Thursday, September 29, 2011

For PCSO to know

The Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office’s (PCSO) announcement on the “delisting” of more than 100 beneficiary institutions made headlines and raised eyebrows. Many of these institutions are run by religious congregations and church-related groups that minister to the poor.

The reason the PCSO gave was the “misuse” (not necessarily “abuse”) of funds. There was a problem with liquidation on the part of the beneficiaries, PCSO chair Margarita Juico explained. A big issue was the use of PCSO funds for administrative expenses when these should be for health/medical purposes only of persons in need. Batteries not included, as the saying goes.

I went over the list of the delisted (temporarily, pending liquidation of expenses, it was clarified) and felt sorry for them. I know many of them and what they do for “the last, the least and the lost.” I am familiar with a good number of these institutions and I have written about the heroic work some of them do—quietly, without fanfare and despite the scarcity of funds. They provide services that government agencies are supposed to provide.

Now they look (or are being made to look) like they have not been good stewards of funds entrusted to them. Not all have been remiss in complying with PCSO requirements.

Among those on the list are ministries of the Religious of the Good Shepherd (RGS). One of them, the Heart of Mary Villa (HMV), provides residential care for women who have gotten pregnant outside of marriage (because of either rape, incest or consensual/casual sex) and who need a place to go for counseling and care, and for babies who have been surrendered or abandoned.

For the last 54 years, HMV has been a place of refuge for pregnant women in crisis. Thousands of mothers had resolved their crises here, thousands of babies had spent their first few months in the HMV nursery before they were adopted. You might know some grown-ups who made good in this world who came from there. I know some. And I have written about their amazing life journey as much-loved adopted children and great citizens of this planet. I wish one or two of them would come forward to speak about the need for a place like HMV.

The Good Shepherd Sisters were sad when they learned that HMV was among the “delisted.” HMV president Sr. Marion Chipeco RGS wrote to the Inquirer: “The track record of HMV for 54 years attests to the relevance and necessity of its program and services. This reality must have made PCSO include HMV in the list of regular beneficiaries. We are grateful for the assistance…

“However, since 2002 we have experienced difficulty in receiving our subsidy… We sent letters from time to time. Part of the assistance meant for the years 2002-2004 was received intermittently, until we were told that what was not released would no longer be released. Instead, we were asked in 2007 to submit the requirements for a memorandum of agreement (MOA). The MOA, approved in July 2007, stipulated that a subsidy of P100,000 would be released monthly within the year. It took two years, though, for the subsidy to be completed…

“For 2008 we were asked to submit original receipts but no MOA was approved for 2008. (The original receipts that we sent were not returned to us.) The MOA for 2009 was approved in July 2009, a subsidy of P100,000 was released in August 2009, followed by another subsidy of the same amount in October 2010. No other subsidy followed.”

So where is the P1.2 million yearly for HMV that the PCSO is talking about?

Welcome House, also run by the RGS, was also among the “delisted.” For almost 40 years, Welcome House in Paco, Manila, has been a shelter for women and girls in crisis. Many of its clients have been referred by government agencies such as the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the Philippine General Hospital Child Protection Unit and the Women and Children’s Desk of the Philippine National Police, Welcome House coordinator Sr. Pilar Verzosa RGS said.

What government agencies cannot always do, the Good Shepherd nuns do.

Wrote Sr. Pilar: “We need funds for electricity, water, transportation to hospital, fees for psychiatrists and lawyers, funds for court hearings, repairs, food, clothing. These items have always been included in all the requests of charitable institutions. But now PCSO lists these as administrative costs which should mean only salaries, office supplies, rental, etc.

“All of us institutions know that we never ask for these items. There is no so-called ‘abuse’ involved. It is the task of the DSWD to assess if agencies and institutions should or should not be given allocations. DSWD accreditation has always been required by the PCSO. I believe that all those institutions delisted by the PCSO are DSWD-accredited. We are all in the same dilemma as to how we will now maintain our services to the poor.”

HMV and Welcome House are just two of the many and varied ministries of the RGS.

After more than 50 years in Malabon, HMV recently transferred inside the sprawling Good Shepherd compound in Quezon City where a new building that serves as nursery was inaugurated last February. Malabon is a flood-prone area and HMV was not spared the frequent inundation in recent years. In 2009 when Typhoon “Ondoy” caused huge parts of Metro Manila to go underwater, HMV was barely afloat. It was time to seek higher ground.

The RGS have many other ministries to sustain. Founded in France in 1835 by Saint Mary Euphrasia Pelletier, the congregation came to the Philippines in 1912 and will be celebrating a century in the country next year. The RGS are among the largest women’s congregations in the world. Their mission is “directed to the most neglected and marginalized, in whom the image of God is most obscure.”
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This Sunday, October 2, be surprised to read a thicker Sunday Inquirer Magazine, now a monthly.

(Send feedback to cerespd@gmail.com or www.ceresdoyo.com)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

When breast friends gather

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

We had a blast.

ICanServe’s 3rd national Silver Linings gathering held at the Grand Regal Hotel in Davao City last weekend was awesome, amazing, inspiring, heart-tugging. One is at a loss for adjectives in describing the experience. More than 1,000 participants from all over the country, most of them coming from Mindanao, came to be part of “a sisterhood like no other.”
The majority, if not many, of the participants (myself included) were can-do, energetic breast cancer survivors, the rest were special persons from the indispensable circle of support. Health workers, providers and advocates. Doctors, relatives, friends, facilitators, organizers, volunteers, sponsors. Grassroots women mingled with celebrities. Survivors in various states of wellness and stages of recovery from illness bonded, embraced, shed tears, laughed, prayed, listened to one another. Bright pink on black was the color theme of the day.
The registration lines were long, despite online pre-registration for many, and I thought, would we be able to start on time? But in no time the sea of women in the lobby thinned out and we all found our seats in the big, packed session hall. We were off to a good start and the day grandly unfolded as it should.

What is Silver Linings? Held every three years, Silver Linings is an educational forum and homecoming for breast cancer survivors and their circle of support. It is organized by ICanServe Foundation Inc. (whose major partner in this year’s gathering was Evolife-Evaux Laboratories). Several institutions, establishments, corporations, the media (the Inquirer, of course), Davao health advocacy groups and the city government threw in their support. 

And what is ICanServe? Founded in 1999, ICanServe is an advocacy group of breast cancer survivors that promotes early breast cancer detection. Its flagship program is “Ating Dibdibin,” a Filipino saying that means taking it to heart. Dibdib means chest or breast. For ICanServe, “Ating Dibdibin” means “take your breast care to heart.”  

Presiding at ICanServe’s birth were Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala (indefatigable founding president), Crisann Celdran, Becky Fuentes and Bet Yap. Its present executive director is Leilani E. Eusebio. Ating Dibdibin” is a barangay-based breast cancer screening program, the first of its kind in the country. It is the foundation’s response to the grim reality that the Philippines has the highest incidence of breast cancer in Southeast Asia. The Philippines ranks ninth in the world. Globally, breast cancer is the number one cause of cancer deaths among women.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Painting the word beyond

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

Printed stampita-size versions of a painting of EDSA People Power of 1986, with the figure of the Blessed Virgin Mary dressed in yellow, went around during that time when most Filipinos were aglow with patriotic fervor. The original painting was later presented as a gift to the then newly-installed president, Corazon C. Aquino, the widow swept into power by an almost bloodless uprising.
Now, alas, that painting (“Our Lady of Edsa,” 1987) cannot be found or traced.
Fortunately, an almost exact version of the painting exists, plus or minus some faces that were in the lost original version.  This version was done by the same artist and is in the possession of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM), the congregation to which the artist belonged.
The artist, Sr. Elisea Quinto, FMM, went to the Eternal Art Gallery in the Sky in 1993, but she left behind a body of work that speaks of her fervor for her art, and most of all, for her calling to the Franciscan way of life.

The FMMs recently mounted an exhibit of Sr. Elisea’s paintings as part of their preparations for the celebration of 100 years of their presence in the Philippines. Founded in 1888 by a brave and charismatic French nun named Mary of the Passion, the FMMs had their beginnings in the wilds of India. The first batch of FMMs arrived in the Philippines on Dec. 10, 1912, part of the stream of arrivals of Catholic missionaries, mostly from Europe, in the early 1900s. The missionaries became involved in various apostolic ministries.

The opening of the pre-centennial exhibit also featured the launching of Sr. Elisea’s book of paintings, titled “A Flame of Fire.” The title is a translation from French of a line in a prayer of the FMMs’ foundress: “Make my heart and the institute a flame of fire which will embrace the whole earth. Cleave this flame Yourself.”

A total of 48 paintings in oil and acrylic by Sr. Elisea are included in the book. But not all were available for showing at the exhibit. For example, the life-size portrait of the late Rufino Cardinal Santos (1960) that hangs at the lobby of the Cardinal Santos Medical Center could not be borrowed.

Sr. Elisea’s paintings belong to a certain art genre that could probably be described as “religious art.” These are not naïf art at all. But one cannot miss the innocence that pervades many of her prayerful renditions. The nun deliberately hewed close to the prayer-book art of yesteryears.  Her saccharine works would give critics a toothache.

“Our Lady of the Mission,” 1985. Contributed photo

But the bright celestial scenes ooze with symbolism. These must be Sr. Elisea’s idea of the so-called beatific vision. Lots of clouds, doves and lilies.  Cherubim and seraphim galore.  No laughing or angry Jesus meant to jolt or stun.  And the only street scenes are in one painting that shows the Child Jesus handing bread to a crippled child on the street of Nazareth circa 10 AD, and the EDSA highway people power scene circa 1986 AD.

Jesus and Mary, Franciscan saints and martyrs are common in Sr. Elisea’s paintings.  She did several of Sts. Francis of Assisi, Clare and Anthony, and painted the FMM sisters who were martyred in China during the Boxer Rebellion (among the many canonized by Pope John Paul II before he died in 2005.)

Most of Sr. Elisea’s paintings are huge and hang mostly in the halls of religious houses. Many paintings are in FMM convents. She painted several Last Suppers.  Her huge “The Annunciation” (1950) is the backdrop of the altar at the FMMs’ convent in Tagaytay. “St. Francis Preaching in the Woods” (1959, 359” x 68”), is at the lobby of the FMM-run Stella Maris College in Quezon City.
The FMM sisters think there might be other paintings by Sr. Elisea out there, and wish that they knew who the owners are.

Sr. Elisea hailed from Quezon province and was one of 15 siblings. She joined the FMMs in 1942 and made her final vows in 1948. She was already a nun when she finished Fine Arts, summa cum laude, at the University of Santo Tomas in 1950. The nun was sent to the FMMs’ generalate in Rome where she stayed for four years to further develop her talent.

But painting was not Sr. Elisea’s main preoccupation in life.  Sr. Emma Fondevilla, present head of the FMMs in the Philippines, observed that Sr. Elisea was “first and foremost a missionary.”

A short bio in Sr. Elisea’s book describes her thus: “Open to the Spirit and to the signs of the times, she served the poor with great sensitivity and compassion. She was actively involved in various ministries: in the prisons, relocation areas, medical clinics and feeding centers.”
The FMMs recall that Sr. Elisea did creative work in solitude and mostly in the stillness of the night after she was done with her varied chores during the day. Her paintings, her sisters say, are indeed “the fruits of her contemplation and missionary dynamism,” and her personal depiction of a world beyond the here and now as we know it. •