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


Financial inclusion and Shari’ah financing

August 2, 2021

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

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

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

Most Impoverished

The poorest regions, based on PSA’s 2018 Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES), are ARMM, Region 9, Region 8, CARAGA, and Region 12. Four of these regions are in Mindanao, but the most impoverished is the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region, which has a whopping 61.3% poverty incidence. This means that 3 out of every 5 persons in the region are poor. The situation is even worse in the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Sulu, and Basilan, where nearly 2 out of every 3 people are poor.

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

Shari’ah-Compliant Financing

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

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

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

The Paglambo Project

The Paglambo Project is a Sharia-inspired microfinancing program that CARD started in 2018. It was the product of a series of dialogues and learning visits between two Ramon Magsaysay awardees: the Dompet Dhuafa, an Indonesian non-profit organization, which won the Magsaysay Award in 2016, and CARD, which won the Magsaysay Award for Public Service in 2008. The Dompet Dhuafa ran a very successful Islamic microfinance and banking scheme, which inspired CARD to develop a similar Sharia-compliant program for Muslims in areas where they operate.

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

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

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

Call to Action

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

* * * * *

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





The many benefits of prayer

August 2, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Let the victims’ voices lead the way


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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





Why education matters

July 27, 2021

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

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

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

Education and Poverty

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

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

Inequity and Access to Education

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

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

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

Breaking Inter-generational Poverty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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





Increasing lawyer killings a cause for alarm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Closing the door to a peaceful resolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Issued and signed this 21st day of July 2021.





Do we really know Christ?

June 28, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Beware of false prophets

June 22, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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