Thursday, July 28, 2011

P-Noy and 'the grace of office'

WILL “THE grace of office” carry him through?

After Benigno Aquino III was proclaimed landslide winner in last year’s presidential elections, I did a page 1 article (May 23, 2010) on the so-called “grace of office” supposedly divinely bestowed on persons called to positions of power and responsibility. Their human frailties, imperfections and reluctance notwithstanding. The question was: Could P-Noy count on it?

I revisited that article and reflected on the opinions of theologians and religious persons I interviewed. They gave points worth pondering even now that the President has completed the first of his six years in office and is on an uphill climb to reverse the ills of years past and set the nation on the straight and narrow path. (And while being engaged in a joust by some church figures and pawed left and right by eternal malcontents.)
“The grace of office” has often been used in the context of a religious vocation, especially for those in leadership positions. Biblical times and contemporary history have seen ordinary persons rise to fulfill enormous tasks strengthened by their faith in the grace that would help them carry out their destiny. There were those who rose and fell, there were those who fulfilled their mission with humility and obedience.
Said theologian Sr. Amelia Vasquez, RSCJ: “I would go beyond Catholic boundaries. We can expand Calvin’s concept of vocation which erases the distinction between secular and sacred. That all calling is of equal spiritual dignity, and doing it with zeal and diligence is in itself a sign of God’s grace… So one’s confidence basically rests in God’s guidance, faithfulness and power, but because of the mandate from God, one also has confidence in one’s self.”

Vasquez reminded: “Politics deals with power, wealth, position and the multitude. The terrain is full of landmines. One can perhaps begin well and even be God’s anointed but because of disobedience to God, could be rejected and become self-destructive, like Saul in the Bible. Hence, the prayer to begin, continue and end one’s mandate fully given to carrying out the call of God, which always means having a clean heart, of being focused on the good of all, rather than on what one gets, on responding to the duty of the moment with honesty, transparency and the good of all.”

Christian evangelist Billy Graham who had advised 12 US presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama often quoted Micah 6:8: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Noted theologian Fr. Catalino Arevalo, SJ reflected: “May we, with some certitude, discern some part of God’s plan working itself out here, in our contemporary history? Many of us do discern the offering of a ‘vocation-and-mission’ here, with the empowerment and grace which that implies.”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sulong FOI! Bantay FOI!

The push for the Freedom of Information (FOI) law has risen from the dead. This time, we hope, the law will be passed and live on for generations of Filipinos to invoke and use to enhance their rights and freedoms.

In June last year, during the dying days of the Arroyo administration, the FOI act (FOIA) was killed in Congress at the 11th hour when all that was needed was just one more nudge and two minutes. What a dismal, shameful day it was.

Those in the Senate (where it had been passed) and Congress who valiantly rallied for it will have their eternal reward. But those who deliberately tried to kill it will roast in the darkness. When Rep. Benny Abante and other authors of the bill were about to move for its ratification, they were literally silenced. The microphones were turned off.

Congress had procrastinated till the days ran out, and when D-Day came, Congress invoked lack of quorum when, in fact, reports said there was one. Some members absented themselves or loitered around somewhere so as not to be counted. There was a clear intention to kill the FOIA so that we would remain in darkness. For FOI advocates it was back to the salt mines.
With an FOI law, many things we ought to know that are hidden could be easily laid bare. Filipino citizens, journalists especially, could demand easy access to information. Those who perennially hide their shady deeds might be forced to give up old practices and start living honorable lives. We will stand tall and proudly tell some of our Asian neighbors that like them, we have this empowering law.

An FOI law would give us the hows of our right to information as enshrined in the Constitution. This right is already etched in stone. We just need the mechanics on how to exercise that right. But there are those who would stand in the way.
And so two days ago, Bantay FOI! Sulong FOI! was launched to coincide with the start of the second regular session of the 15th Congress. Also launched was the online network and data base which will serve as campaign platform. The campaign is led by the Institute for Freedom of Information (i-FOI), a partnership program of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and the Action for Economic Reforms (AER).

Bantay FOI! Sulong FOI is, first, a relentless push for the passage of the long-awaited FOI law. Second, it involves close monitoring by citizens and civil society groups of how President Aquino and the leaders of Congress will respond to the people’s clamor for an FOI law. Third, it underpins the multiple, parallel actions and initiatives in order to exact greater transparency and responsive public service from all government agencies.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Not the briefs, but the billboards

We should credit those sportsmen in skimpy underwear that came out in all their almost-naked glory on a giant billboard. If not for their loaded briefs that caused an uproar in some sectors and offended the sensibilities of some people, the issue of billboards and the danger and ugliness they bring would not have come up again.

This is another good season for bashing billboards.

Most of the complaints that led to the tearing down of the offensive billboard focused on the models showing too much skin and flaunting their bulges. But to debate on just one particular billboard’s moral or redeeming value would be to debate endlessly till another killer typhoon sends it crashing down.
There are those who argue that there are bigger problems that need to be addressed by the mayor who ordered that particular billboard to be taken down, or that malice is in the eye of the beholder, etc. I thought the mayor who said on TV that he covered his nieces’ eyes whenever they drove by the said billboard argued poorly and missed the bigger problem of billboards, that is, billboards taken collectively. Don’t focus on one page, read the whole book.
Towering billboards are dangerous to life and limb especially during typhoons which this country has plenty of. This has been the experience of some Metro Manilans whose properties and lives were crushed by falling billboard frames.

Billboards have made the landscape very ugly and obliterated whatever is left of the blue sky. They endanger the lives of motorists who get distracted by the large images. Billboards are there to precisely call attention. They don’t say they are for passengers only and not for drivers.

I tested myself a few times while driving and indeed, I found myself glancing at some of them from the corner of my eye. Once I even got down to take a photo of a billboard that showed an adolescent in a reclining position with her legs spread apart and serving up her pubis.

I remember a billboard ad for an alcoholic drink that caused a furor some years ago because it asked, “Nakatikim ka na ba ng kinse anyos?” (Have you tasted a 15-year-old?) The double entendre was quite obvious. I suspected the creators of that ad expected complaints but went ahead anyway because the furor would mean product recall. That’s why some ads are meant to be offensive. Some appear stupid. But their creators are clever.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A breast issue

In the past months there has been an aggressive print ad campaign in the Philippines on different types of cancer treatment being offered by the Guangzhou Modern Cancer Hospital in China. I counted at least 15 that came out in the Inquirer from May to June. I was told these also came out in other publications. These were half-page ads that cost a lot of money.

The ads showed happy people, mostly Caucasian-looking, enjoying life. A lot of fine print went with the ads. The text explained the types of treatment offered, among them, “intelligent photodynamic treatment as an outstanding representation of radiotherapy,” “the starving treatment,” the use of “radio-particle knife technology,” “photodynamic therapy” and “cryosurgery.”

The blurbs said it loud enough: “Late stage cancer: still treatable.” “Those who were sentenced to ‘await death’ gains (sic) a light of hope.” “Chinese doctors have successfully used cryotherapy to save lives of thousands of cases of advanced cancer patients.” “A miraculous needle inserted into the tumor to freeze it to death.” And so forth and so on.

The numbers to call were in big fonts. A Manila address for “free medical consultation-by appointment only” was also provided.
Names of doctors and patients were mentioned, successful cases were cited. Testimonials were presented. Sure, there were lapses in grammar and spelling but these could easily be fixed. The ads didn’t mean to shock or offend but to draw the readers’ attention. If you knew someone ill with or recovering from cancer, you’d mostly likely read the fine print and find out what’s new. All the ads—a different one every so many days—could be described as hard sell and hopeful.
But one stood out. This one was on breast cancer. There was no happy face on this one. The blurb said: “Choosing plastic breast-conserving surgery: Saving the Breast without Reccurence (sic).”

Some breast cancer survivors who read the ad took offense. Liza B. Martinez, a breast cancer survivor and a member of an advocacy group, wrote a letter to the Ad Standards Council general manager. Her letter:

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Enchanted Farm (Almost a Fairy Tale)

Sunday Inquirer Magazine/FEATURES/by: Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Rising gradually on 14 hectares of verdant, undulating terrain is a farm, home, village and “university” rolled into one, where people’s dreams and ideas are put to the test, nurtured and turned into reality.

Gawad Kalinga’s (GK) Enchanted Farm in Barangay (village) Encanto in Angat, Bulacan is, as its name and location suggest, a special place like no other. Beholding it even in its unfinished stage could spark an OMG (oh my God) moment.

The farm is rapidly transforming the Angat landscape by being a sustainable community and a place of learning, creating and, most of all, sharing. It is exactly what it’s more daunting name connotes: the Center for Social Innovation (CSI), a place for daring and creativity. Living the CSI way is for the big of heart, not the faint-hearted.

When GK quietly began in 2000 “by building communities to end poverty,” little did its founder and driving force Antonio Meloto know how far he and his fellow dreamers from Couples for Christ (CFC) would go. GK began as a ministry for the poor of CFC. The story of how GK grew from its small beginnings is told in the book “The Builder of Dreams” by Meloto, a 2006 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee for Community Leadership and the Inquirer’s Filipino of the Year for 2005.

In May this year, Meloto received the Nikkei Asia Award for Regional Growth. Just recently, he was invited to the World Economic Forum in Jakarta. Speaking to thinkers, policy makers and generators of global wealth, Meloto described how GK is “creating a hybrid of philanthropy and social business to achieve impact, scale and sustainability.”

Meloto loves to say, “Mangangarap ka rin lang, bakit ka pa magtitipid (If you must dream, why set limits)?”

After GK777 (target: 700,000 homes for the poorest in 7,000 communities in seven years) was launched in 2003, GK grew by leaps and bounds and has been moving inexorably closer and faster to its goal. There are now more than 1,700 GK communities in the Philippines plus several in three Asian countries.

GK777 is now segueing into GK2024, “a 21-year vision which provides the roadmap towards a First World Philippines” and “ending the poverty of 5 million by 2024.” This emerging Asian model for development was unveiled globally at the 2009 GK Global Summit in Boston that gathered GK supporters from all over the world.

“CSI/Enchanted Farm is GK’s second phase,” Meloto enthuses. He shows a thick ring-bound physical plan of the farm, done to the minutest detail – and for free –by a team from the National University of Singapore. Several of the structures in the plan are finished, the rest are in various stages of completion. First to be finished is the colorful row of 40 homes now occupied by 40 families. In front is the Cory Garden that honors the memory of the late President Corazon Aquino, who launched GK777.