The whole of Christendom is now in the season of Advent – the four weeks before Christmas Day - and the beginning of a new liturgical year. It is a period of preparation for the birth of Christ. Before the commercialization of the season, it was a period of reflection, of cleansing, of religious activities to prepare the world for that special day. It is unfortunate that the commercialization of Christmas has eclipsed the real purpose of advent.
Pope Francis, in his message last Sunday, describes Advent as a journey through history. “We rediscover the beauty of all being on a journey: the Church, with her vocation and mission, and the whole of humanity, nations, civilizations, cultures, all on a journey along the paths of time.
The Pope adds that “This journey is never finished. Just as in the life of each one of us there is always a need to start again, to get back up, to rediscover the meaning of our existence, so for the great human family it is necessary always to redirect ourselves toward the common horizon that is the goal of our journey. It is the horizon of hope!”
Nowhere is this message of Pope Francis more meaningful than in the areas of our country ravaged by armed conflict and natural calamities this year. Many people have not yet recovered , and are still at a loss on how to get back to their former selves. Fortunately, our flexibility as a people allows us to address this problem. Many have contributed to help the victims; but with the immensity of the areas destroyed, it will take a longer time to move from emergency relief to early recovery. For many of the victims, “they have to start again, to get back up, and rediscover the meaning of their existence.”
Let us think of this as our common goal in this journey. During the season of advent, let us not succumb to the lures of crass commercialization, but instead be immersed in the real reason for advent – to help those who have to start again. As the Pope said, the journey is never finished. What if it will be us who will fall next time? Will others respond to our cries for help? Will we think of earthquakes and typhoons as just a chapter in our livesof this never ending journey? It is therefore important that we always have that horizon of hope, which is embodied by the coming Christ.
A practice that we should adopt in response to this goal is to tone down our celebrations this Christmas season. Although some economists believe that the savings will not even put a dent on the national accounts, it will be felt in our collective conscience. Of course, we should not forget that Christmas is also the season for children. They should be given the chance to experience that the Christ Child in a manger is the hope that we journey for. To a limited extent, let us allow them to enjoy the frills of the Christmas season, just as the generation before us took pains to provide for us. A Blessed Advent to All!
Filipinos are often described as fatalistic (resigned, stoic, laid back). We smile even in the midst of a disaster; have happy reunions during a funeral;preserving traditions even when these are negative to our development. However, many are waking up to the realization that modernization is leaving us behind and our rights are being trampledupon due to this outlook in life. So we support the campaign against VAW (violence against women), champion the rights of children, and speak up against impunity. But we still have to face up to the deeply rooted practices that still define many of us, especially those in government.
Just look at Cotabato City and its environs – a city that was vibrant and full of life decades ago – and what do you see? It is a city suspended in time - the same narrow and worn roads, the same old bridge, same empty seaport, samehazardous airport. There may be changes, but it can be described as moving at a snail’s pace. Now, with the anticipated development that goes hand in hand with the Bangsamoro transition, we seem to be ill-prepared for it.
We agree with the observation of Dr.DandaJuanday, a renowned physician and activist(over NDBC) and other Cotabatenos who feel that Metro Cotabato is at a choking point, after the announcement that passage in the old bridge will be limited and the airport will shut down four times a week this December. A new bridge had been built but cannot still be opened to regular traffic for unknown (?) reasons; and an airport whose expansion has been in the calendar for the past five years but has never started (well, the supposed expansion area was cleared of houses five years ago) . And when did government suddenly remembered that there is danger in postponing the implementation of the projects? Auspiciously, just at the end of this year, when the residents are wrapping up their activities and preparing for the coming new year.
Businessmen in particular are at the losing end of these scheduled activities. With large cargo trucks banned from using Quirino Bridge and forced to take the rough approach to the new Delta Bridge, expect freight charges to increase. Same with the goods that are brought in through the airport, since this will only be opened four times a week. There are no flights on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. As if to appease the wrath of Cotabatenos who are going home this Christmas season, it was announced that the regular schedule will be back starting December 20, but only for a limited time.
Is it true that development activities are tainted by politics, and the national line agencies are still lorded over by “commissioners” and syndicates? Where is the “matuwidnadaan” of President Pnoy? Is it really difficult to abolish the entrenched practices of syndicates in many national government agencies? Between the senators/congressmen who prey on the PDAF, and the syndicates at the NGAs, how can the Filipino citizen make use of the taxes he pays to the government?No wonder many Filipinos choose to migrate to other countries. There, they will not experience being choked between the devil and the deep blue sea.
The title of this editorial should have been Resiliency of Filipinos amid disaster, but was changed when we came across a commentary by a noted Filipino writer (NinotchkaRosca) who explained why she did not like the description. The dictionary definition of resiliency is “that which springs back to a former shape” or “capable of recoiling from pressure or shock unchanged or undamaged”. Victims of the supertyphoon Yolanda were described as resilient by many journalists because, just like previous victims of calamities, they are expected to recover quickly and go back to their former selves. But as the famous writer points out, how can a person recover when a loved one dies, and the gap left can never be filled up?
Victims will eventually revert to their normal ways after a few months…or years in this case, but many would have to go through a lot of difficulties. With their farms, services, and businesses destroyed, they have no alternative but function at a level lower than what they had before. The government of a developing country like the Philippines cannot afford to provide damage claims, and few insurance companies pay out claims on natural calamities or “force majeure”. True, some farmers may be assisted by crop insurance, but such subsidies are not taken seriously by farmers whose harvest cannot even cover up for the cost of production. These are supposed to be preparations for calamities in the agriculture sector. So, should Filipinos just hone their coping mechanism for such contingencies, which are increasingly becoming frequent and growing larger in scale? We have experienced a super typhoon; God forbid that a mega earthquake will come our way.
All these events that transpired should be a call to government to polish what it has started. Thanks to Project Noah, we had a semblance of pre-disaster preparations. Everyone was warned about a “storm surge”, but who knows that a storm surge is as devastating as a tsunami? We already have the basics; we only have to focus more on adapting these to our conditions.
On the 4th anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre, the families and friends of the 57 victims cannot be described as resilient. Although they are forced by circumstances to go back to their former selves (as the saying goes – life goes on), that nagging feeling that there is something missing in their lives still persist. The dead can never be brought back to life, but receiving justice lessens the pain of uncertainty. This puts an end to the doubts and fears that the massacre brought to them.
What is it in our justice system that provides opportunities for perpetrators of crimes to drag cases such as the Maguindanao massacre by years to resolve? What is congress doing about this? True, all suspects must be presumed innocent unless found guilty by a court of law, but the suspicion is that if you have smart and brilliant lawyers, there is still a chance that you can sway the pendulum in your favour. Please, don’t let this give a bad image to our legal profession.
The Cebu-Bohol Earthquake that destroyed lives and property, particularly centuries old churches last October 15, sent the whole country looking into our disaster preparedness. How far do we comply with safety standards for the environment? For a country whose people are best described as “fatalistic”, we are really far behind.
Foreign assisted projects have called the attention of Local Governments to this deficiency in governance, the Local Government Support Program for ARMM (LGSPA) in particular. The Local Government Planners were taught how to come up with their Comprehensive Development Plans, Land Use Plans, and Legislative-Executive Agenda. All the municipalities in ARMM have prepared theirs, based on the Provincial Physical Framework Plan. The PPFP charts the physical development of the province, and to avoid conflicting use of resources, the LGUs are asked to conform to provincial plans.
However, despite the completion of all these planning requirements, there are deficiencies in the data that are supposed to be inputted into the PPFP, and consequently the CDPs. One of these is the Geo- Hazard Map which identifies areas at risk of natural disaster. The national government has started geo-hazard mapping, but due to the expense involved, the progress is very slow. An interview with urban planner Jun Palafox (TV5) revealed that he has listed all the requirements for urban safety, but as of this time, only 4 or 5 in the list have been started by government.
Geo-hazard mapping involves identifying areas at risk of flooding, earthquakes, especially the volcanoes and fault lines that cut across the whole country (remember, the Philippines is within the Ring of Fire), the storm paths and landslides that may come with it, and areas at risk of tsunami. With the slow progress of the national effort to produce these hazard maps, the local communities should come up with their own not-so-technical hazard maps.
How to do it? Historical records will help a lot in localized geo-hazard mapping. The 1976 great earthquake shows where the epicentre was (identified a few distance away from Bongo Island where a deep trench was found within Moro Gulf) and the direction of the tsunami that followed the quake. These are high risk areas in a tsunami hazard map. The flood of 1960 can also be used as a basis by the city government in plotting the areas at risk of flooding. The Mindanao River Basin Project, which studied the effect of the different tributaries of the Rio Grande (Pulangi River), have identified where floods are concentrated during heavy rains. This is another rich source of data.
In this era of climate change, when the environment seems to be hitting back at population for the degradation that is being done, preparations should be in full swing. This is not confined to educating the population on how to care for the environment and enforcing laws and regulations covering forest reserves and water bodies (ARMM is notorious for not enforcing coastal and river setbacks of residential areas). This should involve the identification of areas at risk of natural hazards, so that when disaster strikes, everyone would know what to do. It would also be of help to regulatory agencies in controlling and managing the development of hazardous areas.
The message here is that it may be a tedious process to plan for the future, but planning helps in avoiding the trauma and unexpected losses when natural disaster comes our way.
As one goes further into the countryside of this region, the most influential person emerging in modern times is the teacher. It is through the teacher that the next generation of Filipinos learn the intricacies of life, are exposed to the events of modern times, and are introduced to the values that would characterize them in the future. The widespread ownership of radios in the rural areas has lessened the extent of influence of teachers; but with the erratic power supply at present, the teacher would still be at the helm. Of course, the urban dweller would have influences other than the teacher – television, newspapers, and the internet which makes them different from their rural counterparts in terms of aspirations and worldview.
This is the web of social relations that can serve as a guide in making an analysis of why things are as they are. However, teachers (both in public schools and the Madaris) are slowly shying away from this role - perhaps due to the economic demands of the times. Aside from monitoring the learning of their students, teachers have to look after the needs of their own families. This is especially important since the salaries of teachers cannot keep up with the spiralling prices of basic commodities. Thus, one can find teachers who sell ready to wear items, food items, and anything that they can get additional income for their family (like getting loans at incredibly high interests). This lessens the credibility of teachers; but how then can they cope with the low salaries and rising prices? This noble profession is now at risk.
Nevertheless, we still hear about the heroism of teachers in this region. The Secretary of Education – Bro. Armin Luistro – earlier praised the action of a teacher during the recent raid of the BIFF in Midsayap, North Cotabato. When the teachers in one of the barangays were taken hostage, this certain teacher –who is a Muslim – was asked by the BIFF to leave her group who are all Christians. She refused to do so, saying that wherever her co-teachers are, she will go with them. Sec. Luistro commended her for her bravery and loyalty.
Teachers are also indispensable during election period. A number of teachers acting as members of the Board of Election Inspectors have been coerced by politicians, and in this region, even killed for being true to their calling. This is the reason why teachers refuse to work during elections despite the honoraria given to them. Elections have been tainted with the greed of politicians that it can no longer be equated with the practice of democracy.
Let us help teachers return to that noble mission of nurturing the next generation. We can do this by streamlining the hiring process (no more “SOPs or lagay” to supervisors); increasing salaries to the level of compensating for difficulties, such as higher salaries for those assigned to high risk areas; travel allowances especially for those assigned to ALS (Alternative Learning System); a system of awards with monetary incentives for teachers who have shown exemplary values at the regional and local levels.
It is not enough to set aside a month for the celebration of World Teachers’ Day. Everyday should be regarded as teachers’ day, if only to show the important role that they hold in this society.
In 1966, an Oblate priest (Fr. Thomas Reddy, OMI) was quoted by Ms. Lina Santiago, a good friend of the Oblates as saying “...Is it not far better then to exercise ourselves in understanding the past so that we may knowingly view the present? Everything which now is, had its roots in what was. Today’s successes or failures were once yesterday’s hopes and fears. This will also be said of tomorrow’s happenings.” This was the opening statement in her book to celebrate the first forty years of the Oblates in the Philippines.
The Oblates will now be celebrating 75 years of missionary work in the Philippines this 2014. The first group of seven Oblate priests arrived in 1939 to establish missions in Cotabato and Sulu upon the invitation of Bishop Luis del Rosario, SJ of Zamboanga. The Oblates were then known as “specialists in pioneering work” in Canada, and since conditions in Mindanao at that time were especially difficult, catering to the needs of the small number of Catholics was a challenge.
That challenge is still there after 75 years. Aside from the priests who were killed during World War II, there were those who fell victims to outlaws and radicals, post WW II. But like soldiers, they were ready to die. Among them are Bishop Ben de Jesus, Fr. Benjie Innocencio, Fr. Rey Roda, and Fr. Nelson Javellana who gave their lives to the mission.
The Oblates concentrated on Education which was found to be the greatest need not only of Catholics but also the poor natives of Mindanao. A string of Notre Dame Schools all over the empire province of Cotabato and Sulu were established, responsible for the formation of the local leaders of today. Did the Oblates inspire these students in critical thinking, leading them to question their self-identity? Could Oblate education allowed the students to compare their situation to the rest of the country, making them aware of the need for self-determination?
They then branched out to communication through radio broadcasting and newspaper work. Media enabled the Oblates to reach out to the farthest corner of the region, bringing the news and updates to people of all persuasion. Although the strongest factor in changing views and opinions of people, the Oblate Media does not concentrate on evangelization, but is instead characterized by balance broadcasting and peace promotion. This is the strength of the Mindanao Cross for the past 65 years, and of radio stations DXMS and DXOL in Cotabato, DXND and DXDM in Kidapawan, DXOM in Marbel, DXMM in Jolo, and DXGD in Tawi-Tawi.
The situation of the mission today is vastly different from that of yesteryears. After 75 years, the world has changed a lot. There is a widening gap between the rich and the poor that had to be addressed. Fortunately, many of the parishes and schools have been turned over to other congregations and diocese, to enable new Oblate missions to be opened not only here but abroad. You will find Filipino Oblates in Alaska and Canada, where pioneering work still goes on among the native population. But the challenges remain the same – educate, communicate, evangelize the poor. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate despite the odds, remains relevant, and at the forefront of it all.
With the PDAF or Pork Barrel issue being questioned of its usefulness in this country, the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines issued a statement demanding its abolition. The CBCP stand was discussed in detail by the Auxillary Bishop of Cotabato Jose Colin Bagaforo in his homily last Sunday. It may be a coincidence that the theme of the Sunday’s gospel was Do Not Steal; but it was the best time to remind people that the PDAF issue is not just political. It is a disobedience to God’s fifth commandment.
Modernization has widened the view of people on corruption and plunders to the extent that some even think of it as a necessary evil, no longer a crime. Think of the public official who was convicted of corruption and plunder who still won when he ran for public office again in 2010. This time, more officials are accused of corruption and plunder due to their link to the misuse of the PDAF, which is actually identified with congress for a number of years. However, this system weakens governance, due to reasons which the CBCP enumerates as follows:
• The pork barrel blurs the independence of the legislative and executive branches from each other. Through it, the President unduly influences both the Congress and the Senate as the former and present administrations demonstrate. Inversely, because of it, the congressmen/ women and the senators do not keep vigilant watch at the performance of the President in executing the laws of the land. There are too many laws that are not being implemented.
• The pork barrel is a main reason why many unqualified people spend disproportionate amounts of money to run as lawmakers when in fact they are not prepared and do very little making laws.
• The pork barrel is a reason for the propagation of political dynasties, which makes a mockery of our democracy.
• The pork barrel promotes the culture of political patronage among the people. The people will not be running to the lawmakers for favors if they do not have anything to give, since their function is to make laws and not to distribute largess.
• Is the pork barrel issue perhaps a reason why the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill is not being passed? Why are our elected government officials afraid that the people may know their public transactions, which they claim to be done on behalf of the people?
Fortunately, the evils brought about by the PDAF came out in the open recently with the Janet Napoles case. The country can now put a finger on the system that ailed governance for so long. It is time to put an end to hearsays and speculation, and establish indicators that will hold in a court of laws.
Although very seldom are public officials convicted of corruption and plunder in this country before, (let us just say that Filipinos are very good in hiding evidences), the act of stealing is still obvious in their lifestyle. How can public officials in a third world country purchase mansions and luxury cars, and send their children to study abroad with the salary they receive? This can only be possible if these officials are dipping their hands into the public treasury, and the PDAF is their main source of funds.
Right now, the government is holding Janet Napoles on charges of kidnapping the primary whistle blower Ben Hur Luy. This is actually the case that led to her arrest, and not her involvement in the PDAF scam, which is difficult to establish due to the stature of the personalities involved. It will take time to prepare charges of plunder against Janet and her associates. Hopefully, we will see the end of this, if only to show the next generation that we are not a nation of robbers and thieves.
The month of September never ceased to surprise the world. It is the 9th month in the Gregorian calendar but the name takes itself from the Roman word “Septem” which was the 7th month of the old Roman calendar. The month is greeted with joy by Catholics because the birthday of the Virgin Mary is celebrated every September 8th. However, recent events give a tinge of negative feelings to this month: First, the declaration of martial law by former president Ferdinand Marcos on September 21, 1972 which changed the course of Philippine democracy in the 20 years that followed; and the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center which awakened the world to the effects of terrorism. Both dates deserve to be forgotten if not for the lessons that we derive from it.
Another event which people wished should never have happened took place again in this month of September. This is the “invasion” of Zamboanga City more popularly known as the Zamboanga Standoff. The September 9, 2013 dawn attack by the MNLF Nur Misuari faction on Zamboanga City does not see any end as of this writing. Every comment one finds on the news and social media points to the reason for the attack as being “Malabo” (muddled, blurred, hard to understand, etc.). The Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society describes the Zamboanga Standoff as “a Sabah look-alike version”, referring to the recent invasion of Sabah by the self-styled Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu on February 11th of this year, for the purpose of reclaiming the island for the Sultan of Sulu. Both lacked preparation, involved a small group, but had the armaments that could inflict death. In both conflicts, the Philippine military was taken by surprise. If Mindanao, a small island on the south of the Philippines, cannot be effectively controlled by the government, what can be expected from a simultaneous move by rebel groups scattered in the northern and southern parts of the country? Those in the losing end are always the ordinary Filipinos – those who were deported by the Sabah government in retaliation to the invasion, and the loss of lives and property of Zamboangenos who are still caught in the middle of the conflict.
However, in contrast to the other September events which were the result of long-range, calculated planning by experts in the field of terrorism and military tactics, what took place in Sabah and Zamboanga pales in comparison. This may be something to be thankful for, except that there are now a lot of casualties who are Filipinos themselves. How can Filipinos make a move that would jeopardize the lives of fellow Filipinos and inflict this kind of punishment? Is it the fault of the OPPAP? The Misuari wing of the MNLF? The national and local governments? It is presumptuous to assume that due to the lack of preparation and coordination, the standoff will be finished quickly because on its 8th day, the armed conflict still goes on.
Fortunately, there are groups (like the MinRHAC) which gather information to apprise those who can help lessen the sufferings of those caught in the crossfire through emergency relief, and later on make interventions that would help in the early recovery of the victims. We appeal to the different groups to make these available.
For us in the media, we bring the news to the people; but we have to be clear about the circumstances surrounding the actions. Did we further muddle the issues because of our tendency to sensationalize? Some media outlets even insinuate a religious war. Instead of rumormongering, we should be disciplined enough to get the facts accurately, and bring the right news to the people.
One of the eye-openers in the lecture of Prof. Rommel Banlawi last week (sponsored by the Institute for Autonomy and Governance) is the fast rate at which new rebel groups sprout in Mindanao. Just when the government is nearing the completion of its peace talks with one group, another one makes itself felt that they would be another force to reckon with. It seems so easy for members to move from one group to a new one on the pretext that the previous no longer carry the ideals that they fought for in the first place.
But then, this is the nature and character of a peace dialogue – complicated, time consuming, need for third parties; that both parties define the issues that both agree with, and analyse the issues that both disagree with; this goes on until a compromise can eventually be reached. This is the reason why some demands are dropped, while new ones are formulated. In other countries, a peace agreement has to be reviewed regularly to check on the validity of the compromise.
What we witnessed in the MNLF faction that “invaded” Zamboanga City this week is an example of a disgruntled group that has been left in the losing end – seeing no change in their poverty status, in their future aspirations, in their place in society as a whole. We can blame this on previous administrations who were forced to “cut corners” just to show the world that a peace agreement has been signed. A review of the MNLF-GRP peace agreement did not really contain solutions to the grievances of the MNLF. There was no financial support, it was silent on what resources will be shared and what the proportion of sharing will be, and the power sharing was less than what was expected for an autonomous region. If it was an experiment – this is now the fruit of that “failed” experiment. Its only advantage is that the experiment was a learning experience for the MILF who are now engaged in a peace process with the government, and has thoroughly studied the missing elements in the previous peace process.
A peace dialogue may take years before an agreement is eventually reached; but there is no better alternative than this to a bloody, armed confrontation. The government has to look into the general situation to find out what leads rebel groups (including the NPA) to break away and form new ones. It has to look at the leaders since the older ones have a different perspective compared to the younger ones. Before the older ones “fade away” and turn over the cudgels to the more aggressive, impatient younger leaders, conciliation must be reached for the young to appreciate the sacrifices and experiences of those who fought ahead of them. The government has to study the social framework which has marginalized many of the rebels because even with the peace agreement, there will still be barriers like rural and urban dichotomies. Finally, the OPPAP must not “cut corners” just to reach the deadline given by the President. It is still possible to obtain a smooth transition at this point in time, and please not to forget the other rebel groups in the peace process.
The Pork Barrel expose’ is another blow to the political scene in the country. It diminished the trust that we put on our public officials. Although not all the eggs in the political basket are rotten, it hurts to discover that the officials who swore to serve us have “other” incentives than just pure service. This is difficult to internalize especially at the national level where those who run for public office know better what they are getting into.
Compared to our local politicians, some of whom are still tied down to the “datu system” of political structure, the national officials involved in the scam should have known better than to enrich themselves while in office. It takes time to drive hard the value of looking at constituents as the bosses in a datu system with the leaders as the servants. But fortunately, we now see a new breed of politicians who have the welfare of their people in mind. “The leader should be the servant of the people.”
Unfortunately, the slow and painstaking attempts to have a paradigm shift among Mindanao’s leaders suffered a setback with the Napoles pork barrel case. Not only does it show that when you are on the top of the political structure, there are many sources of additional income, albeit, with sinister ways of getting at it. This may be an open secret among members of congress, with many more Janet Napoles working within, but how can you rationalize the many who are running as senators and congressmen during elections, when they do not even have a prior knowledge of how to legislate laws? Just like in the local levels, there really is no separation between the executive and legislative branches. How long have we been condoning this situation? Now you know why a politician like Vice Pres. Binay drags his whole family to run for congress. This is where the money is!
There is really nothing wrong with our constitution and laws; it becomes distorted when people misinterpret it. For example, why ask Pnoy to give up his PDAF (pork barrel)? He belongs to the executive branch, and thus expected to implement projects. Those in the legislative sector should stick to making laws, not implementing projects.
Another learning we got from the Napoles case is that Filipinos are still divided into two segments – the rich and the poor. When the rich is accused of a crime, he or she is accorded all the special treatment that the government can offer. Don’t be surprised if Janet Napoles is allowed to stay at St. Lukes Hospital after she complained of high blood pressure. Many before her have been accorded the same treatment – complete with a wheel chair and a suite room; when an ordinary Filipino with a real sickness cannot afford to get these services.
For us in the local scene, this update momentarily keeps our minds away from the problems of bombing and kidnapping which targets a few, and power shortages which affects all. It really is funny to see high officials making a fool of themselves in trying to rationalize what Napoles has done; but in the end, we only hope that this case will not go the way of the Marcoses, Estrada, Arroyo, Jocjoc Bolante, and the rest of the gang. It’s more fun in the Philippines!