E’ maggio e piove. L’isolamento a causa del Coronavirus (qui nella casa per anziani del PIME a Rancio di Lecco) mi costringe a fare i conti con lo spazio e il tempo imponendomi un forzato distacco dal mondo esterno per un ordine morale calcolato a un metro e mezzo di distanza; difficile da rispettare se la memoria e la vista sono corte. Vado fuori dalla portineria per liberarmi dell’ansia che io e gli altri anziani diffondiamo tra le stanze e nei luoghi in comune della struttura. Faccio qualche metro ma poi rientro subito e mi dispiace perché le scarpe bagnano il pavimento appena lavato da una signora delle pulizia dai capelli rossi come quelli delle donne nei quadri dei preraffaelliti.
Prima della pandemia qua dentro la vita sociale e comunitaria teneva distante la vecchiezza, l’infermità e l’handicap mentale poiché le giornate passavano in un luogo programmato e monitorizzato dove il futuro veniva affrontato con serenità e senza grandi patemi d’animo se non quelli delle diverse sfumature di odori di disinfettanti e differenti modi di ascoltare la Tv, difficile quando la sordità è fatta di un indecifrabili parole ovattate da un rumore di fondo che amplifica l’isolamento dal resto della casa; ci si guarda attorno, si vorrebbe aprire la bocca ma non si vuole rischiare l’incomprensione. In ogni caso, qua ci sono anziani missionari da proteggere perché testimoni della tradizione della Fede da loro vissuta (Sal 44,2), maestri saggi di vita (Sir 6,34-36) e operatori di carità che hanno praticato la giustizia, amato la pietà e camminato umilmente all’ombra di Dio (Michea 6,8).
Poi, come ci è stato spiegato, dai pipistrelli è discesa la malattia, il morbo, il malanno, il contagio che come una piaga biblica ha messo a morte tanti e a rischio speranze di vita e di pensione accumulate con anni di lavoro. Situazione talmente greve che dopo un paio di mesi e in fase due, ci sentiamo ancora ‘deboli e fragili’, citando la preghiera del PIME per esorcizzare il Coronavirus. Insomma, si è incrinato quell’alto standard sanitario e tecnologico su cui avevamo affidato la nostra tenera età e l’immensa fiducia nel mondo moderno per ritornare a qualcosa che credevamo sepolto nelle pagine dei Promessi Sposi (di Lecco) o nei racconti dei ‘nostri’ nonni vissuti un secolo fa, quando l’influenza spagnola si portò via 50 milioni su due miliardi di abitanti del pianeta.
Sono ora dove si percepisce la comune difficoltà di essere in un luogo diverso dal solito, adatto alla diffusione di un virus. Certo si è al sicuro nel lock down del confinamento sociale e tuttavia si percepisce come la morte abbia ripreso il suo brutto vizio di selezionare prima di tutto i deboli e gli anziani: arriverà anche tra noi? Il Covid19? Moriremo tutti?
Per ora il Covid19 si è fatto strada solo a parole per mezzo dei mass media e gli smart phone, costringendoci a mutare i gesti per proteggerci dal suo travestimento fatto di microscopiche goccioline di saliva che assomigliano molto a palline di dinamite con ipersensibili microinterruttori: se ti toccano le mine scoppiano in sequenze infinite di numeri reali! Altri non sono stati fortunati come noi e ce ne addolora. Perdita di senso, brandelli di fede, vuoti interiori che i preti difficilmente riusciranno a riaggiustare, ma per Dio dovranno tentare di farlo!
Un certo nervosismo lo si percepisce a tavola dove si può avere un risentimento se uno tossisce, starnuta senza appoggiare, con estrema lestezza, naso e bocca tra le pieghe della camicia tra braccio e avambraccio. Così il cibo servito non sembra quello desiderato anche se ben cotto e in poltiglia macinato per non far soffrire le vecchie e gracili gengive. Una volta instaurata l’ossessione ad una invisibile minaccia addio sonni tranquilli. Tende a mantenersi in modo cronico, peggiorando via via nel corso dei giorni …. manca l’aria! In genere, in questi casi, ci si rende consapevoli delle proprie debolezze emotive e magari soffrire (difficile tuttavia tra missionari di lungo corso) nascosti sensi di colpa per aver forse, inavvertitamente, contagiato il vicino. Solo sparire dalla struttura e riapparire giù al lago (di Lecco) per tossire liberamente, anche sotto la pioggia, potrà far ritornare la pace interiore.
Il fatto poi di non poter concelebrare e ricevere, per alcuni un sacrosanto diritto, l’eucaristia sotto le due specie, sembra aver impoverito la vita comunitaria. La cosa rimane grave; se non ci si sente sacerdote allungando le mani sul pane e sul vino eucaristico, ore di preghiera in comune, messe senza stola, decine di rosari, incontri e cibi presi assieme diventano poco più che dei rimedi, artifici forse anche se commemorati con mani ben lavate, per via della forzata convivenza. Um? Ma forse è un beneficio. Come diceva Pascal, noi viviamo in uno stato di permanente instabilità, ma ce ne accorgiamo solo quando una calamità ci investe frontalmente e cominciamo a dare i numeri! Forse un lungo e obbligato digiuno dall’altare ci permetterà di accedere meglio al sacro nell’altro, mettendoci di fronte al dolore comune; permettendoci di udire meglio il grido sofferto dell’umanità quando tra qualche mese (?) dovremo risollevare più umilmente pane e vino.
Però, suvvia dico a me stesso, sei venuto qua per capire cosa hai e devi adattarti a qualcosa che prima non c’era. Questa distanza verso gli altri e l’altare bisogna praticarlo per rendere migliore e sicura la propria vita e quella altrui anche se difficile da comprendere da anziani missionari esteri provenienti da missioni e epoche ben più pericolose. Oggi, lo si deve fare per tenere lontana la morte dai giovani, nostra eredità e tangibile discendenza. Dovranno percorrere sentieri nuovi o da noi già battuti. Una cosa, comunque, ci renderà tutti uguali: la mascherina. A cui dovremo abituarci e che ci renderà mascherati un po’ tutti, domani, si spera, senza tentare di mascherare intenzioni e speranze di vita.
Una lunga pausa, non piove più e si ode un prolungato suono intermittente; qualcuno in qualche stanza e chissà a quale piano ha premuto per sbaglio il pulsante rosso di richiesta poi, dopo decine di secondi, quello verde che la annulla; comunque una infermiera vestita di azzurra già accorre …
Intanto ognuno chiede all’altro
onde sapere di sé, di cosa
sia per accadere
ieri domani chissà quando, … (D.M.Turoldo)
in a time were we already are experiencing so much suffering for the Corona Virus, I inform you of the death of Fr. Giovanni Battista (Gianni) Sandalo, which took place in our Home for elderly in Lecco, Italy, yesterday Friday 20 March at 8.10 am. He was 70 years old.
Fr. Gianni was born on 6 January 1950 in Villadose (Rovigo, Diocese of Adria). He moved with his family to Caronno Pertusella (VA) and entered the archiepiscopal seminary of Milan, completing his classical studies in Venegono Inferiore (VA). In 1972 he entered the PIME seminary in Monza as a student, issuing the Final Promise of belonging to the Institute on February 12, 1977. Ordained Presbyter on June 18 of the same year, by Mons. Pirovano, in Sotto il Monte (BG), he dedicates the early years of priestly life studying (Licence in Moral Theology 1977-1979) at the Gregorian University (with a thesis on “Il Celibato Consacrato come progetto di vita secondo alcuni scritti di Rahner, Schillebeeck e secondo gli elementi emergenti dell’insegnamento della Chiesa – Consecrated celibacy as a life project according to some writings of Rahener, Schillebeeck and according to the emerging elements of the teaching of the Church) and teaching in the Theological Seminary of Monza. In January 1986 he left for the Philippines, and in Paranaque, Manila, founded the new Parish of Mary Queen of Apostle with fr. Giulio Mariani (1933-2019). As the Director he run also the Euntes Mission Center in Zamboanga City which was then closed on 2012. He remained in the Philippines until 2018. During these years was also the Regional Superior of Pime-Philippines and lived in the Regional House in Zamboanga City from 1999 to 2009.
Some of his letters, as Regional Superior, were published on Bayanihan, a quarterly paper bulletin sent to all the confreres of the Philippine Circumscription, and which was always preceded by the letter of the Regional Superior. In his last letter (September 2008) he wrote as follows: “Someone said that, because of our lifestyle choice, we missionaries are experts in preparing packages and suitcases. Among the many parcels that we have ready, two are tied together by a string: the parcel of Hope and the parcel of Co-responsibility. They are special and accompany us, they are heavy and at the same time light as the dreams that accompany our life. (…) How many times have we tied our packages with twine. For our packages, the string has a name: Jesus of Nazareth, our Lord and Master. He is always the excess novelty. It is his Easter, his cross, his resurrection, his imprudence, his forgiveness, his closeness of being a school of life for each of us, for our community that starts again, that resumes walking remembering the past 40 years (in the Philippines) with an eye to the future ”
He then, in 2009, returned to the parish of Mary Queen of Apostle, in Manila, where he was parish priest until 2018, when he was reassigned to the Community of Gaeta (Latina), Italy, and appointed by the local Archbishop, mons. Lugi Vari, as parochial vicar of the Parish of Saint Paul Apostle. But after few months, he was diagnosed with a tumor to the colon and transferred to the PIME House in Rancio. From here he wrote in the last days: “I thank the people I met on my way. Despite my bad temper they have always been close to me with the support of their friendship and their prayers. God You are (my) Father, accept me, make me always feel your faithfulness and friendship “.
Due to the ongoing coronavirus emergency, it will not be possible for us to attend the funeral and the burial rite. We PIMEs in Milan are joining spiritually today March 21 at 9.30 am, for the funeral that will be celebrated in our House in Rancio. Afterwards, the body will be brought to Caronno Pertusella (VA), for burial at the Pertusella Cemetery in the chapel of the native priests of that city.
Rest in peace, dear Fr. Gianni and the Perpetual Light shine on you.
Father Marco Villa
General Secretary of the P.I.M.E
National Secretariat for Social Action/Caritas Philippines
As the entire country has just been placed under the state of calamity due to the escalating spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), we offer our prayers for our people, particularly the poor and most vulnerable sectors, who will bear the heavier burden caused by the present crisis.
With the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) we also acknowledge our responsibility to participate in addressing this national emergency: “This is a time of difficulty but also a time for growing in true discipleship as we strive to follow the Lord in selfless love and service of others.”
In the spirit of solidarity, and in support of our government in our efforts to adopt decisive measures to respond to this pandemic crisis, we would like to offer our recommendations, re-echoing the appeals of other civil society organizations, in ensuring that the welfare of all, particularly the poorest and the most vulnerable, is considered in government policy and interventions.
We strongly call on our government to consider the following points, to plug the gaps in the government’s response:
- Food and medical assistance should be provided for free to the affected households giving priority to the depressed areas in Metro Manila, and in Luzon, in general. The government must provide support and subsidy (financial or in kind) to support the basic needs of the poorest in the communities.
The government should look at its fiscal space and free up funds that may be used to acquire food, medical supplies, and other goods that will address their daily needs.
The Office of the President has large budgetary allocations by way of Intelligence Fund, Confidential Fund, President’s Social Fund, and other items in the GAA 2020 that should be scrutinized for flexibility as additional resources that can be mobilized immediately.
- Workers, especially daily income earners, should be provided with substantial emergency assistance package including displacement insurance to compensate for loss of income during the whole period of forced quarantine. It should be in the form of comprehensive financial assistance and unemployment benefits, and not loans. The one-time financial assistance of PhP 5,000.00 to cover the unpaid leaves of the affected workers, under DOLE’s COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program (DOLE Department Order 209), is not enough.
- The community-based package of assistance providing emergency employment for the displaced workers, called TUPAD or Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged and Displaced Workers must be implemented and made operational efficiently and should cover the entire affected workforce.
- Treatment should be made readily available at cost to the government, in cases of confirmed COVID cases. Mass testing should be conducted in all areas as a prevention and containment measure. There is emerging evidence of best practices from other countries on how testing can be ramped up and scaled up. If a house to house approach is necessary, then it should be done.
- Mass disinfection should be undertaken in areas where people usually congregate including terminals, government offices, public transport, courts. In the spirit of bayanihan, the people should be mobilized in the effort. All those part of the drive should be medically equipped. The government to must ensure the protection of the frontline workers by providing them the necessary gears and apparatuses for protection and also access to free transportation services.
- Checkpoints must be supervised by health professionals who are trained to respond when there are cases of suspected COVID carriers. Remember that any potential carrier should NOT be treated like criminal offenders. We are confronting a health crisis, not a military problem. Extreme compassion should be exercised at all times.
- Congress must appropriate additional funds for the response. To fund these initiatives, the existing calamity funds, MOOE of concerned government institutions including schools, courts, among others must be maximized. The interventions should not be debt-creating given that the government intends to access loans from international financial institutions.
- A moratorium on payment of mortgages, interests on loans, and financial obligations including payment of utilities and household bills, waiving of rentals, and the like, should be enforced. Filipino families must be un-burdened with these obligations at a time when the preoccupation should be prevention, containment and treatment.
- Community level citizens desks should be set up as a feedback, grievance, and action mechanism. Support must be prepared and provided for the psychosocial wellbeing of our fellow Filipinos, on an individual, family, and community level, as this will be an urgent need in the coming days and weeks.
- The Government should speak in a unified voice. If DOH is the lead agency that should oversee the enhanced lockdown, they must be the sole source for information and direction to avoid confusion and miscommunication. Hourly updates, as to the progress of the intervention, must be communicated by health experts and experienced science communicators who should be the ones holding the press conferences.
Again, united with our Bishops, we continually entrust our country to our compassionate God: “In this time of crisis let us put our trust in the Lord who accompanies and strengthens our faith. May He open our hearts to help those in need and move us to genuine compassion for our brothers and sisters who suffer.”
City of Manila March 18, 2020
About 724 priests aptly reflected on the significance of ‘dialogue, communion, and mission’ during the 44th Diocesan Clergy of Mindanao (DCM) Convention hosted by the Diocese of Malaybalay on Feb. 17 to 19. The annual convention reflected on the theme “DCM Commits to Dialogue, Communion and Mission Towards Harmony”, which is a play of words echoing the Year of Ecumenism, Interreligious Dialogue and Indigenous Peoples.
Bishop Jose Cabantan of Malaybalay thanked the Mindanao clergy for giving meaning to the letters ‘DCM’, acknowledging the grace they asked for a deeper reflection of the words dialogue, communion, and mission. In the event’s opening Mass, Cabantan in his homily recounted Archbishop Romulo Valles’ words of gratitude to the Mindanao Church “especially its first leaders, bishops, priests, religious men and women who started Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference in 1971.”
The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) reportedly said these words on their formators’ meeting, the night before the official start of the convention The MSPC, Bp. Cabantan added, brought forth many activities and one of these is the gathering of its clergy – the DCM Convention; for its youth, the MSPC Youth Conference, and for its catechists, the Mindanao Catechists’ Convention.
“Through the MSPC, we have different activities in the (Mindanao) church where we gather, we bond, we get additional strength and where we share, so we can continue the mission entrusted to us by the Lord,” he said. Reflecting on the convention’s theme, he also made one good example in the life of the late prelate of Marawi, Bishop Bienvenido Tudtud. “His life in Marawi is an apostolate of presence, a dialogue of life and faith, together with the Protestant Dansalan College of Marawi,” said Cabantan. He also acknowledged that even before the formal setting up of the interreligious dialogue movement particularly in the Mindanao Church, the first missionaries, especially in these largely Muslim inhabited areas, have long been in dialogue with the community.
Bp. Cabantan said that Mindanao has a vast history of promoting and catalyzing dialogue – the Silsilah Dialogue Movement in Zamboanga City that was started by Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra PIME in 1984 and the Bishops-Ulama Conference in which retired Archbishop Fernando Capalla of Davao was among the co-convenors. Bp. Cabantan’s homily also discussed how the life of the clergy and missionaries in Mindanao started and improved the dialogue and communion with the indigenous peoples.
“In Bukidnon, we have Fr. Vincent Cullen, SJ,” he said.
The basic ecclesial community (BEC) in the country is also one of the legacies of the Mindanao Church, he added. According to the CBCP-BEC official website, “In the late 1960s, immediately after Vatican II, foreign missionaries in the frontier mission areas in Mindanao and Negros formed the first BECs.” The Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference (MSPC), which was first held in 1971 and since then meets every 3 years, was instrumental in propagating these BECs all over Mindanao.
Some dioceses and parishes in Visayas and Luzon soon adopted the formation of BECs as their pastoral thrust. Bp. Cabantan encouraged the Mindanao clergy to celebrate dialogue, which started in the Mindanao church and was adopted by the whole Philippine church.
“It is a grace given to us by God, and we should rightfully give thanks for this,” he added.
This year’s convention, a one-of-a-kind in the whole Philippine Catholic Church, was held in Malaybalay as the diocese celebrates its Golden Jubilee that will culminate in April 2020.
Local and international organizations have thrown out their support to the ABS-CBN’s struggle to continue operations. On Feb. 10, the Office of the Solicitor General filed a quo warranto petition against broadcasting giant, ABS-CBN as well as its subsidiary ABS-CBN Convergence, Inc. In the 63-page quo warranto petition filed before the Supreme Court, the OSG accuses the network of ‘unlawfully exercising their legislative franchise’ and urges the High Court to revoke ABS-CBN’s networking franchise.
In response, ABS-CBN said in its official statement that they “did not violate the law,” adding that the filing of the petition is Solicitor General Jose Calida’s effort to shutdown the network,as well as the thousands of Filipinos working in the company. The ABS-CBN maintained that the claims Calida made were without merit, and all their broadcast offerings have received the necessary government and regulatory approval and are not prohibited by their franchise.
The network also answered Calida’s accusation of foreign funding through ABS-CBN’s Philippine Deposit Receipts, and said that the PDRs have been used by other broadcast companies to improve their services. “We reiterate that everything we do is in accordance with the law. We did not violate the law. This case appears to be an attempt to deprive Filipinos of the services of ABS-CBN.” The network also said that they have no issue with tax payment. The Bureau of Internal Revenue even recognized the broadcasting station as one of the top 200 non-individual taxpayers in the country, having paid over P70.5 billion worth of taxes in the past 17 years.
Following the protest action led by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines last Friday, various groups issued statements condemning Solicitor General Jose Calida’s move as “an attack on press freedom.” The Freedom for Media Freedom for All, a consortium of Philippine media organizations, said “the attempt to close down ABS-CBN is a direct attack against the shared freedom of all citizens, for silencing the network is similar to depriving the Filipino citizens of their source of news and information.” The coalition also called for a ‘collective front’ from the Filipino people who believe that the press should remain autonomous in a democratic country like the Philippines.
In a statement, Reporters Without Borders has called on Supreme Court justices “to reject this crude request and we call on members of parliament to immediately renew the ABS-CBN franchise in a spirit of respect for the separation of powers and freedom of the press, as required by the Philippines’ 1987 constitution.” Daniel Bastard, head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, also questioned Calida’s motive in filing the petition. “It’s either Jose Calida had told the truth; and also casually admitting his incompetence by failing to call out these ‘abusive practices’ when he assumed position in 2016, or the SolGen had told a lie purely for political fabrication and as a way to pressure the network,” he said.
In the same vein, Carlos Conde of the Human Rights Watch said that the OSG’s action ‘has all the indication of political harassment.’ “President Duterte has not made secret his displeasure toward ABS-CBN and has expressed his intention to shut it down,” he said. He also said that the petition filing had placed undue pressure on the legislators.
Eleven bills in support of the ABS-CBN’s franchise are pending with the House Committee on Legislative Franchises. Conde noted that some legislators have stated that this could jeopardize the franchise renewal, which ends March 30.
Meanwhile, Isabela 1st District Rep. Antonio Albano, who is also the vice-chair of the Committee on Legislative Franchises, said that the network can still operate even if its renewal is not granted after its expiration. Albano said that the network’s services will not be terminated until the end of the 18th Congress. Echoing Albano’s reassurance, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said that as long as there are bills filed, the franchis is deemed extended as long. “As there’s no hearing, it could extend until the end of the 18th Congress,” Sotto said. Sotto added that the quo warranto filed by the SolGen would not affect the current bills filed seeking for the network’s franchise renewal, and even added that ABS-CBN can ask the permission of the National Telecommunications Commission for an extension.
NUJP announced that it would continue to urge the Congress for action until the bills for the network’s franchise renewal are heard. The organization, along with ABS-CBN employees and other advocates, would be holding its fifth Friday protest this Valentine’s Day in front of Esguerra gate.
Il presidente Rodrigo Duterte ha deciso di concludere l’accordo di difesa militare con gli Stati Uniti conosciuto come VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement). L’accordo forniva alle truppe statunitensi una base legale per esercitazioni bilaterali nel paese. La decisione di Duterte è una risposta meditata dopo che a Ronald Dela Rosa, oggi senatore ed ex capo della polizia, era stato annullato il suo visto d’entrata negli Stati Uniti; Dela Rosa aveva supervisionato la famigerata guerra contro la droga che ha provocato migliaia di morti nelle Filippine.
Molti hanno espresso preoccupazioni per questa decisione che favorirebbe la posizione aggressiva di Pechino verso la sovranità sulle isole del mar della Cina rivendicate tuttavia anche da altri paesi, tra cui le Filippine. La rottura del VFA viene comunque interpretata come una mossa per allinearsi non solo con la Cina ma anche con la Russia con la quale Duterte sta discutendo un accordo di cooperazione tecnico militare.
Oggi tuttavia il presidente è preso di mira da molti filippini per aver abbracciato la politica di Pechino, un sentimento che si è consolidato con il suo modo blando di affrontare la minaccia del coronavirus Codiv19 scoppiato a Wuhan.
Il 30 gennaio, nelle Filippine è stata segnalata la prima morte di coronavirus al di fuori della Cina, sollevando timori di contagio in un momento in cui la porta era spalancata ai turisti cinesi. Da allora il governo di Duterte ha inasprito le misure contro i viaggiatori cinesi, annunciando un divieto generale il 3 febbraio. Le politiche pro-cinesi di Duterte hanno facilitato un grande afflusso di cinesi continentali nelle Filippine, una migrazione che ha suscitato sentimenti anti-cinesi.
Si stima che 1,6 milioni di viaggiatori cinesi abbiano visitato le Filippine da gennaio a novembre 2019, rappresentando il 22% di 7,5 milioni di visitatori stranieri di quel periodo. Un numero sconosciuto di questi è poi rimasto a lavorare illegalmente presso l’industria dei giochi offshore d’azzardo, la maggior parte dei quali sono gestiti da uomini d’affari cinesi.
L’epidemia di coronavirus e le politiche del governo del Duterte, percepiti come privi di buon senso, stanno aumentando il numero delle persone che criticano la crescente influenza e presenza cinese nelle Filippine.
Duterte nella sua apparizione pubblica il 3 febbraio, per annunciare un divieto ai viaggiatori cinesi di entrare nel paese, ha anche ammorbidito questa decisione temporanea: “China has been kind to us, we can only also show the same favor to them,” (La Cina è stata gentile con noi, possiamo solo mostrare lo stesso favore a loro). Ha anche aggiunto che bisogna fermare la xenofobia verso i cinesi assicurando i filippini che tutto va bene. Del resto l’economia filippina, anche con in ballo il corona virus e la crescente incertezza globale per le pressioni inflazionistiche, rimane robusta e si prevede un 6,0 per cento di crescita del PIL per il 2020.
Filipinos returning from Hubei province in China, the so-called “epicenter” of the 2019-nCoV global epidemic, will be temporarily quarantined in the athletes’ quarters built for last year’s Southeast Asian Games. This seems a simple, clever and inexpensive answer to the dilemma of where and how to house the hundreds of expats who used to work in Hubei without the country running the risk of contagion. All arriving expatriates will be quarantined for two weeks and then allowed to go back home to their families. That is, unless they fall ill or develop symptoms, in which case, they will be brought to a hospital.
Filipinos driven home by illness are but the latest concern for a country grappling with displacement and disruption; certainly, we aren’t out of the housing woods yet. The government is still in the process of figuring out where to relocate the hundreds of displaced families who had to abandon their homes within the seven-kilometer radius danger zone of Taal Volcano. While the volcano seems to have relatively quieted down, there are no guarantees that it will not act up again. Some evacuees, however, are resisting the idea of abandoning their homes. Palace spokesperson Salvador Panelo assured those dislocated that housing units in Batangas, Laguna, Cavite and Quezon have been allocated for them. These structures had been built and reserved for soldiers and police, so it seems the government will simply be replacing one set of homeless folk with another.
Providing little comfort for today’s crop of displaced and dislocated citizens is the fate of Marawi City and its residents, the majority of whom are still languishing in what were supposed to be temporary tents and relief centers almost three years after hostilities in the city came to an end.
And it’s not as if money is not available to restore the storied dignity of the cultural and religious capital of Muslim Filipinos. Case in point: the return to the National Treasury of at least P406.5 million in funds allotted in 2018 for rebuilding Marawi City. The money was there, but bureaucratic inertia on the part of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) ensured that it could not be used for its intended purpose.
The P406.5 million is just part of the P5.1 billion allotted for the Marawi Recovery Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program in the 2018 national budget. But because of the delay in approval by the Office of the President, as well as the failure of implementing bodies to submit project proposals to the Office of the Civil Defense that serves as the secretariat of the NDRRMC, the funds were left unused.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Marawi residents have yet to be allowed to return to their homes and get on with their lives. Indeed, close to 400 Marawi residents recently filed a class suit against government officials, including Eduardo del Rosario, chair of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council and head of Task Force Bangon Marawi (Rise Marawi), and Marawi Mayor Majul Gandamra, who still refuse to allow residents to go back to their homes. Lawyer Salic Dumarpa, who filed the suit in behalf of Marawi folk, said that they “doubt the sincerity of the government in its rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts in Marawi.” And the suit is not simply out of pique, said Dumarpa; “we have more than sufficient evidence to convince the court that indeed it is about time that the government allows the immediate return of the internally displaced persons” of Marawi.
What has happened to all the grand plans and rosy promises made by President Duterte soon after the cessation of hostilities? Photos and video images of the city today show that little has changed since the government declared that the Maute Group and its rebel sympathizers had fled the city. Rubble is still everywhere, ruined buildings make for distressing landmarks, and hardly any commerce or reestablished communities are evident. This, even as officials continue dithering about one abandoned plan after another, while increasingly disillusioned residents stew in despair in temporary shelters. And the longer Marawi languishes in neglect, the fear is that the more active Islamist radicals become, feeding on the seeming indifference and incompetence of government to gain more adherents
Federal agents raided a Philippines-based church in Los Angeles early Wednesday in a human trafficking investigation that led to arrests of two church leaders in what prosecutors said was a decades-long scheme to trick followers into becoming fundraisers and arrange sham marriages to keep them in the U.S.
The local leader of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ church was arrested on immigration fraud charges in the early morning bust along with a worker who confiscated passports of the victims of the scheme, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
Its founder, Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, ( who claims to be “the appointed son of God”) was briefly held by US customs officials in February 2018 after $350,000 in cash and gun parts were found in his Philippine-bound private plane.
Fundraisers who managed to escape from the church told the FBI that they had been sent across the U.S. to solicit donations for the church’s charity, The Children’s Joy Foundation, and were beaten if they didn’t make daily quotas, according to affidavit filed in support of the charges. Some described having to live in cars at truck stops.
An FBI agent investigating the case documented 82 sham marriages over a 20-year period and tracked $20 million raised between 2014 and the middle of last year that was sent back to the church in the Philippines.
“Most of these funds appear to derive from street-level solicitation,” according to the affidavit by FBI Special Agent Anne Wetzel. “Little to no money solicited appears to benefit impoverished or in-need children.”
In addition to raiding the church’s Van Nuys compound, agents were conducting searches at other Los Angeles locations and at two places in Hawaii linked to the church.
Calls to the church for comment were not immediately answered.
President Rodrigo Duterte has been known to have close ties with Quiboloy, the self-proclaimed appointed “Son of God.” Quiboloy was reportedly among those who supported Duterte’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Jack Miller, Focus on Asian Studies, (1982).
The Philippines proudly boasts to be the only Christian nation in Asia. More than 86 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, 6 percent belong to various nationalized Christian cults, and another 2 percent belong to well over 100 Protestant denominations. In addition to the Christian majority, there is a vigorous 4 percent Muslim minority, concentrated on the southern islands of Mindanao, Sulu, and Palawan. Scattered in isolated mountainous regions, the remaining 2 percent follow non-Western, indigenous beliefs and practices. The Chinese minority, although statistically insignificant, has been culturally influential in coloring Filipino Catholicism with many of the beliefs and practices of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.
The pre-Hispanic belief system of Filipinos consisted of a pantheon of gods, spirits, creatures, and men that guarded the streams, fields, trees, mountains, forests, and houses. Bathala, who created earth and man, was superior to these other gods and spirits. Regular sacrifices and prayers were offered to placate these deities and spirits–some of which were benevolent, some malevolent. Wood and metal images represented ancestral spirits, and no distinction was made between the spirits and their physical symbol. Reward or punishment after death was dependent upon behavior in this life.
Anyone who had reputed power over the supernatural and natural was automatically elevated to a position of prominence. Every village had its share of shamans and priests who competitively plied their talents and carried on ritual curing. Many gained renown for their ability to develop anting-anting, a charm guaranteed to make a person invincible in the face of human enemies. Other sorcerers concocted love potions or produced amulets that made their owners invisible.
Upon this indigenous religious base two foreign religions were introduced — Islam and Christianity — and a process of cultural adaptation and synthesis began that is still evolving. Spain introduced Christianity to the Philippines in 1565 with the arrival of Miguel Lopez de Legaspi. Earlier, beginning in 1350, Islam had been spreading northward from Indonesia into the Philippine archipelago. By the time the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, Islam was firmly established on Mindanao and Sulu and had outposts on Cebu and Luzon. At the time of the Spanish arrival, the Muslim areas had the highest and most politically integrated culture on the islands and, given more time, would probably have unified the entire archipelago. Carrying on their historical tradition of expelling the Jews and Moros [Moors] from Spain (a commitment to eliminating any non-Christians), Legaspi quickly dispersed the Muslims from Luzon and the Visayan islands and began the process of Christianization. Dominance over the Muslims on Mindanao and Sulu, however, was never achieved during three centuries of Spanish rule. During American rule in the first half of this century the Muslims were never totally pacified during the so-called “Moro Wars.” Since independence, particularly in the last decade, there has been resistance by large segments of the Muslim population to national integration. Many feel, with just cause, that integration amounts to cultural and psychological genocide. For over ten years the Moro National Liberation Front has been waging a war of secession against the Marcos government.
While Islam was contained in the southern islands, Spain conquered and converted the remainder of the islands to Hispanic Christianity. The Spanish seldom had to resort to military force to win over converts, instead the impressive display of pomp and circumstance, clerical garb, images, prayers, and liturgy attracted the rural populace. To protect the population from Muslim slave raiders, the people were resettled from isolated dispersed hamlets and brought “debajo de las companas” (under the bells), into Spanish organized pueblos. This set a pattern that is evident in modern Philippine Christian towns. These pueblos had both civil and ecclesiastical authority; the dominant power during the Spanish period was in the hands of the parish priest. The church, situated on a central plaza, became the locus of town life. Masses, confessions, baptisms, funerals, marriages punctuated the tedium of everyday routines. The church calendar set the pace and rhythm of daily life according to fiesta and liturgical seasons. Market places and cockfight pits sprang up near church walls. Gossip and goods were exchanged and villagers found “both restraint and release under the bells.” The results of 400 years of Catholicism were mixed — ranging from a deep theological understanding by the educated elite to a more superficial understanding by the rural and urban masses. The latter is commonly referred to as Filipino folk Christianity, combining a surface veneer of Christian monotheism and dogma with indigenous animism. It may manifest itself in farmers seeking religious blessings on their rice seed before planting or in the placement of a bamboo cross at the comer of a rice field to prevent damage by insects. It may also take the form of a folk healer using Roman Catholic symbols and liturgy mixed with pre-Hispanic rituals.
When the United States took over the Philippines in the first half of the century, the justifications for colonizing were to Christianize and democratize. The feeling was that these goals could be achieved only through mass education (up until then education was reserved for a small elite). Most of the teachers who went to the Philippines were Protestants, many were even Protestant ministers. There was a strong prejudice among some of these teachers against Catholics. Since this Protestant group instituted and controlled the system of public education in the Philippines during the American colonial period, it exerted a strong influence. Subsequently the balance has shifted to reflect much stronger influence by the Catholic majority.
During the period of armed rebellion against Spain, a nationalized church was organized under Gregorio Aglipay, who was made “Spiritual head of the Nation Under Arms.” Spanish bishops were deposed and arrested, and church property was turned over to the Aglipayans. In the early part of the 20th century the numbers of Aglipayans peaked at 25 to 33 percent of the population. Today they have declined to about 5 percent and are associated with the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States. Another dynamic nationalized Christian sect is the lglesia ni Kristo, begun around 1914 and founded by Felix Manolo Ysagun. Along with the Aglipayans and Iglesia ni Kristo, there have been a proliferation of Rizalist sects, claiming the martyred hero of Philippine nationalism, Jose B. Rizal as the second son of God and a reincarnation of Christ. Leaders of these sects themselves often claim to be reincarnations of Rizal, Mary, or leaders of the revolution; claim that the apocalypse is at hand for non-believers; and claim that one can find salvation and heaven by joining the group. These groups range from the Colorums of the 1920s and 1930s to the sophisticated P.B.M.A. (Philippine Benevolent Missionary Association, headed by Ruben Ecleo). Most of those who follow these cults are the poor, dispossessed, and dislocated and feel alienated from the Catholic church.
The current challenge to the supremacy of the Catholic church comes from a variety of small sects — from the fundamentalist Christian groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists, to the lglesia ni Kristo and Rizalists. The Roman Catholics suffer from a lack of personnel (the priest to people ratio is exceedingly low), putting them at a disadvantage in gaining and maintaining popular support. The Catholic church is seeking to meet this challenge by establishing an increasingly native clergy and by engaging in programs geared to social action and human rights among the rural and urban poor. In many cases this activity has led to friction between the church and the Marcos government, resulting in arrests of priests, nuns, and lay people on charges of subversion. In the “war for souls” this may be a necessary sacrifice. At present the largest growing religious sector falls within the province of these smaller, grass roots sects; but only time will tell where the percentages will finally rest.