Thursday, December 27, 2018

World's refugees search for room in the inn

The Bible narrative on Joseph and Mary, heavy with child, traveling from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea in order to be registered per the Roman emperor’s decree and searching for a room in the inn for the night, is a figurative foretelling of the world’s drove of refugees’ search for safety in foreign lands.
These refugees travel by foot, boat and all means of transportation available in hopes of finding havens for their families. They fall prey to traffickers, hoodlums and gangs, they lose loved ones to sickness and tragic situations but they push on in blistering heat and extreme cold, suffering hunger, thirst and fatigue because they imagine that life could only be better in distant shores and strange lands. That is, away from their war-torn or poverty-stricken countries, away from the land of their birth.

This Christmas season, the Global Sisters Report (or GSR, for which I occasionally contribute stories about religious sisters and their ministries in the Philippines), a project of the US-based National Catholic Reporter, came out with “Seeking Refuge” an e-book compilation of stories and photographs that brings to sharp focus the plight of refugees. It follows the journeys of asylum seekers, their life in camps, resettlement and integration experiences and even deportation.
And just as important, what are Catholic women religious doing to help? Catholic. Women. Religious. Remember that. They are a special breed of churchwomen. They aid refugees in settlements and camps in Uganda and Jordan; they assist asylum seekers in Europe and the US heartland “find ways to work around increasingly hostile government policies; they restore dignity and a sense of hope to people whose dreams are dashed by deportation.”

GSR puts the stories in context: More than 68 million people had been displaced from their homes because of factors such as war, threats from gangs, natural disasters, and lack of economic opportunities at the end of 2017, the highest number of displaced since the aftermath of World War II. Of those, the United Nations considered 25.4 million to be refugees: people forced to leave their countries because of persecution, war or violence.
GSR adds that since 2002, more than 900,000 refugees from 106 countries have resettled in the United States. (Source: US Department of State Refugee Processing Center, updated Jan. 31, 2017, and Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas)
Through the stories of the women religious and the refugees themselves, “Seeking Refuge” gives a name, a human face to the mass of humanity seeking a place they can call home.
GSR points out that Pope Francis has made the care of migrants and refugees a major focus of his papacy, that no religious or political leader has done as much as he has “in calling attention to the moral dimensions of the current refugee dilemma and in reminding the world of our shared obligation to others.”
You may download “Seeking Refuge” from the internet. Read about how the religious sisters’ ministries with refugees light the way forward; Hondurans taking the perilous journey; how other doors open after a resettlement agency in Kansas closes; Burmese refugees fitting in in Indiana without losing their cultural roots; Jordan taking in masses of Syrians but preferring they do not stay; refugee students hoping to chart a future despite their traumatic experiences; how Ugandans, once refugees themselves, welcome South Sudan refugees. And more.

But listen, too, to the lament of Sister Esther Fangman, a Benedictine Sister of Mount St. Scholastica in Kansas: “There was a time 40, 50 years ago that the United States was about what we could do for others. That’s not the image that’s being projected today.”
Remember how, decades ago, the Philippines played host to thousands of Vietnamese refugees, most of whom came as “boat people.” Many were able to integrate and decided to stay but many more chose to move elsewhere, to the land of milk and honey of their dreams.

During World War II the Philippines took in Jewish refugees from Europe in danger of being gassed in Nazi concentration camps. A special marker now stands in Israel honoring the Philippines for saving Jewish lives.
May the poor and dispossessed find room in our hearts this Christmas and beyond. Mapayapang Pasko! #

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Gospel of hope according to Juan/a

Launched last week was the book “The Gospel of Hope According to Juan/a,” real-life stories by Bishop Pablo Virgilio S. David and Nina L. B. Tomen and six guest storytellers. It is published by The Storytellers Society.
David is popularly known as Bishop Ambo of the Caloocan Diocese (Caloocan, Malabon and Navotas). He must be among the bishops that President Duterte wants to see “killed” because of their strong stance against extrajudicial killings and the President’s bloody drug war. David’s diocese has been in the crosshairs of assailants, either uniformed or masked, that operate with near-impunity.

“The Gospel of Hope” is the third in a trilogy. The first was “The Gospel of Love” and the second “The Gospel of Mercy,” also “according to Juan and Juana,” the Filipino Everyman/woman. (There will be a fourth, I am told.)
The Gospel according to Juan/a series explores the nature of hope and hopelessness through storytelling. Gabriel Marcel’s “Sketch of a Phenomenology and Metaphysics of Hope” is juxtaposed with biblical passages in framing these collections of “true to life” stories and personal essays, the authors add.

The little stories in this new volume show that there is always a glimmer, if not a big ray, of hope even in unlikely situations. Says my blurb on the back cover:
“Jesus told a lot of stories. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, psychoanalyst, post-trauma specialist and author of ‘The Gift of Story,’ writes that ‘stories can teach, correct errors, lighten the heart and the darkness, provide psychic shelter, assist transformation and heal wounds.’ And, it goes without saying, give hope. Stories hold magic. Though many pieces in this book start off dripping with pathos, they end with amazing hopefulness, thanks to the storybarers/tellers — the Juanas and the Juans — who saw through the pain and the darkness and caught the distant spark.”
The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991, a deadly supertyphoon, watching a loved one in the throes of death in the ICU, a student about to end her life, an overseas Filipino worker at 35,000 feet, families of victims of extrajudicial killings—these are some of the personal stories of the writers themselves. There are stories, too, about other people as told by those who had listened and written them for us to read.
A special story is about the “Nightcrawlers,” the photojournalists and journalists who continue to stalk the night and record the merciless slaying of drug suspects and innocents, the handiwork of those who roam and kill with impunity.
And there is “The Repentant Killer,” as told by Bishop Ambo, who sought out a priest, Father Noel (not his real name), to speak to him “…about my job. I can’t go on with it anymore.” The priest asked: “What is your job?” The man answered: “I kill people, Father.”

Bishop Ambo got to meet the repentant killer, who said he was scheduled to kill someone that same day. To make a long story short, a man who seemed to fit the description of the repentant killer was killed not long after.
As fellow “blurber” and Inquirer columnist Michael Tan writes: “We are a nation that has had to live with murderous impunity, the bloody deaths driving individuals and families into grief and despair. ‘The Gospel of Hope’ offers us an alternative. Taking us by our hand, Bishop Ambo shows how we might reflect on the tragedies, the travails of our lives, and yet find meaning and the courage to hope.”

From Brother Armin Luistro, FSC: “Once you decide to enter the scene, you will be graced with the power to complete the story.”
The book’s cowriter Nina Tomen reflects: “Light filters through tiny cracks and illumines the darkest and ugliest circumstances described in these stories.”
And amen to Bishop Ambo when he says: “In the end, hope is founded on the religious conviction that evil cannot possibly be more powerful than good, or death more powerful than life. It is to refuse to give evil the last say.”
The book sells at P280 at the San Roque Cathedral in Caloocan. Call 0917-5080302. Twenty percent of sales will go to the Gift of Hope Project, a dance and music workshop for the healing of children who have been exposed to violence and other traumatic experiences. Your gift will go beyond Christmas.#

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Art as weapon in a dark era

What do you think an artist is? … He is a political being, constantly aware of the heartbreaking, passionate, of the delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image. Painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war.” Words from the great Picasso.
At the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) last Saturday, in the run-up to Human Rights Day (Dec. 10), was a gathering of artists — Artists for Human Rights (AHRT!) — who unfurled their “instruments of war.” Part of the seven-hour event was the Memory Project, where several 2018 Thirteen Artists Awardees spoke about artists in times of repression. Notable past awardees—Danny Dalena, Phyllis Zaballero and Jaime de Guzman—also shared their experiences of the Marcos dictatorship.

The works of the Thirteen Artists can be viewed at the third floor gallery of the CCP.  The 13 are: Zeus Bascon, Bea Camacho, Cian Dayrit, Janos dela Cruz, Doktor Karayom, Carlo Gabuco, Dina Gadia, Guerrero Habulan, Eisa Jocson, Raffy Napay, Archie Oclos, Lynyrd Paras and Shireen Seno. Ronald Achacoso curated. The exhibit runs until Dec. 22. Go.
Perhaps the most daring “instrument of war” is Archie Oclos’ outdoor mural “Ang Mamatay nang Dahil sa Iyo,” not only because of what it portrays, but also because of its size (70 feet by 20 feet). It covers an entire lower wall of the CCP that faces the parking lot on the left side.

On a white medium, Oclos made 20,000 black line strokes to bring out folds and shadows that reveal the form of a dead human being wrapped in a shroud. The shroud of tokhang, if I may give a name to it. Earlier, at the Memory Project forum, we watched on video the making of it, the artist dwarfed by the enormity of the wall that was his canvas.
What’s a gathering of raging artists without a manifesto to be signed by as many as 20,000, if not more? In words, here is the art attack.
“We live in dangerous times. Witnessing relentless attacks on life, livelihood and lifestyle. We, Filipino artists and cultural workers, strongly affirm the human rights of all — the fulcrum upon which hinges the possibility of a prosperous, humane, and fair society that we all aspire to have.
“Today, we are hurtling towards another dark era. We live under threat of more surveillance, repression, arrests, killings and enforced disappearances. We are horrified by the terror that the brutal drug campaign sows on impoverished communities and how it has resulted in the massive, horrific loss of human lives.
“We lament the state of our nation where the marginalized sectors suffer most from grave abuses, if not massacres. We are angered by the orchestrated attacks to silence dissent, persisting socioeconomic inequalities, the disregard of the rule of law, the culture of misogyny and

violence perpetrated and the legitimization of a tyranny that has historically wounded our nation.
“As artists and citizens, we refuse to stay silent in the face of wrongdoings. We stand by the principles of human rights and dignity for all. Human rights must be protected, reclaimed, and upheld to give voice to the millions whose freedoms are denied.

“We express our commitment to action. We affirm the need for creative practice that pierces through the rhetoric of those in power and reflects the true conditions of society.
“We invoke the power of art to unite a nation divided and to empower the people to reclaim rights, narratives and dignity in the face of inhumanity, inequity and injustice.
“We call on our colleagues in the arts and culture community to defend our rights to freedom of speech and expression as we stand for justice and the people’s welfare. We urge other sectors and the rest of the Filipino people to do the same. We stand in solidarity and gather our strength against the attacks and threats to our humanity as Filipino people.
“We are artists and cultural workers. We are citizens of this nation. We pledge to make art our weapon to uphold truth, freedom, human rights and dignity for all, at all times.”#

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Bicam anticancer bill on home run

Persons and families who know what it is like to walk through a health crisis called cancer have reason to rejoice and be hopeful. Future generations of Filipinos, too, would have much to be grateful for.
Last Monday, the House of Representatives approved on third reading House Bill No. 8636, or the National Integrated Cancer Control Act. Representatives Helen Tan, Alfred Vargas, Chiqui Roa-Puno, Karlo Nograles, Jericho Nograles, Bernadette Dy and Geraldine Roman were some of almost 200 coauthors who midwifed the bill.

And on Nov. 12, the Senate approved unanimously (18-0) Senate Bill No. 1850, which aims to institutionalize a national integrated cancer control program in the Philippines. Principal authors were Senators JV Ejercito, Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay and Loren Legarda.
Cancer Coalition Philippines, with ICanServe Foundation among the active pushers of the bill, credits the legislators for valuing persons with cancer of any stage, age, gender and income bracket. The coalition looks forward to the bicameral committee’s reconciled version of the bill, and its subsequent approval by the President. Soon.

Said the coalition: “With cancer as the No. 2 cause of death for adults and children and with projections pointing to an 80-percent increase of cancer incidence in 12 years, it is with utmost importance that this law be passed without delay to ensure that a national and integrated approach to cancer control gets underway.”
Cancer Coalition gives 10 reasons why collective action against cancer is urgent.
Cancer is now the No. 2 cause of death for adults and children in the Philippines.
Cancer is curable if diagnosed early and treated appropriately.
The catastrophic cost of cancer treatment pushes Filipino families into financial crisis and deeper into poverty.

The financial burden of cancer treatment is the main reason patients with cancer discontinue or do not complete treatment. Precious lives are lost due to the financial burden of treatment.
The survival rate for all cancers in the Philippines is low compared to neighboring countries.

Strengthening health system capacities and giving financial support for cancer patients will increase survivorship.
Children who survive cancer have 71 productive years of life to contribute to the country’s growth and development.
Cancer threatens the future and security of families. It robs the country of vital human resources and assets for sustainable development.
Cancer is considered a serious threat, putting at risk national and global economic stability. Fighting and controlling cancer is an investment for a secure and bright future for Filipino families and the nation.
By 2030, cancer incidence in the Philippines is projected to increase by as much as 80 percent. This will pose a tremendous stress to the health system and the country’s resources.
And why will the passage of the National Integrated Cancer Control bill be of benefit to Filipinos? It will:
Provide the governance mechanism and technical support needed to accelerate program implementation
Ensure that health facilities and the overall health system are ready to provide timely, quality and safe cancer care and treatment at every stage of the cancer journey
Promote common standards of care for key cancers and facilitate better health outcomes
Sustain and ensure integrated support for the whole government, saving more lives
Protect people living with cancer from stigma and discrimination and enable them to live meaningful and productive lives
Ensure that no one with cancer is left behind regardless of where they live and where they get the care, treatment and support they require
Capture the real picture and actual burden of cancer across geographic areas and age groups
Catalyze action from schools, private companies and local government units in supporting and protecting people with cancer and their families.
* * *
At the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. this Saturday, Dec. 8, is the awaited AHRT! (Artists for Human Rights) event. Artists will present the “Memory Project: The 13 Artists in Time of Repression” at the CCP gallery and hold “Rampa: Red Carpet Walk,” plus a signing of a manifesto for human rights at the CCP parking lot. These will be capped by performances and a solidarity night. Attire: freedom of expression.