Sunday, April 29, 2018

Culture of killing unleashed

The cold-blooded and pre-meditated killing of the Catholic priest Fr. Mark Ventura. 37, at about 8:15 am after celebrating mass at a gymnasium in Brgy. Pena Weste in Gattaran town, Cagayan, sends chills to the country. He was killed as he was blessing children and talking with choir members after the mass. The killers knew full well that he was a priest; they were bold enough to kill in broad daylight in front of people. The killers were so brazen! This happened four months after another priest, Fr. Tito Paez, was killed on Dec 4, 2017 in Nueva Ecija, again by raiding in tandem assailants.

What is happening to our country? As of now it is still too early to find the motives for the killing of Fr. Mark Ventura. What is clear, however, is that peace and order is getting out of hand. The killers are so bold because they know that they cannot be caught, either because they are protected by powerful people or they know that the police and the intelligence community in our country are inept – or even both!

How have we come to this? A culture of killing has been unleashed! If they can kill priests, they can kill anybody! Talagang wala ng takot sa Diyos ang pumapatay ng pari. Kung wala ng takot sa Diyos, kahit na ano maaari ng gawin! A great blame can be thrown to the thousands of  extra judicial killings that have been done in the name of the War on Drugs. So many so-called vigilante killings and killings by people riding in tandem are just simply listed “under investigation” and not one of the thousands has been solved. This sends a strong message that the police is very inept to solve crimes, if they themselves are not complicit in the killings. 

The police has to show that there is no culture of impunity. The criminals are to be brought to trial. Can the police do this? I strongly doubt. The killing of Fr. Tito Paez is still “under investigation.”

If the authorities cannot, or will not, do their responsibilities, the people should stand up. We should demand that killings should stop, that human rights be respected, that the big fishes should be caught and made to answer. We cannot just stand by and let things be.

We can connect this culture of impunity to the case of Sr. Patricia Fox. Can the government just send out missionaries on flimsy accusations without even due process? We can also connect this culture of impunity with the pro warranto case of CJ Sereno. Even the justices of the Supreme Court cannot act with impunity that they can do blatantly illegal decisions.  The Supreme Court cannot bend the laws!

Our present Constitution tells us that sovereignty ultimately resides on the people. Let the people now act and stand up!

Unrecognized and now threatened

WHAT we have feared has now come to the surface. We feared that the Duterte government will be vindictive. We feared that the Duterte government is so onion-skinned that it will not take dissent. We feared that the Duterte government will use government institutions to crack down on its victims. All of these fears have been confirmed by the downgrading of the missionary visa of 71-year old Australian Catholic missionary Sr. Patricia Fox.

The government is now using the Bureau of Immigration against Sr. Fox. The accusation against her is that she is engaged in activities which are “political in nature.” Of course they arbitrarily define what is “political in nature” is. Specifically they are:

She joined in the fact finding mission on land distribution in Hacienda Luisita. Is a fact finding mission to seek whether justice has been done and the law has been fulfilled “political in nature”?  Sorry to say to those ignorant of the Catholic faith; work for justice is part and parcel of our Christian commitment. The same would be true of the fact finding mission whether Martial Law in Mindanao is serving its purported purpose and not just a tool to abuse the rights of the people.

2.    She was part of a solidarity fast to free political prisoners. Has any harm been done to anyone by one undergoing voluntary fasting? Is solidarity with the oppressed “political in nature”? Yes, probably, if the government admits that it is oppressive to those who hold deviant ideas from its own. Then the fasting would hurt them. She is also accused of joining a solidarity program with political prisoners at the Davao del Norte Provincial Jail. This is in the same category of calling to set prisoners free – the very mission to which Christ has been anointed by the Holy Spirit. [ cf Lk 4:18-21]

3.     She joined the rally of the Coca Cola workers who are calling the giant Coca Cola company to implement the decision of the Department of Labor to regularize more than six hundred workers. She told the workers that the Social Teachings of the Church says that there is a right to unionize, that workers have a right to just wages and they have right to security of tenure. Is teaching the social teachings of the Church not part of missionary work? In fact even our present Constitution states that workers have a right to a living wage and to security of tenure. It is our present government who is wrong in not following the mandate of the Constitution.

4.     She joined a press conference on “Trump and Duterte, Hands off Human Rights Defenders.” This was in support of Jerome Aba who was detained in San Francisco Airport, shamed and psychologically tortured and made to sign a statement that he was a terrorist before he was deported back to the country. Is solidarity to victims of human rights abuses and expression of indignation wrong? Is this not an inviolable right of every human being, no matter what his/ faith race, creed and nationality may be?

S    Pat fox has been working in our country for the past 27 years helping farmers, indigenous peoples, the urban poor and the workers. She was engaged in helping the farmers improve their livelihood by organic farming. She has educated people on their rights and duties as Christians and as citizens. She has helped in rehabilitating  the poor when disasters came. In short she has been doing a lot of good work. For these there is no recognition at all on the part of the government, and now she is threatened to be deported for the incoherent allegations that her work is “political in nature”

      The Church cannot remain silent in this situation. Her right to preach the gospel of justice, peace, love and truth is being impinged. We stand up together with Sr. Pat.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The grip is getting tighter

I was walking along the Bureau of Immigration in Intramuros around 5:30 pm today, April 16. Someone called me at the back. When I turned, it was a reporter who recognized me. He told me if I had heard that Sr. Patricia Fox, whom I had known for several years already in our advocacies for the farmers, for the workers, for the urban poor and other advocacies, has been picked up from her convent and is now detained in the Bureau of Immigration (BI). When I got to my residence in Tondo I received several text messages giving me the same news and asking me to see her. After doing some of my work I went to the BI office around 7:40 pm and found several religious sisters there. Later on Fr. Robert Reyes came, sent by his bishop, bp. Ongtioco since Sr. Pat is from Cubao diocese. We were not allowed to go up to see Sr. Pat. She was in the third floor with her 2 lawyers and some sisters. We waited for our turn to see her and from the stories of the sisters with me and later from Sr. Pat herself I pieced the story together.

Around 2 pm today six men went to the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Zion in Anonas looking for Sr. Pat. (Is this not an overkill? Six men?) Sr. Pat is from Australia but she has worked in the Philippines for 27 years. She is 71 years old, suffering from several ailments what with her thin and frail stature. Later on we heard from her that she was accused as an undesirable alien because of her “political” activities. They showed her a picture when she was in Tagum jail visiting political prisoners in a recent fact finding mission in Mindanao. The process of arraignment was done but she said that she was not accused of anything, except, unfortunately, that she does not have her passport with her. It is with the travel agency since her papers are being processed as she was scheduled to go to Australia on May 2.

After more than an hour of waiting, finally we were able to meet her. She was allowed to go down stairs together with her companions and there we exchanged news and even some banter. While waiting, we were calling for help from people whom we know—other religious, the media, some lawyers. One gave me the mobile number of Commissioner Morente. I contacted him and he answered my call. Immediate he blurted out that Sr. Pat is accused of some immigration irregularities without me fully acquainting him of why I called. This means to me that he knows of the case. When I pleaded with him to allow her to go home for the night so that she could get her medication (she gets injected every night for her back and her medicine is refrigerated) and her proper food (she cannot take ordinary food), the commissioner interjected that this cannot be done since she does not have her passport. He does not accept that she could not have her passport with her because it is in a travel agency. If they are after her legitimate stay in the country, they could easily check their records in the BI. No it cannot be done, he insisted, because there are legal procedures. How inhuman the legal procedures can be! This happens when people do not intend to help. The law is used to persecute others. Nothing came out of the conversation. I gave several interviews to the media people who came and finally around 9:30 pm Sr. Pat was asked to get up.

Two young sisters accompanied her for the night. Before we left BI one of the sisters ran after me and said that they were brought to a room where there was no bed. Because there was no bed they were told by the guard not to lie down! How would they rest?—and the poor old sister has a back problem!

The grip is getting tighter; getting hard on people who manifest dissent against the abuses of the government. This is already happening without Martial Law. What would it be if there were Martial Law, which hangs heavy in the air! The victim can even be a woman, an elderly, and a religious. Before, they were the poor, the young, and the gullible. Let us be wary. This government cannot take dissent. It uses the machineries of the state—and even the law—to bring down people, whoever and whatever their condition may be.  

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Quo Vadis Supreme Court?

I AM not a lawyer, but it does not mean that I do not care about the legal issues in our country right now. I may not be able to discourse on legal matters, but it does not mean that I do not know what is right and what is wrong. I hope lawyers, judges and justices in our judicial system, even up to the Supreme Court, are not in the illusion that they can deceive simple people with their legal jumbo mumbo, and that we the people will just accept their own definitions of what is right and what is wrong, of what is legal and what is illegal.

The circus of the present trial of Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno on the Quo Warranto by the Supreme Court is a case in point. It is becoming clear that the three branches of government, which are meant to be independent of each other for proper check and balance, are presently conniving to oust CJ Sereno. No less than Duterte himself has several times declared that he wants Sereno out. He even has ordered congress to impeach her. The present Solicitor General of the Office of the President is the one behind the Quo Warranto petition. The Lower House of Congress is manipulating the impeachment process and speeding it up.

It even has the nerve to summon the Chief Justice herself and other justices to stand before them. CJ Sereno did not accede, knowing full well that they were overstepping their bounds, but five justices did. They lowered themselves to accuse the Chief Justice of their petty gripes and hurts before a body that has no business to meddle in the affairs of the judiciary. Now these same justices - De Castro, Jardeleza, Peralta, Tijam and Bersamin – do not even inhibit themselves from discussing the Quo Warranto petition when they have shown that they are clearly biased against the Chief Justice. They have axes to grinds against her! They had already accused her in the congressional hearings and now they are going to judge her! Shame on them! What justice can come out when the accusers are the judges at the same time?

This Quo Warranto petition is itself a farce. Why has the once august Supreme Court lowered itself to hear this petition? The Quo Warranto is a petition to remove a public official from her/his office because of a defect on his/her appointment. It has been ruled by the same Supreme Court several times that an impeachable official can be removed from office only by impeachment. The chief justice is an impeachable official, ergo… Furthermore the Quo Warranto can only be invoked within one year of the appointment and taking office of the said official. Chief Justice Sereno has been in office as chief justice for already five years!
Why the circus then?

It is crystal clear that the justices in the present Supreme Court are allowing themselves to be used--and also perhaps bought?--by Duterte.

If CJ Sereno is removed Duterte will appoint the new chief justice. His capture of the judiciary will then be complete. He would now be able to do what he wants--pass any law, change the constitution, declare Martial Law all over the country--without any fear that his actions would be opposed or nullified by the Court.

Duterte will completely control judicial appointments to Supreme Court and all courts and thus pack the judiciary with his own people.

The chief justice is the head of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) which currently hears the complaint filed by Marcos against VP Leni. With Duterte’s own appointed CJ, the PET can easily be manipulated to favor his pet, Marcos!

It is imperative for Duterte to remove Sereno. He thus unleashes his presidential offices, the weak congress people who are at his beck and call, and now the justices who are willing to stake the independence of the judiciary for their petty dislikes and ambitions.

Justices of the Supreme Court, where will you bring justice and democracy?

Monday, April 9, 2018

Why the Church speaks on social and political issues

WHY does the church speak on social and political matters? This question betrays the belief that the spiritual has nothing to do with the mundane, with the worldly. The church’s sphere is the spiritual, so they claimed, so it should keep silent and be aloft over such worldly matters as politics, business and society in general. This way of thinking, however, is foreign to the mission of Jesus, because he has come to save the world--to renew everything, including social realities! In fact the end game of the plan of salvation is “the New Heavens and the New Earth”.

The Holy Book tells us:  “According to his promise we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Pet 3:13) All things came from God and all things have to be brought back to him. So all reality, including the temporal order or the order of this world, will have to be permeated with the Spirit of God. “Our redemption has a social dimension because ‘God, in Christ, redeems not only the individual person, but also the social relations existing between men’. To believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in everyone means realizing that he seeks to penetrate every human situation and all social bonds.” (Pope Francis' Evangelii Gaudium, 178)

Therefore the Holy Father clearly teaches: “No one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society.” (Pope Francis' Evangelii Gaudium, 183)

There are values that are needed in social life. These are truth, justice, peace and love. We need these in order to have a human society, that is, a society that is worthy of human beings. These virtues are to be implanted in all institutions in order that people can live and work together in harmony. These virtues are needed not only in the church and in families. They are also needed in politics and in business. Woe to us if there is no truth in politics. No business will prosper if there is no justice. There will not be peace if there is no justice. Love makes people at home not only in their homes but also in their workplaces. Not only are these virtues or values needed but they cannot exist alone. They all come together. The absence of one will not make the others effective. There can be no love if people are not truthful to each other. There is no justice if there is no love and vice versa.

These values—truth, justice, peace and love—are all kingdom values, that is, values of the kingdom of God that Jesus has come to bring about. All institutions therefore, including the Church have to strive to operate according these values.

 In the light of this, we have the marching orders of Pope Francis: “The Church’s pastors, taking into account the contributions of the different sciences, have the right to offer opinions on all that affects people’s lives, since the task of evangelization implies and demands the integral promotion of each human being.” (Pope Francis' Evangelii Gaudium, 182)

Religion has a role in political debate, not in providing concrete political solutions, which lies outside the competence of religion, but to recall to society the objective moral norms as the basis of justice, truth, peace and love.

Silence is not an option

WHEN Pope Francis was being maligned by some church people in September of 2018, he remained silent. Silence and pray...