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.” #