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Saturday, January 31, 2015

US: Maritime dispute an issue for all Asean members


By Pia Lee-Brago
The Philippine Star 
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel gestures during a press conference with his Philippine counterpart on the fifth Philippines-United States Bilateral Strategic Dialogue in Manila, Philippines Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015. Russel and a Philippine official said that their countries have separately urged Beijing to stop activities that ignite tensions and violate a 2002 accord designed to prevent armed conflicts over contested islands and reefs. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel gestures during a press conference with his Philippine counterpart on the fifth Philippines-United States Bilateral Strategic Dialogue in Manila, Philippines Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2015. Russel and a Philippine official said that their countries have separately urged Beijing to stop activities that ignite tensions and violate a 2002 accord designed to prevent armed conflicts over contested islands and reefs. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
MANILA, Philippines – After calling China’s activities in the South China Sea “wholesale reclamation,” the US government said yesterday that Beijing’s behavior is a concern not just for the Philippines and the United States but all of Southeast Asia.
“This is not an issue exclusively for the Philippines and the US but for all 10 ASEAN countries, to see the importance of finding rules-based, peaceful resolution,” US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel said.
He was referring to sovereignty questions as well as “behavior problems” that threaten the stability and congeniality of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Russel and Assistant Secretary for Defense David Shear led the US delegation to the Fifth Philippines-United States Bilateral Strategic Dialogue held from Jan. 20 to 21 in Manila.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Evan Garcia and Defense Undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino headed the Philippine delegation.
The two sides had an in-depth exchange of views on regional and global developments, including measures to ensure that the alliance continues to contribute to regional peace and stability.
The Philippines and the US expressed concern over developments in the South China Sea that are inconsistent with the 2002 ASEAN-China Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and international law and emphasized the importance of upholding peace and stability, respect for international law, unimpeded lawful commerce and freedom of navigation and overflight.
Manila and Washington reiterated that international disputes in the South China Sea should be settled in accordance with international law, through diplomatic and other peaceful means, including the use of international arbitration.
Russel said the US has been consistent and firm in calling on China to act in keeping with commitment, international law and in the spirit of constructive engagement, particularly with ASEAN and the Asia Pacific region.
He added that the behavior of China and the need to clarify its maritime territorial claim consistent with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), is a component of ongoing dialogue of Washington with Beijing.
“We have interest in stable, healthy constructive bilateral relationship with China. We have an interest between China and Chinese neighbors in the region including the Philippines but behavior that raises tensions… and behavior that would appear to be inconsistent with principles enumerated, will counter those goals,” Russel said in a press conference at the Diamond Hotel.
He said that China has a number of projects in the South China Sea that include the reclaiming of land, shoals and rocks in disputed areas.
Secretary of State John Kerry laid out last year a persuasive case for restraint, urging not only China but also each of the claimant states to honor and live by the principle of the DOC that no party should take steps that create tension.
“It is a common sense tool. Now there are a range of diplomatic processes, bilateral, multilateral dialogue, including between China and the 10 ASEAN countries. This is an ongoing concern not only of claimants of ASEAN but all Asia Pacific nations – and frankly all nations – who rely on freedom of navigation and sea lanes and principle of unimpeded commerce,” Russel said.
“We look forward to the day China and its neighbors will conclude a binding Code of Conduct. For the meantime, there should be exercise of restraint,” he added.

Were SAF soldiers massacred after surrendering?



Photos of the Maguindanao massacre provided to newspapers and a video posted on Youtube right after the incident point to the tragic, gruesome possibility that many of the 64 troopers of the elite Special Action Forces (SAF) may have been killed and shot point blank after surrendering.
The images also show the bodies of the SAF troops—not a single one with a weapon beside him—stripped of all their battle gear.
The SAF troops are known to be the best equipped among the entire police-military forces, with provisions from the United States as its contribution to the Philippines’ anti-terrorism campaign. SAF forces’ weapons included the most sophisticated assault rifles, hand guns, special light Kevlar helmets and armor vests, and even night vision goggles.
Yet photos of the dead SAF troops right after the incident showed them completely unarmed, or without such battle gear, as if they were civilians. They were even stripped of their camouflage suits and US-made boots. The bodies were scattered in the cornfield, and obviously weren’t in foxholes or behind makeshift shields, which they would have been if they had died fighting.
A video posted on youtube (www.youtube.com/watch?v=t85YIBqQHgI) was made apparently by somebody speaking the native dialect who nonchalantly walked over the SAF corpses, stopping momentarily to focus on some of the bodies. The video showed several SAF troopers were shot in their faces. One had his skull blown off, and then stuffed with leaves.
My immediate, admittedly emotional reaction after seeing the photos and the videos: The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, despite all the peace talks and their pronouncements that non-Muslims are their brothers, seem to see government troops as utter enemies to be wiped out.
Inset, right, SAF trooper in battle-gear; foreground photo, SAF troopers killed in Maguindanao stripped even of their jackets and boots; inset, middle, SAF trooper with head blown off; inset extreme left, shot in the face.
Inset, right, SAF trooper in battle-gear; foreground photo, SAF troopers killed in Maguindanao stripped even of their jackets and boots; inset, middle, SAF trooper with head blown off; inset extreme left, shot in the face.
To conclude that what occurred, indeed, was a ruthless massacre may be wrong, but authorities should secure the videos and even the alleged battlefield to find out what really happened.
What gives credence, though, that a massacre occurred is the fact that several newspapers reported that while the battle started early morning and ended only late in the day, the SAF troopers had run out of ammunition by noon.
A military man familiar with SAF explained that this scenario was most likely as the SAF commandos are trained for quick “insertion” into operations and quick withdrawal. “It is not an infantry equipped for positional battle, with the necessary ammunition.”
The MILF itself (see their website www.luwaran.com) reported that the firefight lasted from the wee hours of the morning to late afternoon, with additional MILF troops from its nearby camps reinforcing the original platoon that encountered the SAF. This raises very important questions:
Couldn’t they just have asked the encircled SAF troops to surrender, which I’m sure they would have if they had run out of ammunition.
Since they were in control of the situation by early morning, why didn’t the MILF inform the government of the situation and arrange for a ceasefire?
Why didn’t a Philippine Army battalion nearby try to save the SAF troopers?
Despite the peace talks, are the MILF forces so steeped in their ideology that they are trained to fight and massacre government troops without even pausing to consult their superiors?
Or did the MILF leadership actually want to teach the government a big lesson: That Maguindanao is theirs now, and even a police operation to capture known foreign terrorists must be cleared with them.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas was quick to declare that SAF incident a “mis-encounter.”
That is a word that isn’t even in the dictionary, and therefore, technically meaningless. It sends a clear message, though, that the MILF isn’t to blame. His move yesterday to sack the SAF’s commanding general is a clear message that he is blaming that special force, not the MILF.
Perhaps, the MILF isn’t to blame if, in the darkness of the wee hours of the morning, a firefight broke out when the two groups encountered each other. But it was utter ruthlessness for the MILF to have encircled the SAF troops in broad daylight, and most probably killed them after they surrendered.
The gall of the MILF leadership to blame the SAF team, claiming it didn’t “coordinate” its entry into the area with the insurgent group. What they meant was that the SAF didn’t ask for permission from it. Soon, they will require all of our troops to have ingress and egress passes, and for civilians to have visas to the Bangsamoro.
I don’t think it has dawned on most Filipinos and on this arrogant President, that the massacre of the 64 SAF troopers is the worst ever mass killing of government forces in a single incident.
The Mendiola Massacre had 14 casualties, the Ampatuan-Maguindanao had 58 civilians killed. The MILF massacred 64 Philippine commandos.
France recently declared a national day of mourning and marched on the streets to protest the killing of 12 Frenchmen by terrorists. Here, the President so far seems to want to have the episode forgotten as quickly as possible. His right-hand man, Roxas, is even blaming, in effect, not the terrorists but the victims. There isn’t an outrage over this horror, this attack on our Republic and our very humanity.
What kind of a country have we become?
tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com
FB: Rigoberto Tiglao

THEY DON’T GET IT


By REY O. ARCILLA  
MALAYA
(Criticisms against Noynoy’s welcome remarks for Pope Francis.)
Aquino-and-Pope-Francis-MalacanangPresident Noynoy Aquino’s apologists just don’t get it.
Granted, Noynoy was just telling the truth when, in his welcome remarks for Pope Francis, he griped about the biases of some bishops during the Marcos and Arroyo regimes.
But that wasn’t the point at all!
The reason for all the criticisms leveled against Noynoy was the fact that he did it while welcoming an invited state guest who is the leader of those he pilloried in his remarks. It was most inappropriate. It left a bad taste in the mouth. It was un-presidential!
He and the Pope had a private session after the welcoming ceremony. He could have aired his grievance then. He didn’t have to make it public. His bosses know and are aware of those bishops’ biases.
Enough said.
******
Noynoy doesn’t get it either.
When Pope Francis spoke of the need to protect and help the poor, Noynoy said he did not feel alluded to – that the Pope did not criticize him.
But of course! The Pope couldn’t possibly have stooped to the level of directly criticizing his host. That would have been quite unbecoming of a guest.
Then again, who could the Pontiff have been criticizing but the leader of the poor?
Hay naku…
******
The US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel blew into town supposedly to meet with his Philippine counterparts and to lead the US delegation to the 5th US-Philippines Bilateral Strategic Dialogue held last week.
Russel has only one counterpart in the Philippine Government and that is the DFA Assistant Secretary for American Affairs who, logically, should have led the Philippine side in the Dialogue.
So how come the PH delegation to the Dialogue was led by a DFA undersecretary who ranks second only to Super Amboy aka Giant Smiley foreign secretary Albert del Rosario?
Russel also had in his delegation an Assistant Secretary of Defense. Yet, we had in our delegation, supposedly his counterpart, a DND undersecretary.
The only reason I could think of is that both the DFA and DND secretaries did not think that the real counterparts of the Americans were up to the task at hand. If that is so, why were they assigned as such in the first place?
By implication, the two cabinet members thought that their undersecretaries would do a better job of dealing with the Americans.
Not if the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) were to be used as a gauge! It was the same DND undersecretary, assisted by two ambassadors handpicked by Del Rosario, who led the PH side in the negotiation of that horribly one-sided and unconstitutional agreement. The same DFA undersecretary was pretty much involved in the crafting of that agreement as well.
(Worthy of note is the fact that the DFA assistant secretary who had the guts to stand up to the Americans was removed from our team allegedly upon the insistence of our ambassador to Washington, another Amboy, who may have been talked to by his host government.)
Of course, there is also the apparent lack of appreciation of our officials on the great significance of fielding delegates of equivalent rank vis-à-vis their counterparts in any kind of negotiations.
Incidentally, I was astounded by the confirmation by Russel, when he referred to the Pemberton murder case, that “there are thousands and thousands, tens of thousands US military people regularly visit the Philippines”. Since when has this been happening? And under what arrangement?
******
For the umpteenth time, Del Rosario has again promised to try and sway ASEAN to work together “in terms of ensuring that there is a full and effective implementation of the DOC (Declaration on the Code of Conduct) and the early, and I emphasize early, conclusion of the COC (Code of Conduct)” during a retreat with his counterparts in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia this week.
The idea is to persuade China to abide by the DOC prior to the conclusion of the COC following her “massive” reclamation activities in disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea (WPS/SCS) that will again be the subject of a protest from the Philippines.
As in the past, I’m afraid Del Rosario will be utterly disappointed. He just could not seem to accept the reality that there is no “centrality”, nor will there ever be in the foreseeable future, within ASEAN when it comes to the territorial disputes with China in the WPS/SCS.
China does not want a binding COC. What for? She already has the upper hand in the dispute with the occupation and development of several places in the disputed areas. (Why can’t the US just blockade China from entering those areas or bombing them to smithereens?) Besides, China has in her pocket at least three ASEAN members who would do her bidding any time. Others have a more pragmatic approach to the issue. And with the consensus rule in ASEAN decision-making, I consider the COC already dead in the water.
So what do we do in the face of this great odd? As I have said many times before, we start talking with China in earnest and strike a modus vivendi with her on the conflicting territorial claims without necessarily giving up the rules-based approach we have already started, i.e., the arbitration case we lodged with the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). Even assuming the Tribunal rules in our favor, China has already made it clear she will not abide by its decision.
Let us stop following the US dictate. When the chips are down, we won’t be able to rely on her. Jeopardize her relations with China by helping us with our claim? No way! How many times does she have to declare that she is “neutral” in our territorial dispute with China to convince us of that? She, in fact, reiterated that again through Assistant Secretary Russel last week. My goodness, are we getting senile or what?! Blinded by our conflicting loyalties, are we?!
******
Freedom of navigation in the high seas? Unimpeded flow of commerce?
China has repeatedly said both of these will be honored and respected. And why not? It is also in her interest to do so. Her imports and exports go through the same sea lanes. Surely, she knows that the minute she jeopardizes either, other powers led by the US will not stand idly by. I don’t think she is ready to risk a holocaust that will spare no one.
******
I am just reminded of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s vow to render a decision this month on the petition of alleged murderer US marine Joseph Pemberton to delay for sixty days the resumption of the hearing of his case. Will she or won’t she? Decide this month, I mean.
******
And what has happened to the investigation supposed to be conducted on the US Navy drone found off the coast of Masbate a couple of years ago and the other found late last year in Lucena. A third one has just been found off Cagayan. What is our government doing about this evident violation of our sovereignty by a foreign power?
Nothing? Just because it is the US that is involved? All the more reason we should investigate. A friend and ally isn’t supposed to do such a thing… I mean violate our sovereignty.
Or worse, has the Aquino government given permission to the US to undertake whatever activity the drones are supposed to be doing?
******
And what about the Supreme Court, when will it rule on the several petitions filed before it questioning the constitutionality of the EDCA?
And Noynoy’s Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) outlawed by the Court? When will it rule on the government’s motion for reconsideration? Why is it taking so long? I hope it has nothing to do with the threat of Noynoy’s lackeys in Congress to scrap the Judiciary Development Fund.
That would be a serious blow to the reputation of Maria Lourdes Sereno whom I called the “Chief Justice with balls” when she declared: “I do not serve presidents, excuse me… that’s unforgivable.”
******
Reminders (for Noynoy):
1) Filing of charges against officials of the National Food Authority (NFA) during Arroyo’s illegitimate regime. Noynoy himself said on several occasions that there is documentary evidence to prove the venalities in the past in that agency. That was more than four and a half years ago.
2) Investigation of reported anomalies in the GSIS during the watch of Winston Garcia and order his successor, Robert “Pretty Boy” Vergara, to file the proper charges, if warranted, against the former.
Noynoy should also order Vergara to report to him on COA’s findings that: (a) He received the obscenely excessive compensation of P16.36 million in 2012 making him the highest paid government servant then. He was also the highest paid in 2013 with P12.09 million. I wouldn’t be surprised if he again tops the list in 2014; and
(b) That over a year ago, at least P4.13 billion in contributions and loan payments made by 12 government offices, maybe more by now, to the GSIS had not been credited to the offices as of Dec. 31, 2011.
COA also said that the amount of unrecorded remittances could go much higher because only 36 agencies have at that time responded out of the 186 that were sent confirmation requests by government auditors. Of the 36, 27 confirmed “discrepancies” in their premium and loan payments ledgers when compared with those of the GSIS.
There are three questions being raised when remittances, or parts thereof, of government agencies are not recorded by the GSIS on time: a) Where are these huge sums “parked” in the meantime?; b) Do they earn interest?; and c) To where (whom?) does the interest, if any, go?
Pray tell, Mr. Vergara, what is the present status of these funds, including those that may have been remitted since and not yet recorded by the GSIS? How long do you think you can “dedma” these questions?
I believe it is time for COA to follow up on what Vergara has done on the above findings so that affected GSIS members would know the status of their contributions!
In this connection, I would like to address this question to Mesdames Grace Pulido Tan and Heidi Mendoza of COA: “Is Vergara one of the sacred cows in Noynoy’s coterie whom you are afraid to investigate?”
******
Today is the 270th day of the eighth year of Jonas Burgos’ disappearance.
The trial of the primary suspect in the enforced disappearance of Jonas, Maj. Harry Baliaga, Jr. has finally begun about six months ago, after seven and a half years.
I dread to think of how many more years it will take before Jonas’ disappearance is finally resolved. Or, for that matter, the items in the Reminders above. It is beginning to look like it will not be during Noynoy’s watch.
******
From an internet friend:
More genuine answers (from 16-year-old kids):
Q. Give the meaning of the term ‘Caesarean section’.
A. The caesarean section is a district in Rome.
Q. What is a seizure?
A. A Roman Emperor.
(Julius Seizure, I came, I saw, I had a fit.)
Q. What is a terminal illness?
A. When you are sick at the airport.
(Irrefutable)
Q. What does the word ‘benign’ mean?
A. Benign is what you will be after you be eight.
(Brilliant.)
Q. What is a turbine?
A. Something an Arab or a Sikh wears on his head. (Now we are getting somewhere.)
******
27 January 2015
Email: roacrosshairs@outlook.com FB: https://www.facebook.com/reynaldo.arcilla.9847

Atomic scientists: We’re 2 minutes closer to doomsday


By Associated Press
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists says Earth is now closer to human-caused doomsday than it has been in more than 30 years because of global warming and nuclear weaponry. (AP)
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists says Earth is now closer to human-caused doomsday than it has been in more than 30 years because of global warming and nuclear weaponry. (AP)
WASHINGTON — The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists says Earth is now closer to human-caused doomsday than it has been in more than 30 years because of global warming and nuclear weaponry. But other experts say that’s way too gloomy.
The advocacy group founded by the creators of the atomic bomb moved their famed “Doomsday Clock” ahead two minutes on Thursday. It said the world is now three minutes from a catastrophic midnight, instead of five minutes.
“This is about doomsday; this is about the end of civilization as we know it,” bulletin executive director Kennette Benedict said at a news conference in Washington.
She called both climate change and modernization of nuclear weaponry equal but undeniable threats to humanity’s continued existence that triggered the 20 scientists on the board to decide to move the clock closer to midnight.
“The probability of global catastrophe is very high, and the actions needed to reduce the risks of disaster must be taken very soon,” Benedict said.
Doomsday-Clock-2015But other scientists aren’t quite so pessimistic.
Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of both geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University, said in an email: “I suspect that humans will ‘muddle through’ the climate situation much as we have muddled through the nuclear weapons situation — limiting the risk with cooperative international action and parallel domestic policies.”
The bulletin has included climate change in its doomsday clock since 2007.
“The fact that the Doomsday clock-setters changed their definition of ‘doomsday’ shows how profoundly the world has changed — they have to find a new source of doom because global thermonuclear war is now so unlikely,” Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker wrote in an email. Pinker in his book “The Better Angels of our Nature” uses statistics to argue that the world has become less war-like, less violent and more tolerant in recent decades and centuries. 
Richard Somerville, a member of the Bulletin’s board who is a climate scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said the trend in heat-trapping emissions from the burning of fossil fuels will “lead to major climatic disruption globally. The urgency has nothing to do with politics or ideology. It arises from the laws of physics and biology and chemistry. These laws are non-negotiable.”
But Somerville agreed that the threat from climate change isn’t quite as all-or-nothing as it is with nuclear war.
Even with the end of the cold war, the lack of progress in the dismantling of nuclear weapons and countries like the United States and Russia spending hundreds of billions of dollars on modernizing nuclear weaponry makes an atomic bomb explosion — either accidental or on purpose — a continuing and more urgent threat, Benedict said.
But Benedict did acknowledge the group has been warning of imminent nuclear disaster with its clock since 1947 and it hasn’t happened yet.

Hold, make MILF accountable for atrocities!



SEN. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos 2nd, chairman of the Senate Committee on Local Government, and Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chairman of the House Ad Hoc Committee on the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), deserve praise for suspending the public hearings by their respective committees on the BBL.
That’s an appropriate action after the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ambushed and killed about 50 policemen who were trying to arrest two suspected terrorists in Maguindanao. Are the suspected terrorists also MILF members? Why were they hiding in MILF “territory”? Why do they seem to be enjoying MILF protection?
Based on initial comments by DILG Sec. Mar Roxas suggesting “misencounter” and “miscommunication,” I wouldn’t be surprised if the administration of BS Aquino The Last, I mean The Third, would even blame the slain police commandos for their sad fate. It did this two years back when it charged several Marine officers for the ambush of their men while trying to arrest a wanted terrorist in Al-Barka, Basilan. The Aquino administration faulted the soldiers for not coordinating with the MILF before entering the latter’s “territory.” The same issue is now being raised in the latest MILF atrocity.
In a number of columns, I wrote that the MILF could show good faith in the peace talks by surrendering the suspect in the beheading of already dead soldiers in another ambush preceding the Al-Barka incident. It did no such thing but the administration saw nothing wrong in this. Instead, it placed the blame squarely on our brave soldiers and officers.
There was no Bangsamoro yet then but the MILF was already given complete rein of their territory with the acquiescence of the Aquino administration. Things will not go any better once the MILF gets a bigger “territory,” thru the BBL endorsed by the uncaring administration. Fears that the proposed Bangsamoro substate will be off-limits to our soldiers and policemen once it becomes a reality are not completely unfounded.
I don’t know why the situation has come to this. If Erap were still president, this wouldn’t have happened. He never recognized any MILF territory and waged a vigorous successful military campaign to capture MILF camps. Now, what the MILF had lost in that military campaign ordered by Erap, it has regained thru peace talks initiated by BS Aquino The Last, I mean The Third. Worse, MILF has even got more political and economic muscles.
Senator Bongbong and Congressman Rodriguez said they will suspend all hearings on the BBL until they receive a report on the official investigation of the Maguindanao ambush.
“We agreed that in deference to those who have died, especially the policemen, we will suspend our hearings for the afternoon session and discussions on certain provisions of the Bangsamoro law going forward unless we get explanations from concerned government agencies [on the violent incidents],” Rodriguez said in a news conference.
Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, a former chief of staff of the armed forces, initiated the timely and fitting move to suspend all hearings by the House panel.
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano also deserves praise for withdrawing as co-author of the BBL measure. Cayetano said the “slaughter” of about 50 policemen has led doubts to MILF’s commitments to peace in Mindanao. He said that the MILF should have shown good faith by surrendering the two international terrorists sought by the policemen.
Cayetano believes that the passage of the BBL measure in Congress has been jeopardized by the latest Maguindanao massacre. Some 13 senators have signed as co-author of the measure, enough to pass it in the 24-man chamber. If more senators will follow Cayetano’s move, and I hope many will, then the approval of the BBL that’s being avidly pushed by the administration could indeed by in jeopardy.
If I were Marcos or Rodriguez, I wouldn’t be contended with the mere receipt of an official report on the ambush by the MILF. I would demand an official apology by the MILF and the handing over pronto of the wanted terrorists by the MILF to Philippine authorities. The MILF should also be held accountable for this atrocity. Our slain heroes wouldn’t get any justice until the MILF does these things.
And if the MILF washes its hands, then the BBL should be thrown to the wastebasket where it properly belongs. The death of about 50 policemen should prick the conscience of the administration and stop giving support to a group that refuses to recognize duly constituted authorities.
Or, does the President merely consider our soldiers and policemen completely expendable?
19espiloy47@gmail.com

Friday, January 30, 2015

Reality beyond euphoria


GLIMPSES
By Jose Ma. Montelibano
Pope-Francis-bids-goodbyeMany continue to have Pope Francis in mind. His words ring strongly still, and many quotations will be like guideposts to millions. Filipinos cannot stop talking and writing about a man who came, who saw, and who conquered our hearts.
As I begin this article that will not be posted until several days from now, I had just seen the PAL plane take off carrying Pope Francis to his next destination. My heart is swelling and palpitating. It is as though a great weight has been lifted from my spirit, as though a powerful cleansing wind had washed the poison of the environment. It is enough just to stay still and silent, to close my eyes and bask in the warmth and serenity of a rare moment.
I know the euphoria cannot be sustained. That is the very nature of euphoria – that it will not last. Maybe it is because euphoria, itself a consequence of a great experience, has a greater purpose in life. Euphoria is the heat of the moment expressed in the senses, inner and outer. Pope Francis triggered it among Filipinos. Now, where can euphoria bring us, or where we bring euphoria?
Euphoria is part of the human experience. I will dare to say, however, that euphoria is a more frequent and regular experience of Filipinos. Embedded in our culture, past and present, are trigger events and rituals that spark euphoria. Most obvious are the fiestas, from national to very local, from Christmas to barangay feast days. The Papal visit is a rare trigger, and so was Edsa People Power. Their impact is nation-wide. How, then, can we make their impact sustainable in our individual and collective lives?
Awareness and remembrance are the first necessary ingredients to keep the experience alive. Our minds and lifestyles are attuned to taking in so much so quickly, but then forgetting or discarding them just as quickly. However powerful an experience is, mindsets and lifestyles are more powerful. Life, after all, is not a stream of euphoric experiences, but of ordinary moments. It seems to me that the challenge is how to transform the extraordinary to become a part of the ordinary so that great lessons become building blocks of our journey to wisdom.
From basking to learning, from pleasure to lesson, from a special experience to a change of perspective – can we do this to our euphoria of the Pope Francis visit? With all the flurry and volume of preparations, truly outstanding preparations that saw Church and State in what is turning out to be a rare spirit of cooperation, Filipinos were unwittingly transported to an atmosphere of eager and active unity. Beyond that, Filipinos rediscovered the best of their culture and proved that millions can act in civility, in courtesy, in consideration, rich and poor, young and old. Do we appreciate that harmony and understand the capacity of harnessed power?
Pope Francis did not explain theology. Pope Francis did not articulate philosophy. What he said, whenever he had the chance to speak in his native Spanish, stayed simple and went directly to the heart of the most ordinary Filipino. And when language proved to be a limitation more than a facilitation, Pope Francis used his eyes, used his smile, and waved his hands. The message and the medium were one.
Pope Francis is not Christ, but he heads a great institution with 1.3 billion members that believe he will lead them to Christ. When I wrote last week that the focus should be on Francis the Pope, it was not to distract focus away from Christ, but to see how a leader can truly represent his principal and his convictions.
When societal leaders claim to represent the ideals of their institutions, we must focus on their persons to understand better those ideals. Ideals are not mere ideas. Ideals are forces that drive us to behave in ways that are better than our standards; they push us to raise the bar of our own goodness, our nobility. Ideals need to be seen and felt more than explained literarily. Through the behavior of others, especially our parents and leaders, ideals can be understood – or terribly misunderstood.
The responsibility of leadership is sacred. Leadership sets and shows the way, and often has the authority to influence compliance. Integrity to the ideals of religion or state is the expectation that followers have on their leaders, an expectation that has brought disappointment after disappointment. If many Filipinos have adopted compromise as a realistic norm, it is mostly because they have adapted to leadership. Why else would Pope Francis be like a cleansing fire to Catholics?
Yet, it is easy to understand why Pope Francis wanted less focus on himself and more on Jesus. He is only a representative. He knows and accepts it. He strives to live up to his mission and position. He knows it is like mission impossible, and so he asks for prayers from all of us. At the same time, Pope Francis is telling us that we are no different from him, that we have our own mission and position in society, no matter how humble. The behavior expected of him by his conscience, by his ideals, is the same expected of us by ours.
Understanding his role, understanding his challenges, the courage to address them moment after moment, and the acceptance, or humility, of the awesomeness of everything – this is Pope Francis. He needs all the help he can get.
We need all the help we can get, too. We need our role models, heroes to awaken the hero in us, good persons to bring out the good in us. Like children, the Filipino people poured their hearts out to Pope Francis because he poured his heart out to us. Now, we look for Filipinos who can show us the way, who can pour their hearts out to us, who can take care of the poor, the weak and the elderly.
For each of us, I believe it is simply time to walk the talk.