said, “Media has evolved at a dizzying pace, but there’s almost no research about Facebook, MySpace, cellphones, etc.” It’s good that such concern is now being raised. Our challenge is how to identify dangerous trends in things that offer many practical advantages. And of course, what to do with it.

Pertinent to this observation, I have seen adults, not just children, badly affected by these new gadgets. They show signs of obsession and addiction, as they forget even to eat, they lose sleep and neglect other duties to their families, not to mention the spiritual ones, like prayer.

In short, many have become couch potatoes, glued to their seats for hours, completely dominated by what’s before them on the screen, disoriented and practically dead to the outside world and even their immediate surrounding. They live virtual lives.

I myself am having difficulties in this area. I am now tempted to declare for myself some email bankruptcy, since I receive so many of them everyday, mostly spams, that just to erase them not only wastes my time, but also raises my blood pressure.

It’s about time that we take serious steps to know more about this trend and to do something, even something drastic, about it. Our future is at stake. Our danger is not only from wars and terrorism. It can come right from our own homes. These technologies are notoriously treacherous.

This is, of course, a responsibility of everyone. Parents have the primary and most direct role to play. Then the teachers and other elders. But the government and also the media should do their part.

And given the latter’s capabilities and resources, they should do something massive and abiding to support the parents’ delicate duties in this regard. They cannot anymore be naïve and play blind. They have to boldly face the issue.

Those behind the study are precisely recommending this. And I’m very happy about that proposal. Alas, it seems the time has arrived for this concern to be taken seriously, and not anymore treated as an idea so wild it has to be chased away. I hope I’m not wrong.

On many occasions, I get deeply but helplessly bothered by what I see especially on noontime TV shows that are greedily lapped up by the people, especially the young ones and those who are mostly idle.

There’s so much inanity and frivolity, so much twisted values being flaunted with almost total impunity. People are given a daily diet of toxic entertainment. Sooner or later, the effects will show. We are now building up a potential moral and social explosion.

We need to liberate ourselves from such foolishness, hiding behind the excuse that people just want to have fun and amusement. The idea is not to kill fun, but to make it fit for human consumption.

Though things vary from person to person, family to family, group to group, concrete plans of actions have to be made to guide everyone for a prudent use of the new media technologies.

Schools should take active part in imparting the proper guideline on use of these new technologies. We have to find ways of how to effectively monitor the effects of these technologies on the people, especially the young.





Greenpeace statement on the murder of Gloria Capitan, anti-coal activist in Bataan

July 7, 2016

MANILA – Reuben Muni, Climate and Energy Campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said: "Greenpeace condemns in the strongest terms the murder of Gloria Capitan, a staunch anti-coal advocate who bravely stood up against plans for coal stockpiles and a coal-fired power plant in Mariveles, Bataan, at the height of overwhelming local government support for coal energy and a national policy favoring the same.
"Ate Glo, as she was fondly called, was a member of the Coal-Free Bataan Movement, which Greenpeace Philippines works with. She was gunned down by two motorcycle-riding assassins on the night of July 1, 2016. She was 57 years old.

"Her untimely passing is not only a significant loss to the coal-free movement in the Philippines, but the manner of her death is a huge blow to our struggle for human rights and against criminality. Greenpeace, together with other organizations working on the anti-coal campaign in Bataan, condemns this attempt to silence the growing opposition to coal-fired power generation not only in Bataan but also in other parts of the country.

"Greenpeace demands justice for Gloria Capitan and other fallen environmental defenders This is a challenge to President Rodrigo Duterte's drive against criminality, which shouldn’t be limited to stopping drug-related crimes but should also go after criminals who target activists standing up to powerful interests. Those who defend the environment need to be protected."





Support the positive overtures of the incoming Duterte regime and assert the people’s interests

A press statement by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines - Eastern Visayas
June 20, 2016

A new ruling regime will be in place on June 30 with the proclamation of president-elect Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. On that day, the National Democratic Front-Eastern Visayas calls on the people to come out to support the positive overtures of the incoming Duterte regime, as well as to present their basic problems and assert their interests.

Rodrigo Duterte has stirred great expectations by appointing progressives to some posts in his Cabinet, promising to release all political prisoners and resume the peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), and crusading against crime and corruption. At the same time, the NDF-Eastern Visayas is mindful that Duterte’s election does not mean doing away with the reactionary ruling system, and that he is surrounded by reactionaries of various stripes as well as US imperialism.

Nevertheless, the revolutionary movement is open to alliance with the Duterte regime so the people can avail of benefits that can improve their conditions, as well as allow them to organize and strengthen the democratic mass movement. The revolutionary movement in Eastern Visayas furthermore supports the NDFP’s efforts to secure the release of the detained peace consultants and all political prisoners, resume the peace talks, and reach with the Philippine government an agreement on socio-economic reforms.

Human rights advocates, peace advocates and the church people in Eastern Visayas have the moral high ground to call on the incoming Duterte regime to honor its vow to release all political prisoners and resume the peace talks with the NDFP. The political prisoners in Eastern Visayas have been languishing in jail for years on trumped-up charges that treat them as common criminals and not as prisoners by reason of the armed conflict. Eastern Visayas also continues to struggle with militarization and the culture of impunity for human rights violations including media killings under the outgoing Aquino regime.

The survivors of super typhoon Yolanda must avail of the incoming regime to strengthen their struggle for justice against the criminal negligence of the Aquino regime, as well as demand the junking of the corruption-ridden Yolanda rehabilitation and reconstruction program that favor the big business cronies of the outgoing regime and not the urban and rural poor who suffered the most. They and the victims of other calamities can call on the incoming progressive social welfare secretary, Dr. Judy Taguiwalo, for the long overdue assistance that were denied them under the previous administration. In the latest calamity to befall the region, at least 44 people recently died from a mere diarrhea epidemic – a bitter reminder of the reactionary government’s historical neglect of Eastern Visayas.

The peasants of Eastern Visayas welcome the appointment of the progressive Rafael Mariano to the agrarian reform department of the incoming Duterte regime, and assert their calls for genuine agrarian reform. They are also calling for the return of the coconut levy funds stolen by the Marcos regime, irrigation, and other agricultural support such as against pest infestations that currently afflict coconut, abaca and rice in the region.

Meanwhile, the workers and government employees in the region look forward to the incoming Duterte regime’s commitment to end labor contractualization, while pushing for the ending of other anti-labor policies such as the two-tier wage system. They also assert the P16,000 wage and salary increases and P25,000 for teachers, and the social security pension increase that was denied by the Aquino regime.

The youth and students must urge the incoming Duterte regime to scrap the K+12 program that is leading to massive dropouts. They must call for greater subsidies to state universities and colleges and a free, nationalist, scientific and mass-oriented education system.

Furthermore, the people of Eastern Visayas call on the incoming Duterte regime to scrap the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, Visiting Forces Agreement and other unequal agreements with the US. These have only allowed the violation of our national sovereignty and give license to increasing US military intervention. The people in the region remain vigilant over the possible entry of US troops after the launching of US-backed psywar projects, such as the recently concluded Millennium Challenge Corporation road network as well as other projects by the US Agency for International Development.

It is also fine and well that the incoming Duterte regime vows to campaign against crime and corruption, especially the menace of illegal drugs. The NDF-Eastern Visayas urges Duterte to live up to his tough words and crack down on the Ong political dynasty in Northern Samar that, according to investigation by the New People’s Army, is behind the widespread illegal drugs trade in the province. The newly elected second district congressman, Edwin Ong, is believed to be the biggest drug lord in the province, with the backing of his uncle, the reelected governor Jose Ong, Jr. If the Duterte regime wishes to curb the illegal drugs trade, it is best to go after big fish like the Ong dynasty and their police and military protectors, which will effectively also do away with the small fry.

In the final analysis, it is not enough for the people to passively take the incoming Duterte regime’s words and actions. They must continue the tasks of arousing, organizing and mobilizing to press for as well as defend their basic democratic rights. The armed revolutionary movement must also remain steadfast, take advantage of any ceasefire to consolidate and to conduct propaganda and education to win over the masses to the national democratic cause, and intensify the people’s war at every opportunity. After all, having peace talks with the incoming Duterte regime is not an end in itself, but still a long and arduous journey towards a just and lasting peace.





A Bright Prospect for Peace for the Filipino People

A Statement of the Ecumenical Bishops Forum in Support of the Peace Efforts of the Duterte Administration
June 20, 2016

The rise of the President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to the highest office in the land portends peace to our country which has been wracked by violence for decades if not centuries now.

The Muslims arrived in Sulu in the 9th century as a result of the massacre of the Muslim Arabs in Canton in 877 AD (The Struggle of the Philippine Muslims: A Historical Perspective by Dr. Darwin T. Rasul III). From thence Islam began to take root in the islands. In 1450 the Sultanate of Sulu was established, followed by the Sultanate of Mindanao in the 16th century.

With trading the Muslims spread their religion to Mindoro, Palawan, Manila and the rest of Luzon. Had there been no interruption, Islam could have been the religion throughout the islands. And the Filipino Muslims could have lived in peace.

The coming of the Spanish conquistadores in the 16th century, however, disrupted life for the Muslims. The Spaniards were able to conquer most of Luzon and the Visayas with their sword and cross. They also attempted to vanquish Muslim Mindanao, but the more organized natives fought back fiercely. Those sent to vanquish them, like Capt. Figueroa, were instead killed by Moro fighters, including the famous slay of Magellan by Lapulapu. The Spaniards never conquered the Muslims and Mindanao remained to be their land.

Meanwhile, throughout the islands, Andres Bonifacio organized in 1896 the Katipunan (Kataastaasang Kagalanggalangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan in full, or KKK), a nationwide revolutionary movement to liberate the country from the oppressive and exploitative hands of the colonizers.

In 1898, on the verge of defeat, the Spaniards surrendered, not to the Filipino revolutionaries unfortunately, but to the Americans who pretended to be protectors of the revolutionaries but actually became the new colonizers.

In the Treaty of Paris which was signed between Spain and the US in December 1898, the Philippines was ceded by the former to the latter at the cost of $20 million. Mindanao, which was never colonized by Spain, was part of the territories given to the US.

The Muslims once again resisted colonization. The US, however, more cunning and deceptive than Spain, managed to subjugate the Muslims not through military force, but through the use of the divide-and-rule and the carrot-and-stick tactics. They established a Moro province which was supposed to take care of the needs of the Moro people, but in effect was a way to administratively colonize the Moro people.

They offered amnesty to Moro “rebels”, set up an education program which granted to sons and daughters of Moro leaders free higher education which effectively changed their values and culture to embrace America, and put up foreign government brought by settlers from North Luzon, and started the exploitation of Mindanao’s rich resources. Through the Torrens land titling, the Filipino Muslims lost their land which became public land. Their territories including their ancestral land, are controlled by elite settlers and foreign multinational corporations ((Guiamel M. Alim in The Bangmoro Struggle for Self-Determination, June 1995).

When the US granted “independence” to the Philippines, Mindanao was included under the national government despite the protests of the Muslims.

In order to regain their land and freedom, they organized armed resistance against the Philippine government: the Moro National Liberation Front, its breakaway Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and lately the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

Now, six (6) centuries later, the Bangsamoro is still struggling for their land, life and self-determination.

On the other hand, the Filipino people led by the Communist Party of the Philippines, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, are waging an armed protracted people’s war. Started in ‘60’s, the armed resistance is now on its fourth (4th) decade.

To be sure, there were already attempts by previous governments to forge peace with Muslim Mindanao and the CPP-NDFP-NPA, but these did not last. Governments seemed more interested in surrender rather than lasting peace.

The ascent of a President Duterte who had shown true friendship with the rebels from both groups in Mindanao gives hope to the Bangsamoro and the Left that genuine peace based on justice is possible.

The GPH Peace Panel has already been formed and had started working. On June 14-15, they had initial talks with the NDFP panel in Oslo, Norway on resuming the formal peace talks.

As far as the Bangsamoro is concerned, incoming President Duterte had a talk with representatives of the MNFL and MILF on June 17 in his desire to achieve a lasting peace in Mindanao.

After six centuries as far as the Moro people are concerned, and after four decades as far as the Left are concerned, peace, genuine peace may at last see the dawn!

The Ecumenical Bishops Forum supports the effort of the incoming Duterte administration to forge peace with Bangsamoro and the Left and unify the whole Filipino people towards progress and peace.

At this point, let us be reminded of the words of the Psalmist:

“Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful,
to those who turn to him in their hearts.
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
Righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground’
And righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield increase.
Righteousness will go before him,
And will make a path for his steps.”
(Psalms 85:8-13, NRSV)

Issued and signed this 20th day of June, 2016.





A Bridge of Hope

A statement by the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP) congratulating the incoming GPH peace panel
June 18, 2016

The Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP),* the largest ecumenical formation of church leaders in the country, congratulates the incoming Negotiating Panel of the Government of the Philippines (GPH) and the Panel of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), for successfully concluding their preliminary talks in Oslo, Norway, with the help of the third party facilitator, the Royal Norwegian Government. Their initial talks produced a Joint Statement indicating that the two parties will resume the formal peace talks on the third week of July, 2016.

PEPP is elated over the fact that bridges are being built by both parties in order to have a just and enduring peace in our country. PEPP is inspired by the optimism generated by the parties’ meeting as reflected in their Joint Statement. It is a bridge of hope that principled negotiations may bear fruit and address the roots of the armed conflict.

The Joint Statement said that the formal peace talks will take on the following: affirmation of previously signed agreements; accelerated process for negotiations; reconstitution of the Joint Immunity and Safety Guarantees (JASIG); amnesty proclamation; and, the mode of interim ceasefire.

The Joint Statement also pointed out that the incoming GPH panel will recommend the release of NDFP consultants and political prisoners to President-elect Rodrigo Duterte.

As peace advocates guided by the teachings of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace, PEPP enjoins the Filipino people to support this initiative from the GPH and the NDFP. Let us pray for its success.

Issued and Signed this day 18th day of June 2016.





Putting religion on money

June 16, 2016

WE have to learn how to blend these two elements. We cannot be simplistic and put them always in conflict. Yes, there are dangers to avoid. But we have to distinguish the good from the evil involved in the use of money. Otherwise, we might throw the baby out with the bath water.

It’s true that the Gospel warns us to serve only one master. We cannot serve both God and Mammon, the false idol of material wealth that exercises bad influence on us. (cfr. Mt 6,24)

But this indication is not an outright condemnation of money. We always need money, since we are not angels. We are simply asked to avoid the extreme of considering money as our God, and the other extreme of regarding money as intrinsically evil. We have to be careful with money because, as St. Paul warned, ‘love for money is the root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Tim 6,10)

Christ himself had to use some money. When asked if he also had to pay taxes, he told Peter, after alluding that strictly speaking he should be exempted from it, to go to the shore to get money from a fish to pay the taxes. (cfr. Mt 17,27)

Money has to be used with a growing sensibility to its moral dimensions. It has to fit our true human dignity. It has to be related to our conscience, and ultimately to religion. It has to serve both God and man. It can be a wonderful tool for our material and spiritual growth.

In other words, money should not just be used following exclusively practical and economic criteria. We also have to consider higher, spiritual values, since we are not purely economic creatures, but are persons and children of God.

There’s no doubt that money contributes to human progress. Imagine a world without money! We’d hardly advance from the Stone Age. And with population growing and the economy stagnant, there’s nothing much to expect other than chaos.

From my Economics 101 class, I learned that money has to circulate as fast as possible to generate economic activity, and thus affect more people and hopefully produce more satisfaction.

But obviously this is not only a matter of speed. There has to be proper direction, since as St. Augustine once said, no matter how fast one runs, if he is off-track, he will never reach the finish line.

We need to find the proper blend. It’s a continuing task requiring us to pray, study, observe, consult, and decide. It’s not easy, and never a perfect activity. We often can’t see the forest for its trees. It thrives more on trial and error. And so we have to be flexible also.

I remember that before I got ordained – this was in Rome – I was asked to buy a new pair of shoes. So I went around to look for the one I liked. When I finally found the pair, I asked the saleslady if those shoes would last long.

She stared at me, as if I was a Martian. Then she asked me, “But why would you like the shoes to last long?”

That question stunned me. I’ve always been taught to buy things that can last even as long as a lifetime. But that remark led me to thinking more deeply. Of course, if everyone would buy shoes only once in a rare while, how would the shoe industry fare?

I concluded that the lady had a very valid point. But I had to study things more comprehensively. I had to integrate it with the requirements of temperance and Christian poverty.

When I was in high school, I hardly bought anything. I always thought I had everything that I needed, since I was told not to create needs. I got this trait from my parents who were very Spartan.

My younger sister, however, would remind me it was time to change my wardrobe, or would introduce me to products like skin lotions and colognes, and the new styles around.

I was afraid I would fall into consumerism and materialism which I thought would elude my sister’s understanding. But since I did not see these anomalies in her, I followed part of her suggestions. I concluded I exaggerated my fears.

Now I realize she was helping the economy, aside from making me look kind of good. She had more common sense, was more down-to-earth, while I tended to be cocooned with my books.

With all the recently discovered ugly schemes and scams in our complicated economic environment today, there’s a crying need to hone this skill of properly blending money and religion.





A Taste of the Iron Fist

A press statement by the Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan (SPARK)
June 14, 2016

News have been pouring in from mainstream media of a substantial number of minors being captured due to the curfew of 9pm to 4am imposed in municipalities such as Las Pinas, Manila, Quezon City, Mandaluyong and Caloocan. Local ordinances for the imposition of curfew have already been in place years before -- in Manila by 2002 and in Quezon City by 2014. However, with the expected rise to power of President-elect Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte, the Philippine National Police is now enforcing these operations under the name Oplan “Rid the Streets of Drinkers and Youth” or Oplan Rody. The coverage of mainstream media on the incidents, however, fail to tackle or promote discussion regarding the impacts of these ordinances on the youth, especially for those taking the night shifts for school, working students and the poor.

K-12 and the education crisis

The Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013 which resulted in the implementation of the K-12 Basic Education Program had aimed to improve the quality of education for Filipinos across the country. However, the dismal implementation lead to only a handful of schools ready for K-12 and thus exacerbated and continued the shortage of classrooms, lack of textbooks and insufficient budget to absorb the senior high enrollees. With most schools proving to have inadequate facilities, the K-12 schools are congested and thus require the employment of shifts reaching up to night-time to accommodate them. Schools such as the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila and Universidad de Manila have their classes extending up to 9pm. The lack of K-12 ready schools are also an added burden to students pursuing senior high school as schools in their area cannot operate for K-12 yet.

Students as young as 17 also participate in Department of Labor and Employment’s Special Program of Employment for Students (SPES) to be able to continue with their education. The working hours under this program most probably span the late hours of the day to match their school schedule.

Chances of these students going beyond the curfew are also amplified with the upcoming monsoon rains and heavy flooding expected from the lamentable state of the public transportation system and road networks which add to the travel time required for their trips home.

More space for human rights violations

Minors are required to present papers which certify that they are students dismissed from their classes in the evening or got off from work through presenting copies of their schedules. Although seemingly harmless since it just merits a check on certain documents, this hauntingly harks back to the Martial Law days wherein police have the prerogative to demand details from citizens. While those who violare the ordinances are only supposed to receive warning and lectures, certain police stations have been found to be inconsistent in their procedures with some having push-ups as punishment. It should also be noted that these operations should be supervised by professionals such as social workers and police officers from the PNP Women and Children Protection Center since it concerns minors. If the implementation of these ordinances are not properly regulated, too much power may be given to the police force and this can be taken advantage of if put in the wrong hands.

Poor more prone to oppression in war on crime

Unemployment among the uneducated youth has been found to lead to a propensity for committing criminal offenses such as theft and drug-related offenses. Property crimes are largely correlated to poverty as these are found to be the remaining avenues for the people to get resources from required to continue with their lives especially with the high cost of living due to the high prices of basic commodities and insufficiency of basic social services. Operations against petty crimes, aside from having the poor most susceptible, also fail to address the roots of these social ills and thus lead to a growing cycle of poverty and crime.

Thus SPARK-Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan expresses its deep concern regarding the operations performed by the police force which show utter disregard to realities faced by each and every ordinary Filipino. Rather than solving the problem of criminality by providing young Filipinos with an education that will provide them with a better future, the steps taken only further handicap their chances at a better life. Rather than solving the problem of criminality by cultivating a police force that truly serves and protects, the steps taken only harken back to the darker days of our history. Rather than solving the problem of criminality from its source through taking steps to alleviate poverty, the steps taken are those which hold the poor most vulnerable and leave the most responsible and those in power free from repercussion.

These ordinances may only apply to these particular cities now, but we as citizens should always be vigilant, especially as it appears that a police-state is what awaits the country under the administration of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, who has risen to power on a platform of anti-criminality.






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