Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My Birthday Wish: Please Donate to Typhoon Victims in the Philippines

Today, November 20, is my birthday. Normally, I do not announce or make a buzz about my birthday. But this year is different.

A powerful super typhoon, recorded as the strongest ever to hit land, devastated the central Philippines. Millions lost their houses and livelihood. Clearly, they need help, all the help they can get.

Last week, we were able to raise more than a hundred euro from Meet & Eat, Sunday Masses, and 5PM Sunday Mass ++ (plus+plus) events. We have received more pledges of donations for the typhoon victims. Thus, I've decided to make a video to call for more donations on my birthday. Please donate to:

Name: Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan
Bank of the Philippines Islands (Loyola-Katipunan Branch)
Account #: 3081-1111-61

Thank you so much. Maraming salamat po. Dios mabalos!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Why I Still Voted

I just voted. As an overseas absentee voter, I sent the ballot envelope containing my vote to the embassy in Den Haag, The Netherlands. It cost me 54 euro-cents (PhP 25), but I was happy to spend such amount for the reason I will mention here. I could only vote for the national candidates, much to my disappointment because it is in the local election where my single vote could really make some difference.

Despite the feverish pitch of May 13 national election, there is a strong sense of combined indifference and skepticism in the power of the election to change or inject hope in the plight of average Filipinos.

The common reason for the indifference and skepticism  is this line: "pareho-pareho lang ang mga 'yan, korap at wala naman mangyayari eh" (everyone is the same, corrupt, and nothing will happen afterwards anyway). Then, why bother to vote?

I feel strong reasons to continue voting and participate in the democratic process of selecting political leaders. To be and take part in this process carry a tremendous honor and responsibility to one's society. To my mind, it is only through election that I truly feel my role as a member of a society. (Well, during Olympics or other games/sports, my belongingness to a certain society is also at the peak).

Reading and seeing the final national election results, I was not generally happy. The inclusion of the daughters of the current vice-president and former presidential candidate, sons of a former president and out-going senator, cousin of the current president, and wife of an out-going senator,  in the final ranking of the 12 senators-elect is not a positive sign for a democratic process, in my mind.

What redeem the final  results to my utter defeatist sentiment are the election of young people in the House of Senate, the high final ranking of two "independent" candidates, and the victory of four women out of the 12 winners of the senate seats.

These results have provided me more reasons to participate in the next elections, in the hope that the  candidates win not because of their last names but of their capability to empower the masses through them. What I realize in the concluded election is that the Philippines seems to be very far from this stage. Like me as a student from far away place, the hope seems to be distant. But in my heart and in the hearts of those who continue to dream of a better Philippines, this hope will come, like many overseas workers who one day will come home.

I believe that hope has a home in the Philippines. Believe with me.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Faith in a secular society: A retreat reflection

It was Sunday, around 2PM when we were waiting for the bus which would take us to Driebergen-Zest (those going to Nijmegen) and Utrecht Centraal (those going to Enschede, Amsterdam,  and Groningen) at the Het Zonnehuis bus stop in Doorn, Utrecht. Most of the participants rushed to that nearest bus stop to catch the 2:08 schedule.

We just came from a national retreat with a theme, Faith in a secular society, organized by the International Student Chaplaincy with Fr. Avin Kunnekkadan, SVD, Rev. Edith Plantier, and Fr. Wiel Eggen, SMA. The 2-day/night (19-21 April) retreat in the villa-like Het Brandpunt in Doorn, Utrecht gathered 19 participants from 14 countries (Brazil, China, Fiji, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Rwanda, Singapore, and South Africa).

At the bus stop, there was a feeling that there were more stories left unshared. After two days of being together in the retreat, the level of trust and openness heightened and expanded among participants. The cold breeze that was sweeping our voices to reverberate in the area was doused by our joint laughters and smiles. From time to time, we looked at the direction where the bus was expected to show up. No one showed impatience and panic when no bus emerged from sight after 2:08PM. Everyone knew that in no time, a bus would show up. Everyone kept that faith.

When the bus finally arrived, many of us had no OV-Chipkaart and paid cash to the driver. Having an OV-Chipkaart, I decided to board in the bus the last. From outside, I saw that the bus driver patiently accepted cash and dispensed tickets. For about 10 minutes or so, I noticed that the cars behind the bus were slowly piling in line. There were about 15 cars waiting for the bus to move. Until I got in the bus and took my seat, I did not hear any blowing of horns from the cars nor expressions of irritation from the car drivers. In the countries where most of us came from, it was remarkable, but here in the Netherlands, it was ordinary.

How does this extra-ordinary become ordinary in the Netherlands?

While in the bus, I recalled the talks in the retreat. The first one, Secularization and internalization, by Dr. Otto Kroesen who provided the historical and systematic perspective of understanding the ordinariness of notable behaviors by the Dutch in the eyes of foreigners. According to him, the process towards secularization is Christian-inspired. He traced the origin of the distinction between secular and spiritual from the church. For example, the creation and existence of states emerged with the help of the church that bestowed authority to kings. However, the violence of small warlords at that time posed problems with the church’s work on conversion and was condemned as “secular” and temporary.

Dr. Kroesen also cited an observation of his Kenyan friend based on church attendance between  a religious society (e.g. Kenya) and secular one (e.g. Netherlands). His friend had observed that there is a higher level of social trust and cooperativeness in the Netherlands than in Kenya. He argued that this was because of internalization of human virtues which are Christian-inspired. In his elaboration and rationalization of the process of internalization, he often presented three dimensions. For example, quoting Marcel Gauchet, first was the gods are behind us (e.g. ancestors); then, the gods are above us (e.g. empires, sun, stars); and lastly, the gods are among and within us (e.g. secular, in human virtues). Another three dimensional explanation is with time; first is the time of the Father (One God), then of the Son (One World), and of the Holy Spirit (One Humanity) in which we live now. In the third dimension, God is becoming invisible, but the Spirit lives and moves in and through us. In this time, the role of the Church has changed. Not anymore of continuous sowing of the seeds of faith such as talking about God, but the time for harvesting such as living in the Spirit in which love is increasing and prioritized. There may be no outward representations of God in a secular society, but His/Her presence is expressed in people’s actions and behaviors towards others. After his talk, there was a plenary sharing of several participants’ striking observations and experiences in the Netherlands.

If the secularity of the Dutch society is Christian-inspired, does this secularity have Biblical roots?

In the second talk on the Biblical roots of secular concern, Fr. Wiel Eggen offered two possibilities of discussing the theme – Faith in a secular society; 1) how to be a believer in a secular society, and 2) how to have faith in a secular faith. He contended that this world and age as a reality is negatively viewed as contradictory to Christ’s life.  The contradiction is like darkness versus light (God’s kingdom) which has a connotation of not belonging to this world. Although the world, as we believe, was created by God, we experience its imperfections which need redemption. If we have faith in Jesus Christ who does not live anymore in this world, but who lives in us. He continued the contradiction by saying that we should live in this world, as if not. Our salvation is connected to the suffering of this world. Fr. Wiel urged us to make something of our lives by living according to what gives us mission and meaning in life, because we only live once (taken from YOLO which means you only live once).

After Fr. Wiel’s talk, several participants narrated their stories of the good and less good things they experienced in the Netherlands. For his part, Fr. Avin narrated his anecdote of the lost wallet. Others highlighted the high level of trust, openness, tolerance, and acceptance of Dutch society including marijuana use, same-sex marriage, and prostitution which are still largely illegal and unacceptable in most societies.

To provide us with real life stories of Christians living in a secular society, the third talk featured Rev. Rob van Essen and Mr. Norbert Abachi. Rev. van Essen, a Dutch pastor, told us that his first conversion was to Christ and the second to the world in which a community where virtues are practiced thrives. Mr. Abachi, a Kenyan with a strong religious background who has lived in the Netherlands for 13 years, intimated his dilemma. He somewhat fears of losing in time the bases of his religious practices and the separation of worship and good deeds. But he is reassured of the sense of community and structure that the Church is providing him. After their sharing, there was a short discussion on the role of the media in the society.

We noticed that the bus was approaching the Driebergen-Zeist bus stop and train station. Four of us got off the bus and waved goodbye to the others whose destination was Utrecht Centraal. There was no train schedule from Driebergen-Zest to Arnhem because of some repairs. We did not feel panicky or anything. We simply asked someone about how to get to Arnhem, and he pointed to a bus apparently commissioned by the NS-train. When we boarded the bus, most of the seats were occupied. Each of us took the available ones in various rows. When my body settled in the seat and relaxed, my eyes struggled to keep up with my mind still active reminiscing the last day of the retreat. 

On the last day which fell on Sunday, Fr. Avin officiated a liturgy. The readings, homily, and sharings were centered on the theme. After the liturgy, the groups presented their sketches depicting their experiences in the Netherlands and their Christian-inspired responses to various situations that often challenge their religious traditions and beliefs. The closing was somehow unceremonious, but it served the purpose of continuing the personal reflection on the theme, Faith in a secular society.

Back to the bus, I woke up when we were nearing Arnhem bus stop and train station. When we were walking towards Arnhem train station, Noriko asked me about my wallet. I calmly checked my wallet at my jean’s back pocket. Inside the train going to Nijmegen, we took the group seats facing each other. When the train moved, I observed that no one showed surprise why we were moving in another direction. Unlike the first day when we were on the way to the retreat, there was a tinge of panic because the train was moving towards the same direction towards Nijmegen where we came from. This time, there was none. For the rest of the train ride back home, we let things be, knowing that we were on the right track.

After the retreat, we have less questions about the secular Dutch society than ever before. We’ve grown faith in this secular society as we strive to keep our own.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Dutch Election 2012: An Observation of a Season

Like a season that comes and goes, election must bring something new to our surrounding. The Dutch election, like no other season, was over with some hope for new things, and some more hope for a better future. That I was told, and that I would not know.

What I know was what I have observed in the past weeks leading to the September 12 election.

For precautionary measures, any observations are always coming from somewhere, a certain reference or basis of observations. In my case, it would be the Philippine context (what else but my country). But this is in no way a comparative presentation; nor an attempt to objectively cover the Dutch election. This is the 2012 Dutch election, in my observation.

Wooden bulletin boards of this size (2 x 3 meters) were strategically set-up in cities and municipalities to allow political parties to post their official campaign posters. Some posters have smiling faces of leaders, some simply have the name in the official color of the parties.

In the whole campaign period, I did not see any party officials roaming around Nijmegen.

And I saw this at the train station in Heyendaal, Nijmegen. Plain name and colors of the party, Groenlinks (GreenLeft), with the slogan, de tijd is nu (the time is now).

And this was near the Molenhoek train station. A picture of the leader of the Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA) or Labour Party with its slogan, Nederland sterker en socialer (Netherlands stronger and more social).

Then on election day (September 12), polling booths (stembureau) were put up in strategic public places such as train stations, schools, government buildings/offices, universities, club houses, canteens, and even houses.

In my university, Radboud University Nijmegen, the stembureau was set-up beside the refter (cafeteria). Students, faculty and staff could cast their votes right in their campus and workplaces. Well, it is because election in the Netherlands is not a holiday. It is a working day like any Wednesdays of a week.

Found this sign at the entrance of Erasmus building. No need for police to guard the polling booths and election observers to monitor the credibility of the election. No need. There was no report of election-related  violence either.

The results were known after several hours. There was no protest or objections regarding the election results. The winners celebrated, those who lost seats contemplated. The Dutch had spoken to their politicians; it was time to be responsive to them in a representative government.

While the people have chosen their leaders, the two biggest election winners (conservative-liberal Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie or VVD, and  PvdA or Labour Party) can start talking about forming a government. The talks may take months. Until then, a government comes around like a season where people hope new things when they know exactly what to expect.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Closer to home, An Maogmang Lugar - Naga City that gave us, Mayor Jess

Ituloy ang laban ni Ninoy at Cory!

(Continue the fight of Ninoy and Cory!)

I copied and pasted the last sentence of Jesse Robredo's blog about, coincidentally, the death of President Cory Aquino. It was three years ago, August 16, 2009. Unfortunately, it was also his last blog entry.

My old blog is one of the few blogs in his blogroll or bloglist. I got links from his blog. Of course, I felt elated by that inclusion.

I came to Naga City in the 1990s. Mayor Jess (there are positions that sound so natural before names; Mayor Jess is one of them) was the new mayor of the city. I witnessed the transformations of one of the cities of Bicol to a premier city of Southern Luzon. The changes were not only in the physical and economic improvements of the city; it was social and moral as well. The people, the Nagueńos, breathed and exemplified the positive changes happening in the city.

I came to Naga City as a student. The city was my best university (No offense to Ateneo de Naga University). Through Mayor Jess, I learned that ordinary peoples such as vendors, farmers, women, public transport drivers, youth, informal settlers, senior citizens, and other disadvantaged sectors, had to be part of governance because they were the primary actors of change. They are not merely constituents, they are active partners in the development of the city. Indeed, the city's people's council represents the sentiments, needs, aspirations, and vision of the city, an Maogmang Lugar (a happy place).

I stayed in Naga City as an NGO worker. It was easy to work for positive changes when the local government shared the tasks and mission of empowering the marginalized. Mayor Jess was always our first co-worker. Mayor Jess understood the role of the national government in the local development. In 2000 until the first month of 2001, he roused the Nagueńos to stand and rise up against corrupt practices at the national government. Naga City saw several of its biggest rallies in history in the span of four months (October 2000-January 2001). Mayor Jess symbolized the opposite of what we got rid in 2001. But the country mistakenly put a variation of the same in the old regime after 2001.

I left Naga City for studies elsewhere. Mayor Jess took a cabinet post as the Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) in the national government. He became Secretary Jess and suited in the job. Who else could have been a better DILG secretary? Now, President Aquino is forced to answer the question and settle for a better DILG secretary (because the best is gone).

Now I am outside Naga City. The tragedy causes me to be even closer than ever to Naga City, the city that gave you and me, Mayor Jess. It is only proper that he goes home symbolically to Naga City, an Maogmang Lugar which he tried hardest to make it so. Somewhere, there is a true Maogmang Lugar, and that is his home now.

I would end to continue the last sentence of Mayor Jess' blog - Ituloy ang laban ni Ninoy, Cory at Jess.

We know what they fought for - para sa casaraditan - for "small" people, like you and me. They made us "big." And we won big. Let us not lose what we gained from and because of them. One big fight!