Thursday, August 30, 2007

Armed Struggle - Can it Transform Society?

This morning the local papers reported another attack of New People's Army(NPA) guerillas on a remote military detachment in a nearby province. The other week they also attacked a police station and carted away several firearms. The leadership of the Communist Party of the Philippines have ordered the NPA units to increase their tactical offensive. This is most likely their response to the arrest of Joma Sison (the founder and chairman of the CPP) in the Netherlands. He has been accused of ordering the assassination of two former leaders of the CPP/NPA (Kintanar and Tabara). The widows of the two leaders have filed a case against Sison.

Kintanar and Tabara were involved in the internal debates within the CPP during the early 1990s. In view of the new realities brought about by the end of the Marcos era and by the collapse of the Soviet Union, they questioned the doctrine of armed struggle/protracted people's war as laid out by Joma Sison. They also questioned the style of leadership of Sison. On the other hand, Sison and his supporters accused Kintar and Tabara of military adventurism and of being responsible for the purges within the party that led to the killings of many cadres. This internal struggle led to the split of the revolutionary movement. There were two factions that emerged - the Reaffirmists (the pro-Sison) and the Rejectionists (the anti-Sison). Kintanar and Tabara went on the form their own party.

The question that confronts the revolutionary movement remains the same: Is armed struggle the most effective means of transforming society?

More than twenty years ago, during the dark period of the Marcos dictatorial regime I myself thought that the only way left to transform Philippine society was through armed struggle. After my mother's death I even toyed with the possibility of following the foosteps of Frs. Balweg and Navarro who left the priesthood and joined the armed struggle. However, the EDSA people power proved that society can be transformed without violence or people's war.

While democracy has been restored in the Philippines, the basic problems remain the same- poverty, inequality, foreign domination of the economy, graft and corruption, patronage politics, forced disappearances and summary killings, armed conflict, suppression of civil rights, etc.

The CPP/NPA hold on to the strategy of people's war and armed struggle as a means of transforming society, although they have entered into peace negotiations with the government for the last 20 years. Other leftist groups have availed of the democratic space and have followed a peaceful, non-violent path.

I myself believe that armed struggle cannot transform Philippine society. It is a futile, ineffective and costly strategy that will only escalate the spiral of violence. The possibility of a total victory by the NPA is very remote. They can continue attacking police stations, remote military installations, cell sites, etc. but that is not enough to achieve total victory. The military can not completely annihilate them but the NPA cannot grow and expand into a regular army and capture territories. They do not have any wide popular support. The people's war and the counter-insurgency war will be a war without victors, only victims.

We live in an era where many revolutionary movements all over the world have abandoned the armed struggle and engage in the peace negotiations. The most shining examples are the ANC in South Africa, the FMLN in El Salvador, the IRA in Northern Ireland. Armed struggle has proven to be ineffective and costly in transforming society. The CPP and the government should resume the peace process without precondition. This is the legacy that the aging leadership of the revolutionary movement can leave behind.

Here's a poem I wrote the expresses my thoughts and feelings about armed struggle.

Amado Picardal

In the middle of the night
you appeared
claiming to be our friend
and savior.

With a gun in your hand
you revealed to us
why we are poor and hungry.
You proclaimed to us
the good news
of revolution.

We fed you.
We shared with you
the fruits of our toil.
We gave you
our brave sons and daughters.

We believed and hoped
you could give us
a better tomorrow
with that gun in your hand.

So many tomorrows
have come and gone
but we are still poor and hungry
and we have lost
our brave sons and daughters

Our farms have become
a battle ground.
Our furrows have become
shallow graves.

What can we harvest
when only bullets and bombs
have been sown?

Since you came
other strange monsters
have also appeared in our land.
Like vampires they swoop from the sky.
We keep hoping this is only a nightmare.
We dread the barking of the dogs
and the knocking on our doors
in the middle of the night.

We had to pack up
and leave our homes and farms,
our carabaos, pigs and chickens.
We are exiles
in our own country.

You told us political power
comes out from the barrel of the gun.
Now we know
only death, more hunger and terror
come out from the barrel of the gun.

We are the casualties
of this protracted war
and this total war.
The bursts and explosions
drown out our cry
for justice and peace.

You promised us
a land we can call our own
and all we got
is this no man's land.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

An Episcopal Ordination

Yesterday I attended the episcopal ordination of Bishop Julius Tonel. The liturgy which lasted for three hours was celebrated at the San Pedro Cathedral in Davao. There were 36 bishops present and over 300 priests. The cathedral was packed with people and many had to stand outside since there was not enough room.

Bishop Tonel was the vicar general of the Archdiocese of Davao and parish priest of San Pablo Parish. He was the former rector of the St. Francis Regional Major Seminary. He finished his Licentiate in Sacred Liturgy at the San Anselmo in Rome. He is also a cyclist who joined two previous Bike for Peace which I organized during the Mindanao Week of Peace the last two years. The other summer, he and 30 other priests joined the first leg of my Bike-Tour for Life and Peace around Mindanao.

Bishop Tonel has been appointed as the new Bishop-prelate of the Prelature of Ipil. It is located in the Zamboanga Peninsula. There is so much poverty in this area and this has been the scene of Christian-Muslim conflict in the past. This is the place that was attacked by the Abu Sayaf several years ago. Just the other month, Fr. Bossi, an Italian Missionary was kidnapped in that place and was released after 40 days of captivity.

In his address after communion, Bishop Tonel thanked God for the honor, the gift and the task of the episcopacy. He forgot to add that it is also a burden and a responsibility.

There are so many things expected of a bishop nowadays, especially in the context of the situation of our people and the problems of the local Church.

He is expected to be a good shepherd of the flock, exercising his leadership in the spirit of service, and imbued with pastoral charity and compassion. He must not "lord it over" or govern the flock in a dictatorial or authoritarian manner. He must learn to listen to his priest and the lay faithful he is called to serve and encourage their active participation in the life and mission of the Church.

The bishop is expected to be the focal point of communion - of unity - in his diocese, just as he is to be in communion with the college of bishops and with the Bishop of Rome - the pope.

Since the pastoral priority of the Church in the Philippines is the building up of the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs), the bishop must promote the growth of BECs in the parishes within his diocese. In these communities, the ordinary lay faithful will experience the Church as a community patterned after the early Christian Community in Jerusalem, whose member live in communion and participate in the Christ's mission as a prophetic, worshipping and serving community and as the Church of the Poor. The bishop must therefore continue the reform of the Church started in Vatican II and realize the vision of a renewed Church as promoted by the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines (PCP II).

The bishop has to be a prophet - preaching and teaching the Good News of salvation and liberation - the message of justice, peace, and the integrity of creation. He must also be the conscience in society, denouncing the sinful situation and structures - the culture of death, the injustices, the violence, corruption, the destruction of the environment, etc. He must make sure that his clergy and the communities of the faithful actively participate in the prophetic mission of the Church, in renewed evangelization and catechesis.

The bishop has to encourage his clergy and the faithful to be engaged in renewed social apostolate - in addressing the problem of poverty and underdevelopment, in working for peace and justice, in defending the environment.

The bishop must also promote "renewed worship" - emphasizing participative and meaningful liturgical and sacramental celebration in his diocese and promoting inculturation - using local cultural forms and expressions.

Since there are other Christian denominations and religious traditions (e.g. Islam), the bishop must promote ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. The bishops in Mindanao have been in the forefront of the Christian-Muslim dialogue and have set up the Bishops-Ulama Forum.

The bishop must be concerned about the renewal of the clergy, inspiring them to live up to the high standard of morality. The most difficult problem he faces is dealing with priests who have problems living celibacy, who are engaged in sexual misconduct and abuse. He must be compassionate and at the same time firm. He must be concerned about the victims ,and never tolerate abuses.

These are the challenges, the burden and responsibility awaiting Bishop Tonel as he begins his ministry of shepherding his flock. I pray and hope that he will truly be a good shepherd

I am glad that there are many bishops in the Philippines who are good shepherds and who have provided moral leadership in the local Church. Among them is Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales of the Archdiocese of Manila. He was the bishop of Malaybalay, Bukidnon when our mission team was working in his diocese. I still remember that time when we organized and mobilized the Basic Ecclesial Communities to struggle against the logging companies in San Fernando, Bukidnon. He was very supportive. One time he came to barricade at night and joined us as we were having a bible-reflection. When our leaders were hailed to court, he encourage them. He celebrated with us when the government finally gave in to the demand to impose a total log ban in the whole province. He was filled with grief when some time later, one of his priest was killed by the loggers. Now as cardinal of Manila, Rosales has started the Pondong Pinoy - a program that is mobilizing the people to pool their resources to address the problem of poverty.

Other bishops I admire are Oscar Cruz (who is at the forefront in the struggle against "hueteng" (illegal gambling), Jose Manguiran (who is leading the struggle against the mining companies), Orlando Quevedo (who is the primary proponent of the Basic Ecclesial Communities). The late Cardinal Sin has been one of the moving spirit behind EDSA I (that toppled the dictator Marcos) and EDSA II (that toppled the corrupt president Estrada).

Unfortunately, there are some bishops who have not lived up to the people's expectation of the good shepherd. They have been more concerned about their status, privilege and their material possessions. They have not contributed to the renewal of the Church and the society. I have met some of them and I wrote this poem for them.


Like a sheep without a shepherd
we cry out to you.
We have been scattered,
our homes demolished,
our sons and daughters slaughtered
by wolves in uniform.

Like a flock forgotten by its shepherd
we wait for you.
But you're too busy worrying
about your image, influence
and investments.
You do not even know us.

As we wander in this valley
of terror, hunger and death
we long to see your face
and hear your voice
calling us by name.

But you have wandered
from your flock
and from the good shepherd
you promised to follow.
You have succumbed to the
temptation in the desert.
Yours is the power, the glory
and the wealth.

Like a flock in search of a shepherd
we call out to you,
be our shepherd.
Leave everything you have
and lead us in our journey
to the promised land.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Celebrating the Eucharist with the Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC) of Spring Valley

Last night I celebrated the Eucharist with the BEC of Spring Valley in their community chapel. Over 120 people participated - a mix of adults and youth, men and women. After communion, 15 persons comprising the Council of Leaders made a renewal of the commitment to serve and lead the community. The council is composed of the over-all leader called Pangulo sa Katilingban, the lay liturgical leaders, the heads of committees (education, liturgy, social action, youth, finance) and the heads of the family groupings. We had agape -table fellowship - after the mass.

The BEC of Spring Valley is one of the 33 small Christian communities in the parish. It is an urban community with over 150 families. It is divided into 10 family groupings or BEC cells. The whole community gathers every Saturday evening in the chapel for bible-service led by lay liturgical leaders. During the week, the leaders conduct family evangelization (Visita Familia) in the homes of the members. The community mass is celebrated bi-monthly. There is a also a men's fellowship group that meets monthly. The young people have their own weekly bible-sharing. The community spirit in Spring Valley is impressive.

The activity of the community does not only revolve around spiritual matters. Several years ago, after I conducted an evangelization seminar, the community was encouraged to struggle for the land they have been occupying for over twenty years. They resisted the demolition team sent by a wealthy logger who claimed that land as his own in spite of a spurious title. The case has still to be resolved in the court.

They also have an income-generating project assisted by the micro-finance program of the parish.

The BEC in Spring Valley is a proof that BECs can thrive not only in rural areas but also in urban areas. In grassroots communities such as this, the Church is being renewed - the Church is experienced as a community of disciples, whose members live in communion or fellowship, and as evangelizing, worshipping and serving community, and as the Church of the Poor.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

A Day in the Life of a Priest-Professor

I woke up at six this morning. By 6:30, I was in the common room with four fellow Redemptorist priests in the community going over the readings for the coming Sunday discussing what we can preach about. We do this homily sharing every Thursday morning. On other days we have the morning prayer.

After breakfast, I went back to my room to prepare for my class. From nine in the morning up to 12 noon, I was in the classroom, teaching a course on Pastoral Leadership and Management. I teach 3 other courses on other days (Fundamental Theology, Sacraments, Theological Synthesis.

After lunch, instead of taking a nap, I retired to the chapel for private meditation and prayer. This is where I get recharged or re-energized.

After meditation, I went to the market to buy some peanuts and have these grounded. When I went back to the monastery, I prepared my home-made peanut butter (mixed with Canola butter, virgin coconut oil, honey).

I spent an hour on the computer, checking my e-mail and going over my book-project. By 4:30 pm I was pedaling my mountain bike up the hills and rough roads. I was back in the monastery by 6:15 pm.

In the evening, I celebrated the Eucharist with the leaders and members of the Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC) in San Jose - an urban poor community. There were over 70 people who attended. Within the mass, the Council of Leaders of the community had a ritual of renewing the commitment to serve the community. The mass was over by 8:30 pm. After sharing a meal with the people I drove back to the monastery.

This is a typical day in my life for the last 12 years, since I was assigned here in Davao after finishing my studies in Rome. How much longer will I live like this? I really miss the life of a missionary out in the mountains.

When I was ordained, I thought that I will be spending my priestly ministry in the missions until my old age (may be up to 80). But then after 8 years with the mission team, I was sent for higher studies. So here I am now, living the life of a professor preparing future priests for ministry. I never thought I would end up being a teacher like my grandfather and my mother. So here I am wondering how long will I continue doing this.

At least I have other things to do besides teaching - celebrating the Eucharist with the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) in the parish, biking for peace, giving talks and seminars on BECs in various dioceses). But most of my time is actually spent teaching.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Homily for 18th Sunday C - Being Rich in God's Eyes

This morning I presided at the 10:30 morning mass. The Church was overflowing - there were probably over six hundred who attended mostly from the upper class. This was the homily that I preached:

Many of us are concerned about having more money and possessions so that we can fulfill our basic needs and desires- to eat well, have a nice house, drive a car, provide good education for the children, pay the hospital when we get sick, etc. There's nothing wrong with working hard so that we can live in comfort.

What is wrong is when the accumulation of wealth and material possessions become an obsession and when our hearts are filled with greed. This becomes the sole purpose of our existence. We make an idol out of our wealth - when we think that this is the only thing that matters. What is worst is when we use evil means to achieve this end - when we exploit others, treath them unjustly, engage in graft and corruption, destroy the environment, etc. We become materialisticd and live as if there is no God and as if we will never die. We become like the Rich Fool in the parable we have just read.

In our Gospel today, Jesus warns us: "Take care care, be on your guard against all forms of greed, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of one's possessions."

Jesus reminds us also of the reality of death. We are all going to die someday. This awareness forces us to examine our priorities - about what matters most in life.

There is more to life than accumulating material possessions. When this is all we have accomplised at the end of our life, we will still be failure in God's eyes. To be rich in God's eyes is not just about having more money.

We really do not know how much time we have left here on earth. It could be 24 years, or 24 months, or 24 hours. The most important question we need to answer is not how much more money and possession that we can accumulate.

Rather, how much love and care we can show to our fellow human beings - starting with our own family (your spouse, the children, relatives), our neighbors, the community, the poor in our midst.

We need to answer the question: what legacy can we leave behind after we are gone? What is the good that we have done - how we make this world a better place to live in, our efforts to eradicate poverty, to work for peace and justice, to defend the environment, etc.

Ultimately we need to examine our relatioship with the source of our being - God - who is also our final destiny.

In the end, God will judge us by our love and the good we have done - not by our possessions. The persons who have loved God and people the most are truly rich in God's eyes.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Promoting a New Way of Being Church - the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs)

For the last four weeks, I have been engaged in what I consider my life's primary mission - promoting Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) as new way of being Church. It is not really new - it is the vision of the Church as a community of disciples where the members live in communion (unity, friendship, sharing, partnership) and participate in Christ's mission as a worshipping, witnessing and serving community. This is a Church patterned after the first Christian community in Jerusalem as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-35). This is the vision of the Church that was retrieved by the Second Vatican Council that called for the renewal of the Church. This is the same vision of the Church promoted by the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines.

I have been involved in the formation of BECs for over thirty years - first as a seminarian and later as a newly ordained priest. I wrote a licentiate thesis on this phenomenon while studying in Berkeley, California (1989-1991) and while studying at the Gregorian University in Rome, I also wrote my doctoral dissertion on the Ecclesiological Perspectives of the BECs in the Philippines.
Since 1995 up the present, I have been giving talks and seminars on BECs in 17 dioceses and in various regional and national conferences.

Four weeks ago, I was in Bangalore, India to attend a theological conference on BECs. When I arrived back in the Philippines, I immediately proceeded to Calbayog, Samar to give a talk during their diocesan BEC congress. When I came back to Davao, I gave a BEC seminar to the trainees of the Philippine Catholic Lay Missionaries. A few days ago, I was in Bacolod to share my experiences with diocesan seminary formators from all over the Philippines. I was amazed when I learned that in many seminaries, the BEC culture is being lived among the seminarians and that many have exposure and immersion program in BECs. All of these are signs of hope for the Church which for a long time have been dominated by the image of the Church as a huge, bureaucratic institution. We continue to implement the vision of a renewed Church which Vatican II promoted. I consider it my life's mission to promote this vision of the Church.