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


Living with Christ

May 17, 2019

WE have to understand that our life here on earth is meant to be a life with Christ. And that’s simply because, as Christ himself said, he is “the way, the truth and the life.” (Jn 14,6) He said that no one goes to the Father, no one can go to God, from whom we come and to whom we belong, except through him.

For Christian believers, human life is not just anyone’s life. It is by definition a life with Christ who is the pattern of our humanity and the savior of our damaged humanity. And even if one is not a Christian believer, he somehow knows that his life is not just his own. There are at least many ‘stakeholders’ or persons unavoidably involved in his life – his parents, siblings, friends, colleagues, society in general, etc.

Christian believers should realize that we have to continually keep company with Christ whom we have to know, love, serve and identify ourselves with. And one way of knowing him, the first step before we can love, serve and identify ourselves with him, is to read and meditate on the gospel, or the whole of Sacred Scripture, that contains the life and teachings of Christ.

But there is just one important qualification in this business of reading and meditating on the gospel. We should not just read and approach it as if we are just reading a book, a novel, a play, a historical document.

It has to be read with a living faith that should involve our whole being, and not just our intellect or feelings. It has to involve our whole being that includes the whole gamut of the spiritual dimension and the supernatural destination of our life.

I remember Opus Dei founder St. Josemaria Escriva saying that in reading and meditating on the gospel, one has to make himself as one more character in any episode of Christ’s life as narrated in the gospel.

He certainly did not simply mean that we imagine ourselves to be physically present in a particular episode. This attitude would simply confine us at best to a historical and cultural impression of Christ that is by definition limited in scope and relevance. We would miss the living Christ.

We have to use all our human faculties and to be animated by faith, so that we can have not only a certain nearness to Christ but also can manage to discern the spirit of Christ which will always be relevant whatever period and situation we may be in the timeline of the world.

Let’s remember that Christ’s words and teachings as contained in the gospel are living and eternal words. Not only do they have a universal scope insofar as our life and salvation is concerned, but also have particular and unique messages for each one of us.

Thus, the letter to the Hebrews describes God’s word as revealed by Christ as “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (4,12)

Reading and meditating on the gospel with faith would truly enable us to live our life with Christ irrespective of the historical, cultural differences, etc. between his earthly life and ours. It validates what the Catechism says about how our life can be a life with Christ. The Catechism says:

“Christ enables us to live in him all that he himself lived, and he lives it in us…We are called only to become one with him, for he enables us as the members of his Body to share in what he lived for us in his flesh as our model.” (521)

The Catechism continues: “We must continue to accomplish in ourselves the stages of Jesus’ life and his mysteries and often to beg him to perfect and realize them in us and in his whole Church…”





When the legitimate becomes immoral

April 24, 2019

WE have to be careful with this possibility that, sad to say, has become rampant nowadays. It cannot be denied that we are aware of the many blessings we have, and the many rights of our human condition. We have all kinds of talents, we have intelligence and freedom, and varying degrees of wealth, resources, power. We have the right for rest and comfort and some amount of bodily pleasure.

We obviously can use and enjoy them. We just have to make sure that these legitimate things do not become immoral as when we allow them to lead us to sheer self-indulgence, with God completely out of the picture. That’s when what is good can become bad.

This danger is always present in our life and we should do something about it. We should not allow God’s blessings and the rights we have to simply be spoiled and to spoil us because we feel they have nothing to do with God.

No, sir! God is and should be the beginning, the center and end of all these blessings and rights. They are supposed to lead us to God, to give glory to him, and not just for us to wallow in our shameless pleasure. We should not forget that these things are God-given. They are not simply and exclusively our own.

We have to remember that without God in their use and enjoyment, there is no other alternative but to fall into sin, into some self-entrapment that alienates us from God and others. We would soon lose the sense of balance, restraint and moderation, prudence and propriety, and start our wayward ways. We would just feed our bodily and worldly pleasures while starving the soul. The animal in us dominates.

Without God, we would easily fall into some form of addiction and many other anomalies, like pride, vanity, greed, self-righteousness, rash judgments, etc. We should be quick to feel something is wrong when we realize we are enjoying things without God and simply by our own selves. We should correct that predicament just as quickly.

In other words, just like in anything else we do, we should have rectitude of intention when exercising our rights and enjoying our endowments. To be sure, such practice does not undermine the enjoyment of what is legitimate in our condition.

On the contrary, it would enhance such enjoyment, purifying it and elevating it to the supernatural order which is proper to us as children of God. It would affirm the dignity proper to us as persons and children of God.

With God, we would know how to use and enjoy them with measure, with self-discipline and control. We would avoid being fully at the mercy of our worldly curiosities and other bodily impulses and urges.

Again, let us spread this caveat around. More than that, let us teach everybody the ways and means of how to rectify our intentions when exercising our rights and enjoying the blessings God has given us.

Let us remind ourselves of the importance of developing a life of prayer, to such an extent that we truly have an abiding contemplative spirit, when we would be always aware of God’s presence, and see him in everything and in everyone, and get to know his will and follow it as faithfully as possible.

This should not be regarded as alien to our human nature. On the contrary, this is what is essential and integral in our nature. Without God, we as human beings would go on a limb. Sooner or later, we would get into trouble that is made worse because we might not even know we are in trouble.

It would be good if right there in the family, this basic skill of praying is taught and lived, and the small ones would already be initiated into the ways of prayer and prudence.





The current situation of civil society in the Philippines

A Statement of the Aktionsbündnis Menschenrechte - Philippinen (AMP)
Cologne, April 9, 2019

In a letter to the Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government Eduadro Año and the Secretary of the Department of National Defense Delfin Lorenzana, the Aktionsbündnis Menschenrechte - Philippinen (AMP) expressed its deep concern about increasing attempts by the Philippine government to discredit civil society organizations, including a number of long-standing partners of our network, by denouncing them as front organizations of the communist New People’s Army (NPA). These accusations frequently have deadly consequences since human rights defenders who work for organizations alleged by the security forces to have ties with the communist insurgency are at particular risk of becoming victims of extrajudicial killings.

On March 30, 14 people were killed in a single day in police operations in the province of Negros Oriental. The victims were described by the provincial police director of being communist rebels and accused of owning illegal firearms. Local human rights organizations and Bishop Alminaza of the Diocese San Carlos however maintained that they were peasants, members of farmers organizations, habal habal drivers and church workers respectively. Eye witnesses described the killings as executions with the victims being cornered and unarmed, drawing comparisons to the ‘drug-style’ killings in the Philippines’ brutal war on drugs.

Ever since the breakdown of the peace talks between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in late 2017, harassment, defamation and murders of activists, including land and environmental rights defenders, who are wrongly portrayed as state enemies, communist rebels or terrorists, increased considerably.

While this defamation of civil society actors is nothing new in the Philippines, the Duterte government has also taken other steps to systematically hamper their work. In February, a delegation of the Philippine government which had toured Europe had accused several NGOs of acting as fronts for the NPA. These include Karapatan, one of the leading human rights organizations in the Philippines, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), an inter-congregational organization of church people working with rural poor communities, the independent think tank IBON Foundation, and ALCADEV which runs independent indigenous schools in Mindanao. In meetings with the EU and the Belgian government these NGOs were accused of diverting funds they had received from them to the communist rebels. In late March, the EU Delegation in Manila released a press statement that it had so far not been able to verify the allegations but would conduct a financial audit of one of the accused NGOs.

Since the AMP and its members have worked with these organizations for many years, we can attest that the accusations are unfounded and aimed at silencing voices critical of the government.

In November 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) published a memorandum which mandates NGOs to disclose detailed information on their funding sources, current and intended beneficiaries, and amount of funds.3 Based on an undisclosed points system, organizations will also be assessed whether they pose a risk of money laundering or financing terror. If an organization is deemed to be ‘high-risk’, it will be subjected to ‘enhanced monitoring and supervision’ measures.

Unlike some other countries, the Philippines so far has no specific NGO law intended to impede the work of civil society organizations. The AMP is therefore concerned about these recent administrative measures which seem to be designed to complicate the registration of NGOs and to limit their access to foreign funding.

The widespread defamation of NGOs, the increased violence they suffer as well as these new attempts to obstruct their work are part of a systematic crackdown against civil society in the Philippines. The Aktionsbündnis Menschenrechte - Philippinen therefore calls upon the Philippine government to:

- Immediately investigate the killings of March 30 in Negros Oriental and to bring possible perpetrators to justice,

- Take all necessary steps to protect human rights defenders from harassment, violence, and killings and protect their freedom of association in accordance with Article III, Section 8 of the Philippine Constitution,

- Direct the Philippine security forces and all government agencies to refrain from making statements that stigmatize human rights defenders, especially statements that suggest that defenders are members of the New People’s Army,

- Immediately rescind SEC Memorandum Circular No. 15 (2018),

- Guarantee the right of all civil society organizations to seek, receive, and utilize funding from national, foreign and international sources without undue interference.

We also call on the European Union to:

- Publicly declare its support for all human rights organizations in the Philippines, especially those on which it has received accusations,

- Consider the withdrawal of the trade preferences given to the Philippines under the Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) unless the government takes immediate steps to protect civil society actors from further harassment and violence.

[The Aktionsbündnis Menschenrechte - Philippinen (AMP – Action Network Human Rights - Philippines) is an initiative of seven major German church-based agencies and human rights organizations to promote advocacy and information work in Germany and the EU regarding the human rights situation in the Philippines. Member Organizations of the AMP are Amnesty International Germany, Bread for the World – Protestant Development Service, International Peace Observers Network (IPON), MISEREOR, Missio Munich, philippinenbüro e.V. im Asienhaus, and the United Evangelical Mission (UEM). The main focus of the network lies on the core human rights issues of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and fabricated charges against political activists.]





Commemorate the valor of the Filipino people! Defend our sovereignty!

A Joint Press Statement by Tanggol Kasaysayan & ACT for Sovereignty
09 April 2019

Tanggol Kasaysayan and ACT for Sovereignty join the Filipino people in commemorating the valor of Filipino martyrs this April 9 who fought to defend the sovereignty of our country. This is in honor and recognition of our people’s deep-rooted history of fighting for freedom and for the promotion of people’s welfare. On this day, we remember the suffering and sacrifice of patriotic Filipinos who struggled to frustrate foreign attempts to steal and colonize our territories.

As we commemorate the Philippine Day of Valor, we recognize that we are still confronted with threats and challenges to our sovereignty. We remain to be bound to unequal military pacts with the United States of America through the Mutual Defense Treaty, Visiting Forces Agreement, and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which are skewed in favor of foreign interests and leave our country susceptible to attacks from countries antagonistic towards the US government. Meanwhile, China is relentless in its aggressive take over of islands within our shores in the West Philippine Sea as it continues to assert the unrecognized 9-dash line and as China makes itself known as a new global superpower. Through the establishment of artificial islands, China utilizes our sands and the soils from our mountains to create a network of defense for the expansion of its naval bases.

China further chains the Philippines through the funding of various projects in the Philippines. Using the classic template for a skewed contract in favor of China which it has used in other economically struggling countries, the Philippines has pawned off its natural resources and rights to govern critical infrastructures in the country in exchange for huge business loans. Ridiculously high interest rates, shorter lengths of repayment plans, exclusively granting project contracts to Chinese corporations who employ only Chinese workers – these are just some of the unfair provisions in the loan contracts that the Duterte regime blindly agreed to in the interest of ‘Build, Build, Build’. Several projects are t be funded by these onerous loans, which include the Chico River Dam project, the construction of Kaliwa Dam, and the reclamation of parts of Manila Bay. Should we fail to repay these debts, China reserves the right to claim our natural resources and to control important public infrastructures to the detriment of the lives and livelihoods of the nation.

The anomalous relations between the Duterte regime and the Chinese government should be exposed. We must learn the lessons of our history – the People must fight for the country’s independence and sovereignty at the first instance of threat against it.

These lessons can be observed as we commemorate the Philippine Day of Valor. Unfortunately, even these learnings are in danger of being relegated to oblivion as the state neglects its duty to strengthen our historical consciousness. The state has abandoned its role in propagating and cultivating patriotism. Through the continuing K to 12 program, Philippine History has been removed from High School curriculum and, in tertiary education, it has been transformed from learning about events from the past towards varying interpretations of history, which runs the risk of diluting our understanding of our identity as a nation.

It is high time for us to once again assert the valor of the Filipino people. We shall put into practice the lessons of history about our tradition of resistance against foreign domination. It is time to forward the interests of the people as basis for all international relations. Our national sovereignty and the security of future generations shall take primacy over accumulation of profit and other financial gains for the few from entering anomalous contracts. These, however, will only be made possible by a people with vast and deep historical consciousness who can elevate our commemoration of days like these to reliving the lessons of the past in the face of threats against the welfare and future of our nation. These can be guaranteed through the unity of the Filipino people in advancing a society where the interests of the majority trumps those of the few and those of foreign invaders.

Learn from the lessons of history!

Commemorate the valor of the Filipino people against colonizers!

Fight for Philippine freedom and sovereignty!





The big problem of the rich

April 2, 2019

WHAT is the big problem of the rich? Christ spelled it out when he said, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mt 19,24)

The big problem of the rich, in short, 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 of all these things that we possess.

We have to continually fight against the tendency and the constant temptation to think that all these things are simply are own, that we are their absolute owners. This is not going to be easy, of course, because even within ourselves we have the villain that will always push us to think that way.

That is why we really would need to make use of strong and constant measures to see to it that we are properly detached from whatever form of human and worldly wealth we can own and possess in this life.

It is not that we avoid acquiring wealth in this life. The acquisition of wealth can be an expression of the productivity and fruitfulness that is also expected of us. But we need to always rectify our intentions, seeing to it that everything we do in this department is always for the glory of God and for the common good of the people.

This should be shown in the way we live our life that should be marked by the qualities of simplicity, austerity, humility, generosity, magnanimity, honesty, integrity, etc.

We need to be spiritually strong and tough such that we would be willing to lose everything that we may have acquired with great effort in just an instant. We have to constantly remind ourselves that with God we would already have everything. “Solo Dios basta,” as St. Teresa used to say.

Let us never forget that wealth in whatever form, if not related to God, is the worst corrupting agent we can have in life. Everyday, we should devise a plan of protecting ourselves from the strong attraction of wealth that would take us away from God and from others.





Freedom is not ‘free’

March 22, 2019

MY father wrote the valedictory address I delivered during my high school graduation more than 50 years ago. I still remember the opening lines, a play of words that continue to intrigue me even up to now. “Freedom is not free,” I said, trying to sound dramatic. “You have to pay for it or it buys you out.”

I indeed agreed to that affirmation at that time, but I did not quite capture the richness of its content until I went through many experiences these past 50 years that simply validated it.

Yes, we have to pay for our freedom to be true freedom. In fact, the price is quite high, because it involves nothing less than giving away all we have to gain it. We have to give away many ‘freedoms’ to gain the real one.

It is indeed a paradoxical thing. To be truly free, we need to be lose our own ideas of freedom that simply are expressions of what our body wants, what the external conditionings would lead us to, etc. True freedom can only come when we manage to unite our mind and will with God’s.

That is when freedom will truly serve the cause of truth, charity, mercy, justice and all the good things proper to us as creatures of God made in his image and likeness and, with his grace, are adopted children of his, meant to share the very life of God.

It is this freedom that would clearly put us on the right track toward our final destination which is heaven. It does not get entangled with the things of this world, though it would know how to use them. It is one that can prefer to enter by the narrow gate if only to reach its ultimate goal, rather than by the wide gate the opens up to the by the many allurements of this world, but eventually would lead to our perdition. (cfr. Mt 7,13-14)

It is a freedom that needs to be constantly guarded and guided to make sure it comes from the right source and goes to the right destination. It has to be properly inspired and motivated, as well as properly oriented. Otherwise, as we have been warned in the gospel, it can simply give an opening to self-indulgence, thus imprisoning us into our own world. (cfr. Gal 5,13)

It is a freedom that requires real and total detachment of self and of the things of this world so that we can have the one that gives everything. Christ articulated this point when he said: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” (Mt 6,33)

We have to be wary of being deluded by the charms of the many forms of false freedom we have in this world. To be able to do this, we have to be ready to follow Christ’s indication to deny ourselves, carry the cross and simply follow him. (cfr. Lk 9,23)

Yes, genuine freedom will always involve sacrifice. A freedom in this world that does not involve sacrifice is simply not true freedom. It would be a freedom that would set us up for inhuman slavery even as it dishes out a lot of perks and privileges for a while. We have to be most discerning of the tricks of false freedom.

What is more, we can somehow distinguish between genuine and fake freedom, since the former is usually done gratuitously, without any strings attached, without any condition, without counting the cost nor expecting any reward. As they say, it is done freely despite the steep cost. It is what identifies us with Christ.

Fake freedom usually has ulterior motives. The intentions are not pure. It usually likes to flaunt itself. It will sooner or later corrupt our soul.





“Louder for the People in the Back”: Indie vs. Popular Filipino Music

March 18, 2019

Our lives revolve around music. It has indeed played a major role in shaping people’s lives, most especially to those who are blessed with the gift of music and are able to share their unique sounds that led them to pursue their passion for it.

In the Philippines, it is widely known that we have outstanding performers in the field of music that even some are fortunate enough to have their talents recognized by either local or international scenes, and we are fortunate enough to go around the world to perform on the biggest stages. Because of this, many artists are inspired to strive and attain that same goal. Even more so when their music is something that catches people’s attention because of the messages they convey. But as the years go by, the music industry in the country has become more political in terms that it has a tendency to be more of a business in making money than what music is supposed to be; an expression of art at its proper form.

In today’s digital age, music has become more accessible to many whether through online streaming sites or downloading them through music applications like Spotify. It has also given the opportunity to let people share their music, especially those starting out as local indie artists who want their work to be recognized in simple ways such as posting their music on websites like Soundcloud, or promoting their performances in small gigs at local bars.

These indie artists have one goal in common; to express what words cannot say through their passion for music. With this access, many of these artists have published their songs in the form of covers and even unique compositions online. By means of publishing their work, their talents get discovered and are easily shared through word of mouth via social media. None of which would also have happened if it weren’t for the love and support that their fans have been giving them that pushes them to continue doing what they do best.

But even through the small success of these indie artists, in reality, it is difficult for most of them to pursue music and get the recognition they deserve. Today, as much as they want to make their music known at its best quality, it is being surpassed by what the popular music industries promote. The Filipino masses are innately attracted to anyone or anything that’s famous, most especially when they are seen in their famous movies and soap operas.

Unfortunately, Philippine entertainment industries use this attraction to their advantage, in which it influences them to waste their money on artists who are already famous for their acting career and have them take a chance on making music, whether or not they can actually sing and hit a good note. Later on, you would be surprised that music industries are actually promoting a poor quality album that is filled with auto-tunes and shallow lyrics sung by a person who just so happens to be already famous, rather than investing their time and attention on promoting indie artists who produce songs that have a much deeper substance.

In line of the inappropriateness of promoting such artists in the field, most if not all Filipinos tend to be attracted to the loudest thing, but not necessarily the best thing, especially when it comes to music. Their attention is more on songs that do not have much essence, than those that do. It shows how Filipinos have such a skewed definition when it comes to the quality of the songs that they listen to, simply because of the influence that some artists have garnered through media that is not anywhere related to music.

These indie artists, however prominently talented they are, are being overshadowed by songs from inadequate persons in the industry who are only doing it for their additional source of profit.

Ever since its start in the early 1970s, Original Pilipino Music (abbreviated as O.P.M.) has always been prosperous and it never fails to captivate the hearts and emotions of the people, especially through the way it is arranged and the true implications of the lyrics.

Filipinos nowadays tend to say that OPM is dying, or dead even, because all they see and hear are from our entertainment industries are so-called artists lip-syncing to international songs and not even promote what is ours. Others even say that it’s dying because the quality of Filipino music artists they promote today are shallow or just a copy of international celebrities. But little do they know that these indie artists are the ones keeping it alive by giving what’s unique and sustaining the true meaning standards of OPM, and it’s saddening that not many people appreciate them.

Music in the Philippines has become more of a subject of business than of Art. But even if that is the reality of the industry, it is satisfying to see that here are still thriving artists who still push themselves into pursuing their music knowing that the music business in the country is a hit or miss.

As someone who is enthusiastic for her love and support for Filipino music, it is great to perceive that little by little prosperous and authentic music is being distinguished by its unique quality over other the qualities being promoted in the media, and that people are sharing and promoting these indie artists that deserves to be heard and be proud of. But at the end of the day, the most important purpose music can achieve is to unite its people amidst its differences.



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