Archive for December 2007

Endings and beginnings

December 30, 2007

Am leaving in an hour for Naujan, Oriental Mindoro, to join Inay and Yen for the New Year. We are a very small nuclear family, and Inay is ailing a bit though getting better. Girlie and Ayen left yesterday for Lucena City to greet the New Year with her parents, her siblings and their partners, and Ayen’s cousins.

We are not superstitious. What we do and where we are at the beginning of 2008 will not determine what happens to us for the rest of the year. Still, some tinge of this popular belief persists.

Girlie, Ayen and I usually do a shuttle – Christmas in Naujan with Inay and Yen, and then New Year in Lucena with her much larger clan. But this year, before we left Naujan after Christmas, she asked me to tell Inay that I will return today. “Inay is old and ailing. Ayen and I have you for the year and many more years,” she said with a quiet smile. I gave her thanks for being her usual sensitive self.

My son Yeyi and his wife Minette will greet the New Year together in Singapore. For them 2008 will be a year of changes. He is preparing to take on new work that will keep him in London for most of next year, while Minette stays with her new job in Singapore. I can recall only one Christmas when Yeyi and I were together. I hope he and Minette will manage to spend all their Christmas and New Years together.

Yesterday Meth Jimenez and the Clean and Green staff picked me up at 5 am, and we traveled from the Orchidarium in Luneta on a four hour drive to Botolan, Zambales. Two days earlier, she had asked me to check if the Ayta community I work with were willing to host a tree-planting ceremony on December 29. “It is the 80th birthday of Ming Ramos, our chairperson, and we want to plant 80 trees in her honor, though she is in Hongkong and cannot be present.”

I called Carling, the president of LAKAS (no relation to FVR’s party!), and he said they were happy to host us. He immediately mobilized 20 members to prepare the 80 holes for planting. In return, I told Meth that we should also advance the process of forging a partnership with them, to set up a nursery of indigenous species: “Can we also do a signing ceremony of the MOA among Clean and Green, LAKAS, and ELF?”

The hour and a half drive from the exit gate of SBMA to Botolan was an eye-opener to Meth and her staff. “The mountains are so brown, and so bald!” she exclaimed. “It will take years to reforest them.” She and I are already starting a new reforestation program in our home province of Oriental Mindoro. I had to agree with her that the mountains we see in our home island do not look as bad as those in Zambales.

And yet the Zambales northern mountain range is one of the 14 significant biodiversity areas identified by the Foundation for Philippine Environment for its strategic program of biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. I have been invited to join the FPE board, and they have done very good work in assessing the various species of flora and fauna in the various sites.

But who are at the people and communities at front lines of biodiversity conservation? In most of the areas, the indigenous people’s communities. In this case, the Aytas, though many of them have been displaced by the Mount Pinatubo eruption and scattered to various lowland and foothill resettlement sites.

We had a brief but meaningful time with the Aytas. Carling brought a few dozen very young Ayta children and teen-agers to help. He gave us this perspective about the ceremony: “The trees we plant are really mainly for their generation. We will probably not be around anymore to see these trees in full growth. But we hope that our children will remember us when they enjoy them in the distant future.”

I don’t recall if I saw the poster at the Clean and Green office or at the LAKAS learning center. But there was a quote that caught my attention, though I don’t remember the exact words. Something about older people planting tress that we know we will live for a hundred years. Those who do this must be optimists, or have a sense of community not just with the present, but with the future.

On the way home, Meth and I also talked about the other event we both attended , the night of the 27th. It was the final wake of Hernan Jopson, Edjop’s father. He died a day a day short of the 40th day after his wife, Mommy Jopson died. His children could only attribute his peaceful death to his burning desire to be with his wife on Christmas day.

Candy kindly offered to drive us home from the wake, and she expressed what we all felt during the wake – it was family and community gathering, not for grieving but for celebrating a full life lived in the the service not just of family but of a wider community.

That set off a conversation about how we would want family and friends to arrange our wakes. I said I want a concert. Girlie wants a feast of her favorite dishes. She also teased me about what we think will happen to either of us should one die ahead of the other. “My mother said that when a wife dies first, the husband usually dies very soon after. But when the husband dies first, the wife gets to live longer!”

Not the funniest thoughts for the Christmas season, but we felt the laughter warming our hearts on the way home.

Rituals of community and faith

December 28, 2007

Last Christmas eve, while we stood outside the packed church of Naujan, Oriental Mindoro Girlie whispered to me: “What meaning does this Christmas mass have for you?”

I thought for a while, then whispered back: “There are many meanings, but right now it is mainly about taking part in a ritual of community.”

Christmas is an important ritual of the community that identifies with the story of Jesus Christ, but not the most important. The rites of Easter Sunday are supposed to be higher in the liturgical hierarchy, but for many-layered reasons, Filipino Christians do not identify with it as much as with Christmas.

We could even make a case that Good Friday trumps Easter among Filipino Christians, and not just among devotees of the Black Nazarene. I remember reading in the late 1960’s a theologian from Silliman University observing that the central religious icon of Filipino Christians is “the failed Messiah” – the one who sought to save his people but suffered and died.

Rey Ileto’s Pasyon and Revolution argued a related proposition, that the rural folk who joined the anti-colonial revolts and uprisings interpreted their lives and struggles with the images and storyline of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection.

As a young priest-activist my participation in the “dialogue of life” between Christian and Marxist activists led me to appropriate that theme. I interpreted the spiritual and political journey of my generation as the “passion, death, and resurrection of the middle-class Christian.”

But that night in my hometown, my immediate sense of community was not with the global community of Christian believers, not with the community of social activists, not even with the local community in Naujan. Community was more immediate, smaller and more intimate – my family. And attending the mass was one of many rituals of our shared community and faith.

Our “nuclear family” is very small. My mother, Adang to her siblings, Mommy to friends, and simply Inay to her children, was widowed in her mid-20s, did not remarry, and took care of myself and my younger sister Irene.

For most of the year, and for most of the years since I left Naujan to enter the seminary, our nuclear family have spent very few Christmases together. Irene, or Yen as we call her, left to work in the USA as a nurse, took up advanced studies in midwifery, and is now program director of the first midwifery program in Puerto Rico. My own life journey has taken me to more places than I can recall, including prisons, mostly away and apart from my mother and sister, and not just on Christmas eve.

Girlie is my life partner in multi-faceted ways, the mother of our only daughter Laraine, or Ayen. Happily, since Ayen’s birth in 1990, the three of us have managed to spend most, though not all, of our Christmases together. Girlie’s family ( 13 brothers and sisters!) and Ayen’s first cousins gather for Christmas in Lucena City, and a couple of times, we decided that I should be with my mother in Naujan on Christmas, and join them in Lucena for the New Year.

Yen usually takes a few weeks off from work to be with Inay during the Christmas and New Year break.

On the way to church, I received a text greeting from Minette, my daughter-in-law. I texted back. Then she called, and after exchanging affectionate greetings, she passed the phone to Gabriel (Yeyi) my son who lives and works as programmer in Singapore. We had a rapid update of our lives, especially on his side, before I had to say good-bye to join the others at mass.

During the Prayers of the Faithful, Girlie drew my attention to the reference to overseas Filipinos and migrant workers. “It seems to be a regular item in the prayers,” she said.

It should be. Both her family and mine cannot be together at one place for Christmas, or for other special days that families usually want to celebrate. There are family members who live and work elsewhere. Of course texts and phone calls, e-mail, VOIP and webcams are becoming more accessible and affordable. They reduce our sense of each other’s absence, but also add to it.

The rituals of community and faith are not limited to the liturgies of Christmas or other religious feasts. Noche buena is just a special case of the basic family ritual of eating together while exchanging updates and reminiscing about past events. Even more basic is just being together, enjoying desultory conversation – an informal liturgy of the word.

At the Bantayog Christmas party, Candy reflected aloud on how powerful and persistent is the culture that Christianity has instilled in our people, even among activists. “For a while, we thought that the national democratic movement had developed enough momentum to bring about changes even in the mainstream culture,” she said. That momentum has been lost, partly due to the split that continue to be irreconcilable, though we cannot blame everything on it.

Recurring rituals are expressions of a sense of community and shared faith. But they also serve to maintain and renew community and shared faith.

When the sense of community wanes, and there is a shattering of a once shared faith, there is a corresponding loss of meaning and fervor in the rituals, even for participants who go through the motions.

What we can hope for is that despite the loss, enough remains for renewing and rebuilding faith and community, and reinventing the rituals that affirm and reflect them.

Innocents get massacred

December 28, 2007

December 28 is celebrated in Catholic popular culture as the Feast of the Holy Innocents, and is a day when practical jokes are expected and legitimate. It’s our April Fool’s day.

I don’t know where April Fool’s day had its origins. The Feast of the Holy Innocents is from the biblical tale. An insecure King Herod is warned by his in-house prophets that a child will been born, the Messiah who will liberate the people from King Herod’s rule.

His fears could only grow when he was visited by three “wise men from the East,” popularized as the Three Kings, asking for information about the Messiah.When they did not report back to him, he sent his soldiers to kill every newborn child, and just to be doubly sure, he ordered them to kill every child two years and below.

I remember reflecting on this point with some church people during the years of martial law. Church leaders and other human rights advocates found it easier to support victims of repression whom they considered “politically innocent,” i.e. not consciously part of the resistance movement. To their credit, they did support even those whom they knew were part of the resistance movement (and therefore not politically innocent), but somehow “innocent” victims were easier to sympathize with.

When Senator Carl Levin visited me in prison, I told him up front that I was not an “innocent” political prisoner being punished only for my political views. I told him that I was part of the resistance movement, and though I was a Catholic priest, I believed in working together with Marxists and Muslims in a united front fighting to put an end to the Marcos dictatorship.

His reaction, relayed to me later, was that he appreciated my honesty, and that because of my belief in working with Marxists, he considered me “sincere, but politically naive.” But he still used his good offices to eventually get Marcos to release me from prison, on the condition that I should leave the Philippines for a while. When I visited him in Washington to give thanks, his chief aide asked me to take my time and not be in such a hurry to return home. I said I would consider it, but of course didn’t; and that’s another story.

Anyway, back to our discussion on political innocence. The “Holy Innocents” are celebrated for being martyred because they were of a similar age to the baby Jesus. But they did not know what hit them, since they and their parents were not consciously opposing King Herod, and did not expect to be treated as his enemies.

But according to the story, Jesus, the prime (and legitimate) suspect, was warned by an angel and managed to flee across the border to Egypt, before the soldiers could find and kill him.

The lesson I shared with my fellow church people was that we should not expect those who hold power insecurely to react “proportionately” to threats against their rule. Even if people are committed only to peaceful opposition, those in power will not limit their reactions to legal and peaceful measures. This is especially true if there are also armed opposition movements and guerrillas.

The standard response of those in power toward armed opposition threats is the so-called “nip in the bud” strategy. Stamp them out while they are still small, before they have a chance to learn from experience and grow stronger.

Unfortunately for those in the legal and non-armed opposition, even if they are innocent of any armed intentions, in the eyes of the ruling powers, they resemble the guerrillas.  And while military attacks are directed primarily at the armed guerrillas, they tend to include also those who resemble the guerrillas, just to be doubly sure.

But the guerrillas anticipate these moves by the military, and often have their assets who give them advance warning. Most of the time, they can side step and evade being hit. But unfortunately, the innocents are usually caught by surprise, and get massacred while protesting their innocence.

So, is there no choice between remaining innocent (and risking being massacred), and consciously joining armed resistance movements? Fortunately, choices in life and politics are not always either black or white, 100 per cent or zero. In “real world strategies,” there are many shades of gray to choose from. Pushing the metaphor further, there are many possible combinations of primary colors. The politics of change is not only about science and calculation; it is as much about art and imagination.

These are not the most “Christmasy” thoughts on this day, midpoint between Christmas and the New Year. I better wind this up and do another blog later that is closer to the spirit of the season. Happy Innocents Day!

Celebrating our shared heritage

December 21, 2007

Girlie and I have just come from a simple but enjoyable Christmas party at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani memorial center. It is supposed to be a potluck party, but we didn’t bring anything to eat or drink. Based on previous potluck parties, Girlie expected that there would be more than enough food and drink for all. She was right. When we left, everyone had extra food to take home.

We decided to bring something else to share at the party – bookmarks with my paintings and photos from Bantayog events. Next year we hope to produce similar items for visitors to the Bantayog Museum and Wall of Remembrance.

After dinner, we had fun playing song games. It started with each table competing to sing as many songs that has the word “Pasko.” Our group lost that one, and also the next that had to have the word “Christmas.” But our table won the next two – songs with the word “love” and songs that mention any number. Of course I remembered “When I’m 64″ by the Beatles.

What was interesting about the song games was the difference between generations. One of the tables had much younger people, friends of Maya, a young woman artist from Angono, who has helped the group set up the Bantayog Museum exhibit. They had very different song choices from the rest of us, but lost all the rounds. And when the dancing started, they were all smiles while watching the “oldies but goldies” dance to the music of the 60s.

I sat beside someone whom I met for the first time tonight. He introduced himself to me as Cesar, and said that he was with the underground unit in my home province of Oriental Mindoro before he was arrested in the late 1970s. He is helping set up a website for Bantayog. I promised to send him the jpeg file of my paintings.

We talked for a while about the comrades we both knew, especially those who were killed in the struggle. He admitted that he has basic questions about the strategic vision of the movement and party he once served. “How do we build our nation based on a strategy of Filipinos fighting one another?” But he takes a longer view of the challenge and prospects of nation-building. He accepts that we are a young nation compared, for example, to Korea with its thousand-years history and sense of national identity.

He listened intently as I talked about the work of the Korea Democracy Foundation in collecting and archiving the leaflets, pamphlets and other materials from their struggle for democracy. Since Bantayog has limited funds, he thinks we should look into possibilities offered by the internet, like Wikipedia. “We can focus first on collecting content,” he suggests.

I also discussed with him an idea that Girlie and I have been promoting among friends and comrades. Despite the deep divisions and mutual hostilities in the progressive movements, they maintain an informal truce when they come together during memorial services for activists who have died. At one such occasion, during the eulogies for Bullet Marasigan, we thought, “Why wait for senior activists to die before honoring them?”

Couldn’t we agree that when comrades (former and current) turn 65, we gather at the Bantayog, not only to honor them, but also to remember and exchange stories about our shared heritage? Probably we would need to honor them in groups of five or more, rather than feature only one, since very few individuals can reach out to all the currents of the progressive movements.

I saw Girlie in deep conversation with Bobbie Malay. “What did you talk about?” I asked on the way home. She said that Bobbie had been invited by a group of young peace advocates to talk about her life and involvement in the struggle. At some point, they were all moved to tears.

Why? Maybe for the same reason that many younger visitors to the Bantayog tell the volunteer-guides who are all veteran activists, most of them women. “Your generation did something about our country. You put your lives on the line.”

That is a shared heritage we can and should celebrate, even if we are painfully aware that too many are quarreling about who are the rightful heirs.


Re-imagining family and community

December 19, 2007

Last Monday, Girlie invited me to join a lunch meeting she had organized for Chato Basa, our friend who is a migrant leader in Italy. When we drove into Miriam College, she remarked that it was the first time for her to enter the campus since she last taught there in the early 1980s.

Oyie de Dios was there to welcome us. She and her husband Lito are friends and comrades from our years in the underground. She has channeled her activist energies into international and national organizations on women’s issues, including the UN Commission to End Discrimination Against Women or CEDAW. She is now head of WAGI – the Women And Gender Institute of Miriam.

Girlie explained that the meeting was meant to introduce a diversity of people and interests to one another, hoping that they would find points of possible collaboration and synergy. The common focus is on “migration and development,” particularly local development. That is her current interest, and Chato is also here on a field research on the topic.

We started with a short briefing from our host institution about their programs. Nanette explained Miriam’s pioneering course on Migration and Gender Studies. She asked me to drop in next year to help them develop distance learning modules on it, since they have students from all over the world. Luz Martinez who is from Puerto Rico talked about two new programs on social work and humanitarian work which integrate global dynamics and issues.

Mai Anonuevo of ATIKHA talked about her work with families of migrants in Laguna and Batangas, and the network of migration-related organizations PHILCOMDEV. Chato talked not just about her work as a migrant organizer but about her recent foray into research which is innovative because done by the migrants themselves. One of it concerns the perceptions of migrants about their Italian employees, and vice-versa, which has been well received. Her current research project looks into how migrants and their remittances can help in local development.

They also informed us that next year, the third UN Global Forum on Migration and Development is being hosted by the Philippines. The first two were held in New York and in Brussels. There will be a parallel civil society forum to that inter-governmental conference.

Jude Esguerra of IPD shared IPD’s work in local governance, and asked how it may link to migration. Shalom Macli-ing expressed her interest in how the topic impacts on indigenous people. George Soriano of Ploughshares and the Philippine Social Enterprise Network or PHILSEN told us about the entrepreneurship course for out of school youth. From an earlier briefing I know that PHILSEN’s 33 member organizations are grouped according to “communities of practice” focused on particular “value chains” e.g. coconut fiber, massage oils etc.

Whenever there is a conversation on migration, there are stories about the social costs, which are not matched by commensurate economic benefits to the families and local communities. In many cases, there are even more negative social and economic effects.

After a round of criticisms about government policies, I posed the problem of official “ambivalence” about migration. It is already a massive social phenomenon, with close to 10% of our population living and working in 190 countries outside our national borders. And yet, because of previous issues including the celebrated Flor Contemplacion case, government declares that it is not its policy to encourage migration, and it boldly claims that it will eventually provide jobs so that Filipinos and Filipinas need not go abroad to seek for work.

In the meantime, thousands leave the Philippines every day. It is not just the result of policy or lack of policy, but also of other market and non-market factors. And this ambivalence about migration is not just on the part of government; we also feel it among us. Do we recognize it as an irreversible reality? Do we do something strategic about reducing its costs and maximizing its opportunities, and risk being criticized as promoting migration?

Mai shared their program of promoting savings among children of migrants. But they also see the need to counsel the children not to think of themselves as “abnormal” because they do not belong to the “normal” nuclear family sharing one household.

That set off another discussion on the changes brought about by migration in our families. After exchanging stories of problems and coping mechanisms, we asked ourselves if this may not also be an opportunity and challenge to all of us to rethink (I hastened to add “re-imagine”) our conceptions of family and relationships.

Benedict Anderson has a definition of nation that I like to quote – “an imagined political community, limited but sovereign.” The nation or national community is not imaginary; it is real. But essential to its reality is that it is imagined e.g. we will never meet the 88 million-plus Filipinos and Filipinas, and yet in our imagination we see ourselves as related to all of them, members of one national community.

But what is the content and shape of this imagining in every Filipino and Filipina? Whose imagining is dominant, and whom does it include and exclude?

Historically, the dominant imagining of what is the Philippines and who are the Filipinos and Filipinas was done by the Spaniard colonizers and the native colonized elite. Even in their resistance to Spanish rule and their struggle for independence, the native elite were constrained by the limits of that colonial and elite imagining. That is why Rey Ileto’s thesis in Pasyon and Revolution is persuasive. He argues that the difference between the vision of independencia and kalayaan is not just a matter of the language but also of content and shape, and boundaries.

Can we apply the same framework to our conception of our local communities and governance? What is the consequence of this greater appreciation of the local for the needed re-imagining and re-thinking about our national community, the Philippine nation-state?

Even more challenging is how the framework of an “imagined national community” applies to Filipinos and Filipinas outside the borders of the Philippines. We who live and work inside the Philippines, do we include overseas Filipinos and Filipinas in our imagined national community, and in our imagined local communities?

And those who live and work outside the Philippines, do they imagine themselves part of the Philippines? If so, what is the content and shape of their imagining?

Just before we broke up, someone asked: “Should we not consider that migration also asks us to re-imagine our conceptions of love and intimacy?”

Thats another stimulating parting thought.


December 17, 2007

This weekend, I was invited to address the national assembly of the Basic Education Sector Teachers, convened by the Teachers Organization of the Philippine Public Sector. TOPPS is an affiliate of the PSLink, a public sector union.

Annie Geron, the general secretary of PSLink, is an employee of TESDA, and I got to know her during my stint as director-general. Two years ago, she asked if I could find some time to help her develop an OD plan for PSLink. I didn’t know until then that of all the public sector unions in the Philippines, PSLink has the biggest number of dues-paying members.

Any public sector union will want to organize the public school teachers in the elementary and high school, since they are the single biggest sector. According to Assistant Secretary Jonathan Malaya of the DepED who also spoke at the assembly, as of August 2007 there are 471,837 teachers working in 45,802 public elementary and secondary schools.

ASEC Malaya is a “balikbayan” to DepED. He used to work there, but was transferred to various other agencies; Secretary Lapuz has asked him to come back. He expressed hope that Jeslie Lapuz will stay on as secretary until 2010 to provide a more stable leadership. Before him, the DepED has had five secretaries, no one of whom served longer than a year in office!

The assembly’s theme focused on “Women educators and Young educators.” That led to some good-natured teasing among the male and older educators present.

Are public school teachers mainly women? The figures quoted by ASEC Malaya confirmed this: Of the 470,000-plus teachers, 87% are women ( 66% in the elementary, and 21% in the secondary). Only 13% are male teachers (7% in the elementary and 6% in the secondary).

But contrary to popular impression, majority of teachers are not old. Only 31% are from 51 to 65 years old. Teachers whose ages are from 31 to 40 are almost as many at 29%. Also contrary to popular belief that most women teachers are spinsters, 76% of teachers, female and male, are married. Only 18% are single.

But another popular impression seems to be true, at least from what many of the teacher-delegates observe in their areas – a very big number of female teachers are married to tricycle drivers, including those driving the habal-habal or “Skylab” in the mountainous areas of Mindanao.

That set off another animated discussion. Why do professionally trained female teachers end up marrying below their status? Most had a simple explanation. Teachers are so busy that they don’t have much time for socializing; their most constant contact are with the drivers. This is doubly so when they have to ride on the back seat of the habal-habal. But one of the female delegates cautioned us: “Please don’t look down on drivers. My husband is a driver and we consider his work as a profession.”

Still another piece of information provoked more discussion – 25% of female teachers have unemployed husbands. Someone quoted the satirical slogan: “Be proud. You are a teacher. Your husband depends on you!”

So how do teachers cope, financially? Not very well. Survey findings say that 60% depend only on their salary. Almost 15% supplement this through income from rentals, and almost 7% engage in buy-and-sell. This last group represent the stereotype image of teachers as sellers of sausages and panties.

Understandably, the open forum generated a litany of complaints – about delayed salaries, overtime without pay, the GSIS, favoritism and harassment, and the multiple burdens of female teachers. The logic was unescapable: Teachers need to organize.

One additional issue which came up was the overseas migration of teachers , not just as domestic helpers, but also as teachers, especially to the USA. In fact, a representative of the American Federation of Teachers was present to explore how PSLink and their federation can cooperate to address the many issues related to migration.

When my turn came to speak, I explained that what I was asked to discuss, “BESRA and the Role of Teachers Unions,” may seem like an additional burden to their already overburdened lives, and it is. But I also wanted them to see that they can use BESRA as a way to draw support for their organizing work, especially from parents and even their officials.

We went rapidly through the acronyms and the arithmetics. BESRA is Basic Education Sector Reform Agenda, and it has 5 KRTs or Key Reform Thrusts. But BESRA should be seen within the framework of the Philippine National Action Plan for EFA or Education for All, which has 9 tasks. And of course national action plans should be aligned to the EFA Plan of Action agreed upon in Dakar in 2000. There are 6 items in the Dakar plan of action.

There was no way the teacher-delegates could absorb the details of BESRA and EFA 2015. My talk was just an initial “getting to know you” exercise, since the teachers had not yet received information through DepED channels.

What I felt provoked more thoughtful reflection was the question I posed about how better to project the teachers union’s struggle. Of course teachers organize in order to protect and promote their rights and welfare. But they also need to communicate to the parents and the general public that the fight for teachers’ rights is not just for the sake of the teachers. It is ultimately for the sake of the students.

Quality education needs quality teachers. And quality has its costs.

At the end of my session, one of the teacher-leaders picked up on my remarks and said: “This is an assembly of the BEST – basic education sector teachers. We fight for our rights so that we can fulfill our responsibilities. We will be the BEST for BESRA.”

Sustaining Galing Pook

December 14, 2007

Girlie and I arrived just in time at the auditorium of the Ateneo Social Development Complex, to the relief of Eddie Dorotan who had invited me to give the invocation.

When I entered the room, Eddie announced: “We can start the Galing Pook final panel interview.” This was followed by some good natured teasing about my being “Fr. Ed” in the program, especially since Girlie was with me.

When I saw who were the final board of judges, I blurted, only half-jokingly: “You are more heavyweight than the last one!” Ciel Habito and Emma Porio were the same chair and co-chair. But Tina Monzon-Palma was a new face, so were Jimmy Tan and Neric Acosta. Adding heftier weight were current Galing Pook chair Lito Coscuella and former chair Nene Guevarra.

After the ritual singing of the national anthem, I was asked to give the invocation. I started by confessing that I didn’t quite know what to say, especially since I was haunted by a bible text – “Judge not, so that you will not be judged.”

Then I told them about another judge who was trying my case as a political prisoner, and who suddenly asked us to sing a Christmas carol at the end of a hearing in December 1985, after which he said, “Let Fr. Ed lead us in a prayer.”

At first I didn’t know what to say, but somehow what the bible promised happened – “words will be provided.” I prayed: “Lord, we want perfect justice and freedom, but we know that will come only in the distant future. So we pray just for a little more justice and a little more freedom, but soon, even now.”

I said that we haven’t given up on our deeper dreams and bigger hopes for a Philippines that we can be proud of – a nation for our children, in the words of Pepe Diokno. But we know that the kind of national governance needed to achieve it is not in the near horizon. So we look to good local governance for more immediate hope, in the spirit of Dorothe Solle’s interpretation of the Our Father – “Give us this day our daily bread.” Our daily story of hope, she says.

There were 19 finalists from an initial list of 141 applications. Their programs were judged according to the following maximum weights: 35 points for positive impact on people’s lives, another 35 points for people’s participation, 20 points for transferability and replicability, and 10 points for efficiency of delivery.

The 19 LGU finalists included 9 cities, 6 municipalities, 3 provinces, and 1 inter-town. At the end of the day, the board of judges would choose the 10 awardees. They had already visited their sites, and had read the voluminous documents. The day was a test of presentation skills that were given strict 10-minute limits, followed by 15 minutes of free wheeling “interrogation.”

Girlie and I had to leave before lunch time to meet a friend from Switzerland, Pat Canlas, whom we haven’t seen in ages. But we were able to listen to the first 8 presentations and interrogations.

The programs were as varied as the places – Las Pinas City, San Fernando City in La Union, Naga City, barangay Upo in Maitum, Saranggani, Bindoy in Negros Oriental, Isabela province, Marikina City, and Tarlac City.

But the recurring question, after all the impressive examples of LGU leadership is like the line from the song “Paano kung wala ka na?” What if the mayor or governor steps down, and the successor is not of the same mind or caliber?

There were different answers: Institutionalize the programs through legislation. That helps, but laws are not self-implementing. Another answer is that programs that have popular impact will be demanded by the people from whoever is in office.

I found another answer from the program of Naga City on “youth internship.” For two months every year, a new batch of 45 young leaders serve as interns in the various government offices, from the mayor’s office to the innovative Naga City People’s Council. It’s a rigorous and competitive program that gives young leaders a direct experience in governance and public service.

The fruits of the program were there at the presentation. Except for Willy Prilles, all the presentors were alumni of the program, including an elected member of the city council, Nathan, whom I had met a few months back at the forum on consumer rights of electric cooperatives.

How will Naga City’s innovative programs continue after multi-awarded Mayor Jessie Robredo is gone? One of the presentors had a simple answer: “Precisely, that’s why he is not doing the presentation.”

I told Girlie afterwards that all the presentations were good, but this one was the best for me, since “the medium was the message.”


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