Sunday, April 11, 2010

Electing our future

THE Easter message of Christ’s resurrection and victory over sin and death offers us the promise of rising above our own brokenness and rebuilding the structures of our fragmented society. It is fitting then that our coming elections should take place during this Easter season. For Easter is the season of hope—and concrete action for building the future.

The apostles were filled with joy, mixed with initial incredulity, as the first witnesses of the Resurrected Christ. But they were also impelled by the Holy Spirit to share this joy and conviction over the good news of Christ’s resurrection with the whole world, even at the cost of hardships and martyrdom.

It is in this light that we too, as good Christians and responsible citizens, are challenged to be involved in our electoral process. This has been dubbed by our archdiocesan ministry workers in good governance as PEACE, i.e., Political Easter Action for Credible Elections. During these remaining forty days before election day, let us then adopt this form of PEACE-building in all our parishes and kapilya communities as a concrete response to the call of the bishops:

There is a duty for the Christian Catholic to transform politics by the Gospel. The Church, God’s people, must evangelize politics. God’s call to the Church is to preach the integral Gospel, the Gospel with all its social dimensions. (CBCP, Pastoral Exhortation 1997: Philippine Politics)

More recently, over the past year, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has also made three calls to the Catholic laity: (1) to form circles of discernment (so that they can see, judge, and act together on issues of public concern); (2) to get involved directly in principled partisan politics; and (3) to exercise their right and duty to campaign for candidates who are competent, honest, and public-service minded.

How then do we choose candidates who are “competent, honest, and public-service minded”? There are four C’s we can consider as criteria for measuring the qualifications of candidates.

The first “C” is Conscience. We need leaders with a sense of morality—who know what is morally right and morally wrong, and who act according to their conscience. In earlier consultations we find that Filipino voters look for leaders who are God-fearing and heed the commandments of God. A person of conscience works for truth and justice. He or she is pro-life and pro-family. He is transparent in his dealings and is accountable for his actions. He does not stall calls for public investigations in the conduct of a public office.

A person of conscience shuns corruption in any form and makes sure that public funds are not used for private gain, but for the common good. His name is not linked to drugs, gambling, or any form of shady deals; indeed even “Caesar’s wife” should be above suspicion. The effect of corruption in a person is literally a “broken heart”. On the other hand, a person of conscience has a heart that is whole and integral; he is a person of integrity.

The second “C” is Competence. A candidate for public office must have a track record, starting with his academic qualifications and work experience. In the same way that we make sure that we go to a qualified doctor when we are sick, or consult a qualified engineer for our construction plans, so also must we carefully examine the qualifications of candidates for public office.

How often have we heard of classrooms or highways that have been built with inferior materials? Or of “natural” disasters that could have been prevented, had there been more comprehensive planning based on climate change projections? Sadly, we hear stories of misfits in public office who have no concern for balancing budgets but have instead increased the public debt.

We need public officials who can lead us, not by means of “guns, goons, gold or glamor,” but by their management skills, and, more so, by their ability to inspire us to work for objectives that are realizable and urgent.

This kind of transformational leadership requires the third “C”: Commitment. A leader must have a vision and goals for the community that he or she aspires to serve. He should also have the political will and the readiness to sacrifice personal interests to pursue these goals.

Commitment means faithfulness to one’s principles and promises. It means adherence to the higher loyalties to God and country, beyond family, regional or class interests. Like Jose Rizal and other national heroes of the Philippine Revolution, public leaders today should personify the selfless kind of nationalism that unifies and creates a truly independent and self-reliant nation.

Broken promises, shifting party loyalties and the practice of transactional politics are hallmarks of trapo politicians. In its crudest form, vote-buying becomes a measure of one’s commitment—only for a day, at the price of one’s vote. On a grander scale, un-committed public officials are prone to sell the nation’s patrimony for thirty pieces of silver; thus the continuing lamentations of environmental groups over the destruction of our remaining forests and mountainsides due to irresponsible logging and mining activities.

Likewise, agrarian reform beneficiaries like the Sumilao farmers are still barred from tilling all the lands promised to them. Other target beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program are still awaiting the full implementation of this centerpiece social legislation after more than two decades of delaying action.

Social concern and a preferential option for the poor, the marginalized and the exploited thus characterize the fourth “C”: Compassion. A public official should give special attention to the basic needs of the least brethren in our communities, not simply by providing safety nets but by empowering them to become productive members of society.

A person of compassion is one who “suffers with” others. He strives to bring about the common good by dismantling unjust social structures, perhaps best epitomized in Ramon Magsaysay’s Credo: “He who has less in life should have more in law.”

A person of compassion works for unity and reconciliation. He is not vindictive against those who did not support his candidacy. His magnanimous allocation of public resources is based on the needs of the local communities rather than the favors they can give to him.

A person of compassion makes peace and builds peace. He is willing to listen in dialogue to the legitimate claims of those who take up arms against the government. He promotes inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue to forge solidarity in diversity.

Another name for compassion is Christian Charity, an all-embracing love and capacity to forgive one’s enemies. This is the core message of Easter. “There is no peace without justice,” notes Pope John Paul II, “and no justice without forgiveness.”

Election time then in the spirit of Easter should not be seen simply as fiesta time when common people seek the bounty of powerful patrons. Neither can it be viewed merely like a basketball game with a winning and losing team while spectators stand on the sidelines. We are all winners—or losers—during election time depending on which candidate wins the mandate for public office. For we are all stakeholders, and fellow sojourners in choosing the right captains for our local communities as well as for our ship of state.

Let us then all work together for PEACE—i.e., Political Easter Action for Credible Elections. And let us begin to scrutinize candidates according to the four C’s. For in choosing the best possible candidate among many others, based on Conscience, Competence, Commitment, and Compassion, we are doing nothing else but electing our own future.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Ministries for Peace in Mindanao

The year 2009 in Cagayan de Oro started with extensive flooding in January of the city’s river banks and low-lying areas throughout the province. Another flash flood occurred in November that disrupted the opening days of our Mindanao Week of Peace. Several parishes in coordination with our ACCESS office distributed relief goods. Nazareth Parish initiated a rehabilitation program for damaged houses along the river.

These experiences have prompted our Ecology Desk to monitor closely our environment−i.e., the continued mining operations on the upland area of the city and the resumption of logging activities in the Gingoog-Claveria watershed area. Compounding this is the proposed bio-ethanol plant that would pollute Cagayan de Oro River, ideal for white water rafting.

Other concerns of our ad extra ministries under the Commission on Social Action, headed by Fr. Cabantan, include:

• Sustainable Agriculture: Frs. Soldevilla and Lusat have been piloting S.A. practices such as vermiculture and rice-duck farming.

• Indigenous People: Fr. Sabuga and KASALU, a volunteer group, have organized several meetings of lumad leaders from Misamis Oriental and from all over Mindanao to promote IP rights to their ancestral domain. Malitbog Parish is their base of operation.

• Women’s Ministry: The Good Shepherd Sisters have set up a Center for Women, including counseling services. Since April, they have provided support and protection for young women victims of a cybersex operation uncovered in the city. The court case against two foreign nationals is still ongoing.

• Migrant Workers: Msgr. Legitimas and Sr. Alice, D.C., have concentrated on port area activities, involving seamen’s wives and stevedores’ families.

• Prison Ministry: Fr. Durana, prison chaplain, ministers to the spiritual needs of detainees in the city and provincial jails with regular Sunday services. The Prisoners’ Awareness Week had several activities, including a mass wedding.

• Children’s Ministry: The Canossian Sisters are inaugurating this month a newly-constructed home for orphans and neglected children. The Calabrian Fathers also have two houses for abandoned boys and girls, while the Sacred Heart Fathers are supporting a Kasanag Foundation home for girl victims of abuse.

• Charity Foundations: With the support of two local foundations, the MCM Sisters are administering the House of Hope for the mentally sick and a home for the elderly. Another home for the mentally sick has been set up in Gingoog by a third foundation.

• Social Communications: Sr. M.A. Padilla, FSP, and her team have published monthly newsletters of the archdiocese. They have also set up at Xavier U and Capitol U a photo exhibit on Cagayan de Oro’s 75 years as a diocese (1933-2008). Ongoing efforts are being made to optimize the use of radio and TV time for the local church’s message.

• Good Governance: Fr. Lerio and youth leaders assisted students in the first-time registration of voters, together with chapter members of the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference. They are currently conducting seminars focusing on Responsible Christian Citizenship. These are being replicated at the parish level. Several resource persons have assisted these activities – notably, Fr. C. Diola and his Dilaab team from Cebu, and Ms. H. de Villa, PPCRV Chair from Manila. Meanwhile, several Civil Society groups are exploring transpartisan ways of involvement in the coming elections.

Our ad intra ministries under the Commission on Faith and Evangelization, headed by Fr. Salvador, are undergoing reorganizational changes while continuing their ongoing activities – i.e., Catechetics, Basic Ecclesial Communities, Christian Family and Life, and Youth. Notably, our All-Natural Family Planning program has reached out to nearly two-thirds of our parishes. It is heartening to see how our NFP counselors and couple-users, and increasingly local government units too, are adopting All-NFP as the positive alternative to contraceptives and the Reproductive Health bills.
For this special Year of the Priests, the archdiocese has been blessed with four ordinations to the priesthood last November. In January 2010, most of our priests will be joining the National Clergy Congress in Manila. By next year too, St. John Vianney Theological Seminary here in Cagayan de Oro will be celebrating its 25th anniversary. The interdiocesan seminary has trained about 350 priests for Mindanao and Bohol. Meanwhile, our sixty-year old St. Augustine Cathedral is currently undergoing renovation of its trusses and roofing at its rear section.

In the light of the recent acts of violence in Maguindanao, Basilan, and Agusan del Sur, the peace process for the whole of Mindanao needs to be strengthened. May all these renewal efforts of the local church – in our clergy, ministries, and the cathedral – be a fitting preparation for its message of peace for Mindanao in this new year 2010.