Friday, October 28, 2022



70 Cordillera youth tell their stories

 / 05:11 AM October 28, 2022

You help send us to college each time you buy our products.”—Cordillera youth


Those words are on the caps of the jam, jelly, and marmalade jars sold (sold out, sometimes) at the Religious of the Good Shepherd (RGS) Mountain Maid Training Center (MMTC) store in Baguio City. The hands-down bestseller is, of course, the ube jam that, on some days, might require crowd management. But the baked goodies, like the ensaymada, can hold their own, especially when one lingers for a cup of brewed upland coffee while beholding the hills from the viewing deck, or passing time beneath the pines near the statues of St. Mary Euphrasia Pelletier and Jesus the Good Shepherd.

Unbeknownst to many, the MMTC products pass through the hands of young Cordillera students who work their way through college and are under the guidance of the Good Shepherd nuns. Through the decades, thousands of student workers (not scholars), as their mentors prefer to call them, have passed through MMTC and graduated into life beyond their Cordillera homeland and Baguio City with college diplomas to show. But more important than the academic degrees and skills were the values they had imbibed during their four or more years of stay. These values would serve them well when they face the forks on the highways or take the roads less traveled. They have been equipped to face life, it is hoped.

As October, Indigenous Peoples Month, draws to a close, reading the coffee-table book “Celebration 3: Seventy Years of the Good Shepherd in Baguio, 1952-2022” can induce reflection. It is a tribute to the Cordillera youth who were part of MMTC. “Celebrate 3” because it is the RGS Baguio community’s third milestone after its 25th and 50th year.

The RGS came to the Philippines in 1912. Founded in France in 1835, the congregation has both apostolic and contemplative nuns present in 72 countries. They “build partnerships that promote the dignity and human rights of all, especially women and children.”

Notably striking is that “Celebrate 3” does not focus mainly on the Good Shepherd nuns but on the student workers (female and male) and their stories, 70 of them, each one crying out to be told—and read. These are not student stories oozing with angst or questioning life’s blows with eloquence and spunk. The stories in “Celebrate 3” are straight from the ground, from the mountain peaks and trails of the Cordillera, if you may, and the indigenous communities whence these students came. Short and crisp, no frills, but they pack a wallop. One nun said she practically sobbed into one story while she was reading it. It was difficult to imagine, she said, what one so young had to go through in order to step into college.

Once in college as a student worker, it is another ball game. Working in MMTC enables student workers to be enrolled in nearby colleges and universities. A hostel in the Good Shepherd compound serves as home to most, if not all. It is not all work and study. It could be a healing experience for some.

It is after college and beyond that the back stories begin to gel and wait to be told, not too easily perhaps, but with time, distance, purpose, and grateful hearts, memories become sharp and clear. And so “Celebrate 3” became the medium. The stories include what life was like at MMTC, the mentors, fellow workers, tasks, school, overcoming personal insecurities, courses they chose.

But as in many stories, the flashbacks could take center stage. I noticed similarities—the difficult lives the storytellers had before MMTC. Abandonment by parents, absent parents, walking for hours to reach school, extreme poverty, addiction, large families, life in the hinterlands. Now, think of Filipino brats who went to some of the world’s most expensive schools but dropped out, preferring a happy-go-lucky life, or later, politics.

The courses finished are varied—education, hotel and restaurant management, medicine, accountancy, law, business, nursing, information technology, engineering, name it. As the stories tell us, these graduates have become enabled, productive citizens of the world.


From the storytellers, before I run out of space:

“During those sad, painful moments, I felt God’s love and became closer to Him. He gave me best friends I never had before. He gave me a new family I will always cherish.”

“Working with the RGS planted the seed of hope and confidence in my village girl’s heart.”

“My overriding sentiment is gratitude.”

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/158244/70-cordillera-youth-tell-their-stories#ixzz7s2qo2zXT
Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook

Friday, October 21, 2022



Oratio imperata vs. corruption

 / 05:11 AM October 21, 2022

Oratio imperata vs. corruption

I noticed that, even as the COVID-19 pandemic is softening its deadly impact hereabouts and seems to be on its way out, the oratio imperata after Masses in Catholic churches continues to be recited. For almost three years, the “Oratio Imperata for Protection Against COVID-19” was recited as a prayer in English and many Filipino languages, so that it has almost become part of the Mass (online and face to face) and was nearly memorized by those who attend Mass often.


It is a prayer of supplication to God that the COVID-19 virus that had already claimed countless lives the world over would spare those who remain in this valley of tears. Special mention are the health frontliners who serve, and the scientists who work to discover a cure, a weapon to fight the deadly scourge that humankind had to face in this 21st century.

“Oratio imperata” is Latin for obligatory prayers. They are short prayers that church authorities may ask the faithful to recite publicly, especially in time of grave danger and calamities, in the hope that God would deign to listen and avert potential harm to the community. We’ve had such prayers in the past, but only for short periods and while waiting for expected super hurricanes to blow over. Such situations brought to mind the biblical scene of how Jesus calmed the storm at sea while his bumbling bunch of disciples—they of little faith—screamed with fear that turned to awe.

Category 4 typhoons that brought flash floods, sea surges, landslides, and wreaked havoc on the environment and food-producing fields, have been part of our lives. Add volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and man-made calamities that are the result of over-quarrying, unregulated mining, deforestation, garbage, etc.

The man-made ones do not seem to qualify for an oratio imperata, but why? And speaking of man-made, why not corruption as well?

This thought was percolating in my mind this past week while the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences is in Thailand for a two-week meeting. If I remember right, it was during the Marcos dictatorship and the dark martial law years that the Asian bishops popularized the “preferential option for the poor” theological imperative that was spawned in Latin America and later took root in Asian shores. I would like to believe that the churches in Asia were never the same after that. But I digress.

With that in my mind, I was wondering why the other major scourges that bedevil this woebegone nation of ours do not deserve an oratio imperata. For a change, why not an “Oratio Imperata Against Corruption”? That would be a smooth segue from “Oratio Imperata for Protection Against COVID-19” that people have been reciting these past pandemic years, the anni horribiles.

The prayer should be composed in a way that highlights corruption as a Category 5 calamity that wreaks havoc on our lives and livelihoods, a deadly virus that infects many in government positions, a festering disease that needs a cure, if not divine intervention. It must also include a plea for the protection of those who expose the evil, the truth tellers (journalists among them) and whistleblowers especially, who risk life and limb so that light may penetrate the dark recesses of government agencies where corruption thrives.

I mention divine intervention because the scourge of corruption is bigger than us, like a so-called perfect storm.

Many corrupt government officials are churchgoers who even occupy front pews, whose right hands that drop donations into the collection pouch do not know what their sticky left hands are doing. Who knows—while in church and joining the recitation of the oratio imperata against corruption, the corrupt would find themselves praying against themselves and choose to change ways.


So, bring it on! But not to use fire and brimstone, or threats of hellfire and damnation in the afterlife, as these could sound pharisaical and turn off people. Only gentle reminders that turn the focus on the most affected—the poor and the marginalized—so that those who commit grave wrongs in high places would change their ways. Because with divine intervention goes divine justice and retribution, even in this life.

From the back pew, I say, if caught and proven guilty, no mercy. But, hey, you say, why are they walking around in the august halls of the legislative?

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/158054/oratio-imperata-vs-corruption#ixzz7s2rEyKv4
Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook

Friday, October 14, 2022



The longest-held hostage

 / 05:05 AM October 14, 2022

Let me get this out before all else: Hear ye! While I do not wish it, a curse may befall those who intentionally delay the legal processes to block the release of former senator Leila de Lima from her more than five years of solitary confinement. For those concerned, time to do the right thing. In Pinoy street-corner lingo: May araw din kayo. It is a truism that comes from the ancients.

It may sound hyperbolic to say that De Lima is the longest-held hostage in the Philippines. More than five years, in solitary confinement in a police detention facility, for what clearly appear to be trumped-up charges. But it is not hyperbolic when one considers how she ended up being a real-life hostage, early morning last Sunday, when Feliciano Sulayao Jr. of the Abu Sayyaf Group barged into her detention area and held her hostage at knifepoint.


The weapon: a metal fork that had been sharpened into a deadly instrument. The hostage-taker’s demands, as per police account: proof of life of the other two would-be escapees who, unknown to the hostage-taker, had been neutralized by then, plus a Hummer, and a chopper. Huh, who would lend a Hummer?

All three would-be escapees ended up dead, with two of them gunned down earlier, while Sulayao, before he could plunge his weapon into De Lima’s chest, took a bullet from marksman police Col. Mark Pespes. How elementary—the real-life Papillon would have guffawed at the escape attempt.

The dead, as Muslim customs dictate, must have been buried by now, while De Lima must still be nursing the trauma from what she called “a near-death experience.” A dramatic Sunday morning it was that generated more hows and what-ifs than satisfactory answers, foremost among them being De Lima’s long-drawn solitary confinement—and, oh, a metal fork as deadly weapon. Oh, but thanks to the police’s swift action right in their Camp Crame HQ, the drama did not last long. What a laughing matter it would have been had the three made it out.

De Lima is, hyperbolically, literally, figuratively, and metaphorically, a hostage of a legal process that was allegedly conjured up to silence her, allegedly per the all-consuming desire of former president Rodrigo “Kill, kill, kill” Duterte, whose toes she had stepped on when she was senator. Never mind that several of the main witnesses against her have recanted her alleged drug deals when she was justice secretary (before she became senator). It is now up to those concerned, the judges and prosecution especially, to allow her to post bail, give her a “furlough” as suggested, whatever that means, or put her under house arrest. Anything (even for pogi and brownie points) so she could breathe the air of freedom, while she continues to prove her innocence.

Opposition Rep. Edcel Lagman, he who espouses difficult causes, cited weak evidence against De Lima that should compel the current president to do the right thing. “The President is perfectly correct in desisting from meddling with the courts in the cases of De Lima, but he must be reminded that while the adjudication of criminal cases belongs to the judiciary, the prosecution of such cases is an executive function under his control and supervision pursuant to the Constitution.” A legal ABC there.

But shall the current President defy his predecessor?

In 2021, to mark Sen. De Lima’s fourth year in prison, I ran in this space a four-part Q and A (“Conversation with Sen. Leila,” Feb. 18, 25, and March 4, 11). A question I asked: What are your moments of prayer and silence like?

Her answer: “It’s usually in the early morning and early evening. It is very intimate and truly a spiritual communion with God, humbling and full of reflections. I pour out my thoughts and emotions to Jesus.

“Amid the persecution, my faith in God has never faltered. Surrendering your fears, doubts and anger to God does not mean consenting to the abuse and suffering. Rather, it is accepting the painful struggle in the promise that nothing lasts forever, and that good will always prevail. ‘Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.’”


De Lima was praying the rosary when the hostage-taker grabbed her at knifepoint. A near-death experience, indeed.

Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/157845/the-longest-held-hostage#ixzz7s2riYZfn
Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook

Friday, October 7, 2022



Journalists as endangered species

 / 05:11 AM October 07, 2022

A most profound question one writer asked a revolutionary fighter, who survived the battle of his life, was not how bloody difficult it was or how he won the battle. It was: “Were you afraid?”


Were you afraid? That question could very well be thrown at us journalists, who have encountered danger while on difficult coverages or when simply writing dangerously, as we often find ourselves doing. This comes to mind in the wake of the murder last Oct. 3 of Percy Lapid, who was known for his “Lapid Fire” radio program. He was the 197th media person to be murdered since 1986. I also think of Quezon-based Inquirer colleague Delfin Mallari (he who calls himself ”peryodistang promdi”), who still has a bullet lodged in his back.

After I learned about the murder of broadcaster Lapid, who was a critic of both former president Duterte and the current one, I posted on Facebook a photo of a fiercely blazing sunset on the Metro Manila skyline that I took the day before while coming down from the hills of Tanay. I captioned it with Dylan Thomas’ famous line: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

The murder comes in the heels of one former government undersecretary threatening a judge whose decision on the use of the terrorism label she did not agree with. In a very rare move, the Supreme Court issued an order compelling the said undersecretary to explain why she should not be charged for her threat.

Media persons and lawyers/judges are ever in the crosshairs of the powerful who feel their toes have been stepped on or that their grip on power is threatened, not to mention their questionable behavior and transactions. This mindset had been exacerbated by the former president’s “kill, kill, kill” imperative that made tokhang and extrajudicial killings a scourge that befell the poor mostly, but not the big fish.

There is a continuing vigorous exchange on social media on the role of journalists in this day and age vis-à-vis influencers who use social media to deliver opinions, and sometimes unverified information, for the benefit of their principals while invoking the right to freedom of expression. Bashing journalists, fact-checkers, and truth tellers has become the paid preoccupation of many on social media.

Someone posted clips of journalists covering life-threatening situations with the caption “Journalists show up even in the worst of times.” Yes, journalists risk life and limb to deliver the news, and do not merely sit in an ivory tower to comment on what is going on below. Sure, we get salaries from our media organizations only, but I consider journalism and writing not as a career or livelihood but as a calling, a vocation.

Vloggers and so-called media influencers may also be getting paid by whoever they support or are monetizing their posts, but they are not working journalists. This is not to scoff at what they are doing. Journalists adhere to a code of ethics and are equipped with investigative skills honed by years of reporting. We are not academics writing from air-conditioned rooms, but we draw much on our varied academic backgrounds and continuous training.

One of my favorite movies about true-to-life journalism is “A Private War” (2018), based on the life and death of war correspondent Marie Colvin played by Rosamund Pike. An American, Colvin wrote for the British newspaper The Sunday Times.

Movie notes: “Celebrated war correspondent Marie Colvin is a woman who is as comfortable downing martinis with high society’s elite as she is brazenly staring down warlords and fleeing from gunfire. Driven by an enduring desire to bear witness and give voice to the voiceless, Colvin charges into danger, constantly testing the limits between bravery and bravado.”


Colvin lost an eye during an ambush in Sri Lanka, but she simply returned to the war zones with an eye patch. She died in 2012 while covering the siege of Homs in Syria. She was 56. In 2019, her family was awarded $302 million in damages after it was proven in court that the Syrian government had directly ordered her assassination.

Watch “A Private War” on Netflix. It got a high 88 percent rating from Rotten Tomatoes.

Journalism, it is said, is the first draft of history—if not history in the making itself. I sometimes go over the 3,000 or so magazine feature stories and profiles, long investigative reports, news reports, and column pieces I have written over the decades, and I can only give profound thanks to The One who made them possible. Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus.


Read more: https://opinion.inquirer.net/157649/journalists-as-endangered-species#ixzz7s2s7mNe6
Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook