Thursday, October 25, 2018

Magnetic lifters

Inquirer photo
Magnetic lifters — what are they and what are they for besides being, uhm, containers for contraband? I have never seen one except in pictures recently. It shocked me that drug smugglers could really find all means to enhance their illegal activities. Nothing is spared.
Magnetic lifters have been in the news lately, not because of their use in heavy industries, but because a number of these imported metal objects are now being used to smuggle in illegal drugs, such as crystal meth or “shabu” amounting to billions of pesos.

No sooner have most of us heard about these heavy, thick metal magnetic lifters for the first time in connection with drugs than a conflagration erupted, with no less than an official of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) raising a howl about how more drugs were in fact smuggled in via magnetic lifters but were not, uhm, detected.
BOC’s former X-ray inspection chief Ma. Lourdes Mangaoang boldly came forward to accuse Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña of ignoring her alert that a drug shipment was once again going through customs. (A previous one had been foiled, establishing the fact that imported magnetic lifters are being used for shabu shipments and, therefore, customs examiners should watch out for them.)

Mangaoang was quoted as having told Lapeña: “Sir, may lamang shabu ’yang magnetic lifters. Pero nagulat ako dahil hindi siya umaksyon. (Sir, there is shabu in the magnetic lifters. But I was surprised that he did not take action.)”
She also said: “Dogs don’t lie, X-ray machines don’t lie. I am very sure it was deliberate because that is the modus operandi, so the examiner cannot see what is inside the containers that were not declared, they deliberately darken the image.”
According to an Oct. 21 Inquirer report by Jovic Yee, Mangaoang said customs and drug enforcement personnel were working together as early as May on building a case against possible drug shipments from four Asian countries, belying claims that the BOC had no prior information about a plan to smuggle shabu into the country.
Six magnetic lifters believed to contain shabu had been allowed in the country. Two that arrived in June and abandoned at the Manila International Container Terminal were opened on Aug. 7 and found to contain P3.4 billion worth of shabu. Four identical lifters found in a warehouse in Cavite on Aug. 8 were found already emptied of their contents—an estimated P6.8 billion worth.
What are magnetic lifters? I was curious, so I did some research. I found some useful information from several sites, among them, the Health and Safety Executive website and PRI, a manufacturer.

PRI described magnetic lifters as “workhorse(s) in many industries, including the recycling, metalworking, mining, construction and demolition industries.”
These electrically activated devices are highly powerful and are able to lift many tons of metal at once. I read that a 245-kilogram magnetic lifter can lift 1 to 20 tons of metal. I’ll skip the physics side of them — magnetic fields, atoms aligning and all that, when they are activated, what makes them work—stuff that are rather discombobulating for me.

The seized magnetic lifters we have been seeing in pictures are the big circular types. Depending on the type and size, circular magnetic lifters can cost from $1,000 to $5,000 each, which is peanuts when they are loaded with drugs worth billions.
Ho-hum. In President Duterte’s so-called war against drugs, the big fish in drug smuggling are spared but the small fry end up in the morgues. The big ‘uns ought to be stuffed inside these lifters so that they get fried in there.
With Mangaoang emerging out of the shadows, I am reminded of the Inquirer’s Filipinos of the Year for 2014: Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and Commission on Audit (COA) Chair Grace Pulido Tan—the so-called “The Three Furies.” I remember, too, the defiant Heidi Mendoza of the COA.
Another woman to raise the alarm and defy. As a wit said on Facebook, it would not be surprising if soon an “archaeological excavation” would be done to rake up stuff to smear Mangaoang’s image and render her credibility questionable. It is now Mangaoang’s word against Lapeña and company.#

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Saint Oscar Romero of El Salvador

Last Sunday, Oct. 14, or 38 years after his assassination on March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was declared a canonized saint of the Catholic Church, one of six individuals “raised to the altar” in solemn rites attended by tens of thousands in Rome. Pope Francis, who presided at the Mass along with hundreds of priests and bishops, wore the bloodied cincture or waistband of the martyred archbishop.
In 2010, the United Nations proclaimed March 24 as the International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations.

For juicy info about Romero’s canonization (slowed down but later fast-tracked), Google “What Oscar Romero’s canonization says about Pope Francis” by Paul Elie in The Atlantic Daily.
Although I had known much about Romero (his death in 1980 caused a stir among Church activists in the Philippines, then groveling under the Marcos dictatorship), it was different watching his character come alive in the movie “Romero” (Raul Julia in the lead role), which I watched in 1990 and reviewed.

Who was Romero that the forces of evil sought to destroy him?
Movie producer Fr. Ellwood Kieser described Romero as “a mouse of a man, a deeply flawed, traditional churchman, rigid, frightened… He was a man whom few of his fellow priests wanted, and more than a few detested, yet who — when he was appointed—was transformed by the responsibilities and grace of office into a fierce tiger of a man.”
Yes, there is such a grace as the “grace of office.”
El Salvador in the 1980s was one of several Central American nations under US-supported dictatorships. It bore similarities to the Philippines then — arbitrary killings, disappearances, assassination of church people, the institutional Church waking up, people taking up arms, the poor finding their voices, activists being branded as communists.
In the movie, Romero begins as a bookish guy in an ivory tower. The shy Romero is contrasted with his close friend, the warm and charismatic Fr. Rutilio Grande. But, slowly, Romero’s character gains color and strength when seen in the context of the Salvadoran situation.

Romero is appointed archbishop at a time of political turmoil. But Rome’s choice is not met with much rejoicing. What could this man do? In him the rich and powerful have a friend and supporter. He will not rock the boat, or so many thought.
But Romero metamorphoses into a defender of human rights, champion of the poor and those who could not speak for themselves. In a scene from real life, Romero booms from the pulpit: “This past week, I wrote a letter to the president of the United States not to send any more arms to this country. They are only being used to kill our people.”

And then Father Grande, along with an old man and a boy, is killed by agents of the state. At the funeral Mass, a grief-stricken Romero cries out: “They are equal and they are us, and they were murdered and we must not let it happen again.” The tragedy unleashes in Romero a holy rage. The archbishop is never the same again.

But he must also deal with the violence from the leftist guerrillas, as when they kidnap the minister of agriculture. When the man’s wife tells Romero, “You are sympathetic only to the poor,” he replies, “I must minister to everyone.”
This episode leads to more abuses. A young priest is taken by the military and accused of aiding the guerrillas. Romero comes to the rescue and finds the priest a broken man, a victim of torture by electrocution.
At some point, Romero takes a perilous stance when he refuses to officiate at the inauguration of Gen. Humberto Romero as president. “How can I bless a situation in which innocent people disappear night after night; when men like Grande are murdered?”
He continued to speak even while death awaited: “The political dimension of faith is nothing else but the response of the Church to the exigencies of the sociopolitical world in which it lives… It means something more profound and evangelic, it means a true option for the poor, an incarnation into the world… the Church lives in a political world and realizes itself in politics insofar as a Church can do. It cannot be otherwise if, like Jesus, it wants to address itself to the poor.”
A month later, an assassin was on his way. At the altar offering Mass, Romero had just cried out “Thou shall not kill!” when a bullet felled him, the echo of his cry clashing with the burst of gunfire, the Sacred Wine spilled  and blended with his blood. He was 62.
(Similar scenes played out in real life several times recently in the Philippines.)#

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Memoir of depression and prayer

Yesterday, Oct. 10, was World Mental Health Day. The UN Secretary General issued a message, a portion of which said: “We must leave no one behind… Healthy societies require greater integration of mental health into broader health and
social care systems, under the umbrella of universal health coverage.”

Here in the Philippines, we now have the Mental Health Law.
Timely for me to have interviewed Geoffrey Lilburne, the author of “Joy Interrupted: A Memoir of Depression and Prayer” (Coventry Press, 2018), a slim volume packed full of insights derived from firsthand experience.

Lilburne is a theologian and poet, with qualifications in counseling and professional supervision, a retired lecturer in theology (with graduate studies at the Yale School of Divinity in the United States). He is a Uniting Church minister in active ministry with a rural congregation in Western Australia.
Lilburne was in the country recently with his wife, Sophie Lizares, my friend of more than 30 years and at one time a colleague in social action and journalism. Sophie is now an ordained minister in the Uniting Church in Australia and is chaplain at UnitingCare West.
Lilburne begins with a startling revelation of how it began: “I awoke one morning wishing I had died during the night… I was 13 years of age.” What was a boy in the cusp of adolescence to make of what was going on inside him, a boy whose family background was relatively normal, who had no traumas to hark back to?
The book details Lilburne’s lifetime battle with depression (and manic episodes), how it was in different stages of his life, his seeking “professional assistance from general practitioners, psychiatrists, counselors, pastoral carers, ministers and spiritual directors.” But alongside these is Lilburne’s journey as an academic and, later, in various church ministries.
What was it like and what did he do to cope with it, deal with it, be healed of it, live with it? Lilburne’s early struggles meant pharmacological interventions or prescribed antidepressants, with names that were hard to spell and even harder to pronounce.

It was while he was in the United States that he met famous Catholic priest, theologian and author Henri Nouwen, who suggested a week at the Trappist monastery as a suitable therapy. Lilburne writes: “I have already alluded to the possibility that prayer might be significant in relation to depression, and have so far advanced the view that, for the person suffering from depression, prayer seems like a desperate ‘last resort.’” Much like what happens to atheists in the trenches.
But he also admits that the “episodic dips into depression also seemed to deprive me of any sense of relationship with God. They were not only dark times of sadness, they were for me also godless periods.” Lilburne writes (and he did say this in our interview) that the carer needs to pray for the depressed who are incapable of praying for themselves.

Lilburne ends the dark chapters by announcing that “just as joy had suddenly disappeared from my life when I was a young teenaged boy, joy returned to this old man… One day, it just came.” I am reminded of C. S. Lewis’ “Surprised by Joy.”
This space is not enough for Lilburne’s rich insights, so let me zoom to the end chapter, “Spirituality and Depression,” where he discusses “medicalization” or reliance on pharmacology and finding a “better framework,” “an alternative engagement.”
For spiritual counselors and carers, read Lilburne’s take on Saint John of the Cross’ “Dark Night of the Soul.” Lilburne describes depression as a “spiritual disturbance” or “spiritual disfiguring.” He asks: “Might it be helpful then, to regard depression and/or mood disorders as fundamentally disturbances of a person’s spirit, and to propose that the treatment of them should be a form of holistic therapy that embraces body, mind and spirit?”
Lilburne provides guidelines on “living with the black dog” while discovering “one’s best friend which is one’s self, with God as the ultimate ground of our best friend self, the source of best friending.”
I am not a depressive, but reading Lilburne, I say I am awed. I paraphrase Saint Augustine on his behalf: (Not) too late have I (found) Thee, beauty so ancient yet ever new.#

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Of menstruation and breasts

You’d think ACTS OFW Rep. Aniceto “John” Bertiz III has been bashed enough for his boorish behavior at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) when he belligerently refused to take off his shoes for inspection and was overbearing toward an airport security personnel. But when he attempted to apologize, he set off a bomb (apologies for using the word in an airport context) of a different nature that blew up in his face.
That was when he said his abusive behavior at the airport was not unlike the mental instabilities that women experience when menstruating, or something to that effect. Bertiz represents, through the party-list system, overseas Filipino workers. That should make him a frequent flyer and a regular at airports.

Bertiz’s apology: “For the past three years that I’ve been a member of Congress, once a year na medyo nadadapuan po tayo ng monthly period… ’Di ko na rin po maiaalis na tao lang po, na marupok at umiinit ang ulo. Naii-stress din sa trabaho.  (For the past three years that I’ve been a member of Congress, once a year I get something that is like a monthly period… I can’t deny that I’m only human, weak and I get hotheaded. I also get stressed because of work.)”
For his stupendously insulting (an understatement) and antiwomen remark made to sound like an apology, here’s myself imagining throwing a blood-soaked thing his way and a statement from Every Woman:

“#EveryWoman finds the excuse of Rep. Aniceto ‘John’ Bertiz III — that his abusive behavior at Naia is because, like a woman, he has menstrual instabilities once a year — ludicrous.
“The congressman does not seem to have read a single book on biology. He also seems to have been asleep during the last 50 years. Science has shown that this lie about women’s irrationality is just a fantasy made up by men like Bertiz to cover up that they cannot compete with most men and women.
“Science has also shown that sexism is the refuge of the abusive and domineering.
“The only thing normal about Bertiz is that he has become the norm of how a public official should behave under a regime that thrives on misogyny, precisely because hatred of the poor, of women, of the disabled—of all those considered weak—
is the only thing left for it to feed its supporters.

“Bertiz is a result of this government’s empowerment of the mean and ignorant.
“Who will impose a code of conduct now, when this is merely more of the same of what we have come to expect of the President?”

From #BantayBastos: “Hindi pa kuntento na binastos yung security sa Naia, dinagdagan pa ng pambabastos sa kababaihan. (Not content with insulting Naia security, he also insults women.) Listen, Bertiz. Most abusers are men. In fact, most
women are far more stable throughout their cycles than you. Abuse has no excuse.” (There, cracking and crisp.)
How much can women with sense and sensibility take? Only recently, an assistant secretary and her sidekick tried to sell President Duterte’s all-consuming fetish for federalism by airing a video that was as stupid as it was bastos—using a woman’s breasts and genitalia to drive home their point and using body language at that.
As if that was not enough, they tried another trick—using faux sign language to call attention to their vulgar selves. This time, the deaf community would not take the insult sitting down and went to the Ombudsman to file a case.
On the subject of breasts, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Women who have fought bravely till the end or survived breast cancer have their “breast friends” to thank for, especially those from ICanServe Foundation and The Carewell Community. Check out their websites.
ICanServe is an advocacy group for early breast cancer detection. Through high-impact information campaigns and community-based breast screening, it empowers women with information so they can have a voice in their own health care. It also provides access to health services. Visit ICanServe’s pop-up booth at Power Plant Mall, Saturdays to Mondays of October.
Carewell is a support group helping people with cancer and their loved ones so that they do not feel alone while facing the challenges in dealing with the disease.
Watch “I Touch Myself Project 2018” video featuring topless tennis great Serena Williams: https://youtu.be/WnI_kelIB98.#