Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Marian icon and Filipinos

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Fr. Amado L. Picardal CSsR recalls that when he was a political prisoner during the martial law years, he had a fellow inmate bearing a tattoo of Our Mother of Perpetual Help (OMPH) on his back. There was teasing for the guy to take off his shirt so the tattoo would be displayed while the inmates prayed the Marian novena.

Who is not familiar with the image of OMPH and who it represents, the reason thousands of Filipinos flock to the Baclaran shrine and to other churches nationwide on Wednesdays?

The image or icon (a representation in the Byzantine style) shows Mary holding the infant Jesus, with angels floating beside them. It has become so popular it is now part of the Philippine cultural landscape and everyday life.

I think it was Filipinos who were first, or are the only ones, to affectionately call the mother of Jesus “Mama Mary,” as if she were a member of the family. Filipinos took to calling her that quite recently (I don’t think it has been 40 years). In yesteryears she was reverently called “Blessed Mother,” “Virgin Mary,” “Mahal na Birhen,” etc. She sure has many formal titles, among them “Our Lady of Perpetual Help/Succor,” with many translations in Filipino languages such as “Ina ng Laging Saklolo.”

Just out is the book “Our Mother of Perpetual Help Icon and the Filipinos,” with a mouthful of a subtitle, “Multidisciplinary Perspectives to a Perpetual Help Spirituality.” It comes out in time for the 150th year since the time Pope Pius IX entrusted the icon to the Redemptorists in 1866 with the admonition, “Make her known.” The icon is now in St. Alphonsus Church on the Via Merulana on Esquiline Hill in Rome.

St. Alphonsus Liguori is the founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. The Redemptorists (CSsR), as they are called, came to the Philippines in 1906. The Irish and Australian Redemptorists started the devotion in the islands after World War II, in Iloilo (1946) and Baclaran (1948). Marking the 150th anniversary is the International Congress of Redemptorists of the Philippines and Asia-Oceania on April 24-27 at the Redemptorists’ OMPH shrine compound in Baclaran.

Edited by Bro. Karl Gaspar CSsR and Desiree A.B. Mendoza, the book contains eight essays by experts in theology, history, sociology, anthropology, spirituality, etc. Coming from different perspectives, the authors help us understand the history, evolution and meaning of the Filipinos’ unabashed devotion, and more. The book is published by the Institute of Spirituality in Asia and the Redemptorists in the Philippines.

The book is a great sequel to “The Baclaran Story,” written by Fr. Luis Hechanova CSsR in 1998. It presents the devotion in newer light, and with more depth and breadth, so to speak, partly because of how the Church and Philippine society evolved and is evolving. The fervor has not dimmed, that is for sure, and has even gone abroad with overseas Filipino workers.

I do not have enough space to dwell on each of the eight chapters in the book, but the titles are descriptive enough to give an idea about each author’s take on the devotion: “Devotion to the Mother of Perpetual Help in the Philippines: Phenomenological and theological reflection” by Amado L. Picardal CSsR; “Make Her Known: How the devotion to OMPH flourished in the Philippines” by Trizer Dale Mansueto; “Embracing the Mother’s Perpetual Compassion: The specific place of OMPH icon novena in the Philippines’ varied Marian devotions” by Karl M. Gaspar CSsR; “Assessing the Relevance of the Perpetual Help Devotion in the Philippines Today: A view from the social sciences” by Manuel Victor J. Sapitula;

“The Devotion to OMPH at the Baclaran Church Before and After Vatican II” by Agnes M. Brazil; “Novena Prayers to One Like Us” by Ramon D. Echica; “The Year of Mercy and the 150th Jubilee of OMPH” by Carlos Ronquillo CSsR; “The Baclaran Story: Towards Debo(Mi)syon: Devotion and mission” by Victorino A. Cueto.

Take your pick, get the book. In some way you also get to know more about being Filipino. #

Thursday, April 13, 2017

No name for her pain

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

ANGUISHED HOMECOMING Arriving from Kuwait, Luzviminda Siapo breaks down in her brother’s arms at the airport (below), and from there she goes straight to the barangay hall to confront village officials (below), before finally seeing her son Raymart in a coffin at their Navotas City home.—PHOTOS BY RAFFY LERMA
Luzviminda Siapo is mater dolorosa in the truest sense of the word; her ordeal is a Holy Week meditation. Hers is a mother’s story that gives a face and a voice to the so-called war on drugs. There is no name for her pain. No name.

Aie Balagtas See’s report last Sunday (“Drug war sends OFW rushing home for son who ‘couldn’t run’”) and Raffy Lerma’s three photos jolted me so early in the day. I learned later that I was not alone in mixing tears with morning coffee. Here was an overseas Filipino worker learning about her son, shot and killed, that he could not even run for his life (he was clubfooted). She had to kiss the feet of her Kuwaiti employer three times just so she would be allowed to fly home. She had to show her employer the online news about her son. She was finally allowed to go but was made to leave her belongings behind, to make sure she would come back. She flew home with only her grief.

Read and contemplate that scene in Kuwait. Remember, too, that her name is Luz-Vi-Minda.

Lerma, the Inquirer’s award-winning photographer who has been documenting President Duterte’s so-called war on drugs (and mostly the poor!) and the vigilante and extrajudicial killings (EJKs) that happen day and night, was in on this story to capture with his camera the ethos and the pathos: from the moment Luzviminda arrives at the airport and slumps in the arms of her brother, to her first stop at the barangay hall to confront officials, to finally beholding her son lying cold and dead inside a white coffin.

Her face, always her face, was the main focus of Lerma’s camera. While writing this piece and whenever I cast a glance at the photos, I could only gasp, my God, my God, what pain, what pain. And my eyes would moisten. As we say in Filipino, ang sakit.

There are different names for the bereaved, they say. Children who lost their parents are called orphans; wives who lost their husbands are called widows; husbands who lost their wives are called widowers. But how does one call a parent—a single mother, in the case of Luzviminda—who lost an only child, and in so brutal a manner? And yet, they say, losing a child is the most painful of all.

I remember Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa, chief implementer of the war on drugs, discussing statistics with Pia Hontiveros of CNN Philippines. The word “killed” is so unpleasant to the ears, he said. So he suggested: Why not use the word “died” instead? Another Dios ko moment there. Dude, pinatay is different from namatay.

In last Monday’s Inquirer, Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio, who had read the story, was quoted as saying, “My heart was crushed when I read the news. I could not swallow the bread I was eating, so I decided to come here to tell you that we are here for you.”

He was talking to Luzviminda, the mother of Raymart Siapo, the teenager who was gunned down by unknown assailants (now an everyday occurrence hereabouts—so what’s new? you ask) after a neighbor tagged him as a marijuana peddler.

And so on March 29 the men, some 14 of them, came for Raymart. According to Raymart’s uncle and guardian, five entered the house of their target but they couldn’t find Raymart. They found him in a friend’s house, made him ride with them on a motorcycle till they reached a place called Bangkulasi.

Run, the men told him. Raymart could not run because his feet were deformed. So they made him sit down. The Navotas police report said Raymart was shot twice in the head. His mother discovered that his arms were broken.

A mother’s lament rises to the heavens: “All it took was a false accusation for these people to murder my son. They did not bother to investigate, they did not bother to verify. They just killed him.”

“Eli Eli lama sabachthani?”

Relish the solemnity of Holy Week, and hold on to the glimmer of hope that Easter brings. #

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Why the Ateneo campus is worth your visit this Lent

Philippine Daily Inquirer/FEATURE STORIES/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

At the Ateneo campus, St. Francis of Assisi from whose “Canticles” the title of the encyclical “Laudato Si” was taken.

Hidden in the undulating edge of a hill and laid out under a leafy bower is a patch of green and quiet. Here one can walk, sit or pray with an attitude of waiting, or simply be at home with one’s self, the surroundings and the landscape beyond. Or one can think things out or grapple with the weight of the universe.

Laudato Si Terrain, Garden of Spirituality and Sustainability, is named after “Laudato Si,” (Praise be to You), Pope Francis’ encyclical letter “on care for our common home.” The garden-terrain is situated at the Loyola School of Theology (LST) within the Ateneo University in Quezon City. In his encyclical, the Pope began with words from St. Francis of Assisi’s canticle: “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth who sustains and governs us, and who produces fruit with colored flowers and herbs.”

The garden-terrain is perhaps a little more than 1,000 sq m and might be considered an afterthought in the 100-ha school campus, but an afterthought it is not. It holds its own in silence, but speaks about the history of Western Christian spirituality.


Says LST president Fr. Jose Quilongquilong SJ, “Recognizing the intimate relationship between ecology, human development and the Christian tradition which provide the spiritual itinerary of Christian experience, LST has incorporated within the garden-terrain the major protagonists in the history of Western spirituality.

They are Saints Benedict of Nursia, Francis of Assisi, Dominic de Guzman, Teresa of Avila and Ignatius of Loyola.” The biggies, so to speak.

Spread out in the garden are the bigger-than-life statues of these founders of the major religious orders, except the one of Ignatius, which is in the Cardoner Square in the LST administration building. There, Ignatius is shown in a kneeling position while contemplating images in a pond.

Beside the statues are important facts on the lives of each one. St. Ignatius of Loyola St. Ignatius of Loyola But not to fret about the word “western” in “Western spirituality.” Following Pope Francis’ exhortation on the importance of dialogue with other cultures and traditions in shaping the future of Planet Earth, a Zen garden was included in the terrain at the March 22 launch of Sacred Springs, a Dialogue Institute of Spirituality and Sustainability in LST. On it is a tori gate often seen in Buddhist temples and a small fountain surrounded by pebbles.

At the tori gate, there was a reunion of sorts of some of the Ten Outstanding Students of yesteryears: Sonia Malasarte Roco, Archbishop Antonio Ledesma (a Jesuit), Edna Zapanta Manlapaz and Sr. Vicky Palanca, ICM.

Along the terrain’s pathway, one can pause for a rest on benches, do a little reading or momentarily still one’s body and soul. Or look out into the valley, look up to the tall trees and, through the boughs, to the sky.

Vicarious experience

So that the reader may have a vicarious experience of the terrain, here are some facts on the five biggies of the Catholic Church:

Benedictine spirituality: St. Benedict, abbot (480-547) was born in Nursia, Italy, educated in Rome and, later, chose to live a solitary life in a cave in mountainous Subiaco. He organized a monastic life in 12 monasteries. The monks who joined him devoted themselves to prayer and work (ora et labora). In the great abbey of Monte Cassino which he founded, Benedict wrote his Rule, which wonderfully combines the Roman genius with the monastic wisdom of the Christian East. He was proclaimed Patron of Europe by Pope Paul VI because of his influence on the formation of Christendom in the Middle Ages. His feast is July 11.

Mendicant spirituality: St. Dominic de Guzman (1170-1221) was born in Calaruega, Spain. He worked to uproot the Albigensian heresy. He was known for his learning and love of poverty. He founded the Order of Preachers (Dominicans). His feast is on Aug. 8.

St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) was born in Assisi, Italy. He preached and lived a life of poverty and charity. He founded the Franciscans in 1209. With St. Clare, he founded the Order of the Poor Clares in 1212, and a third lay order in 1221. His feast is on October 4.

Carmelite spirituality: St. Teresa of Jesus, virgin and doctor of the Church (1515-1582) was born in Avila, Spain. She reformed the Carmelite order with the help of St. John of the Cross. In the years following the Council of Trent, she contributed greatly to a renewal of the entire ecclesiastical community. Declared the first woman doctor of the Church in 1970, St. Teresa represents the “feminine genius” in the history of Christian spirituality. Her feast is on Oct. 15.

Ignatian (Apostolic) spirituality: St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) was born in Loyola, Spain, became a soldier, was wounded in battle and while recuperating, was so inspired by two books on the lives of saints and the life of Christ that he decided to devote his life to Jesus Christ. He studied in Barcelona, Alcala and Salamanca and went to Paris for theology studies. There, in 1535, he gathered his first followers and with them, in Rome, founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). The order is dedicated to God, to the service of the Church and in total obedience to the Pope. His feast is on July 31.

Loyola School of Theology hopes that the Laudato Si Terrain becomes a place of communion for those who love and care for our common home, Planet Earth. As Pope Francis wrote in Laudato Si: “In the meantime, we come together to take charge of this common home which has been entrusted to us, knowing that all the good which exists here will be taken up into the heavenly feast."

Thursday, April 6, 2017


Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

We were croned! To mark the end of Women’s Month last month, 11 women (myself among them) and a man were honored at croning rites organized by women’s groups. Five of the women were sisters from different religious congregations and involved in ministries serving women.

The organizers explained that “traditionally, a croning ceremony is a celebration for a woman reaching the wonderful, mystical and astrologically important age of 56. It goes way back in time as a way of honoring the wise women of the tribe. It is again becoming popular as a rich and affirming celebration for the modern woman who is maturing into her wisdom years.”

The organizers were the Office of Women and Gender Concerns (a mission partner of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines), the Institute of Women’s Studies of St. Scholastica’s College, and the Women’s Care Center Inc. (0999-5779631, 0928-4200859). The venue was St. Scholastica’s College Museum compound.

We were made to bless ourselves with water. As each one was crowned with flowers, these words rang out from the audience like an antiphon: “Hail, valiant woman. Your name is written in the Book of Life.” Women are now reclaiming the word “crone” (the word for it in Filipino is “hukluban”).

Over the centuries the word had acquired—or been given—a negative meaning. “The old crone,” a miserable woman, unloved and despised, was a character in western fairy tales and fables. (Read Madonna Kolbenschlag’s “Kiss Sleeping Beauty Goodbye.”)

She is the bruha (bruja in Spanish) that the colonizers equated with the Filipino babaylan sought for their wisdom and healing powers. (Read “Readings on Babaylan Feminism in the Philippines” edited by Fe Mangahas and Jenny Llaguno, with a foreword by Leticia Ramos Shahani, the recently deceased diplomat, senator and feminist.)

To relax before sitting down to write this piece, I pulled out an old W. Somerset Maugham book from my shelf and, while reading one of his Pacific Islands short stories, there was the “bad” word. I thought: What synchronicity, because I was about to write about croning.

From “The Crone: Woman of Age, Wisdom and Power” by Barbara G. Walker: “The crone was the elder woman who enjoyed a special, revered status. She was considered a font of wisdom, law, healing skills, and moral leadership; her presence and leadership were treasured at every significant ceremony. Such wise women were venerated for knowledge acquired over a long life. They assisted at each important occasion from birth to death.”

I say, something like the Benedictine St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098 –1179), declared a doctor of the Church in 2012.

“The Crone’s title was related to the word crown as she represented the power of the ancient tribal matriarch. It was the medieval metamorphosis of the Wise Woman to a Witch that changed the word Crone from a compliment to an insult and established the stereotype of malevolent old womanhood that continues to haunt elder women today.”

So The Crone is really an archetypal Wise Woman, not a female ogre. From Anya Silverman’s “Crones Counsel: Celebrating Wise Women”: “When patriarchy became the dominant mode, when the divine was imaged solely as male, and as women became second-class citizens, the ideas about goddesses and the archetypes they represented went underground. Archetypes can be submerged, but they never disappear … these archetypes are re-emerging. There is a burgeoning interest in this ancient part of women’s herstory, and the crone archetype is resurfacing as a model for elderwomen.”

In national weal and woe—especially in woe—our archetypal elderwoman emerges as Inang Bayan.

Speaking of wise elderwomen, here as head of the Cuban delegation to the 8th Asia-Pacific Regional Conference of Solidarity with Cuba (April 8-9) is Marta Rojas Rodriguez, journalist and novelist, spunky and articulate at 82. Last Tuesday she spoke at the UP College of Mass Communication on “The Struggle Against Forgetting: A Writer’s Perspective.”

A major topic at the weekend conference is the US economic blockade or trade embargo against its small island-neighbor since the 1960s. I wrote about this (“No al bloqueo”) some years ago. The issue of Guantanamo will surely come up.

Historically, the Philippines and Cuba have much in common. We must not forget. No debemos olvidar. #

Thursday, March 30, 2017

From Sacred Springs to Via Dolorosa

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

With the political venom and a heightened level of toxicity fouling the air nowadays, it is indeed a treat to find one’s self immersing vicariously in a hidden oasis that is soon to be, cooling one’s soul in the promised freshness it hopes to offer in challenging times ahead. May it be.

Sacred Springs, Dialogue Institute of Spirituality and Sustainability was launched last week at the Jesuit-run Ateneo University’s Loyola School of Theology (LST) headed by Fr. Jose Quilongquilong, SJ. It is meant to assist the LST in its “mission of theological formation and reflection and formation, geared toward bringing justice to the poor and healing to sacred earth.”
It is called Sacred Springs because it draws from the collective wisdom of diverse communities with rich cultures and deep faith, who have a common concern for safeguarding and sustaining the precious resources of the earth.
Pope Francis’ “Laudato Si,” an encyclical on “care for our common home,” serves as an inspiration for Sacred Springs, in particular a line in Chapter 2, The Gospel of Creation, article 63: “If we are truly concerned to develop an ecology capable of remedying the damage we have done, no branch of the sciences and no form of wisdom can be left out, and that includes the religious and the idiom proper to it.”

And so it was but fitting that the launch of Sacred Springs began at the Laudato Si Terrain (Garden of Spirituality and Sustainability) at the back of the LST building overlooking the valley. Led by Edna Zapanta-Manlapaz, the rites began in the pocket Zen garden which is Sacred Springs’ own addition to this meditation area that celebrates the major figures in the history of Western Christian spirituality. (More on this leafy terrain at another time in a separate article with photographs.)

The event lasted the whole day, with one set of attendees in the morning and another in the afternoon that was highlighted by interfaith rites. In between were three separate mini-book launchings: “Creation is Spirited and Sacred: An Asian Indigenous Mysticism of Sacred Sustainability” by Fr. Jojo Fung, SJ (dressed like a shaman), Sacred Springs executive director; “Nabighani: Mga Saling Tula ng Kapwa Nilikha” by Fr. Albert E. Alejo, SJ (of the “Sanayan lang ang pagpatay” poem fame), Sacred Springs chair; and “Breath of a Stone God: A Journey of Awakening in Faith to Interfaith Dialogue” by Marites Guingona-Africa, a member of the board. Assumption College president Dr. Carmen “Pinky” Valdes introduced Fung’s book.

Others in the board are Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, Cielito Habito, Alan Cajes, Ruben Habito, Honeybee Hubahib, Edna Zapanta-Manlapaz and Carissa Singson.

Yes, the Singsons’ Field of Faith, a 4-hectare garden sanctuary in Laguna, is now an affiliate site of Sacred Springs. I have been there twice. Behold faith, art and nature embracing.

Among Sacred Springs’ programs is the Sacred Circle of Spirituality and Sustainability that aims to deepen the students’ “experience of God who suffuses, sacralizes, sensitizes and sustains nature.” The experience should enable participants to grow “in the sacred web of interdependent interrelations with the Divine Creative Spirit (Ruach Elohim), self, neighbor, the poor and creation.” Figure that out.

The gathering was not without its light moments, what with the irreverent pronouncements of former Jesuit superior general (they are not called the “Black Pope” for nothing) Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, SJ, a Spaniard, who has chosen to retire in the Philippines. (Quoth he: “Rome cannot be helped.”) Pope Francis is a Jesuit.

I say: Sacred Springs deserves support and bears watching and participating in its growth.

From spring waters to Via Dolorosa. The next day I waded into the second most populous area, next to Tondo, in the Manila archdiocese. I will not mention names and places now. But what does one say to a mother whose two sons and a brother were shot dead in one fell swoop in their home in a police “tokhang” operation? I listened. And listened to several more.

“Tok-Bang!” was more like it, a nun solemnly told me. I met the church women volunteers, fearful but committed. I saw the footsteps of the Good Shepherd in the alleyways.#

Thursday, March 23, 2017


Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

In the heart of a seed,/ very deep, so deep,/ a dear little plant/ lay fast asleep…”

We must remember this Filipino childhood rhyme that was our initiation to the wonder world of plants, to how life begins and grows through care and nurturing.

These lines came to mind when I listened to the students of School for Experiential and Entrepreneurial Development (SEED) at Gawad Kalinga’s (GK) Enchanted Farm in Angat, Bulacan. This was my third time at the GK farm and I noticed that every time I visited there was something new growing to marvel at.

SEED was launched in August 2014 (I was there), so it is on its third year now. It began with 40 or so bright and determined young people from public schools in Bulacan and now has 122 students. SEED is not a regular academic setup as we know it. Its objective is “to produce graduates who will tackle poverty through agriculture and innovation.” A tall order, if you ask me, because most of the students come from financially challenged families.

SEED graduates are not meant to slide into the labor force and become employees with 8-to-5 jobs, or to find work abroad. They are being trained to become farmer-entrepreneurs, the kind who will be proud, creative denizens of the soil. Through innovative means they will make the land flower and fruit in all its glory so that not only are their own lives made better, but the quality of life of many are improved as well.

Learning in SEED is like answering a vocation to serve the community, the people. It is like listening to the land and Mother Nature calling, heeding the call of the wild, so to speak.

SEED is not an agri-science academic school. It is a hands-on kind of learning center. Students learn not so much from books and handed-down stock knowledge as by doing, discovering, experimenting and creating from the ground up. They navigate the twists and turns and face successes and failures along the way, but there is no throwing in the towel or the shovel.

Students are trained to emerge as “globally competitive entrepreneurs with love of country and fellow Filipino poor, helping raise many others from poverty through social enterprise that does not leave the poor behind.” One does not rise alone. This is a counter-paradigm in a profit-greedy, capitalist world.

GK’s Enchanted Farm is the venue for this experiential learning, one that makes farming “the new cool”—that is, fashionable and desirable as a career option for the young. The program initially ran for only two years, its curriculum developed with Tesda (or the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority). But, in partnership with the Commission on Higher Education, it has become a ladderized 4-year program.

GK founder and guru Tony Meloto (Inquirer Filipino of the Year, RM awardee) told me that SEED, like most out-of-the-box endeavors, had a shaky start but is now well on its way. Proof of this is how some of its students—already budding entrepreneurs—have been invited to speak abroad (sometimes in French!) about their personal experiences. I’ve watched video clips of their European sorties and the standing ovation they received. (They learned French from French GK volunteers.)

These students are not rich kids pretending to be poor. They are sons and daughters of once-marginalized families struggling to rise from penury with the help of GK. I wish I could list down the products that are the result of the students’ agri-entrepreneurial skills and now being marketed! (I love the OH GK! health drink made from oregano, honey, ginger and kalamansi.) One doesn’t simply plant and harvest. In SEED, one learns product development and marketing skills.

Here are lines from GK-Enchanted Farm-SEED’s desideratum: “It is our disconnectedness from our land, from the poor, and even from one another that sustains poverty in our country… Our current educational system can also do better in instilling appreciation for the agricultural industry and love for the poor… Through its programs and camps, the Enchanted Farm attracts visitors of all ages and nationalities all year round. The children of the farmers are given quality mentorship and education. In providing the best for the least, the least can become the best.”#

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Art enraged

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Before all else, I would like to cite the Far Eastern University administration for giving space for a daring endeavor, space in its halls and tree-lined quadrangle, a hidden oasis in that busy part of Manila’s University Belt. It’s worth going there, even if only to behold the permanent outdoor sculpture by the late National Artist Vicente Manansala, his human figures beautifully aged by verdigris encrustation.

“Hudyat: Filipino Artists for Human Dignity,” a multimedia exhibit, runs till March 25 at the FEU, so catch it if you can. Because of its nature, security is tight, so try to contact pcc@feu.edu.ph or register via Hudyat Filipino Artists for Human Dignity Facebook page. Or just dare show up. If you are a group you might even be given a guided tour because it is spread out on campus.
“Hudyat” means alarm or signal. Artists—painters, sculptors, photographers, writers, using their respective media—are raising the alarm, warning about these perilous, deadly times. The exhibit spotlights “human dignity amid the spate of extrajudicial killings in the country.”  
The opening last March 9 was so well attended that now one feels the urge to go back and gaze at the images in silence and solitude. Credits go to the organizers, among them Edna Aquino, photojournalist Melvyn Calderon, and curator Ricky Francisco.

National Artist Benjamin “Bencab” Cabrera leads the pack of 18 whose works in different media silently scream, assault, warn, remind. The exhibit brings out the horror, pain and fear that are the result of the killings, the “cleansing” done with impunity and in the name of anything but respect for human life.

Although there are works that stand out because of their size and piercing message, I do not want to single out any one because, for me, each one makes the whole. But I am biased and glad that writers’ words became art pieces in themselves, exhibited alongside the visual, tactile pieces. Hmm, gives me an idea.

All the 19 artists deserve mention: Bencab, Xyza Bacani, Melvyn Calderon, Sheila Coronel, Antipas Delotavo, William Elvin, Patricia Evangelista, Carlo Gabuco, Toym Imao, Marne Kilates, Jose F. Lacaba, Raffy Lerma, Julie Lluch, Nikki Luna, Resbak, Rick Rocamora, Jose Tence Ruiz, Ea Torrado and Mark Valenzuela. The paintings of young FEU artists add spark to the exhibit.

And what do some of the artists on exhibit have to say about what they do?

“My art practice has long been concerned with conflict and resistance, in particular, the points of tension between the individual and the collective. This work critiques the ways in which machismo and fanaticism are used to generate violence and gain dominance. Seeking to understand and question the process by which dominance is obtained can be viewed as a form of resistance.”—Mark Valenzuela

“The images in Hudyat stand for several issues that need our continuous attention. The role of photographs as evidence and an aid to social change needs to be reiterated and we as visual journalists hope that the public takes heed and sparks a continuous dialogue about the issues.”—Veejay Villafranca

“A good way to measure civil society’s sense of humanity and justice is to take a closer look on how it manages its jail system. The state of Detention Centers in the Philippines is a clear manifestation of the failure of the criminal judicial system to adhere to the 1987 Philippines Constitution’s mandate to build a just and humane society for the poor. No amount of penology expertise can solve the problem because the root is institutional and [there is] lack of support from our government to correct existing deficiencies.”—Rick Rocamora

“The worst cases are when the person is shot in the same area as their home, or in their neighborhood, or even if it’s a [body] dump, if they recognize the face, then that’s when you brace yourself, because the wife will walk in, the mother will walk in. And it’s weeping and wailing and screaming. And you know that you’re witness to the worst moment of a person’s life and you don’t know if you’re a voyeur. And you don’t know if you’re doing the right thing by asking questions.”—Patricia Evangelista #

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Much ado about Lascanas 'spiritual renewal'

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

During this season of Lent the Greek word metanoia is often heard during retreats and other spiritual exercises. It refers to a transformative change of heart. More than just repentance, it is a spiritual conversion, a turning away from one’s sinful ways.

At the Senate hearing last March 6, senators belittled confessed hitman and retired police officer Arturo Lascañas’ “spiritual renewal” that happened in 2015 and which, he said, had to do with his recantation. By looking askance at this “spiritual renewal,” were they then accepting the fact that he lied at the Senate hearing on Oct. 3, 2016?

During his first testimony that October, Lascañas smashed Edgar Matobato’s public confession about being part of the Davao Death Squad that killed hundreds when Rodrigo Duterte was mayor of Davao City. He came in his crisp police uniform and told the Senate and the nation on live television then: There is no such thing as the DDS.

Lascañas retired in December 2016.

In the March 6 hearing, he recanted his October testimony, gave credence to Matobato’s confession, and claimed some 200 killings on which he had participated. There was indeed such as a group called DDS, he asserted, then provided details of its murderous activities.

He attributed his turnaround to a spiritual experience in 2015 when he thought his life was ebbing because of kidney failure. (He went through a successful kidney transplant operation after that.)

Several senators kept hammering at that spiritual experience and asked why, if indeed he had one, he made a previous testimony that he now says is a lie.

Yes, he indeed lied on Oct. 3, 2016, he said. As a police officer, he was ordered “to deny everything.” Now, March 6, 2017, he is telling the truth. That is the gist of what he told the Senate committee headed by Sen. Panfilo Lacson.

Sen. Joel Villanueva of Jesus is Lord had to regale everyone with the Bible story where Jesus came to the rescue of an adulterous woman being stoned to death. He quoted Jesus: “Go and sin no more.”

Villanueva then turned to Lascañas and asked: “Why did you sin again?” (That is, with his lie at the Senate hearing on Oct. 3, 2016.)

All the while, Lascañas was saying, he is now correcting that lie. He was denying then, he is confessing now. It is for the people to decide which of his two testimonies is the truth, and which is the lie.

But pugilist-turned-Bible-pounder-turned-senator Manny Pacquiao just had to say his piece, that he can teach Lascañas a thing or two about “spiritual renewal” if the latter wished him to, then proceeded to say to the retired police officer, as if ready to score a KO: “I will now contempt you.” (He meant that he would hold Lascañas in contempt, for recanting what he had said last year.)

That was quite pathetic, but Pacquiao is a senator of the republic and we are not. The boxer withdrew the move after Sen. Tito Sotto whispered something in his ear.

Legal analysts are saying that, more important than Lascañas’ recantation and revelations—besides hard evidence, of course—are the reasons for his change of heart. Why, indeed, make such damning accusations—true or not—when he is at a vulnerable time in his life? Was it God? Was it gold?

How define spiritual renewal, to which Lascañas attributes his need to publicly confess and face danger? He did speak about the details of his spiritual experience, his own road to Damascus that happened long before his two testimonies, but this did not mean he had become impervious to fear and lapses. This time he sought the help of church persons who led him to lawyers and to the Senate.

The apostle Peter lied three times. What I know about spiritual renewal is that it is not a one-shot deal or like scoring a KO against evil, but a continuing, everyday effort. To renew also means to begin again.
At FEU’s Techno Lobby on March 9-25 is “Hudyat,” an all-media exhibit spotlighting “human dignity amid the spate of extrajudicial killings in the country.” The works of National Artist Ben Cabrera and 18 other artists are on display. (“Hudyat” means alarm, signal.) #

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Diokno's timeless advice to writers

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

For today’s column I was choosing from four topics. As my deadline drew near I chose Sen. Jose “Pepe” Wright Diokno (1922-1987), lawyer, nationalist and human rights defender, not only because it was his 30th death anniversary four days ago but also because he had much to say to writers. As we are witnessing nowadays, the writing profession, journalism in particular, is in misty territory.

There is the so-called “fake news” proliferating, being presented as truth in various media platforms and, worse, being believed by the gullible, the stupid and those with tunnel vision. There are the paid trolls, bashers and hackers whose daily preoccupation is to diminish or kill what is true in order to boost the evil agenda of their despotic employers.

What these trolls and bashers do not know is that they help increase reader traffic in online news sites and thus raise the site’s stock worth, so to speak, and ad revenues. As an online news executive told me, bashers are actually misguided fans. So come, be my guest.

And there is the continuous killing of writers here and in various parts of the world, writers who stand for the truth they know and experience and proceed to bravely write about them.

On July 2, 1983, Diokno delivered the Jose Rizal Lecture at the Philippine PEN Conference where the theme was “The Writer in a Climate of Fear.” That was about three weeks before the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, the watershed moment that would explode into nationwide rage.

Diokno’s lecture is included in “The Philippine Press Under Siege” (1985) to be republished soon by the University of the Philippines Press as “Press Freedom Under Siege: Reportage that Challenged the Marcos Dictatorship.” I am the editor of this new volume.

Diokno’s main source was Rizal’s own writings, the “Noli” and the “Fili.” Meticulously referenced, his long lecture was directed at writers who, as he quoted Rizal, “feel their wings but find themselves in chains, choking for want of the air of freedom.”

He freely translated poet Cecilio Apostol on Rizal: “But if a bullet destroyed your cranium/ Your ideas in turn destroyed an imperium.”

Diokno’s lament: “Rizal’s writings did destroy an empire. But, to our sorrow, they failed to change society. “The late Leon Ma. Guerrero, perhaps the best English translator of Rizal, has stressed Rizal’s ‘timelessness, or more precisely, [his] timeliness in another world and another age.’

“So our tasks as Filipinos remain the same as they were in Rizal’s days: regain our freedom as individuals, assert our sovereignty as a people, and use our freedom and our sovereignty to create a just society. And your tasks as writers also remain the same. For as Rizal said, ‘The struggle must commence in the field of ideas before it can descend into the arena of action.’

“I do not ask you to lead, or to teach, and much less to agitate our people for this or that cause or credo. What I ask of you is much simpler: to be great writers. Great in the sense in which Rizal spoke of the greatness of man: ‘A man is great, not because he goes ahead of his generation, which is in any case impossible, but because he discerns what it wants. That, ultimately, is your job; to discern what our people want and say it clearly so that they themselves will see it, and seeing, gather their strength to achieve it.

“It is a dangerous and difficult task you must undertake. You face the same risks Rizal did: harassment by interrogation and libel suits which some of you have already experienced, arrest and detention which others among you have undergone, torture perhaps, even disappearance and extra-legal execution…

“In today’s climate of fear, how can we afford to face those dangers? It is precisely because of the climate of fear that we cannot afford not to face those dangers. We must damn the risks… say what must be said, and suffer the consequences. Writers can lay down their pens and tear up their manuscripts—but I know of no human—and writers are nothing if they are not human—who can completely silence his conscience.” #

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Saying 'no' to 'Darkness Descending'

Philippine Daily Inquirer/FEATURES/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

She deserves a room of her own, this woman who resisted the coming of darkness during the martial law years and became an inspiration in that time of untruth, lawlessness and injustice.

Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma already has a government building and a public school named after her, but the eponymous museum opened last week at the mezzanine floor of the Quezon City Hall complex may yet be the best tribute to this magistrate who dared defy former strongman President Ferdinand Marcos.
Occupying a whole wall in the museum is a black-and-white mural depicting the excesses wrought by martial law and captioned “Darkness descending (Pagsapit ng Karimlan),” around which are memorable quotes from Palma and other brave souls from that period.
Palma’s dissenting opinion—prominently displayed in a bound copy of similar decisions—on the habeas corpus case of Sen. Jose W. Diokno prompted the release of the human rights lawyer who had been detained for years without charges.
Palma also ordered the case of jailed Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr.  transferred from a military to a civilian court to ensure a  fair trial.
For such defiant moves, this Marcos appointee was called ingrata (ingrate) by a colleague, a description she wore like a badge of courage.
Her retort: “When I took my oath of office, I said to  myself that my loyalty is not to the appointing power but to the Constitution, to justice and to the Filipino people.”
Indeed, the museum holds historic documents, photographs, video documentaries, artifacts and other memorabilia that bear witness to this woman’s contribution not only  to law and justice, which was her field of expertise but more importantly, to the country’s awakening in its darkest hour.
Assorted memorabilia —PHOTOS BY CERES DOYO
Assorted memorabilia —PHOTOS BY CERES DOYO
Tribute to excellence
The museum occupies some 140 square meters, a compact easy to navigate space with items curated by Philippine culture expert Marian Pastor Roces.
The museum too might well be a tribute to excellence, as Palma was a woman of many firsts: the Philippines’ first woman prosecutor, first woman district judge, first woman in the Supreme Court, and “the first woman in the world assigned to lead the creation of a constitution,” in reference to the 1987 Constitution.
Just as prominent in the museum’s timeline about her life was how Palma stepped prominently into the scene in 1973 when martial rule heralded a difficult chapter in Philippine history.
The timeline near the museum’s entrance is delicately embossed on glass and shows the life and times of this Batangueña and her family, her early schooling at St. Bridget’s College in Batangas and at St. Scholastica’s College in Manila where she graduated high school valedictorian.
She was also college valedictorian at the University of the Philippines College of Law, where she met fellow law student Rodolfo Palma who became her husband. They raised three children.
Palma topped the bar exams in 1937 with a grade of 92.6 percent.
The photographs in her timeline highlight the seasons in her life: the child Celing in an angel costume and in gowns as she approached maidenhood. They also celebrate her many roles as wife, mother, judge, Supreme Court Associate Justice, assemblywoman, constitutionalist, God’s faithful servant.
1987 Constitution
At the center of the museum is a copy of the 1987 Constitution crafted by a constitutional commission presided by Palma as its president, which museum guests can peruse freely.
A life-size plaster bust of Justice Palma by sculptor Julie Lluch stands in a corner beside the words, “Idealism, Spiritualism, Patriotism.” The words are described as panindigang buhay, (principles that) Palma lived by. A weighing scale representing justice rounds up the display.
Standing silently in its own corner is Palma’s electric organ, on which she had played many musical pieces when she was not busy in court. Her mother had hoped she would be a pianist, but the mischievous girl in blue convent school uniform proceeded to law school instead. The music never left her.
Also displayed are Palma’s written works, among them  “Mirror of My Soul,” a collection of speeches and decisions she had penned; personal items such as the toga she wore when she was Supreme Court justice,  as well as paintings, letters and articles about her.
Distinct among these items is an illustrated children’s storybook on her titled “A Life Well Lived.”
Museum visitors may also choose to watch several video documentaries—on Palma’s personal life, the martial law years, and the constitutional assembly.
Before the museum was set up, the building that houses the prosecutor’s and the Public Attorney’s Offices and the space that the museum now occupies was already called the Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma Hall. By its entrance is her image mounted on a pedestal, around which people happily snap selfies.
Such public admiration and the museum itself affirm Justice Palma’s prescient reminder: “We shall be judged by history, not by what we want to do and can’t, but by what we ought to do and don’t.” #