Thursday, March 31, 2016

Handwritten account of massacre of missionaries

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

At about this time last year, I wrote about Pope Francis’ statement on “complicit silence” and how human beings, particularly Christians, were butchered by a terrorist group whose members were adherents of Islam. He was referring to the killing by al-Shabab Islamists of more than 148 persons at Garissa University in Kenya. A similar killing spree happened again several days ago in Lahore, Pakistan. And earlier, in France, Belgium and Yemen. More on Yemen later.

On Pakistan, CNN reported: “On Easter Sunday, a crisp spring day, some of the city’s Christian population mingled with their Muslim neighbors, celebrating in a neighborhood park—taking their kids on rides or pushing them on swings. Then, the sound of tragedy…
“But the attack, claimed by a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, intentionally targeted Christians, the perpetrators say. “The suicide blast, in the eastern Pakistan city of Lahore, killed at least 69 people, a local government spokesman told CNN. More than 341 others were injured, according to Punjab government spokesperson Jehangir Awan.
“It comes at a difficult time for Pakistan’s Christians, some of whom were in the city’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park to celebrate the holiday Sunday evening, only to see their Easter Sunday fragment into terror and chaos.”

After the recent terrorist attacks, Pope Francis, in his Easter message, denounced “blind terror” and urged the world to use “weapons of love.” Early this month, four missionary sisters running a nursing home in Aden, Yemen, were killed by the Islamic State (Isis). The sisters belonged to the Missionaries of Charity established by Blessed Mother Teresa. There was not much media news on the massacre. I have just received a copy of the gripping account of one of the survivors. It originated from a Medical Mission Sister based in the United Nations. (A number of religious congregations have permanent observer status in the UN.)

The e-mail subject was “Handwritten account of surviving sister of the martyrdom of the Missionary Sisters in Yemen.” Here are excerpts: “Sr. Rio’s words to Sr. Adriana MC: Friday midday, 4th March 2016, sisters had Mass, breakfast as usual. 8:00 a.m.—said Apostolate prayer and all five went to Home. 8:30 a.m. Isis dressed in blue came in, killed guard and driver. “Five young Ethiopian men (Christian) began running to tell the sisters Isis was there to kill them. They were killed one by one. They tied them to the trees, shot them in the head and smashed their heads.

“The sisters ran two by two in different directions [to the] Men’s and Ladies’ Homes. Four working women were screaming, ‘Don’t kill the sisters!’ One was the cook for 15 years… “When the sisters ran in different directions, the superior ran to the convent to warn Fr. Tom. They caught Sr. Judith and Sr. Reginette. First, tied them up, shot them in the head and smashed their heads. They caught Sr. Anslam and Sr. Marguerite tied them, shot them in the head…

“Meanwhile the superior could not get to the convent. It is not clear how many Isis men were there. She saw all the sisters and helpers killed. The Isis men were already getting to the convent so she went to the refrigerator room since the door was open. These Isis men were everywhere, searching for her as they knew they were five. At least three times they came to the refrigerator room. She did not hide but remained standing behind the door. They never saw her. This is miraculous.

“Meanwhile, at the convent, Fr. Tom heard the screaming and consumed all the Hosts. He had no time to consume the large Host so he threw the oil out of the sanctuary lamp and dissolved [the Host] in the water. A neighbor saw Isis put Fr. Tom in their car.

“10:00 or 10:30 a.m.—the Isis men finished and left. Sr. Sally (the superior) came to get the bodies of the sisters… She went to each patient to see if they were OK… Not one was hurt. “The son of the woman cook who was killed was calling her on her cell phone. She was not answering so he called the police and went with them and found this great massacre…

“The police tried to take Sr. Sally out of there but she refused to leave the people who were crying, ‘Don’t leave us.’ But the police forced her to go with them because the Isis knew there were five sisters and … they will not stop until they kill her, too. So finally she had to leave. She took one set of clothes and the sisters’ bodies. The police brought them to an international hospital called Doctors Without Borders for protection. As there was not enough room in the mortuary of that hospital for the sisters’ bodies, the police brought their bodies to a bigger hospital mortuary.

“Sr. Sally told Sr. Rio she is so sad because she is alone and did not die with the sisters. Sr. Rio told her that God wanted a witness, ‘who would have found the sisters’ bodies and who would ever tell us what happened. God wants us to know.’

“Pope Francis had his secretary contact the Yemen Secretary of State every so often, about once a week, to check up on the sisters and reassure them of his closeness…”

The narrator then provided a backgrounder on Yemen and the port city of Aden.

“Sr. Rio said Sr. Sally is fully surrendered. The police are trying to get her out because [Isis] will keep going after her until they kill her. She told Sr. Rio, whatever God wants. She said the other Muslims are so respectful of them. She said to pray that their blood will be the seeds for peace in the Middle East and to stop the Isis.”

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May the splendor of Easter permeate the darkness in our everyday lives. Lines from the Easter Exsultet: “May [the candle’s] flame be found still burning by the Morning Star: the one Morning Star who never sets, Christ…” Read more: http://opinion.inquirer.net/94072/handwritten-account-of-massacre-of-missionaries#ixzz45679XgBL Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook

Thursday, March 24, 2016

"A country not even his own'

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

Steve E. Psinakis, a Greek-American mechanical engineer who made the Philippines his own and fought during the dark days of Marcos martial rule to help restore the Filipinos’ freedom, died last March 15 at the age of 84. He died here, in a country not his own but which he loved to the point of going through purgatory himself.

Psinakis survived to tell his story in a book “A Country Not Even His Own” (Anvil, 2008). In 1981, he wrote “Two ‘Terrorists’ Meet” (Alchemy Books), his account of his 1980 meeting with Imelda Marcos in her Waldorf apartment in New York and the verbal duel that ensued.

The book’s title, “A Country Not Even His Own,” was, according to President Cory Aquino who wrote the first foreword, her own words. The second foreword was written by no less than Jovito R. Salonga who passed away at 95 two weeks before Psinakis did.

President Cory wrote: “[The book] records a very important part of Philippine history by a man who contributed his best efforts to help make it possible. The contribution of both Steve and Presy to the restoration of democracy has been recognized by the Filipino people through a presidential citation in 1988.”

Presy, Psinakis’ wife, is the only daughter of Eugenio Lopez Sr. (of ABS-CBN and Meralco) and sister of Eugenio “Geny” Lopez Jr. who was jailed for many years during the martial law era and made a daring escape with Sergio Osmeña III, now a reelectionist senator in the May elections. The 1995 movie “Eskapo” directed by Chito Roño was about their escape from Fort Bonifacio.

Psinakis played a big role in the two jailbirds’ escape. It was a suspenseful cloak-and-dagger operation the details of which are in Chapter 6 of his book. If you cannot get your hands on the book, read the article by Jose Mari Ugarte in http://rogue.ph/steve-psinakis-1932-2016/. I posted it on Facebook.

Tall and debonair, Psinakis came to the Philippines with his young family in 1959 to work for the Lopez-owned Meralco. He was responsible for the building of the Rockwell Power Plant in Makati. After his first marriage ended, he married Presy—a union which at first did not sit well with the Lopez patriarch. Their love story was riveting in itself.

Psinakis continued his journey into the heart of this country and later into its sufferings via the trials and tribulations of the Lopezes and the persons who were victims of the excesses of the Marcos dictatorship. In the United States, he headed the San Francisco council of the Ninoy Aquino Movement (NAM). Even after the 1986 People Power uprising, he continued to look after causes such as the monitoring of the recovery of the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth.

Psinakis experienced the fallout of his anti-Marcos activities when, in 1987, after democracy in the Philippines had been restored, the US government indicted him for “transporting explosives across state lines.” The preposterous accusation resulted in a groundswell of support from Filipinos, with no less than former president Diosdado Macapagal flying to the United States to testify on Psinakis’ behalf.

A 1988 New York Times article, “Court case links Aquino allies to bomb-making,” cited “notes whose author has not been made known, also show[ing] that prosecutors believed that Mr. Psinakis, Mr. [Raul] Daza and Mr. [Bonifacio] Gillego were giving weapons training in the Arizona desert to anti-Marcos exiles.”

In the book’s second foreword, Salonga wondered “why Psinakis should be indicted after more than five years following the alleged violation. He had been honored by high Filipino public officials and by civic society for all he had done beyond the call of duty. Why should President Reagan and Secretary of State George Shultz and their subordinates persecute Steve Psinakis? Why should the prosecutors even offer to enter into a plea-bargaining agreement with him—an offer Steve refused? This book gives the answers and puts into question what is going on in Iraq and other places in the world under President George W. Bush.”

Psinakis got off the hook with the help of Filipino patriots, among them Salonga, Raul Manglapus, Raul Daza, et al. He was pronounced not guilty in 1989. What an irony that after the Philippines had returned to democracy, this Greek-American with the heart of a Filipino was persecuted/prosecuted in his home country, America, for his pro-Filipino activities.

It is worth noting that even while Psinakis’ trial was going on in the United States, the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs under Manglapus, pursuant to Executive Order No. 316 issued by President Cory in January 1988, conferred on him the Presidential Citation for Outstanding Service to Philippine Democracy.

On Aug. 21, 2012, the 29th anniversary of the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, Psinakis and four others were conferred the NAM Medal of Valor for their leadership roles in the anti-Marcos movement.

“The youth,” Salonga wrote in his foreword, “would do well to peruse and discover anew how Filipinos and foreigners alike, during the trying times of our historic struggle for freedom and human dignity, gave of themselves without counting the cost.”

Psinakis was laid to rest two days ago in Philippine soil.

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Speaking of the youth, it felt good to see many millennials and premillennials listening at the “Newsroom Shutdown” forum at the Lopez Museum and Library where journalists Pete Lacaba, Vergel Santos and myself shared our horrifying experiences during the dark days of the Marcos dictatorship. Yes, in the midst of masterpieces by Luna, Hidalgo, et al. and the ongoing exhibit on newspaper caricatures. I was struck by the probing questions from the millennials. Worried about the current preelection situation and the threatening clouds on the horizon, a young person asked:

“Is there hope?” Easter is nigh, it comes bursting with joy and hope. Rabboni!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Watch your bank accounts

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

“I just read it in the Inquirer.” “When it was already in the papers.” “So nauna sa dyaryo (it came out first in the newspaper).” I heard these at the Senate hearing two days ago where persons of interest gave their accounts on how they learned cyberhackers had siphoned $81 million from Bangladesh’s central bank account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and sent it to the Philippines for laundering.

When red flags popped up, the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) followed the trail, but not fast enough. Much of the money had already gone through suspicious bank accounts at RCBC Jupiter, to a money remittance firm, then to a person operating in a casino, and then to no one knows where. To paraphrase an AMLC official’s words, given the magnitude of the amount, and the process it went through, this operation must have been planned a long way back. Several bank accounts with a measly $500 in initial deposit were opened middle of last year and lay dormant until …

Every time I heard the Inquirer’s report mentioned at the hearing, I could not help thinking: Our business reporter knew about it earlier than most of you people did? Using street Pinoy journalese, I say to the outscooped (in this case, people who ought to have known): “Nakatulog kayo sa pansitan (You were caught dozing in the noodle house)?”

They should start watching the TV series “CSI: Cyber,” which is about the FBI’s Cyber Unit tracking down cybercriminals, starring Ted Danson et al. I do learn a lot from the different “CSI” (crime scene investigation) shows and how scientific methods are used to solve crimes. The dramatized plots may be fictitious but they are not far from reality.

I watched the Senate hearing with keen interest, and listened to the questions of the senators and the answers of the persons of interest. I could not help conjuring a movie script based on the cross-country scenario, specially where and how it began. Indeed, this one’s for “CSI: Cyber.”

That’s the cinematic part. What I found alarming was businessman William So Go’s disclosure (if true) that he did not know a bank account had been opened in his name at RCBC Jupiter. He said bank manager Maia Deguito admitted it to him when she met with him to apologize and even offered him P10 million to ease his woes.

Go said he got to know Deguito when she was the branch manager of an EastWest bank branch where he has an account. That was before Deguito transferred to RCBC. But Go said he was not an RCBC Jupiter account holder. How in heaven’s name did Deguito open an RCBC account for him? Why did she pick him? And where are the other four RCBC account holders through whose accounts hot money also passed? Are their names those of real persons?

What if one day you wake up to find that huge sums had passed through your bank account without your knowledge? Or worse, that someone, a bank manager no less, opened an account in your name, for money laundering purposes? And that you are now under investigation? Who will believe you that you had nothing to do with it? How do innocent bank account holders protect themselves? And will the truly guilty account holder simply feign innocence and ignorance and get away with it? If something like this could happen in a premier RCBC branch in Makati, it can happen anywhere!

Nongovernment organizations, too, can easily be conduits of hot money. We have already learned in the case of the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) scam that fly-by-night NGOs were used by politicians in cahoots with alleged scam queen Janet Napoles (now in jail and on trial) to plunder government funds. They set up NGOs with fancy names that suggested the poor were top priority.

Even NGOs and Church agencies of good standing led by highly respected ecclesiastics can fall victim to sticky fingers in their ranks (I know a case right now!) but sometimes these timorous men in robes are inclined to “let it go” without thinking that the missing Church funds were raised with much effort in countries where they came from and that these were meant for human development purposes. To use a pop acronym, WWJD (what would Jesus do)? He would ask these ecclesiastics why they were not good stewards and what they did to the talents he left them.

Today Deguito will disclose what she knows in a closed-door Senate executive session. Why did she do what she did? Who made her do it? The cryptic statements she made at Tuesday’s hearing suggest that she is not likely to accept sole responsibility for the “suspicious transactions,” notwithstanding RCBC president Lorenzo Tan’s protestations of innocence. Tan has denied recruiting Deguito into RCBC, as she claimed. He made it known that he does not deal with procedures at branch level, and stressed that “bank managers are five levels beneath me.” Deguito must have felt like a speck of dust.

Remittance firm Philrem’s head Salud Bautista seemed to suggest that delivering P600 million ($12.87 million converted into pesos) and $18 million in cash to a high-roller and junket operator for casinos, Chinese Weikang Xu, was all in a day’s work. Sen. Ralph Recto must have squirmed because Bautista stopped talking and made faces. (She was making faces all the time, making me wish Sen. Miriam Santiago were in the room to stare her down.) She continued to blithely say she did not know Weikang Xu but she had his ID.

How many IDs do we present in order to assert our identity when we make transactions? And yet for Bautista, to deliver that staggering amount of cash she only needed a text message from the RCBC branch manager and a photocopied ID of the recipient. No one asked what that huge amount looks like, and if it fits in a bag.#

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Jovito R. Salonga, 95: What, where does this quintessential statesman and patriot leave us?

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

Where, and what does this quintessential statesman leave us? Would that the youth of this land become eager enough to look upon his life and draw inspiration from his legacy!

Patriot par excellence, former Senate President Jovito Salonga, passed on March 10 at the age of 95. Salonga outlived many who had walked the same path he had taken.

Ailing and infirm for several years, he waited patiently for the final call. With the proverbial vigil lamp all lit, he waited in the gentle shadows cast by monuments standing tall against a blazing sunset.

Cory Aquino’s tutor

In her introduction to Salonga’s memoir, the late President Cory Aquino wrote with gratitude: “Ninoy and I had known Jovy quite well in those challenging and eventful years. In 1967, Ninoy ran for senator and Jovy was his lawyer, who successfully defended him in the ‘under-age’ question.

“From 1972 to 1980, Ninoy suffered incarceration as a political prisoner. Again we turned to Jovy for his legal expertise and for his invaluable support. Of course, we were well aware of Jovy’s tremendous sacrifice in defending Ninoy and other human rights victims….We certainly appreciated Jovy’s visits to Ninoy in the detention center at Fort Bonifacio. And I would visit Jovy often to deliver Ninoy’s messages and to listen attentively to whatever Jovy would advise Ninoy. In a way, without my realizing it, I was being tutored on the law by the great legal luminary, Jovy Salonga.

“Ninoy fondly called Jovy ‘Prof’ and Jovy in turn would refer to Ninoy as his ‘bunso’ (youngest brother).”

Few men and women can stand up to Salonga’s achievements as a statesman and his determination to serve despite wounds that maimed his body but not his spirit, despite the human cruelty and tyranny that battered the nation that he loved.

Martyrdom may not be Salonga’s crown, but blood he had copiously spilled while in pursuit of dreams for his homeland. In his youth he tasted blood in his mouth and faced execution by an occupying enemy, Japan.

He was in the high noon of his political life in 1971 when a bomb tore through his body and left him and scores of others wounded, dying and dead. READ: Fateful day

But he lived. Bravely he carried on despite disabilities and countless scars that cried out for justice. He confronted the plagues of graft and corruption; he searched for the country’s stolen treasures and worked to totally reclaim the country’s sovereignty.

Fruits of spiritual faith

There is something the former senator, senate president and chair of the Presidential Committee on Good Government (PCGG), one-time presidential aspirant, lawyer par excellence, teacher, human-rights advocate and nationalist had said that explains why he is what he is.

In his response after receiving the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for Government Service in 2007, Salonga revealed: “(W)hat separates me from other political leaders is not known to many people here in the Philippines. It is the fact that I do not separate my religion from my political beliefs and from public service. As Mahatma Gandhi, the great teacher of peace and non-violence in a non-Christian nation, said many years ago, ‘Those who say that politics and religion do not mix do not know the meaning of religion.'”

A confounding statement especially because it comes from a man known for his brilliance, erudition and eloquence. To paraphrase his words: one’s religious faith and spiritual beliefs must bear fruit in service of others.

Salonga was born in Rizal Province on June 22, 1920, 22 years after the Spanish colonizers of 400 years left and the United States began to rule the Philippines. Being born to a Presbyterian pastor and a mother of deep religious faith, Salonga said “it was inevitable that my Christian beliefs and values should motivate and influence my thinking.

Bar topnotcher

Early in life Salonga felt the longing to see his country freed. When he was 12, he listened to freedom advocate Manuel Roxas (who would later become the first President of the Philippine Republic) speak in his hometown. The boy was instantly moved to do his part by pursuing a career in law.

A product of public schools, Salonga went to the University of the Philippines for law studies. When World War II broke out, Salonga ran afoul of the Japanese occupiers and was tortured and jailed for nearly a year. After his release, he reviewed for the bar exams and, in 1944, emerged the topnotcher.

After the war, Salonga strongly advocated for Philippine independence and denounced the so-called parity rights and other ties to the U.S. He boosted his legal prowess by pursuing graduate studies in Harvard and Yale universities. In the U.S. he wooed and married Lydia Busuego, a graduate of St. Scholastica’s College who would become the mother of their four children. Salonga has a son from an earlier relationship.

His studies over, Salonga buckled down to work and became a known lawyer, scholar and educator. In 1961, the Liberal Party recruited him to run for Congress representing a district of Rizal province. The Senate beckoned and, twice, Salonga topped the polls and became known as a die-hard nationalist, crusader for good government and supporter of public education. He opposed the Philippines’ involvement in the Vietnam War and other acts of “puppetry.”

‘Borrowed life’

It was during a political rally in Plaza Miranda that Salonga’s life took a bloody turn. A bomb was exploded (by elements who remained unknown for decades until Salonga spoke the unspoken), causing death, injuries and mayhem. Salonga, the most severely wounded, survived.

On a “borrowed life,” he continued his crusades, diminished hearing, ruined eyesight and gnarled fingers notwithstanding. He had long forgiven the authors of the bombing, he said.

Marcos’ imposition of martial law in 1972 was, to Salonga, a death knell for democracy. Ever the freedom fighter, he joined the anti-dictatorship movement and worked for the release of political prisoners. (Before this writer answered the stern military summons for an interrogation in 1980 because of an article she had written, she clandestinely went to Salonga to seek advice. “Go!” he admonished. )

In 1980 he was himself detained without charges. After his release, he went into exile for four years. Recalled Pres. Cory: “It was a very happy reunion for the four of us, Jovy and Lydia and Ninoy and me in Boston, during our years in exile.”

Marcos’ ill-gotten wealth

Salonga was still in exile when the Aug. 21, 1983 assassination of homecoming former senator and firebrand Benigno S. Aquino Jr. ignited national rage and created a groundswell of protest never seen before anywhere at that time. Salonga came home in 1985, shortly before the 1986 snap elections that heralded the doom of the Marcos dictatorship and the rise of Corazon C. Aquino to the presidency.

With freedom restored through the People Power Revolt, Salonga was given the daunting task of searching for the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth, a task that remains unfinished to this day. He participated in the democratic elections in 1987 and topped, for the third time, the senatorial polls. He authored laws protecting the state from plunder, military coups and corrupt officials.

In 1991, during Salonga’s term as senate president, majority of the senators, the so-called “Magnificent 12,” voted for the removal of the U.S. military bases on Philippine soil. READ: Doesn’t make sense

Rainbow coalition

According to his nephew, former Sen. Rene Saguisag, Salonga as senate president successfully put together a “rainbow coalition, a polka dot group from the extreme left to the far right” which voted to oust the U.S. bases.

In his book “The Senate that Said No,” Salonga wrote: “Independence, like freedom, is never granted. It is always asserted and affirmed. Its defense is an everyday endeavor—sometimes in the field of battle, oftentimes in the contest of conflicting wills and ideas. It is a daily struggle that may never end—for as long as we live.”

A prolific writer, Salonga authored more than a dozen books, a number of them first-hand accounts of major national events that he had witnessed or been part of. Never a fence sitter, he participated in and wrote history. (See list of titles below).

After his failed bid for the presidency in 1992, Salonga returned to private life and continued his advocacies through NGOs he founded: Bantay Katarungan (Justice Watch) and Kilosbayan (People’s Action). But an enduring and concrete proof of Salonga’s work for justice and freedom is the Bantayog ng mga Bayani (Monument for Heroes) Foundation with its memorial grounds for heroes and martyrs—Ninoy and Cory Aquino and young activists among them—who fought during the dark days of martial rule.

Heroes and martyrs

Bantayog honorees in 2015 brought to 268 the names etched on the black granite Wall of Remembrance near the 45-foot bronze monument by renowned sculptor Eduardo Castrillo that depicts a defiant mother holding a fallen son. The Bantayog Memorial Center is located near the intersection of Edsa and Quezon Avenue.

During the unveiling of Bantayog’s Wall of Remembrance in 1992, Salonga stressed: “A nation is measured by the quality of men and women it honors. Because of these heroes and martyrs, we can stand up with pride and work together, with heads unbowed, knowing that we are honoring ourselves and our nation, more than we are honoring them.”

Bantayog’s 1.5 hectare property was donated by the Cory Aquino government, through Landbank, the year after the Marcos dictatorship was toppled and Aquino became president in 1986. The Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation Inc. is chaired by Alfonso T. Yuchengco, with Salonga as chair emeritus. The Bantayog building that houses the museum-archives-library, the Yuchengco auditorium and the Silliman University’s Center for Law and Development are all named after Salonga, and feature his countless awards and citations from here and abroad.

Now in Bantayog’s safekeeping are Salonga’s other memorabilia, a treasure trove of historical materials, drafts, planners, news clippings, and other keepsakes related to his legal and political career. The RM Award Foundation has digitalized many of these and put them online. A click, a tap and the young generation could instantly have access to Salonga’s amazing life and times.

“Guide to heaven and hell”

As Inquirer columnist Conrado de Quiros once said, “You can’t have a better guide to the heaven and hell that has been the 20th century Philippines than Salonga. He is not an obtrusive observer, preferring to show the way rather than draw too much attention to himself…He does not need to put himself on a pedestal. Others will do it for him.”

Confined to his sick bed for several years, Salonga waited. Words were rarely spoken. Ideas were no longer flowing. The mind was quiet, the heart beat softly but was full. The body, with countless shrapnel still imbedded in it, was limp but kept warm by the touch of family, friends, comrades, colleagues and those who had shared his faith in himself, the Filipino people and his God.

In the gleaming twilight, the patriot waited in silence until the call finally came.#

Some books by Jovito R. Salonga:

“The Senate that Said No: A four-year record of the first post-Edsa Senate” (1995)
“Presidential Plunder: The quest for the Marcos ill-gotten wealth” (2000)

“A Journey of Struggle and Hope: The Memoir of Jovito R. Salonga” (2001)

“The Intangibles that Make a Nation Great” (2003)

“Presidential Plunder 2: Erap, the crime of plunder and other offenses” (2008)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

'God of Outsiders'

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

One day or one week is not enough, so International Women’s Day two days ago extends itself to the whole of March, and rightly so. So many issues to tackle, so many unfinished work to complete, so many wrongs to right. As is wont to be said, it takes more than a village, more than a generation, and more than half of the world’s population for change to take effect.

Many women around the world are still outsiders in governments, workplaces, religions, societies, countries, even families. That is, when it comes to decision-making, taking on leadership roles, and becoming agents of change. And so women’s struggle to participate, to lead, to make a difference, continues.

But besides the women of this world, the other half holding up the sky, so to speak, are other members of the population whose biological makeup do not jibe (as societal norms would dictate) with their preferred gender identities in which they feel naturally at home. These are the members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender/sexual) community.

  While we celebrate Women’s Month, one cannot help wondering whether some of them, the transwomen in particular, would identify themselves with the women’s movement—or would they rather have a celebration of their own? And what about the women whose gender preferences and choice of partners are not in keeping with prevailing societal norms?

All these come to mind during this purple-colored Women’s Month (it’s the purple-themed Lenten season, too), and also because a writer-music composer I know, Paulo K. Tirol, has written and composed “God of Outsiders,” a haunting, poignant song with which many so-called outsiders can identify. And speaking of outsiders, the song’s theme and plaint can well extend to members of society who feel marginalized, ostracized and excluded. I mean those who are on the fringes of society, “ang mga nasa laylayan ng lipunan.”

You can listen to the song by visiting www.soundcloud.com/paulophonic/god-of-outsiders. Here are the lyrics:

I want to be near You,/ Yet I want to walk away/ When voices surround me/ And I can’t help but hear them say I’m less than human, /Deformed, defiled, /Unworthy, unfit to be a child of God. /I want to know, O God—//

Am I too strange? /Am I too wrong? Am I too broken to ever belong?/ When over the voices, /Clear as can be,/ I hear the God of outsiders/ Calling to me. //

I want to remember Your commandment was to love./ It’s hard to remember/ When there are those who lift their hands to their God above/ And draw their lines, /And write their rules,/ And build their walls, /Keeping out the sick, the sinful,/ Blocking out the poor, the foreign, /Shutting out the lonely, weak and small. /But can they recall//

Those who had nothing,/ Those who were shunned, /Those who were different,/ And most frowned upon /Were those you held closest./ So why can’t they see /You are the God of outsiders— /Outsiders like me?//

God of outsiders, /As I am, will You let me serve You? /As I am, will You let me follow You?/ All I want is to love You, who made me as I am,/ In Your holy image. //

I’m never too strange, /Never too flawed, /Never too broken to face You, my God,/ And live as Your witness unwaveringly./You are the God of outsiders,/ The God of love and outsiders, /The very God of outsiders embracing me. //

Paulo ended the page with “AMDG” (Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam) and the date it was composed, Feb. 25, 2016, the 30th anniversary of Edsa People Power.

Right away, the Bible story about the Samaritan woman and the woman caught in adultery, and how Jesus upheld them, came to mind.

When I asked Paulo if I could write about his song, he said he would love the song to reach as many people as possible. He added: “I tried to capture a beautiful truth which, though basic, many have forgotten and to be reminded of, and many ache for and need to be comforted by.”

I knew Paulo since he was little because he is one of two sons of Vic Tirol and Lorna Kalaw-Tirol, both my friends and fellow journalists. Paulo had 15 years of Jesuit education and finished his bachelor’s degree in communication at Ateneo de Manila University. He spent many years in the corporate sector while being a self-taught keyboardist, choral arranger and songwriter for Hangad, an inspirational vocal group under the Jesuit Music Ministry.

In 2012, Paulo decided to make music his full-time preoccupation rather than a sideline, and started his first formal music studies at Berklee College of Music in Boston. In 2013, he moved to New York after he was offered a full scholarship at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts’ Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program. He completed his master’s degree in fine arts in 2015.

Paulo’s liturgical and inspirational songs and arrangements can be found in Hangad’s eight albums, recorded and released in the Philippines. Last year, he was commissioned by Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City to compose “Saint Peter’s Mass,” which was released in September 2015. (I have the CD.) On the secular/musical theater front, Paulo’s songs have been featured in showcases, cabarets and readings in New York, Boston and San Francisco.

Paulo lives a busy, happy life in Jersey City. His new job is that of communications manager for Sing for Hope Pianos at Sing for Hope, whose goal is “uniting artists, uniting communities.” He hopes it would be a long-term, full-time job. Visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=6o5KFtmC8Uw and see colorfully painted pianos on the streets and how music brings life, love and laughter to many people including the so-called “outsiders.” I wish we could have this in the Philippines where musical talents are aplenty! #