Faith

Can you quit social networking for 40 days?

The Italian Catholics have started the campaign to refrain from texting and engaging in computer-based social networking and games during Lent. They appreciate the values of ‘virtual connectedness’ but the obsessive desire thereof tends to dissuade them from ‘rest, silence and reflection’ needed for healthy human development. And that is essence of the Lent. Thus, the campaign against social networking during Lent.

Brace for yourselves, fellow Catholics in the homefront. Our church leaders are out to follow in the footsteps of the Italian counterparts. On CBCP’s online site, Fr. Oscar Alunday of CBCP’s Commission on Biblical Apostolate was quoted as describing text messaging and Facebook as ‘addicting and time-consuming’, thus, making the faithful ‘out of balance’ and their lives ‘diminished’. Instead of spending time and money for text loads and use of internet cafes, Fr. Alunday suggests to spend them to helping others through charities. He also urges everyone to spend time with the family instead.

I don’t disagree with the CBCP official. But I think that texting and social networking can even be used to promote the Lenten spirit. As we use it to send greetings to our beloved ones during Christmas, a cellphone can be a great tool to send messages of Lent. The same with social networking sites.

What we can do is to regulate or minimize texting and social networking and instead use them for spreading the spirit of Lent. Of course, we should make do without games for the entire Lent.

How about you. Can you do a penance of quitting social networking for 40 days, or to be exact, 34 days starting now? And can telcos support this campaign of the church?

Dread to Die A Young Daddy

I went along with colleagues to the wake of husband of Ka Celia Eugenio, our farmer constituent. That was at 2 am, yes, today.

Since yesterday, death has been a usual topic among colleagues. Francis “Kiko” M has died of leukemia. A woman farmer leader (Ka Monina Magsico) had died of tuberculosis. Then, the news of Ka Celia’s husband dying of heart attack.

Can’t help but feel the fear of dying young. Kiko did at 44. Ka Celia’s husband also did at 52. I am 41 and I still feel young.

Ka Celia recounted the days leading to the demise of her husband Ka Rudy (April 22, 1956-March 1, 2009). He complained of perennial pains in different parts of the body like he had sprains. The pain moved from one site to another.

I shuddered because the story prior to the death resembles mine. In fact, I always feel sprain in my left hand for an unknown reason. Chest pains (which I always dismiss as gas-related) are perennial as well. Everytime I sleep in the night, I make a sign of the cross and say a very brief prayer: “Lord, thanks for the day and I look forward to a great day tomorrow.” The next morning, I immediately thank and praise Him for making me alive and continue life however cruel it is sometimes.

Still, the fear is there. My reason is that my wife and I are raising a young family. Our kids are 9, 7, 4 and 1. I wish to see our kids through college. I even wish to bring my daughter to the wedding altar someday.

Yes, I fear of dying a young daddy. But to God I rest my life. He knows best.

Freedom is at our hands

I was listening (for the nth time) to Bukas Palad music (through Rhythmbox in my Ubuntu Linux box) when a piece caught my interest. Its title is “Freedom is at Hand”. Its not the melody that caught my fancy but the title and some parts of the lyrics. Then, I went to bukaspalad.com and searched the lyrics of the song.

Awed was I by each stanza and wondered what inspirerd Fr. Manoling Francisco to write the song. The answer to that question lies in the footnote of the lyrics, which says:

1984. Manoling wrote this song after coming home from a rally in Mendiola where several co-demonstrators were killed.

I never thought that Fr. Manoling was that deeply involved in the progressive movement. I didn’t sense that in all his masterpieces except the “Freedom is at Hand”.

I’ve become a fan of Fr. Manoling since I joined a religious group of young professionals many years ago. But this song and its context escaped me. (The more I became a fan when I learned that he joined the movement against the current government).

Going back to the progressive song. I’m giving the song a 4.5 score (where 5 is the highest) for its musical structure. I only think that the melody doesn’t fit the progressiveness of the lyrics. Play the song without the voice and you’ll agree.

Nevertheless, the song rocks big time because of the message it implies to put across – that the State will not lift a finger on the people’s misery unless they stand up to act on their lot themselves.

For those interested at the song, visit the Bukas Palad site (bukaspalad.com) and go to the “Our Music” section. Here’s the lyrics for the curious and impatient:

We have walked all the highways
Yet where have we gone
We planted dreams along the byways
What else is there to be done

We spoke of peace, pure and simple
They seemed not to understand
We asked them to free our people
They said, “Freedom is at hand.”

REFRAIN:
We asked, “Is freedom a farmer with no land to farm?
Is freedom a fisher with no river to fish?
Is freedom a worker with no place to work?”
Yet they said, “Freedom is at hand.”

Guns cried out as night drew near
We hurried for home
To our children aged in fear
Whose dreams are made of stone

“Peace,” we said, “is not an empty plate
Nor a man with no land.
Freedom we can no longer wait.”
They said, “Freedom is at hand.”
(REFRAIN)

Wrong model for people to become rich

I headed the team that documented a seminar intended for the Catholic Bishops this January. One of my teammates submitted his documentation of a session and I was surprised at the thought he had captured from a Bishop, thus:

Let us look at what Bill Gates has done. He has created wealth for a lot of people across the globe because he focused on education or information technology. If we do what Bill Gates has done, we can also become a rich people.

I’m afraid that the Bishop is misinformed. Perhaps, he just blindly listened to the good side of Gates, not knowing the bad one. He, the Bishop, did not seem to know that Gates has become rich from out of his software monopoly, by killing other software competitors and demonizing free and open source software alternatives.

I even suspect that Gates’ being magnanimous nowadays, specifically by giving huge donations via the Gates Foundation in poor countries and research and development, is a function of channeling his massive wealth for a good cause (read: a good marketing spiel for Microsoft). This is actually not a phenomenon. Foundations are built by corporations who are either guilty for amassing wealth or pressured by tax laws. As a result, Foundations serve two functions: a) give to the needy and b) promote their products.

In other words, I disagree with the Bishop for choosing Gates as the model for Filipino people to become rich. The Holy Bible consistently marries becoming rich to honor. I’m afraid Gates must be careful in maintaining the latter, if he has that. The Bible says of the rich of the rich: “He hath swallowed down riches, and he shall vomit them up again: God shall cast them out of his belly. ” (Job 20:15).

RP Bishops come to repressed farmers’ rescue

It must be a year ago when I overheard a comment that the CBCP is too conservative to support even a seemingly radical cause. This comment was made in reaction to an opinion that the Roman Catholic Church’s identification with the peasant sector would soon be revived. There was during the Marcos dictatorial regime. And now, there is a level of certainty that there will be at this age of globalization and digital technology, which unfortunately continues to marginalize the country’s poor and powerless.

The optimism developed in January this year when the CBCP leadership issued a pastoral statement entitled “The Dignity of the Rural Poor – A Gospel Concern”. The statement analyzes the agrarian reform situation from which it took the government into account for the sorry implementation of the agrarian reform program. In a belief that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) remains a legitimate tool that empowers the marginalized land tillers, the statement calls for the extension of CARP with the necessary improvements.

Beyond the Pastoral Statement

Jubilant are organized farmers over that move by the Bishops. But they (the farmers) wonder in what more ways can the Bishops support the cause, which is basically to protect and defend the interests of the farmers in agrarian reform. The thought had its louder voice after over 1,000 combined members of UNORKA and TFM, two major peasant federations in the Philippines, were subjected to repressive treatment by the leadership of Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) during the first and second weeks of September. Leaders of both feds mustered all their guts to seek audience with the CBCP leaders about their sad experience with the DAR. The Church leaders didn’t fail them.

Last September 13, a forum with the Bishops took place inside the Office for Women, CBCP, Intramuros. It was a breakthrough activity just because the top leader was there–Archbishop Angel N. Lagdameo, D.D., President of the CBCP. Other leaders present were Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ, D.D., Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Auxiliary Bishop of Manila; Bishop Antonio P. Palang, SVD, D.D. of Mindoro; Bishop Vicente M. Navarra, D.D. of Bacolod; and Bishop Paciano B. Aniceto, D.D. of Pampanga. Five of the present Bishops are members of the Permanent Council of the CBCP. Abp. Ledesma presided over the meeting.

Unfortunately, my group, with UNORKA, was an hour late for the 3 pm meeting with the Bishops. We underestimated the factors that contributed to the tardiness. It was a such a shame, to think that the leaders are known for time efficiency. We were not also able to listen to the presentation of TFM, whose leader representatives spoke first while we were on our way to the venue.

When we arrived, the discussion on the TFM cases was already winding up. So in a matter of minutes, it was UNORKA’s turn to present its own issues through Ka Vangie Mendoza. Before she could start her presentation, I had already unfolded my Palm 515 and keyboard, a gadget pair I used to document the forum.

Ka Vangie ably presented UNORKA’s take on the CARP situation, starting off with the 773 land cases which have barely moved since they were filed with the DAR since 2001. She then raised several issues pertaining to CARP implementation, including, among others, decisions made by the DAR reversing earlier ones that were in favor of the affected farmers. (For those of you want to have a copy of the presentation, which is in Tagalog, just let me know.)

Encouraging responses from the Bishops

How did the Bishops react to the farmer groups’ presentations?

  1. Abp. Ledesma asked whether the groups also have success stories to tell. The groups responded positively, saying that they are ready to document and share all of these. UNORKA shared the story of a commercial farm in Panabo, Davao del Norte, in which the agrarian reform beneficiaries have the direct say in their banana produce, from production to marketing, without any intervention from their previous management-landowners.
  2. Bp. Pabillo asked two things. First, what are the plans of the groups after the recent sad experience at the DAR? TFM responded that Negros leaders are still hopelessly waiting for the DAR’s decision, while it is seeking the help of the Bishops to intervene. UNORKA said that it has (temporarily) stopped mounting camp-outs at the DAR but it has already started to reach out to Congresspersons and Senators to support them in their current struggle against the DAR leadership. Second, why is there excruciating delay in the resolution of cases? TFM answered that the DAR doesn’t have the political will. UNORKA, in turn, claimed that it is because of the many layers at the DAR Central Office that perform similar functions, like analyzing the cases. The final say resides in the legal team of the Office of the Secretary, which has all the discretion to render decision to each case, whether that negates the recommendations of the previous layer.
  3. Abp. Ledesma informed the group that the CBCP is already organizing for the 2nd National Rural Congress that will take place in January 2008. The processes leading towards the Congress may be maximized to raise the issues just presented at today’s forum. He further said that the website that the CBCP Media Office has set out to create is home to all researches, publications, and the like related to agrarian reform and rural development. All statements and related documents that the POs would like to publish can be featured in that web site.
  4. Abp. Ledesma further opined that CBCP can hold seminars, syposiums, etc. pertaining to ARRD.
  5. Abp. Lagdameo said that the CBCP Pastoral Statement issued in January this year is enough response by the organization to the hapless situation of the farmers. He also asked TFM and UNORKA whether they were able to do to the DAR, that is, explaining what the DAR should be doing, what they are trying to do now to the CBCP. As sure as they were seated, they answered “Yes.” And then the Abp. quipped: “There’s something wrong.”
  6. Bp. Navarra of Bacolod informed the group that all four Bishops in the province of Negros Occidental have been concerned about the fate of the TFM. He spoke mostly in Ilonggo, so I couldn’t make out the entire response. But as far as I understood it, he said that the Negros Bishops have met more than once and tried to extend any help they could. He also advised that the farmers should not resort to any violence and never tire of looking for creative ways to resolve their problems.
  7. Bp. Paciano of Pampanga admitted that the Bishops are like students learning from the experiences of the teachers–the farmers. He further asked the groups to be active in the subregional consultations in the run-up to the National Rural Congress.
  8. Bp. Palang of Mindoro then said that unity among the farmers is very important. It is similar to a “walis tingting” (broom made from coconut midribs) which can be used for sweeping off dirt, at the same time, for hitting those who did wrong. (This evoked laughter from the audience.) The Bishops then encouraged the farmers to continue to do what they are doing, and the Bishops will be there to support them. (This evoked the only applause during the meeting.)
  9. Finally, Bp. Lagdameo pushed for the dialogue as the only means to identify loose points and lapses and bridge misunderstanding between the farmers and the DAR.

What the farmers want

Sec. Ricardo Saludo of the Office of the President came when UNORKA was about to finish its presentation. (I learned that he would not have come had Abp. Lagdameo not been present.) When it was his turn to give his response, he recommended a solution that stirred a negative reaction from the farmers: Creation of a Task Force to process all land cases that the two groups allege to have been sat on by the DAR. Another layer, another delay, it will not solve, instead, will contribute to the problem. These were the stock responses from the groups. What they wanted is dialogue at the Malacanang and President Arroyo’s intervention to resolve the “deadlock” between the DAR leadership and the farmers groups.

Sec. Saludo warned that the farmer groups’ demand to immediately sack DAR Sec. Pangandaman is impossible to be granted, as it will just result in unmanageable conflicts within the Department. Atty. Christian Monsod, who attended the forum for the side of the farmers, argued that there already was a similar case before with another government agency, whose corrupt leader was immediately sacked by the President. But still, Saludo did not buy the idea.

The Secretary was at first reluctant to approve of the dialogue at the Malacanang, insisting that the Task Force was a better solution. After learning about the previous dialogues held with the President, he finally said that he will try to convince the President for a dialogue with TFM and UNORKA, one concrete result would be the creation of the Task Force. He committed to report back to the Bishops after Tuesday (when the Cabinet will meet) next week.

Wasn’t that Forum a success? You had the CBCP President and Malacanang representative attending and listening to you, with concrete actions to be taken. I think that has helped ease the yoke that the farmers have been carrying since the second week of September.

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Agrarian reform advocacy based on research

Had Bel not phoned me this late morning, I would not have known about and attended two important events today.

The first one was about the meeting of research institutions concerned about agrarian reform and rural development. I think it was the second time they gathered and took up next actions in support of the National Rural Congress slated to be held in first quarter of 2008. They gathered because the Roman Catholic leaders believe (which the civil society shares) that convincing the public and the policy makers about our advocacies takes bombarding them with information based on academic and institutional researches. The CBCP has offered to help out these research institutions propagate their studies by putting up a website that hosts bibliographies, documents or links to research documents.

There was a lot of known civil society-associated research institutions present, with the likes of the ASI (the host of the meeting), IPC, ICSI, Ibon, and UP-SOLAIR-Agrarian Reform Team. The other groups are NGOs that have their respective research units, with the likes of PARRDS, PARFUND, PDI, and PEACE. The meeting was chaired by Abp. Tony Ledesma. He asked each one to share something about its or his/her agrarian reform and rural development-related research materials which may be useful.

I wasn’t able to attend the previous meeting. So I was lucky to attend this one because my organization–PEACE Foundation–had to be heard about by the other institutions. I shared with them that PEACE has published “Agrarian Notes” that are most often case studies of agrarian reform issues as they are felt at the ground. Abp. Tony Ledesma affirmed the need to collect case studies as a type of research.

Three personalities were present as well–UP Professor Rene Ofreneo, former DA Secretary Leonie Montemayor, and former COMELEC Chair Christian Monsod. Each had his own way of suggesting things. Dr. Ofreneo was the most critical, saying that he and his colleagues in UP Agrarian Reform Team are closely monitoring the effects of globalization on agriculture, citing as an example the ever controversial agri-business deals of Phil. government with China. Sec. Montemayor was more exploring and emphatic of good things. He wanted studies that shed light on, for example, the effects of micro-financing to farmers. He also stressed the need to research on and publish success stories of agrarian reform and rural development. (I think he raised that as soon as he heard the lady from Ibon Foundation about its plan to come up with a primer this yearend, which aims to highlight the negative side of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program [CARP].)

Commissioner Monsod was more practical and emphatic of what’s already existing. He suggested that the research studies commissioned or collected by the relevant agencies must be tapped into and shared with the website that is going to be put up by CBCP Media Office. He also stressed the value of the website in that it will shed light on policy issues like the farmland collateralization that is being peddled by Pres. Gloria Arroyo. Without batting an eyelash, he emphasized that collateralizing a farmer’s farmland to access credit is good. With three conditions: a) there should be National Land and Water Use Law, b) progressive taxation in lands must be institutionalized, and c) the land redistribution component of CARP is finished. When I chatted with him after the meeting, I said that the fourth important precondition for farmland collateralization is the farmers’ empowerment to decide after weighing options.

More research institutions will be tapped to partake in the advocacy endeavor. In fact, there will be a symposium in October (?) to be held by them together with the CBCP about rural poverty issues. It will also be a venue for them to inform the public about the coming-together.

The meeting ended at past 5. Bel and I went out of the ASI together. We were caught in a bad traffic in Taft Ave. After spending time to decide what to do, I suggested that we take the LRT and then MRT en route to a place in Kamias where the next meeting is going to be held. She concurred. So we battled ‘human traffic’ to get to the trains and out.

The meeting, which was a preparation for the Bishops-Peasants Forum the next day, was supposed to start at 6. But Bel and I only managed to arrive at the venue at around 7. Also, other participants (from TFM) had to be awaited before the meeting could start.

As expected, that meeting started late and ended late in the evening. But everyone was happy about the results, which should have made the participants excited for the meetup with the Bishops the next day.

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Spreading the Good Word through FOSS

Three days ago, I received an email from Earl Rosero of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish – Kamuning with the following message:

Thank you very much for your involvement in our efforts to promote multimedia technologies for evangelization.

Our small group session last Saturday, August 11, can be likened to the planting of seeds so we can reap future harvests.

We planted good seeds last Saturday. It was a simple, modest beginning. I will do my best to cultivate and propagate to even more parishes here in Metro Manila. I will keep you posted on developments regarding the adoption of OpenOffice and Linux among the parishes I come in contact with.

I am thankful to Eric Pareja for linking me with Earl. The former had referred me to the latter, who had been in search of volunteer resource persons on free and open source software (FOSS). Expecting no material incentive, I readily replied to Eric and said yes, I’m willing to help.

To this day, I wonder why it was very easy for me to respond to the call. It was as though I acted on instinct. It was like buying on impulse a thing that turned out to be valuable in my life. Still, I’m asking myself now: Why I immediately volunteered myself to speak at the seminar, gratis et amore? Is it my affinity to the Roman Catholic community or is it merely my advocacy for FOSS? Let me answer that question using a line in a TV commercial: “Pwede both?”

Perhaps, when I was giving a talk on OpenOffice.org Impress, at the back of my mind was the thought that faith communities are potential markets for the FOSS adoption. In butting in during Paolo Falcone’s talk on Linux, Earl said that faith workers will find it easy to prefer FOSS over the proprietary schemes for ethical or moral reasons. In fact, two of the seven participants approached us and sought help in how to install Linux in their machines. Another raised the possibility of a project with us Paolo regarding migration to Linux of a certain office.

I salute Earl for the courage to introduce changes in his parish. With his professional background in ICT (previously working in Malacanang, ABC-5, among others), he said he’s devoting his time to the parish and advocate changes in the way ICT is used. For example, all the slides to be shown during the masses will be based on OpenOffice.org Impress. He also plans to establish a client-server computer network to make it easy to update files including a database for baptismal records. He also wanted to reach out to other parishes as far as FOSS is concerned. I wish that the tribe of Earl would increase in no time.

The opportunity to help the Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish – Kamuning indeed helped me broaden my perspective: That FOSS and faith work can go hand in hand. Church leaders need to be enlightened (of course, with the intervention of  evangelists/workers like Earl) and help spread FOSS. It may sound awkward at first glance, but before we know it, the issue of ICT has already permeated the church.