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



A safer registration process

August 18, 2020

The National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) welcomes the decision of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to resume the registration of voters for the 2022 elections on September 1 nationwide, except in areas under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) or Modified ECQ. NAMFREL also commends the COMELEC for taking steps to implement anti-COVID precautions, like preventing symptomatic applicants from entering Comelec premises, ensuring physical distancing, requiring applicants to wear face masks and face shields, and encouraging applicants to bring their own pens.

In a press release on August 15, the Comelec said that they are "encouraging applicants to download the application forms from," and "strongly recommended that downloaded forms be filled out before going to the COMELEC office for registration." NAMFREL believes that the COMELEC could improve the upcoming registration process by implementing elements of their previous iRehistro system, previously offered to OFWs, and expanding them nationwide.

Online submission of requirements

NAMFREL believes that Comelec could take the anti-COVID precautions further by making it a requirement to download and accomplish the forms, and for the applicants to bring their own writing materials, instead of being merely recommendations. The Comelec could also take the precautions even further, by exploring the possibility of digitally transforming the registration process, by allowing a voter registrant, using any electronic device like a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, to fill out a registration form online and submit the same electronically to the Comelec.

Appointment system

To further prevent the crowding of people at Comelec offices, NAMFREL further urges the COMELEC to implement an online appointment system during the submission of requirements. As has been observed in previous registration activities at the Comelec offices or even in satellite registration locations, the Comelec can only accept a finite number of applications a day. An appointment system will help ensure that registrants would come to their respective Comelec offices only on the appointed day and time that they can be served. An online appointment system would not be new to Filipinos, as this is the kind of system being used in securing appointments for processing of passports and NBI clearances, among others.

NAMFREL is currently drafting a set of further recommendations for lawmakers and election administrators to help ensure that Filipinos are amply protected every step of the way as the country enters another election cycle.

The upcoming resumption of the registration of voters will be an important indicator of how the Comelec would handle the holding of the 2022 elections amidst a pandemic. NAMFREL remains hopeful that starting with the registration, the Comelec would adopt processes that are efficient, cost effective, and have the utmost safety of Filipinos in mind, to invite confidence from the public and from polling staff that they would not be exposed to infection if they go out to vote or do their poll duties in 2022.





The urgent duty to evangelize politics

August 17, 2020

CONTRARY to the view that clerics should be completely hands-off and quiet about politics, we need to realize more deeply that clerics, in fact, have the grave duty to evangelize politics just as they ought to do the same in all the other temporal affairs of men and women, like in business, the arts, sciences and technology, sports and recreation, even in fashion, etc.

They have to bring the spirit of Christ to bear on all these human concerns, because that spirit should be involved in everything that is human. In fact, it has to be made known that that spirit is supposed to be what is proper to animate all these human affairs.

I think that it would be wrong to think that evangelization should just remain in the level of the spiritual and the supernatural, or in the level of the theoretical. Clerics should have a working knowledge of how things go in these fields of human endeavor. Their evangelization should lead and cause some practical and concrete transformation in people and in the way they do politics and carry out their earthly responsibilities.

Except that extreme care has to be done so that this duty of evangelization is not turned into playing partisan politics. This, of course, is not easy to do since things can be confusing and we are always in the constant process of knowing things better. So, a lot of prudence and patience are always needed and a keen desire to clarify and help others should be kept and developed.

And when we, the clerics, happen to commit mistakes in this area, as when we overstep our authority, we should be humble and simple enough to acknowledge those mistakes and do the necessary corrections.

What is meant by evangelizing politics is that aside from proclaiming what is absolutely moral and immoral, it should foster an environment of frank and cordial dialogue among the different and even conflicting parties involved, keen desire with matching effort to pursue the common good, adherence to agreed rules of engagement as articulated in our legal and judicial systems, etc.

Of course, our human systems can never be absolutely perfect. They will always be a work in progress, always in need of updating, adapting, polishing, refining. We should learn how to live with that condition, and how to make the necessary improvements in them as we go along.

Let’s always remember that we are not expected to agree on everything. And part of evangelizing politics should be that we learn how to disagree without compromising charity and unity among ourselves.

It’s important that the channels of dialogue should always be open no matter how different and conflicting our views are. Thus, it is very advisable to be always friendly and in talking terms with everyone, no matter how in conflict our views are.

We should avoid rash judgments, reckless and inflammatory words, or any antagonistic action and gestures that can suggest and, worse, agitate people to have a recourse to violence, or an invitation to hatred, etc.

Also, putting labels or branding people as liberal or conservative, progressive or regressive, or fanatically sticking to party and ideological lines, while valid up to a certain extent, do not capture the whole dynamic of people’s real thoughts and intentions. We should be wary of habituating ourselves in them. They usually oversimplify things and give rise to unnecessary misunderstandings.

Everyone has to remember that in matters of opinion, like in many political issues, no one has all the good reasons. It’s important that we listen to each other, since everyone has a reason for his opinions and preferences, then study the issues well, before we make and defend our own positions.

The moment people do not talk to one another anymore, and, worse, are harboring ill-feelings and antagonistic attitude towards others, that’s when we are creating a toxic environment that is not healthy to our society. We should do everything to avoid this situation.





Mark of a good prayer

August 12, 2020

IF we really have a good prayer, one where we truly have an intimate encounter with God, we for sure would come out of it burning with zeal for love and concern for the others. Somehow we would catch the fire behind these words of Christ: “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Lk12,49)

Yes, real prayer has that effect. If, on the contrary, we come out of it just thinking of our own selves, or worse, feeling low and dry, then we are not actually praying. Prayer will always sharpen our mindfulness and thoughtfulness of the others.

Prayer is by definition an act of love. And love in turn is always self-perpetuating. It never stops giving itself to God. As St. Francis de Sales would put it, “The measure of love is to love without measure.”

And because of our love for God, then our prayer which is an act of love for God will always lead us to love others. That is always the trajectory of a true, love-inspired prayer. Its vertical aspect never leaves behind the horizontal aspect.

In his first letter, St. John said regarding this point: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And we have this commandment from Him: whoever loves God must love his brother as well.” (4,19-21)

Of course, it cannot be denied that there are times when in spite of our best intentions and effort, we still would feel dry. Neither should we be surprised by this. Many saints, who really had intimate conversations with God, also experienced the same phenomenon. God allows that to happen for a good purpose. Such dryness serves to purify and deepen our faith and piety.

But normally, even in the worst scenario when we would be feeling low and dry in our prayer, the heart would still beat for love and concern for the others. Genuine prayer can have no other effect. If in prayer we are truly with God, we should also be with others. It cannot be any other way.

So in these times of lockdown and quarantine, we have to make sure that our prayer does not begin and end only with our own selves. It has to begin and end with God. And because of God, it somehow has to involve the others.

We have to be wary of our tendency to convert our prayer as a way to build some kind of an ivory tower, where we isolate ourselves from the others. This can happen when our idea of being with God is detached from being with the others. Sad to say, we can observe some people falling into this trap.

This can also happen when our idea of prayer is too spiritual as to neglect the material dimension of our life. Let us remember that man is by definition a composite of spirit and matter, of the soul and the body. He cannot be one without the other.

If our prayer has to lead us to love others, then that love has to be shown by caring not only for the spiritual needs of the others. That love also has to care for their material needs. And vice-versa.

In the end, what is most important is that everyone is led to God who is the Alpha and Omega of our life and of the whole world. So, our love for the others that comes as a result of our prayer should not just be limited to doing philanthropy or some acts of altruism. Our prayer-inspired love for the others should bring them to love God the way God loves us.

For as Christ clearly commanded us, we have to love one another as he himself has loved us. (cfr. Jn 13,34)





Protect all humanity by ratifying the nuclear weapon ban treaty

Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing

Joint statement of Philippine Red Cross and International Committee of the Red Cross on the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts
August 9, 2020

On this day 75 years ago, an entirely new type of weapon exploded above the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Within a fraction of a second, a massive dome of fire filled the sky. The intense heat of the explosion eclipsed the center of the coastal city, immediately vaporizing all living things. A millisecond later, a violent supersonic blast wave expanded outwards from the fireball in all directions, levelling most of the city and its 340,000 inhabitants to the ground.

A few weeks later, Fritz Bilfinger, a delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), arrived in Hiroshima to assess the damage. The telegram he sent back to his colleagues in Tokyo painted a chilling picture: “city wiped out; eighty percent all hospitals destroyed or seriously damaged; inspected two emergency hospitals, conditions beyond description, full stop; effects of bomb mysteriously serious, stop.”

It would later emerge that the explosion had instantly killed tens of thousands of people and inflicted unspeakable suffering upon many others. Three days after the bombing of Hiroshima, on 9 August 1945, the new weapon would again unleash its terrifying power, this time to kill and injure 60 per cent of the population of Nagasaki, another Japanese city.

In the following months and years, despite the best efforts of the ICRC and the Japanese Red Cross Society to assist the victims, tens of thousands more would die from the bombs’ long-lasting effects. Disturbingly, the explosion has continued to kill and injure up until this day, each year causing cancers and other deadly illnesses in those who found themselves in its vicinity.

Throughout history, the international community has taken decisive action to prohibit and eliminate weapons that have unacceptable humanitarian consequences. The unspeakable suffering and devastation witnessed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki led the ICRC and the wider Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement to advocate that nuclear weapons must never be used again and prohibited under international law. The Senate of the Philippines, through the efforts of the undersigned Richard Gordon, adopted Senate Resolution No. 47 in 2017 expressing full support to the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement’s call to ban and eliminate nuclear weapons.

In 2017, 122 States including the Philippines responded to the evidence of the immense suffering resulting from any use of nuclear weapons by adopting the landmark Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). The TPNW includes a comprehensive set of prohibitions on participating in any nuclear weapons activities, including developing, testing, producing, using or threatening to use them. Three years later, this treaty needs an additional 10 ratifications to enter into force.

But why is such a treaty needed, 75 years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? This is because there are still nearly 14,000 nuclear weapons in the world, thousands of which are at “hair-trigger” alert, ready to be launched at a moment’s notice.

The use of even a fraction of these weapons would cause long-term and irreversible effects on human health, the environment, the climate and food-production – that is, everything that life depends on – threatening future generations and the very survival of humanity.

Any use of nuclear weapons would generate colossal humanitarian needs that no government or international organization has the capacity to respond to. Who, then, will assist the victims of a nuclear explosion, and how? What we cannot prepare for, we must prevent.

Last year, the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, the foundational instruments of international humanitarian law (IHL), provided a forceful reminder that even wars have limits. Military needs can never justify using inhumane or indiscriminate weapons. There is little doubt that adherence to the TPNW will help protect future generations and be a turning point in our efforts to end the era of nuclear weapons. The Philippines can play a leading role in achieving this goal.

By signing the treaty in 2017, the Philippines became one of the flagbearers for this important convention. In now joining a growing number of states in ratifying the TPNW, the Philippines can increase the chances of the treaty coming into force, thereby honoring the memory of the hundreds of thousands of victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Sen. Richard J. Gordon
Chairman and CEO
Philippine Red Cross

Boris Michel
Head of Delegation
ICRC Philippines





Knowing and loving Christ

August 5, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s when we love him with all our heart as we are commanded to do (cfr. Mt 22,37) that whatever inadequacy we have with respect to our knowledge of him, is taken care of. If our heart is united we the heart of God, that is, when we are in love with God, we in a mysterious way share in the omniscience of God.

That is why we can say that those simple people with great love and piety for God has greater knowledge of God than those erudite theologians and philosophers whose love and piety for God is not as great as those of the simple people, in spite of the fact that they may have studied the faith a lot more.

This does not mean that loving God with the heart more than the head is a matter of indulging in emotionalism and things like that. If one truly loves God with his whole heart, he also will do everything in his human capacity to study his faith well and to conform his life to that faith.

Loving God never compromises our rational nature that has both the intuitive and discursive capabilities. Loving God uses these capabilities to the hilt but also acknowledges the limitations of these human powers. Loving God, more than anything else, involves the role of grace that God himself unstintingly gives us but to which we have to correspond properly with our acts of piety.





Distancing, yes. Indifference, no

July 29, 2020

BECAUSE of our abnormal times, we are asked to submit ourselves to certain protocols that we usually do not have during normal times. Right now, we are asked, and we should obey, those strict indications about social or physical distancing, wearing of masks, washing of hands, etc.

In fact, as much as possible, we should just stay at home, avoiding having to go out unless truly necessary, if only to steer clear of the possibility of infecting or being infected by others. Truth is we would not know what would hit us if we go out. Our common enemy is invisible. The person beside us could be the Trojan horse, the traitor. We can easily be a victim of a friendly fire, so to speak.

But this does not mean that while we follow these protocols as strictly as possible, we have to be indifferent to others, or worse, to regard them as an enemy, considering them as suspects and all of this leading us to a terrible state of paranoia. If anything at all, our relation with others should become more intimate, more caring and compassionate. This ideal can always be pursued together with due prudence.

This can always be done if we first of all exercise our faith, hope and charity, which are foremost an operation of the heart and mind where no viruses can enter, unless we let them. We just have to see to it that the state of our mind and heart is healthy, that is, deeply rooted on our trust in God’s loving, wise and merciful providence.

With that condition in place, we would know what to do even if we are forced to some lockdowns in our respective homes and communities. The mind and heart are always creative and inventive. They have resources to resist inactivity and negativity. They will always find things to do instead of just rotting away in idleness which is a very dangerous situation to be in.

And that’s because our mind and heart have the capacity to bring us to God who takes care of everything. Even in our worst scenario, when things can be unsolvable already, we know what to do to derive what is good for us.

So, we can say that the condition we are having right now is a good opportunity to develop and strengthen our spiritual and supernatural life through the proper exercise in our mind and heart of the divine gifts of faith, hope and charity.

Let us seize this moment to attend to this basic need of ours that we actually have been ignoring for quite some time now. If there is one thing very good and worthwhile that we can derive from this crisis we are having today, it could be this one.

We should realize that we have a golden opportunity to make ourselves stronger in that aspect of our life which is the most important since that is what brings us to our eternal and definitive life. We have a golden opportunity to know the true value of our earthly things and conditions – that they only have a relative value. What is of absolute value is our eternal life that can be reached through faith, hope and charity.

So, what we seem to lose because of our social or physical distancing, mask wearing, hand washing and the other protocols, we can more than make up with our prayers and sacrifices through the exercise of our faith, hope and charity.

With the spiritual and supernatural exercises, we can gain greater intimacy with the others, more effective compassion with them, the kind that is not afraid to get dirty with the others as long as the truly essential is not compromised.

This is where we can validate what St. Paul said, that when we are truly with God, everything will work out for the good. (cfr. Rom 8,28) With God, we can derive good from evil!





Living with unavoidable evil

July 17, 2020

THE parable of the wheat and the weed (cfr. Mt 13,24-30) reminds us that in our life we have to learn how to contend with unavoidable evil even as we do many good things. We are somehow warned not to overreact to evil that would do us more harm than good. We have to learn to be realistic about this condition without, of course, compromising what is truly essential in our life.

There are times when we simply have to tolerate and suffer the evils around us when in the meantime there is nothing morally right that we can do to turn things around. That is why we are encouraged to develop the virtue of patience.

Patience teaches us not only how to tolerate evil and bear the ensuing pain, but also to reassure us that every suffering brings a very uplifting, if purifying and saving, value in life. It is a very positive value, very forward-looking, in fact. That is why it is always accompanied by serenity and even joy.

Patience is also about waiting for the real and ultimate justice of God to unfold. It assures us that evil does not have the last word. It is always the good, though that good may come at a much later date. It tells us that the justice of God, which is always accompanied by charity, never fails. If it does not come now, it will surely come at some other time.

But there are also times when to tolerate and suffer, or when to wait for a later and more favorable time would not be possible or would be hardly practicable. It’s in these cases when we might be forced to do some cooperation in evil. This where we have to rightly know when that cooperation is legitimate and moral, and when it is not.

In this regard, it is good that we master the moral doctrine about cooperation in evil. Evil, as we said, is growing around us and has struck deep roots. We have to learn how to deal with it. Obviously, we cannot help but get dirty ourselves, and yet there is also a way to clean up and make up. We just always need to return to God, as often as necessary.

Cooperating in evil happens when one participates, one way or another, in an immoral action of another person. This can either be formal, that is, when the co-operator approves of it also, or material, that is, when the co-operator simply tolerates the act because he somehow cannot escape from it.

Formal cooperation is always sinful and should be avoided. Material cooperation may be lawful and thus can be tolerated, but under certain conditions and precautions. Among these conditions are:

(1.) The cooperating act must be, in itself, good or indifferent morally. (2.) The intention of the one cooperating should be good. (3.) There must be a just cause. (4.) And the good effect desired in that cooperation should not be the consequence of the bad effect.

Besides, one should avoid causing scandal and creating occasions of sin for the others. And he should be morally strong not to be affected by the evil he is somehow forced to cooperate materially. In a sense, he should be ready to get dirty and to do away with some aspects of life without compromising his spiritual life. Christ told us not to be afraid of anything that can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. (cfr. Mt 10,28)

For this, one has to intensify his life of prayers, recourse to the sacraments, doctrinal formation and development of virtues. He should always try, in whatever way he can, to transform the evil into something good. When truly united with God, he can manage because God can always derive good from evil.

We really have to learn how to live with unavoidable evil in this world!





Be unitive, not divisive

July 2, 2020

I DIDN’T realize that a joke video I shared sometime ago on social media would resonate with so many people. It was about a fellow who wondered why a wife rushed to cremate her husband when he only started to have a fever.

Some people told me that with couples under lockdown, some tension and conflict become unavoidable. “They know that their commitment to each other,” someone told me in jest, “should be ‘till death do us part.’ But it should not be 24/7 that they be together.”

Indeed, it’s undeniable that seeing each other the whole day, let alone, for an indefinite number of days, can create friction. We are all notorious for that. We seem helpless before that tendency. But it’s a challenge we have to face and learn to handle well. And the current quarantine dispensation is a good occasion to do that. We actually have a golden opportunity in our hands to learn something very precious.

I was just both amused and disturbed that in the social media these days, some funny conflicts and useless squabbling over unimportant matters are playing out. A young doctor, for example, bashes a public official over a matter of prudence about what proper steps and measures are supposed to be taken regarding our protection from the Covid, triggering a chain of similar reactions. And things like this seem to be sprouting in many places.

It cannot be denied that all this can be an effect of the unfamiliar and uncomfortable situation brought about by this quarantine thing. People become irritable. Egos get easily rubbed, especially if there’s some public image to protect and project. Patience gets over-stretched and becomes a costly commodity.

To a third party quite detached from the issues involved, it is clear that everyone has a point, except that the tone and manner of presenting and reacting to things get exaggerated. One overreacts to a view expressed by another person, and the person also overreacts in response. It’s like the Law of Talion being played out, and before you know it you have an explosive situation over something that is really nothing.

We have to learn to calm down, respecting each other’s opinions. We cannot avoid differences. That’s part of being human. But let’s not forget that at the end of the day we all are in the same boat. We have to care for one another. We float or sink depending on how we behave toward each other.

When we are sober, keeping our emotions under control, we can actually sort out our differences quite well. And even in those instances when our differences cannot be reconciled, we can always manage to disagree in an agreeable manner.

Let’s make use of this Covid-caused quarantine lifestyle to learn to be more patient, more understanding and caring towards others. Yes, let’s learn to be more humble, because all this useless quarrels are at bottom a matter of pride and vanity.

Let’s learn how not to get tired seeing the same faces the whole day. In fact, let’s be accepting of everybody, regardless of how one is, warts and all. Never allow critical thoughts and grudges to stay long in us. On the contrary, let’s be ever creative and inventive in showing our love, concern, affection for everybody, being quick to understand and to forgive.

When we notice that we want to distance ourselves from someone, then it is a clear sign that we have a problem, and that problem has to be solved with God’s grace and our effort.

The same attitude should be kept when we are in some public discussion or engagement. We have to be careful with our emotions, and let’s see to it that our humility is kept strong and vibrant especially when we are misunderstood or mistreated.

Our foremost concern is that we foster unity always, never allowing any signs of divisiveness to creep in, as much as possible!



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