Thursday, August 10, 2017

Schizophrenic in Marawi and Iligan

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

Heartbreaking is the news that of the over 400,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs or evacuees/bakwit) from the bombed out city of Marawi, more than 7,000 are now exhibiting schizophrenic behavior or are on the verge of developing schizophrenia because of the stress they have been going through in the past two months and a half. These IDPs are mostly camped in neighboring Iligan City and waiting to go home—that is, if there is still a place they can call home or a peaceful one where they can feel safe.

But before they can go home — and they have no idea when that would be — the stress they go through is taking a toll not only on their bodies but on their minds as well. Lanao del Sur Crisis Committee spokesperson Zia Alonto Adiong has been quoted as saying that some 2,500 evacuees are showing signs of schizophrenia. His source was the Integrated Provincial Health Office.

Schizophrenia is defined as “a serious mental illness characterized by incoherent or illogical thoughts, bizarre behavior and speech, and delusions or hallucinations, such as hearing voices.” In common parlance it means losing one’s sanity. I do not want to use colloquial terms here which would trivialize the state of mind of the affected IDPs. This is no laughing matter.

I don’t know how the IDPs’ mental and emotional state was assessed. Was there one-to-one examination of the evacuees, or were the conclusions based merely on casual observations of external manifestations? Whatever the case, it must have been easy for observers to see that something alarming was happening to many IDPs and it did not need trained psychiatrists or psychotherapists to conclude that the IDPs were in bad shape mentally, emotionally, physically. How much more can they take?

Most of the IDPs may not be shell-shocked as they were not caught in the crossfire and did not experience up close the fire fight between government troops and the Maute terrorists. If they did, it was only in the beginning. But the IDPs are badly traumatized because they have been forced to flee and leave their homes which, by now, might be rubble. Many of their family members have not been accounted for or are presumed dead.

Right now the IDPs are staying in evacuation centers and wanting in food and amenities. They may not die o f bullets but their lives may be shortened because of the hardship they undergo, the insecurity, uncertainty and fear. Government soldiers are surely undergoing something of their own, like shell shock, war trauma, posttraumatic stress disorder. So, too, are journalists and other media workers in the war zone.

This is the time when the National Mental Health Act should be in full use. Approved last February, Senate Bill No. 1354, which was sponsored by Sen. Risa Hontiveros, seeks to integrate mental services into the health system and for the government to provide mental health services at the community level and professional (psychiatric, psychosocial and neurologic) services in all regional, provincial and tertiary hospitals.

Article IV (on mental health services) lists the ways the services are to be dispensed in all these levels. I wonder how these services are now being implemented in places such as Marawi, Iligan and neighboring places affected by the ongoing fire fight where casualties on both sides are now in the hundreds. While the government is promising billions of pesos for the rehabilitation of Marawi City, what about the rehabilitation of its people? It is so much easier to repair structures that have been destroyed or to build entirely new ones, but restoring individuals’ shattered mind and spirit is no easy task. Traumatized individuals and families with losses to bear, if left on their own, could become like the walking dead, bereft of hope and direction.

The rehabilitation of mind and spirit should start now, even while the fighting goes on. Children are said to be resilient, but you never know. Let us not overestimate them. Neither should we underestimate them. If ignored, their fears and anger can become festering wounds that will be carried to adulthood. The children of war bear ugly scars. Who knows how the sound of guns would one day stir the silent rage in their hearts?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

'New ways of being church'

Thousands of candles lit up at Sunday’s closing Mass of the three-day Philippine Conference on New Evangelization (PCNE4) held July 28-30 at the UST Quadricentennial Pavilion. More than 6,000 Catholic participants from all over the country came to reflect on the many “new ways of being Church.”
Now on its fourth year, the PCNE is hosted by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle. This year’s theme is “One Heart and Soul.”
There was a tempest named Gorio on Friday, the first day of the conference, but the online announcement said the conference was going to proceed. Despite rain, wind and flood, thousands of participants came. As in previous PCNEs, some of the most inspiring were the stories from the ground shared by those close to the ground.
While this joyous gathering of hearts and souls was going on, a monsignor from the Antipolo diocese (and reportedly with a degree in moral theology from a university in Rome) was arrested and detained for allegedly paying a pimp and taking a minor to a motel.

Ecce, behold this wounded Church.
First, the “imported” speakers: Archbishop Salvatore Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council on Promoting New Evangelization, delivered a keynote message on “Being Christian in the Age of Indifference.” In his homily on the last day of the PCNE he told the crowd that there was one must-see for him—a giant mall by the sea where thousands of Filipinos flock on Sundays. And he did learn — that it is in malls that many now attend Sunday Mass.
The permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, spoke on “The Role of the Church among Community of Nations.” Auza, a Filipino, was the apostolic nuncio in Haiti when the killer earthquake struck the Caribbean nation in 2010 and left more than 150,000 dead. I interviewed him via email that time for a front-page story.
Every day, in different venues, there were 10 tracks or sessions going on simultaneously, among them on the environment, new media and evangelization, ecumenism, social justice, the youth.
(May I note that there was much to be desired in terms of information in the PCNE4 media kit. Also, too late I found out that there was a complete and glossy prgram/brochure—something I needed—but it was for paying participants only, not for the media.)
Close to home was Bishop Pablo Virgilio “Ambo” David of Caloocan Diocese (younger brother of professor and Inquirer columnist Randy David) who spoke on “Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion” for the session on parishes and basic ecclesial communities. “Parochial” (relating to parish) has acquired a negative connotation, he stressed—that of narrow-mindedness. Are our parishes really communities? he asked.
One could see that Bishop Ambo has quite a following, as his session had to be held in the plenary hall. So was Jesuit Fr. Albert Alejo’s session on the last day. “Pareng Bert,” as he wants to be known, is an anthropologist and poet of “Sanayan Lang ang Pagpatay” (you get accustomed to murdering) fame.
One recalls that Pareng Bert had helped bring out witnesses of extrajudicial killings in Mindanao but, as a consequence, false accusations were thrown at him. But his talk was not tinged with blood. With joy he spoke about “Kapwa and Loob: The Filipino Concept of Communion and Solidarity” and livened his sharing with songs and bird sounds.

Also close to the ground were “people who long for communion and who work for communion,” in “Heart to Heart with the Cardinal” in a plenary session. Three from show biz: Dimples Romana, Dingdong Dantes and Alden Richards.
Medical mission nun Mary Jane Castillo shared the essence of her work and life—endangered, I must say—in solidarity with Bukidnon’s lumad who protest aggressive intrusion into their ancestral domain. Robito Mahinay of Zamboanga grew up with vengeance in his heart and later came face to face with his father’s killer, and in sacred space at that. What happened next—if it were a movie—was a four-hankie scene.
Behold a Church finding new ways of being Church in a fast-changing world. I have a gold pendant with hollowed-out letters and a question mark: WWJD? As in: What would Jesus do?