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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hillary Clinton: A Conversation In Manila

An interesting video featuring US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton billed as "A Conversation In Manila", a town hall meeting-inspired public forum that also featured a wide array of bloggers and student journalists from all over the Philippines. From the description of the Clinton entourage itself, the forum is  described as 'groundbreaking' for its youth-oriented social media component, breaking away from the formalities of many of the globe-trotting Clinton's public events. Speaking of 'youth-oriented', Winnie Monsod and Mel Tiangco - famous celebrities in their own right, did not hesitate to make their presence felt in the audience to see to it that Clinton did not lack not-so-young admirers.

Questions for Secretary Clinton were fielded via YouScoop, Twitter, Facebook, Skype and SMS. Members of the young audience were also given time to field their questions. Among those distinguished personalities from the  audience were actress Heart Evangelista and fellow celebrities Isabel Daza and Maxene Magalona who were both lucky to have fielded their questions to Clinton. Vicky Morales and Howie Severino served as moderators while Ramon Bautista (the lesser illustrious namesake of the one who sired 75 children) made sure an audience participation became lively.

The forum largely went smoothly apart from one notable distraction courtesy of Marjohara Tucay, the editor-in-chief of the 'The Philippine Collegian' who interrupted Clinton in between discussions and held up a banner protesting the VFA thing. Despite his show of rudeness (he could have conveyed his concerns in a rather refined manner and shined given the nature of the forum), the audience instead responded in crisp laughter as Clinton repeatedly addressed him as a she. Well, Mrs. Clinton did not mean to be rude judging on the high-pitched soprano scream of Tucay that started to reverberate inside the hall before he was being led away while still frothing in anger. Hmm, not a really nice stunt to pull off for a future journalist who should have demonstrated some measure of civility without being rude and dissenting.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Let Her Go And Wish Her Well!

"You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well" - Lewis B. Smedes

After the much controversial Pacquiao victory over Marquez that led many Mexicans to launch a global defacement of the Filipino image that stemmed from their own son's supposed 'stolen victory', the Latinos in a fit of rage, are in no mood to put the battle behind them within the confines of the ring. The rage is so palpable that the Filipino race is branded by them as numero uno when it comes to 'stealing victory in the ring', a catchphrase born in the Sin City immediately after the fight. 

And what else this outrage spared to feast on but a Philippine former president's ability to steal an election? Seemed  a little off to me because sport and politics do not share the same DNA except if an athlete is a multimillionaire boxer who happens to be a congressman, in which case a massive exodus of his colleagues to watch his fight had turned the Congress ghostly and desolate for days or weeks. Yes, we read it right, the Mexicans proved they read and monitor us as much as we flinch at the murders by drug cartels in theirs. So, let's assume  they are aware that we have a tiny former president who stole the election and was today barred from traveling on suspicion she is plotting a future fugitive stunt.

I admit, just like any other citizen, sympathy for the Arroyos is hard to come by. Most people are convinced that what has befallen them is 'karma' to that effect. Even before she stepped out of the palace, she had been mired into countless corruption scandals that made her a favorite for citizen bullies in social media, understandably myself included. Not only she did enrich herself and her family while in power but also most people believe she indirectly ordained into power the family of beasts in Maguindanao that massacred 58 innocent civilians including 34 journalists - the bestial murders seen as the product from special favors accorded to the criminals as quid pro quo for ensuring she and her party win a clean slate in the elections.

Now the tables have been turned on her and her family. In what others call as 'divine retribution', the seemingly inexplicable wealth of the Arroyos proves of little help to what fate has brought upon them. Over the past few months, the former president had been diagnosed with hypoparathyroidism, something to that effect (well, God knows as to the extent of her illness - ordinary people seemed not to care much less dig how to pronounce it). Her team insists that the country has no capacity to cure the severity of this disease, perhaps due to lack  of specialists available or lousy credentials if there's any. (Her fear could be attributed to lack of specializations in the country apart from the prolific ObGyne, as evidenced by meteoric birth rates espoused by her administration's fondness for Roman Catholics 'pro-life' stance.) Well, that might be a safer assumption on their part, for what used to be a not-so-special disease became ultra-complicated one - thanks to a naruto-like robotic structure that adorns her neck - hoping the whole nation simultaneously cries a river out of pity.

Blame it on Arroyo's zero credibility, the Pnoy administration distances itself from a perceived 'pity trap' the Arroyos might be contriving for a smooth escape. Despite pleadings to be allowed exit for medical help abroad, the DOJ has put the entire family on a Watch List Order, convinced that they are only acting up using the former president's 'illness' as a ploy to run from the grip of the law. There are however local physicians of the same specialization, who assert that her illness does not seem too gravely ill as they would want it look like to be. Over the week, there were reports that she and her family had sought political asylum in Dominican Republic, which were later disproved by its ambassador. This allegation even fueled the Justice Department's suspicion that the former first family and some of its cohorts, are keen to escape arrests as they see no substantial deterrent for their imminent jail terms.

Surely, it's not over yet till the fat lady sings. The last hurrah still belongs to our protagonists in their bid to laugh their way out of Alcatraz. The Supreme Court by a majority decision has today granted a TRO allowing the first family to travel abroad. Being a co-equal entity to the executive branch, the SC is independent of its ruling thus it calls for implementation in which case beneficial to the Arroyos. What transpired next is a saga of historical proportion. Buoyed by a favorable SC ruling, our protagonists did not waste time and trooped to  NAIA in pompous show of 'victory for human rights'. The spectacle covered by media had the nation in a stand still equating to that of Pacquiao's pummeling at the hands of Marquez. But this time the stage has been set eliciting cheers - not for a hero who's falling behind in a scorecard but  cheers and jeers combo for an escaping former leader who either needs genuine medical help abroad or just keen to write an initial episode of her 'the fugitive story', only God knows. 

As the cliche goes, "all is well that ends well". Unfortunately for the Arroyos it did not bode well with what they expected. What had transpired at the airport in what is supposed to be their swan song, turned into a historic humiliation not befitting a living former president. It was shockingly odd to see an ailing former president denied entry at the airport despite an SC ruling, affirming her right to travel and get medical help abroad. The DOJ's order barring them exit has been put in place and remains a status quo, according to the Justice chief Leila de Lima. And that is what prevailed to the dismay of the Arroyos and the apex court that granted the TRO. The president and his entourage was left with no choice but to go back to a local hospital.

Contrary to the majority's consensus in social media praising airport officials and mocking the former president and her family, I do not see it a worthy reason for Filipinos to celebrate and be proud of. Yes, justice should take its course, but I believe the former president is no less of a human to be accorded disrespect and treated as evil, even when she looks to be in a contrite state, and for God's sake she looks very sick! Having said that, I for one agree that she be allowed exit so that she could seek medical help. That is the way forward - to exercise right judgment and act like humans beings. She may be corrupt as most of us believe, but that does not give us the right to judge her heart and hate her to the point that we join in unison praising the administration for not allowing her to seek treatment abroad.

Sometimes we can completely understand the ways and thoughts of man - his desire to seek justice and see the transgressor punished, but God's ways and thoughts are beyond our comprehension. He is a God that despises evil and corrupt leaders, the rich and powerful who takes advantage of the poor and vulnerable. His judgment is righteousness and His standard is holiness that  nothing, as in nothing in this world escapes His eyes. But just the same, God loves both the sinner and the righteous but He hates sin.  

The very recent Arab Spring that unfolded before our eyes showed us how God's handiwork had been manifested for all the world to see. Ben Ali of Tunisia, Mubarak of Egypt and Gadhafi of Libya - all these men created their own world of make-believe, thinking that the world is under their feet. Plundering their nation by billions of dollars, marginalizing the poor and oppressing and murdering those who pose to challenge their authorities - all because of greed that they ceased to think and act like normal human beings - mortal and far less invincible. For when man thinks his power and wealth render him untouchable, suddenly destruction comes because arrogance has usurped his heart.

Ben Ali is in Jeddah in a comatose state. His gold bullions that filled his basement room in his former palace did not help him. Neither did he profit from the billions of cash he hid in his room. One of his poor contrymen immolated himself because of desperation to give his family a decent meal. Majority of his people struggle to make do with less than two dollars a day. Thousand others drown in the Mediterranean - men, women and children, in their desperation to  sail to Europe to escape the scourge of poverty. Mubarak of Egypt did just the same - he reigned nearly three decades in wanton opulence while his people suffer before he is seen in a cage while undergoing trial. And volumes had been said and written about Gadhafi - all the world had witnessed how this tyrant had fallen and died like a rat in a most humiliating way.

These once great people as they used to believe they were had seen their reigns ended. Their families cut off from civil society branded to be criminals bereft of the dignity that the poorest of the poor has. Gadhafi not only abundantly reaped what he sowed - his fake locks pulled from his scalp, his face spat at, kicked and hit with a rifle while begging for his life, as the gory details circulated for the world to feast on - a grand slam reward for a tyrant before he saw death. The book of Ecclesiastes assuredly says, "there is a time for everything and a season for everything", and that speaks a lot of God's own timeline.

Now, who says God is oblivious to the cries and pleadings of the oppressed? Everything is laid bare before His eyes and surely His justice will come swiftly without delay. As for the transgressors, the murderers and the greedy, and to us all who think we are a lesser sinner than any of those we despise - God still extends His forgiveness if we repent and turn back from our transgressions. He loves even the greatest of sinners among us, for all have sinned and come short of His glory. He loves all mankind without condition - yes, even the most wicked; He is just waiting for us for it is His desire that no one should perish but everyone should come to repentance. Is it not amazing and comforting that His love is no respecter of who we are as long as we come to Him? Yes, even GMA included! So, have we stopped condemning her yet and let God have His way?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Even Here He Thrives

"In Him was life, and that life was the light of men." - John 1:4

For some reason, stories of people heads chopped off because they carry Bibles or caught keeping one already caused little hysteria in my psyche even before I ventured to Saudi Arabia. Fiction or otherwise, I was in no mood to put myself at risk and the thought of my family wailing over a sewn reattached head to a familiar body scares me to the hilt.

For a first-timer in a country where other religions are not encouraged except theirs, I had a hard time deciding whether to toss off my old and new NIV Bible from my bag or simply let others pick it up from the airport lounge to be a forgotten article by some disoriented traveler. The agency people were keen to warn us that no offensive articles be found in our luggage, or we risk imprisonment upon arrival. Thankfully, there was an inconspicuously small mail station in  the vicinity where I dropped off my Bible to the surprise of my family when it reached them.

Being an expatriate in Saudi Arabia, you don't necessarily fear going about with your normal life as long as you obey the rules and laws of the country. Of course, there are bad elements on the loose preying on unsuspecting expatriates who most often than not, are too terrified to call the police and end up hapless victims because they do not know their rights, or in most cases choose not to bother asserting them.

Speaking of obedience to rules and laws however, is a struggle to a bunch of people who cannot be perfectly law-abiding , but nonetheless are peaceful-loving (practice of other religions apart from Islam is not allowed here). These are the Bible-believing Christians who find ways to keep their faith burning, even amidst persecution and arrests of believers, who are only gathered albeit secretly, to worship God. The biggest irony of them all, the one tasked to arrest Christians worshiping in secret is a state-sanctioned moral police aptly called the Commission for the Promotion of Virtues and Prevention of Vice (still I'm less than halfway through an agonizing journey of equating gambling or prostitution to worshiping one's Creator).

Since the inception of globalization and mainly due to the king's open-mindedness, efforts to clamp down on Christian worshipers have dramatically subsided. (Of course, Christian gatherings are kept painfully discreet that no one suspects from outside that some living beings do exist inside and too scared to sneeze. If that's what the government decrees, it is being complied dutifully and fearfully with so much trembling). Or I must admit we are a little blessed because in this part of the kingdom, the mutawwas  are less passionate in their mandate to punish  disbelievers, unlike in Riyadh and other parts of the kingdom where they are relentless in their bid to cut off those who they term as enemies of Islam.

It sounds ridiculous, but owing to the threat of getting incarcerated, or perhaps it is best that you choose people whom to trust, in my long years of stay in Saudi Arabia no one has dared invite me to a Bible study. Funny, I don't see it strange if people find my countenance as someone who tends to run to the mutawwas for a tip off. While there are a hosts of issues or concerns to talk about related to life as an expatriate, getting comfortable to talk about one's faith even with a colleague, is a struggle.

Who would have thought that a former colleague whom I only get to see  occasionally could be an instrument for this new journey I take? Okay, this time I give some credit to the advent of social media, Facebook in particular, where people feel free to express anything under the sun, and yes even their faith sans the glare and threat from the claws of another kind. It's been three months now since I responded to a Facebook invite and I'm enjoying every bit of it -- the fellowship of the believers and the worship of the living God, even in uncharted territory. By the way, Romans 8:31 assures us that "if God is for us who can be against us?"

Twenty four years ago, a young OFW started a small Bible study group consisting of only two attendees including himself, acting as jack-of-all-trades being the  pastor, worship leader and all. Armed with a well-concealed Bible and a bike to get to homes of other members, and of course with the bravado of a Spirit-filled person, the once tiny group became a big congregation that multiplied into several sectors spread out in different parts of the city. Twenty four years of God's faithfulness and souls are being harvested for His kingdom.

The great commission is being fulfilled in the four corners of the earth, for God's plan of salvation for all does not change. No authorities, powers and dominions will prosper against God's divine plan, for it is written, "Whoever listens to Me will have security, he will be saved and no reason to be afraid." - (Proverbs 1:33)

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Silay City, Negros Occidental, The Philippines

Some of the photos above courtesy of Arnaldo Arnáiz Díaz

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