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



Beyond the Outbreak

Dr. Jaime Aristotle B. AlipDr. JAIME ARISTOTLE B. ALIP
CARD MRI Founder and Chair Emeritus
March 29, 2020

It is around this time of the year when our farmers would harvest the produce they have tirelessly worked hard on for months. Instead of a full table and an income that would support their family until the next harvest season, they are left with uncertainty and instability due to the COVID-19 outbreak that none of us expected.

Focusing on protecting people from COVID-19, the local and national government declared lockdowns and community quarantines in many cities and municipalities across the nation. This severely curtailed movement and public gatherings that made the operations of microfinance institutions untenable. In response, microfinance institutions, declared a suspension of operations in their covered areas, including moratorium on loan payments while the community quarantine is in effect. Many of these institutions are members of APPEND and MCPI whose combined outreach is 9 million poor and low-income families served by more than 50,000 staff and an estimated 70B loan portfolio.

With the expected decrease in business activities, the reprieve will allow clients to channel their budget to basic needs. Even so, an unsettling voice still lingers: is the delay in the collection of loan payments ever enough to sustain their needs after all of this is over?

The bigger picture

With significant experience in community development, microfinance institutions (MFIs) have seen poverty-stricken families rise above poverty through access to and ownership of financial and non-financial services. Because of the COVID-19 outbreak, all of this could potentially go down the drain. The low-income sector, who are mostly clients of MFIs, are greatly distressed by the effects of the pandemic and the necessary measures imposed by the government.

Since main bank branches of CARD Mutually Reinforcing Institutions (CARD MRI) nationwide are still open for services like withdrawals and remittances, our skeleton workforce still has interactions with our clients. Field staff have also remained connected with clients through cell phones and/or social media that enabled them to communicate to management what was happening to their communities. Our Regional Directors have reported that many of the clients are experiencing devastating effects on their livelihoods. Most of them have products to sell but are restricted by the physical barriers of community quarantine, severely affecting their income to support their own families. For example, in the National Capital Region and elsewhere, in order to implement social distancing, marketing hours were imposed, compelling many small eateries and stalls in the public markets to close.

Microentrepreneurs in the agriculture sector also have a crucial role in society. Most of our farmer-clients in Luzon end up selling their produce at bargain prices, or giving them away to neighbors, or worse, leaving them to rot because they could not travel to the market due to strict rules on movement being implemented. In Masbate and Marinduque, our clients can neither send their seafood products to key cities nor let their wholesale buyers come because seagoing vessels are no longer allowed to leave or enter their ports.

Come post-quarantine, enough capital would be needed by these farmers to buy inputs such as seeds and fertilizers. But given the situation we have today, transporting and selling their produce becomes a challenge. If they cannot sell their products, then they would not be able to farm again. Ultimately, it is not only the farmers who would face the consequences. We might be dealing with a possible food shortage if our supply is not enough to meet our country’s demands.

Some of these microentrepreneurs also employ other members of the community, therefore contributing to the enrichment of the local economy. While the success of one microentrepreneur has proven to affect a community positively, its downfall can also ripple to many families and eventually, to the whole community.

Post-quarantine dilemma

With all these challenges faced by microentrepreneurs, the microfinance industry anticipates reduced capacity of clients to pay after the outbreak. Even with the high risk of low repayment, MFIs continue to provide financial and non-financial services to the low-income sector during the period of quarantine. In fact, industry leaders continuously think of ways that could still support the economic activity of these microentrepreneurs.

However, we recognize that we could not do it alone. Expecting negative effects on liquidity, MFIs are seeking for potential interventions to continue its business of eradicating poverty in the country.

MFIs are looking for support from organizations and institutions who can provide additional credit facilities and funding to support its cause in helping people improve their lives while facing this global health emergency. We are also convening partners and industry leaders to discuss this pressing issue to mitigate the effect of the pandemic in the industry.

Most importantly, the support from the government is most crucial at this time. The Philippines has proven to be a conducive environment to implement microfinance. Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas has repeatedly recognized MFIs as champions for financial inclusion. Further, laws such as RA 10693 or the Microfinance NGOs Act, which was signed on November 2015, enables Microfinance NGOs to expand outreach to greater number of poor people especially in the hard-to-reach areas and implement community development programs funded by tax incentives. These programs include medical missions, scholarships, and livelihood trainings, among others.

We encourage you to think about the low-income sector; the landless farm workers, the small farmers, the fisherfolks, the maglalako, the sari-sari store owners, and other microentrepreneurs. The lockdown and community quarantine may end soon but if we do not act now, their sufferings will worsen even after the outbreak. Because health protection and financial inclusion goes hand in hand, may we not forget to balance the scale in favor of one over the other. Let’s ensure no one gets left behind.

As a Consultative Group to Assist the Poorest blog concludes: “It seems likely that without significant support and concerted action, many MFIs are at risk in the coming storm. The question is: what steps can we take now to ensure the industry survives and can contribute to the eventual economic recovery? Without taking on hard questions and beginning to put plans in place for COVID-19, it won’t be poverty that is in a museum, but potentially the modern microfinance movement.”

About the Author:
Dr. Jaime Aristotle B. Alip is the founder and chairman emeritus of CARD Mutually Reinforcing Institutions, a group of 23 institutions that envisions to eradicate poverty in the Philippines. He is the recipient of the 2019 Ramon V. del Rosario Award for Nation Building.





There’s life after death

March 27, 2020

WE need to strengthen our faith in our life after death. We need to reinforce that belief especially because nowadays there is clearly an ebbing away from that truth of our Christian faith. We tend to get distracted by the things of this world, and worse, to get too attached to them as to ignore our life after death.

The readings of the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A, clearly tell us about this truth. We are meant for eternal life. We are meant for a life with God forever. But we have to be ready for it, deeply realizing that what we have now in our earthly life is precisely the means and the path, not an obstacle, for us to enter into eternal life. We need to see the vital link between time and eternity, the material and the spiritual, the natural and supernatural.

From the Book of Ezekiel, we read: “The Lord Yahweh says this, I am now going to open your graves. I shall raise you from your graves, my people, and lead you back to the soil of Israel.” (37,12) Here, we already have an allusion of the truth about life after death.

This truth is reiterated in the second reading from the Letter to the Romans: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead has made his home in you, then he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you.” (8,11)

And all this point is rounded off with that beautiful story of the raising of Lazarus where Christ clearly said: “I am the resurrection. Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, will live, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die…” (Jn 11,25-26)

We need to develop a sense of the eternal life, making ourselves eternity-ready all the time, knowing how to connect our earthly time with the heavenly eternity. We have to constantly remind ourselves of what the Letter to the Hebrews has told us clearly. “We don’t have a permanent city here on earth, but we are looking for the city that we will have in the future.” (13,14)

We have to train our mind and heart, as well as our feelings and senses, to conform themselves to this truth of our faith. In our personal prayers and meditations, let us consider from time to time the reality of heaven and reinforce that primitive yearning we have in our heart for a life without end, for a happiness that has no limits, which can only take place in heaven.

Let us remind ourselves frequently that our faith tells us that we actually come from God, and not just from our parents, and that we are meant to be with God forever in heaven after our earthly sojourn which is meant to test us if we want to be with God or just with ourselves.

We have to learn how to link our earthly time with the eternity of heaven by nourishing our belief that there is God and that he is our Creator who gives us our very existence and that he continually, without any gap or break, is intervening our life. We have to be more aware of this truth, and more importantly, know how to deal with it.

We have to know what is of absolute value in this life and what only has a relative value. We have to be more aware of the ever-abiding providence of God. That way, we would always have optimism despite the difficulties, challenges and possible mistakes we can commit.

Thus, it is important that we know how to pray, how to strengthen our faith, hope and charity, how to relate everything in our life to the ultimate eternal life. We need to be eternity-ready, not just future-ready, with the figurative go-bag always by our side.





When forced indoors

March 16, 2020

WITH all this talk about lockdown, quarantine and voluntary self-isolation for about a month or so due to this Corona virus, we need to learn how to make good use of our time when we are forced to be indoors.

We have to welcome this rare opportunity. It at least offers us a chance to rehearse when due to some emergency situation we are made to stay put in a place longer than usual.

We can never tell what the future holds for us. So far, we already had a volcano eruption, some earthquakes, and we are still in the first quarter of the year. We can expect typhoons sooner or later. And there might still be more. Who knows? It’s always good to be prepared for any eventuality.

At the very least, what we can do is to grow in the inside when on the outside we cannot do much and our movements are restricted, or when we are practically confined and yet we are still in normal condition physically, mentally and even emotionally.

Most important of all would be that we be spiritually fit and healthy, and still productive in a sense. This aspect of our life is fundamental and should not be compromised just because of these forced restrictive measures imposed on us.

Definitely, we can make use of the time praying and studying better than usual. These very important human necessities are usually taken for granted during ordinary days. Now is the time to make up. Besides, we have a very good and immediate reason to pray and study more, given the current situation.

When we are more with God, we can see things better. We can always make good use of any situation that humanly speaking may be considered as a disaster. With God, we would know how to adjust and adapt. With God, everything, including some negative events, will always work out for the good, as St. Paul once said. (cfr. Rom 8,28)

It would be a good idea to pick up some spiritual books, to know more about the life of Christ and those of the saints. It’s also a good time to live a more intense spirit of sacrifice and penance, and to practice the different works of mercy, if not directly then by virtual means through the Internet, by spreading good pieces of news or just good spirit. We would be doing a great service that way, given the conditions of people these days.

We can also attend to certain concerns to which we only paid a lick and a promise during our normal working days. There may still be some books to be read, some assignments to be done, some repairs to be made in the house. The garden may need better attention and care than what was given it before. There will always be items that we left behind because we cannot attend to them during normal days.

Family life definitely can be given more attention too. Parents who still have children at home can spend more time with them, though this would require of them more creative initiatives so that the children would learn how to take advantage of their forced vacation. The parents have the grave duty to give good example to their children. They would also have more time to show affection to their children.

Let’s consider these days of confinement like the gestation period of a living being that needs to be well taken care of precisely at that most crucial stage for its development, so that when the time comes for it to be born, it comes out very healthy.

Let’s have a very positive outlook at this turn of events. There’s no use lamenting over this somewhat drastic change of circumstance. That would only be counter-productive, a pure waste of time.

Let’s never forget that if we are forced indoors, God must have allowed it to happen. And if he allows it, there must be a reason and a greater good that can be derived from it.





Fear, panic, paranoia

March 11, 2020

FEAR, of course, is one of our emotions. It is our natural reaction when we perceive something to be a danger to us or is so incomprehensible that we feel helpless. Fear is one of our natural and instantaneous defense mechanisms.

Since we are exposed to all kinds of things in this world, we should not be surprised that fear comes to the surface from time to time. We can even fall into panic. But we should relieve ourselves of it as soon as we can.

We just have to see to it that like the other emotions, we do not let it stay simply in the level of raw, unprocessed instincts or that of a reflex reaction. It has to be processed and has to be dominated and directed by reason, and ultimately by our faith in God. Fear that is unguided by reason and faith would not be a healthy one. It would destroy us rather than defend us.

Amid the spreading scare of the Corona virus that we are having these days, we need to distinguish between a healthy fear and an unhealthy one, a normal fear and what may be described as a paranoia that is already a mental disorder.

A healthy fear does not freeze us into inaction for long. It would immediately lead us to study things well so that we can act with prudence, and as a consequence we can manage to have peace of mind and continue with our duties and responsibilities in spite of the ongoing danger or scare.

When our fear is of the unhealthy type or, worse, has degenerated into panic and paranoia, we continue to feel helpless and unable to function well as we should. It is kind of obsessive that leaves us feeling insecure and always in the state of fright. It’s a fear that finds no relief. It is actually an over-reaction that does not seek support from reason, and much less from faith. It makes things worse.

What we have to do is to immediately go to God. He has the answer to all the questions that we may even be unable to ask. He has all the solutions to all the problems that we may not know we have. He will enlighten us as to what concrete steps we can do. He will reassure us and will infuse courage to our weakening or wavering heart.

Let’s remember what Christ said once: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16,33) These reassuring and comforting words of Christ had always been repeated many times in the gospel. “Fear not, it is I,” Christ said to the disciples when they saw him walking on the water. (Jn 6,20)

From the Book of Isaiah, we have these reassuring words from God: “Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (41,10) We really have no reason to be afraid of anything for long.

We just have to be strong in our faith that in turn will guide our reasoning and strengthen our emotions, especially when we encounter situations and problems that humanly speaking seem to have no more solutions. We have to expect this possibility to take place and we should just abandon ourselves in the wise and omnipotent providence of God.

We are told that God is always in control of things and that there is always time for everything to happen, “a time to be born and a time to die…a time to kill and a time to heal…a time to weep and a time to laugh…” (Ecclesiastes 3)

To repeat we should not allow our fears to stay long on the level of raw, unprocessed instincts and reflex reactions. With God, we will find a reason for everything, and that everything will somehow work out for the good. (cfr. Rom 8,28)





The homily

February 20, 2020

PEOPLE have been asking me about how the homily in the Mass should be. I, of course, find it difficult to answer that question, knowing that behind that question are often critical observations people make, and that every priest has his own style, has his own merits and limits which should be respected.

But what I can say is that, first of all, the homily is an integral part of the Mass, and as much as possible, should not be omitted, especially on Sundays and holy days of obligation. It should be given its due importance and understood properly by both the priests and the faithful attending the Mass.

Pope Francis said that the homily “is not a casual discourse, nor a conference or a lesson, but a way of ‘taking up anew that dialogue which has already been opened between the Lord and his people.’” In other words, the homily is a continuing dialogue that Christ initiates with the people, applying the perennials truths of faith to the current circumstances of the people.

The homily is not therefore some kind of class or lecture, but rather Christ continuing his redemptive work on us, inspiring and edifying us. Pope Francis said that priests should deliver good homilies so that the “Good News” of the Gospel can take root in people’s hearts and help them live holier lives.

What is clear is that the priests in delivering the homily should be very conscious that he is assuming the very person of Christ as head of the Church. He has to project and channel Christ there, not himself. He should be careful not to “steal the spotlight” from Christ.

And the priest should be most aware that he is speaking to the people with the view of helping them to become more and more like Christ, who is pattern of our humanity and the savior of our damaged humanity. He is not there to entertain them, or to give them a class.

While the priest, of course, can and should make full use of whatever would help the people to listen to him during the homily, the net effect should be that it is Christ whom the people listen, and not just him. The priest should regularly examine himself if such is the case when he delivers the homily.

In this regard, it might be helpful to make use of some words of St. John the Baptist who said, “He (Christ) must increase, but I must decrease.” (Jn 3,30) Or some words of St. Paul who said, “It is no longer who lives but Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2,20)

The priest should find a way of how he can put these words into his life, into his over-all attitude toward things, and especially when he is giving the homily. He should know well the art of passing unnoticed so that only Christ would shine out.

Indeed, he has to spend time meditating on how he can assume the mind and the presence of Christ wherever he is and especially when he is celebrating the Holy Mass and giving the homily.

He should try his best never to depart from this state of mind, since he is already sacramentally conformed to Christ head of the Church whether he is saying Mass, walking in the street, or doing sport, etc.

Yes, he has to spend time studying the gospel thoroughly so that he can truly incarnate it in himself and express it in ways that can really present Christ who would like to continue his redemptive dialogue with the people of our times.

There should never be room for improvisation. And when for some reason one is caught unprepared because of some emergency situation, he should implore the Holy Spirit to guide him, and let the tremendous wonder of the Spirit speaking through him take place.





The indispensability of the cross

February 19, 2020

That’s right. The cross, given our human condition, is absolutely necessary in our life here on earth. We cannot even be human, much less, Christian, without the cross.

Without the cross, we think that we can be absolutely on our own. Without the cross, the only possibility we have is to sin, to go against God, to demean our dignity as a human person and a child of God, meant to be in God’s image and likeness.

Without the cross, our freedom would easily go haywire, get unhinged and proceed to pursue false, albeit quite attractive goals. Without the cross, pride, vanity and their cohorts would easily dominate us. Humility and the privations and sufferings that it occasions automatically become a disvalue and are thrown out of the window.

That’s the reason why Christ, who only has our own good in his mind and heart, commanded us that if we want to follow him, we should deny ourselves and carry the cross. (cfr. Mt 16,24) We need the cross more than we need air to breathe, food to eat.

We have to understand then that the cross is not something optional, though it has to be embraced as freely as possible. We should avoid thinking that since the cross is necessary, we should just force ourselves to accept it. That would be a wrong and dangerous attitude to have.

Thus, we have to spend time meditating on this indispensability of the cross in our life so we can form the proper attitude and the relevant skills. We cannot deny that our human condition at the moment is quite averse even to the mere mention of the cross. But this condition has to be overcome, with God’s grace, of course, but also with our own effort.

Just like anything else in life that we want to master, we need some training here. Thus, instead of just waiting for the cross to come, we should actively look for it. At the beginning, it is understandable that we take on small crosses so we can be prepared for the big ones. There has to be gradual assimilation of the importance of the cross in our daily life until the cross becomes an organic part of our life.

I remember a saint who wrote on the first page of his personal diary the following words: “In laetitia, nulla dies sine cruce.” (In joy, there is no day without the cross.) I think it’s a good motto to have and to guide us. We really should try our best to look, find and love the cross everyday.

The cross, of course, can come in many forms. There are the physical ones, the internal and external ones, the emotional and mental ones, the spiritual and moral ones. There also are the ordinary, small ones and the extraordinary, corporal and special ones.

We can start with the small crosses like eating less of what we like, guarding our senses like our eyes and mouth. We can put a tighter grip on our imagination and judgments, etc. Perhaps a relevant mortification would be to limit our use of the internet and the many gadgets that tend to distract us from our more important duties.

The more subtle forms of mortification are to develop the ability to put order into all the things of our day, observing the proper priorities, while at the same time, trying to be as productive as possible by learning how to put together in some kind of synergy the different tasks we have during the day.

When we are faithful in bearing these little crosses, then we can be more ready for the big ones, as when we are severely misunderstood and mistreated, when we fall into some serious sickness, when we suffer some crisis of one kind or another.

That’s when we can be ready for the final one: when we face our death and our transition to eternal life.





Philippines: Police reforms cannot be achieved through ultra-violent methods

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
February 12, 2020

The South China Morning Post recently published a report quoting Colonel Romeo Caramat stating that the Philippines’ ultra-violent approach in curbing drugs has not been effective. He further went on to say that "shock and awe definitely did not work”. The drug supply is still widespread and illicit drugs can be obtained anywhere, anytime in the Philippines.

Colonel Caramat, earlier on, was one of the toughest enforcers of President Duterte's ultra-violent Illicit Drug Policy. He was responsible for the killing of 32 people. These killings took place within 24 hours in a Province north of Manila when he was Chief of Police there. Now he is the head of drug enforcement for the Philippine National Police. He had to admit the failure of President Duterte’s policy pursued for three to five years. President Duterte's spokesman claimed that the drug policy was winning. However, President Duterte himself, on several occasions, recently admitted that the war on drugs, with a call to kill addicts and traffickers, has failed in many key objectives. He attributed the failure to rampant corruption prevalent in the Philippines.

It was predictable that President Duterte's ultra-violent approach to curb the Entry/Illicit Drug Policy was doomed to fail. What has to be achieved, through significant reforms in the Institutions of Justice, particularly in the Policing System, cannot be achieved with the extreme violence existing in the Philippines. The root cause of the failure to curb the spreading of illicit drugs was that a LAW ENFORCEMENT capacity does not exist in the Philippines. This is due to the failure of the Justice System as a whole and in particular the Policing System. The extent of the corruption within the Policing System as well as the complete ineffectiveness of the system is widely known.

The Asian Human Rights Commission, in one of their reports published in their quarterly magazine, Article 2, entitles its report as the Philippines having a ROTTEN system of justice. It is this rotten system that has to be cleansed as the substantial menace of the spread of drugs is being handled by ineffective law enforcement personnel. However, neither President Duterte not his predecessors have shown any political will in this situation. They need to touch on these important areas of national life and protection of the people. They need the return of a RESPONSIBLE Police Force together with reform in other sections of its Justice System.

The overall perception in political circles is that dealing with the Policing System is far more difficult than dealing with the illicit drug problem. Therefore, a shortcut was attempted by using ultra-violent means to curb the illicit drugs. However, such shortcuts cannot work in a country where law enforcement itself is the UMBRELLA under which the drug dealers and traffickers take shelter.

Not only the illicit drugs problem but also every other major problem in the Philippines is rooted in the ineffective administration of its Justice System. It is the primary evil that prevails in the country as a whole, giving rise to other evils like the spread of illicit drugs. Without addressing the root causes of the most significant aspects of their nation's failures, it is not possible to overcome any major problems that come up. The ultimate result of this bad Justice System affecting every area negatively, is the ever-increasing increasing POVERTY of the people in the Philippines. Extreme poverty creates victims who take refuge in the use of drugs. However, the extreme poverty issue cannot be dealt with without the support of a WELL-FUNCTIONING ADMINISTRATIVE JUSTICE SYSTEM.

It is not only the Government which has failed to realize the importance of dealing with the issue of a failed Justice System. Even the Civil Society has not demonstrated a will to fight this pronounced evil which effects every aspect of Philippine life. Great achievements were made through “People's Power” to overthrow the President Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship. But, attempts were not made to achieve structural changes that supported authoritarianism. Thus, the emergence of authoritarian methods and authoritarian rule have been operative up to the present. The challenge facing the Philippine people is that there will be sufficient political will within the population to address the paramount problem they are fronting nation-wide.

This failure is their SYSTEM OF JUSTICE, particularly the failure within their POLICING SYSTEM.



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