Thursday, October 31, 2019

Crisis after crisis

As most Filipinos celebrate All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day as early as today and in the coming days, it behooves us to observe the solemnity of the feasts and honor the saintly lives of those who had left their mark on this world and also our own beloved departed in many different ways.
And more than that, to contemplate the state of the woebegone country and the planet that we, the living, inhabit and will eventually leave to future generations. We are deep in a stinky pit and we know it.
 If it is the Western-style Halloween horror that you prefer, well, there is probably a lot of horror anyway in our everyday lives these days. But we must seek ways to end them — with prayer and action. Ora et labora, our Benedictine mantra, urges us. And now, we even take it to another level with ora et laban (fight).
Name it, we have it. In keeping with the solemnity of the undas weekend ahead, we pray our own personal, unofficial “Oratio Imperata” and hope to be delivered from the deadly pestilences and disasters — mainly and mostly human-caused — that plague our nation.

From out of the depths, we say, deliver us.
From the water crisis in Metro Manila brought about by the dwindling water level at the sources and because of lack of human foresight, deliver us.

And even as we wait to be quenched and drenched, we say, from the sudden torrents of rain and flooding that could again sweep away homes and farms in these times of intense weather changes, deliver us.
From the rice crisis affecting rice farmers and consumers because of the so-called newly passed “deceptive” rice tariffication/liberalization law, deliver us.
From the traffic and transportation crises in the overpopulated cities, crises that stress out millions of daily commuters and gravely affect every aspect of urban life, deliver us.
From the African swine fever sweeping the hog-raising industry and causing the death (and death by culling) of thousands of pigs, deliver us.
From the polio virus suddenly resurrecting long after it had been declared nonexistent in the country, deliver us.

From the dramatic rise in HIV cases, deliver us.
From the dengue-carrying mosquitoes that continue to afflict thousands of Filipinos, children mostly, and cause overcrowding in hospitals, deliver us.
From strong earthquakes (another strong one in Mindanao) and other natural disasters, deliver us.
From gun-wielding, motorcycle-riding assassins and hired extrajudicial killers who take orders from the powerful, deliver us.
From drug lords who flood the country with prohibited substances but who remain untouchable and scot-free, deliver us.
From liars, falsifiers, rumormongers and fork-tongued purveyors of untruths, deliver us.
And there is our collective crisis of faith in our government institutions and officials, who break the rules in the book and continue to walk free and with impunity.
Is there deliverance?
Related to this season’s main topic of life and death, let me share something from the book “The Death of Life,” by environmentalist, theologian and author of many books Fr. Sean McDonagh, where he honors several persons, three of them (Catholic priests) killed in Mindanao because they were protecting the environment. (McDonagh, an Irish Columban, had lived in Mindanao and spent time with the T’bolis of South Cotabato).
He shares something not widely known: “In 1942, at the height of World War II, the German army laid siege to the city of St. Petersburg (then named Leningrad) and cut off the food supply. It was a horrendous few months during which 600,000 died from hunger, starvation and disease. During the siege, hungry Russian scientists remained at the Institute protecting the vast collection of seeds from rats and the elements. In all, 14 scientists died of starvation surrounded by these bags of seeds. They could have eaten the seeds to save their lives. Instead, they were willing to sacrifice their lives so that rare seeds would be available to future generations. We must honor their memory by doing everything we can to preserve different species around the globe.” (Sourced from “Biodiversity and the Trinity” by Belden C. Lane, America, 17 December 2001). #


Thursday, October 24, 2019

'Amazonian face of the Church'

Happening from Oct. 6-27 in Rome is the Synod of Bishops of the Catholic Church, focusing on the pan-Amazon region that could influence the future of planet Earth. Pope Francis had called for this gathering in 2017. It brings together bishops, indigenous leaders and other cultural, ecological and religious experts from the region. (Women religious are excluded in the synod itself.)
 The Jesuit magazine America describes the synod as “the first meeting of its kind to be organized around a distinct ecological territory. The region contains about 34 million inhabitants, including three million indigenous people from nearly 400 ethnic groups.” Several South American countries border the Amazon rainforest where the life-giving Amazon river runs through.

 I interrupt to say that in the Philippines, October is National Indigenous Peoples Month by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 1906 of 2009.
I spent hours reading the preparatory document on the synod titled “Amazonia: New Pathways for the Church and for an Integral Ecology,” and thought it was so filled with hope and also foreboding.

From the preamble: “In the Amazon rainforest, which is of vital importance for the planet, a deep crisis has been triggered by prolonged human intervention, in which a ‘culture of waste’ (Laudato Si’ 16) and an extractivist mentality prevail. The Amazon is a region with rich biodiversity; it is multiethnic, multicultural and multireligious. It is a mirror of all humanity which, in defense of life, requires structural and personal changes by all human beings, by nations, and by the Church.
“The Special Synod’s reflections transcend the strictly ecclesial-Amazonian sphere, because they focus on the universal Church, as well as on the future of the entire planet. We begin with a specific geographical area in order to build a bridge to the other important biomes of our world: the Congo basin, the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, the tropical forests of the Asia-Pacific region, and the Guarani Aquifer, among others.”

We are no longer in the era of colonial conquest and religious conversions, but the Church admits: “The Church’s presence in the Amazon Basin has its roots in the colonial occupation of the area by Spain and Portugal.” Now “the Church is called to accompany and share the pain of the Amazonian people, and collaborate in healing their wounds…” to be caretakers and custodians of life in all its forms, “to find new ways of developing the Amazonian face of the Church and to respond to situations of injustice in the region, such as the neocolonialism of the extractive industries, infrastructure projects that damage its biodiversity, and the imposition of cultural and economic models which are alien to the lives of its peoples.”
The Preparatory Documents is divided into three parts, corresponding to the method “see, judge (discern), and act.”
The first part, “Seeing: Identity and Cries of the Pan-Amazonia,” almost reads like National Geographic with reference to the threats. I can imagine the experts—sociologists, anthropologists, scientists, environmentalists and theologians—who wrote it.
The latter part is highly theological but not difficult to understand, considering that the topic is at ground level, the earth. You might want to google and read it.
“Today, unfortunately, traces still exist of the colonizing project, which gave rise to attitudes that belittle and demonize indigenous cultures.” The hard-core, ultraconservatives of the Northern hemisphere should better delete in their vocabulary the word pagan.

“Throughout its history as a mission territory, the Amazon Basin has been filled with examples of concrete witness to the Cross and was often a place of martyrdom.” I recall a favorite movie of mine, “The Mission,” directed by Roland JoffĂ©, starring Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons as Jesuit missionaries who staked their lives for the natives. And, ah, the soundtrack by Ennio Morricone.
But we have real-life Amazonian martyrs in recent times, like Sister Dorothy Stang who was gunned down in 2005.
Stang, an American religious of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, helped in sustainable development projects for the poor of Anapu on the edge of the Amazon in Brazil. Stang worked with the Pastoral Land Commission, a Catholic organization that fights for the rights of rural workers and peasants.
Upon seeing two approaching gunmen, Stang pulled out a Bible and began to read to them. Her killers listened for a while, then stepped back and fired. #

Thursday, October 17, 2019

'Rise for Rice'

How have we come to this? Those who produce food for us remain in penury and debt while they are perpetually being stalked by hunger that need not be.
When the misleadingly called rice tariffication law was passed last February, its sponsors crowed about it like it was heaven’s gift to Filipino farmers. Actually, the name of the law is rice liberalization law (Republic Act No. 11203). Its onerous title: “An act liberalizing the importation, exportation and trading of rice, lifting for the purpose the quantitative import restriction on rice, and for other purposes.”
Its pushers in Congress often referred to it as the “rice tariffication law,” as though afraid that the word “liberalization” would cast a spell that would cause unrest. Whatever its name, RA 11203 is not only causing unrest among Filipino farmers, it has also mired them in debt and penury, because the price of their palay (unmilled rice) has plummeted to the depths, while cheap imported rice floods the warehouses.

Last Monday, representatives of rice watch groups and peasant women leaders held a press conference to raise the call “Rise for Rice!” and launch a signature campaign for the repeal of RA 11203, and the enactment of House Bill No. 477 or the Rice Industry Development Act (filed by Rep. Arlene Brosas of Gabriela Women’s Party). HB 477 hopes to ensure food security based on self-reliance and self-sufficiency, and not on importation.

The target number of signatures is 11,203 to be gathered from market places, turo-turo and people who live by rice. Behind the move are groups Bantay Bigas, Amihan (a national federation of peasant women), Gabriela and Anakpawis.
This is a timely move just before the United Nations’ celebration of International Day of Rural Women (Oct. 15) and World Food Day (Oct. 16).

Zenaida Soriano, Amihan national chair, said: “Women are in the frontline of hunger. Thus, women, especially women farmers, are direct victims of the rice liberalization law which resulted in the drop of palay farm gate prices and the absence of affordable rice in the market.”
I had a one-on-one with Soriano before the press con, and I was quite impressed when she proudly told me that after the men are done with field preparations, it is the women who take over as the men seek nonfarming jobs to augment the family income. But the women are hardly recognized in the agriculture sector, she lamented.
While RA 11203 is in place, there will be no let-up in the clamor to have it repealed; that’s the groups’ promise. The petition and signatures will be submitted to the House of Representatives and the Senate on Nov. 4 when sessions resume. The petition contains seven points on why the “deadly” law that came into being with the principal sponsorship of Sen. Cynthia Villar must be repealed.
“Mapanlinlang” (misleading, a deception) is how the rural women called government promises that rice for the table would dramatically go down, citing its current price to be P30 to P50 per kilo and asking what happened to the National Food Authority’s P27 rice.
“The decrease in rice prices was short-lived,” Bantay Bigas spokesperson Cathy Estavillo said. “The long-term effect that is to be expected by consumers is a rise in rice prices because of limited rice supply in the world market, loss of government control of prices, and the private sector’s monopoly of control over prices and supply.”

As of now, the rice watch groups said, palay farm gate prices range from P10 to P15 per kilo, with fresh palay costing a mere P12 per kilo. Without rice dryers, farmers part with their newly harvested rice at low prices.
Even rice millers are affected, too. Close to 7,000 rice millers all over the country with some 55,000 workers will be severely affected if there will be no palay to mill.
The groups estimate a P60-billion loss among farmers from January to August, with farmers contemplating on abandoning their farmlands to the delight of real estate developers and land speculators.
“Harvest time is about to end,” Estavillo lamented, “and there is no relief in sight for the farmers who are victims of the deadly deluge that is liberalization.” #

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/124641/rise-for-rice#ixzz645FXifKr
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Thursday, October 10, 2019

Letters for the 'Philippine Merciless Academy'

Seven years ago, I wrote a column with the title “Hazing victims, willing victims.” It was a cruel thing to say while a family was mourning the loss of a beloved—that hazing victims are partly to blame for their own deaths. It is not nice to blame the dead, but some things have to be said.
I received emailed reactions, and two of them (from a mother and from a fratman) I published. I use them again now, even as three Philippine Military Academy (PMA) cadets are still in the hospital, while Cadet Darwin Dormitorio has already been buried.

(Two of my childhood playmates while I was growing up in Iloilo were surnamed Dormitorio.)
First, let me get this off my chest and direct this to the military institution and the PMA in particular: So the PMA is where you learned the cruelty that you inflicted on political dissenters during the dark days of martial rule under the dictator Marcos. So that is where you learned how to use many forms of torture, from electrocution of the genitals to water cure. An academy where you learn cruelty. Shame!
Excerpts from the letter of a wife and mother: “I read your article and I could not help but cry. I have been wanting to write this for over a decade now… I am keeping [myself] anonymous due [to] the sensitive intricacies in the fraternity to which [my husband] belongs.

“Your article struck a very raw nerve because my husband is a victim of hazing, a willing victim. He entered law school and joined his fraternity after our children were born. As if he didn’t have enough brothers and sisters, he sought the brotherhood of more…

“There were telltale signs, albeit few and far between — his repeated requests for ‘permission’ to join, and his suddenly wearing, for two straight days, his one and only jogging pants which he had never worn before.
“We were happily married. We had beautiful kids. We were a picture of a happy family. Were we not enough for him?…
“And as I read your article the memories of that day when I first caught sight of his ube-colored thighs and arms came rushing back. His story did not end the same way that the lives of Marc Andre Marcos, Lenny Villa and a long list of neophytes ended…
“It took a while before we spoke again, and before the words ‘fraternity’ and the name of his fraternity were ever uttered in my presence.
“The Anti-Hazing Law of 1995 is one big lie. And the elders, the so-called senior brods, some of [whom] were part of the Congress that passed the law, all know that there is still hazing.

“But you are right [in saying] that grieving families should ‘tell the bright but gullible young — in the strongest, un-coolest words — that it is stupid, katangahan and kabobohan to allow one’s self to be beaten black and blue.’”
And from the fratman and professor: “I am a fratman. There was a time when we, the alumni of the frat, debated on the matter but for some reason the debate lost steam… It could resume anytime.
“Physical initiation is a tradition that would be difficult to abolish but it is possible at least to minimize it. There are in fact proposals and proponents in our frat for alternative modes of initiation.
“Pending the changes, we have so far avoided deaths or life-threatening injuries. This may be because we had exercised certain measures to protect neophytes from the more serious dangers that could result from initiation.
“Here are the measures we follow: 1) A responsible officer must be present during the rites. His responsibility includes making sure that the initiation does not go out of bounds; this includes putting a stop to the initiation if it endangers the neophyte, even if it is unfinished. Another member, the recruiter, takes care of the neophyte. 2) Strict limitations to [the] physical initiation could apply — never on the head, torso and other critical parts. 3) No alcoholic drinks. 4) Constant checking of the neophyte’s status, including asking him directly [about] his condition. 5) Readiness to see a doctor and report to alumni leadership of any problem.
“Please take note that this does not seek to sustain having physical initiation. As I’ve said, there are moves to abolish or minimize it…”