Thursday, December 31, 2009

One Week to a Disciplined Life

I started this set of New Year's Resolutions last year and did quite well during the first few weeks. It might be because the goals are too idealistic and too-world changing (I quit after a few weeks!). But that is what life is all about -- changing your perspective as you feel you need to in order to keep everything fresh.

I said "change your perspective" -- not change your personality or your beliefs. Someone said she found the secret to life: Stay around long enough till you get used to it. Removing bad habits involves replacing them with good habits -- candies for cigarettes or praises for curses. At first, it seems hard but time works wonders for those who persevere. I guess that word "persevere" comes from "perform" and "severe" (not really, but it's nice, no?). Do it even if it is hard or painful! Do it because it is the right and good thing to do. Just do it! Do!

For one whole week, focus on the goal set daily. Do a thing or two (or twenty!) to make the habit stick on the first week. Go back at the start of the list and begin all over again. When you feel you have formed the habits, forget about the list and live free and do right as a more disciplined person. Even if you do it for only a week or four, you would have set yourself on the course to a more focused and fulfilling journey to excellence. Most of all, you enjoy more in life when you have reason to be joyful about it. A better you is definitely reason to celebrate.

Read the list and prepare to begin a new life in 2010 (there's always next year to do it again!):

1. Clean up – Remove all unnecessary and harmful stuff from your dwelling place, work place and relations and, most especially, from your body, soul and mind. Example: real trash, dust and useless things and negative thoughts, energy-vampires and unproductive habits.

2. Organize – Establish order in your environment, work and relationships. Be not a servant to others or to yourself but only to God. Prioritize. Eliminate excess baggage. Give time for rest and recreation.

3. Simplify – Choose to be uncomplicated and unaffected. Deal with simple people, matters and ways. When tempted to take on so many things, stop and unburden. Unburden!

4. Economize – Save on energy, time and material resources. Do with little what others can do with much. Use only essential skills and the proper essential tools to achieve goals.

5. Work smart – Work for God and His glory and you’ll never go wrong. Do what is proper and what brings the best good. Be excellent!

6. Pray hard – Let God do the real work; you only listen and do as told!

7. Do it with God – You have a partnership with God – He shows the way but you have to do the walking. He lights the way; you keep your eyes on the pointing light -- the One that says Follow Me and YOU WILL LIVE.

Do it now! Zooo...2010...oooom ahead!

(Photo above: Guitar strings don't move at all until human hands coordinate in the making of wonderful music. Be the beautiful music that God wants to play. >>>Thanks to Rocky Esperon for the great shot.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Open Letter to Mr. Conrado de Quiros Re Ladlad Candidate Disqualification: Nuisance or Know-Sans?

Dear Mr. De Quiros,

Your criticism against the Comelec’s disqualification of Mr. Danton Remoto as a senatorial Candidate (Phil Daily Inquirer, Opinions, 09Dec21) borders upon nuisance as well as know-sans (that is, a lack of appreciation of the fundamental spiritual and moral issues involved). You argue that one’s gender should not be a reason for one’s disqualification – being male or female, that is. But it is not gender that is the issue here but whether being gay is a legal or a moral gender choice or condition at all. Hence, your defense of Remoto’s right applies only in a very narrow way based on your perception of political or legal rights entrenched in our Constitution. I can agree that everyone may have particular rights, such as freedom of suffrage or speech; but anyone may opt not to make full use of them without suffering any serious personal consequences. Hence, a person who does not vote is not like someone who commits a public offense by walking nude in the streets or smoking in a non-smoking area.

It is presumed, under any legal system that rights are granted based on a consensus of the majority of people or by a duly recognized authority, like a king or a dictator, for that matter. But being gay, as far as I know, is not (not yet, anyway) a right specifically granted by our Constitution and our Civil Code. Socially, and loosely at that, it is tolerated and even given protection by virtue of the presence of individuals or groups who lobby for its recognition and even its legal protection. In certain states in the US and in other countries, homosexuality is already afforded legal recognition and protection. Whatever moral compromises, concessions and consequences came or will come with this development, we do not fully comprehend at the moment. And yet, history has shown us that playing around with morals does have dire consequences.

Under the unwritten natural laws recognized and practiced through thousands of years of human history as well as under the written laws of God handed down to the prophet Moses and others, homosexuality (as an act, as a lifestyle and as a practice) is considered unnatural and even abominable. So abominable, in fact, that God, through direct and irrefutable concrete manifestations, would go to the extent of causing calamities to show His wrath against those who practice homosexuality. (Being gay or being effeminate but not practicing homosexuality may not fall within this obviously harsh judgment.)

Of course, for an atheist or a skeptic, such an argument has no weight. That is why it is so hard to make any sensible discussion with those who define matters of great consequence (such are rights -- whether legal, sexual or political) based on invented or alternative but unnatural and illogical philosophies. Unnatural, in the sense that even nature abhors and rejects, as a rule of course, a so-called “third sex”. This is so for several simple reasons. Firstly, a third or middle gender is unnecessary as far as reproduction is concerned. It takes only two basic genders, male and female, to complete the process of human reproduction, so why invent or contemplate one or two more? To be different or stylish? Reproduction is the primary function of sex; but, we have turned marriage into a game where the toys we use may vary. In fact, sex has become the main goal of many people and not the reproduction, development and propagation of the race.

Secondly, homosexuality elevates personal satisfaction or carnal pleasure above everything else and, thereby, leads people to violate social and family norms established and promoted for centuries by successful and progressive nations throughout history. The reason people and nations now succumb under the intense pressure for people to respect and accept homosexuality is because we have allowed our moral values (particularly those which pertain to marriage, public conduct, drug use, etc.) to be gradually diminished to a point where those who have the slightest desire to realign the social and legal boundaries may easily do so.

Loose morality is the order of the day. Being gay is but one glittering product among so many others going on in the process of de-threading the social fabric. Running for a public office to promote a minority lifestyle is obviously Ladlad’s objective. If the members feel that they are indeed a marginalized sector of society that needs protection, it is because they have chosen to be what they should not have been according to the norms of society. What makes them different from armed rebels who seek recognition through violent means? In the eyes of God and of straight people, they rebel against God’s righteous ways and need to be reformed or restored to the right path. To allow them to use our institutions to espouse a clearly unacceptable choice is like inviting the NPA to walk freely in our streets with their firearms.

We have all heard of families which took pains in preventing one or two of their members from becoming gay but ended up accepting them eventually. It is so much like having a pregnant teenager and having no other choice than to accept her and the baby into the family. Marriage is no longer a must but an option and even a past-time for those who jump from one to another.

Finally, homosexuality has no scientific or physiological basis, contrary to so many claims. If it were really true that certain individuals have an imbalance in their sexual glands that makes them tend to be what they are not, then God, both in His wisdom and justice, made a terrible mistake in creating some people and more so in condemning them to hell-fire. Where is the morality in killing a bird because it was born with only one wing? Why then would God destroy gays if He made them so biologically? Are scientists not merely overriding morals by giving a justification for homosexuality? No, God judges because of sin and sin is willful violation of laws or norms a mature and responsible person knows and comprehends fully well. Otherwise, God, more than any biased court of law, is awfully guilty of injustice or unlawful punishment. This is exactly what the apostle was saying: Who are you to question what the potter should do with the pot? Yet, we know that any potter only aims to make the best pot and not just play around with the clay in a senseless way. God’s first pot was a perfect man. The fall was in the man, not in the potter. Perhaps, the pot has now found a way to change its own use and ended up being rejected by the potter. And yet we now have the gumption to say, forget the potter or what he thinks!

Hence, in your defense of Ladlad’s right to field a candidate for a Senate seat, you have failed to consider what homosexuality is really all about and what the ultimate goal is of anyone who seeks legal or political recognition of this unnatural, illogical and unnecessary lifestyle that has caused social ills everywhere it rears its beautiful ugly head. If we want God’s anger and judgment to come upon us, then let us let loose the bounds of unnatural passions within us. Let us make fools of ourselves by not recognizing the divine design in our very beings. Let us deny the sexual organs given us by using them in ways we deem necessary. Let us all surrender our cherished values and start teachings kindergarten kids that we must respect and accept those who do not fall within the God-given, fundamental classification of male and female, father and mother, brother and sister (read some of the gay-oriented children’s books and you’ll be surprised).

It is so easy to change one’s sex or sexuality nowadays. A married artist may easily shift to become a single, gay person and then be considered a woman, not just by name but also by nature and character. That, in their minds, should convince people that they are technically male or female and not of the “third” kind. The self-deception is complete and they want others to play along, like what you are doing.

But in all this, you forget that it is homosexuality that is one of the great nuisances we can think of today. I dread the thought of what calamities and punishments our country will have to go through until we realize what we have done to nature – environmentally and humanly speaking. You think we can appease nature and God when we continually go against His laws?

We have all respect for people who are intelligent and make decent and moral choices. But homosexuality, based on the above discussion, is not just an unnatural, unnecessary and illogical choice but an immoral choice as well. Because of it, Sodom and Gomorrah fell completely and ingloriously. Thanks to people in government who still believe this and practice their belief in God in spite of opposition from those who would reject and deny God’s laws and His very existence. Their decision is not being discriminatory to gay rights, as claimed by human rights activists, but an upholding of divine as well as human laws. The rule is straight; being gay is crooked as the devil’s tail. I would not wish burning rocks upon sinners; but God has shown He can do so. Do not judge then those who believe in the one, true Judge who alone is able to destroy.

But then you accuse “Bible-spouting types” as being “trapped in the Old Testament” in your defense of gay rights. And yet, when you speak or write, you are not even sure if you would believe in God or not. Who gave you the right then to say that what is recorded in the OT is not relevant in our times? When Mt. Pinatubo erupted, was it not God’s desire to end the presence of military bases and their appurtenant brothels in the cities of Angeles and Olongapo-Subic, among other things? Was it merely an incidental inconvenience for us Filipinos to suffer such a calamity without seeing and benefiting from what heaven was doing to our people who look up to Him for salvation? Of course, this notion is as foreign to you as the idea that sexual sins are abominable to God.

Do we Christians fear God’s wrath for nothing at all? Or is it because we respect Him first and His laws and, therefore, recognize our responsibility to save those who do not fear His judgment? And so, if our respect for God then is seen as fear then how do we show compassion for those who ignore His laws? By denying the lessons of history and being blind to our visions of the future and the judgment to come? If we fear, it is because we know how an angry God exacts justice upon those who knowingly reject Him and His ways. We fear because we also sin and yet when we live righteously we achieve incomprehensible peace. But the peace that those who remain in sin seem to experience is an uneasy one. For them, we feel vicarious fear.

When you say, we “fear (our) sexuality”, do you mean to say that we fear our being a male or being a female, which is neither here nor there? Or do you mean we suppress our expression of our sexuality in any and all forms possible (like what voyeurs and permissive gays do) without regard to certain moral obligations? Is this so-called moral or sexual liberation a given evolutionary consequence of natural selection that people fondly give vent to in their “enlightened and sophisticated” circles? Methinks, it is an insult even to Darwin who started all this fall into humanistic delusion.

Being gay and being in the Senate is not something new. Some came upon it by being simple politicians who kept their sexuality and gender-preference hidden and outside of the political umbrage, or so it seemed. If they practiced their lifestyle within or beyond the walls of Senate, it was not of public concern or scrutiny but was definitely under divine supervision. Whatever the consequences of their immoral deeds, we leave for God to decide. For in the darkness, only God can see what humans do. But when a proclaimed gay and gay-rights vanguard pushes his way inside the walls of Senate or wherever, he comes as a marked person who is out to take some amount of control upon the reins of our political and legal systems to espouse his unnatural, unnecessary, illogical and immoral lifestyle. It will throw up into the wind all the fetters we have put against those who would destroy our moral and family values established by God through His teachers and practiced by His followers since the creation of the world.

Ladlad means "to unravel or unmask". If Mr. Danton Remoto is sincere in unraveling his nature before the nation, let him see himself as he really is, as God created him. Let him and every gay see themselves naked before the mirror and ask this question: Was I truly born like this? Was I truly created in this manner? Is what I feel right? Do I have the right to feel what I should not? Was I given this body and this life to be what I wish to be or what God wants me to be? Is there more to me than what I see in the mirror? Is there a spirit in this body formed in the image of the divine? If so, who needs the Old Testament, for even Buddhists and Confucianists believe likewise? If one cannot find the answers, then it time to ask for help from one’s Creator.

If Mr. Remoto wishes to run for office, let him run as a politician and not a gay-moralist who is out to change or diffuse the morals and beliefs of people. Does he have to become a Senator to live the way he wants? Does he believe he can rally all gays to his side in an effort to protect their rights without causing more division and strife in our society than there is? And if you wish to defend his so-called gay rights, please limit your arguments on fundamental electoral issues and avoid putting down those who believe in God. Faith in God is a guaranteed right under our Constitution which a person cannot renounce without suffering grave consequences. Defend someone else’s rights if you want for what it is worth; but do not put down others’ spiritual preferences and beliefs and thereby mock their own Constitutional rights. Straight people, and I dare say God-believing people, comprise the majority of our population while gays make up a small minority. Why insult the many to defend the few?

On the other hand, homosexuality is not a guaranteed right under our Constitution. In fact, it is something a person can and must give up in order to avoid grave eternal consequences. But, of course, you do not know that; nor do you believe it. Who then is the nuisance: the one who knows or the one who does not? The one who recognizes God and follows His laws or the one who does not? Perhaps, it is time to look into the mirror and get to know yourself more.

Yours truly,

Vincent Ragay

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Premeditation of Murder

When Cain killed Abel, what was he thinking? That God was unjust not to accept his sacrifice while He accepted Abel’s? That he (a planter) did his best to please God while Abel (an animal-er) was just as good as him? That his values were not confused and that his unresolved frustrations needed to be resolved? That to kill Abel was the right solution to whatever personal crisis he went through?

Cain knew from Father Adam and Mother Eve that God was real – his parents talked to God in the Garden – but He was nowhere to be seen East of Eden. Cain, then (it seems), only had second-hand evidence of God’s existence. The third human being was the first to be born and to live in the new and fallen world, a bird’s flight away from Paradise and from immortality.

Raising Cain was literally a new paradigm for the forlorn former-dwellers and freshly-ordained parents of Eden. Barely had they overcome the trauma of encountering guilt and the prospect of inevitable death when they – driven from Paradise with fig leaves as their only worldly possessions – now faced the reality of the gruesomeness of death and what it was really all about. Their other son, Abel, whom God favored for His righteous behavior, became himself the very first human offering in what will turn out to be a long, senseless string of murders of innocents that humanity will inflict upon a dying Earth itself till the arrival of the Lord of Life.

Abel, the pure sacrifice who prefigured Christ, offered a pure sacrifice. For God looks at the heart of the worshiper. He saw, even before Cain offered his own sacrifice, that he was merely following rules and not loving God (or others) with his whole being – heart, soul and mind -- as Abel did. That the first death should be tied historically and morally to the supreme sacrifice of God’s own Son Jesus, gives us a preview of the righteousness of God’s final judgment upon those who fail to obey His commands, one of which is not to kill. Or, put it positively in its general perspective, to love others including one’s enemies.

Death is morally tied up to worship or any spiritual act involving one’s life, talents and ambitions. Ancient people saw the necessity of blood as the ultimate symbol as well as the very reality of life as the highest God-given gift which humans were expected to value and respect with their very life in return. Hence, Cain’s and Abel’s works allowed them to express their tribute to a righteous God through a symbolic representation of their “best-effort” produce. For Christians, Christ's perfect sacrifice models a living sacrifice they now must struggle to exhibit daily. Again, God looks at the heart first before the offering.

Cain failed the test. His may have been externally his best offering but his heart was not. His offering was tainted by his inner unrighteousness – his hatred for his brother. He may have offered a good thing; but he felt bad within him and worse for Abel and, so, did his worst. Cain spent days and, perhaps, even weeks and months dealing with the hatred in his heart. With every rejection he felt for his failed worship (he could not seem to accept that what he did reflected his heart and his whole life and, therefore, his relationship with God), he became envious of his brother’s material and spiritual prosperity.

This dilemma Cain faced was merely a continuation of the battle between good and evil which began in the Garden. Being the first child of the womb ever and the first inheritor of Adam and Eve’s fallen nature, Cain, unfortunately, grew to become a maladjusted person. He, it seems, harbored hatred not just for Abel but also for his parents and, it follows, for God Who had brought such a disastrous thing to occur to him, his family and to the world-at-large. Abel was merely a, well, convenient and appropriate scapegoat at that, upon which he vented his unhappiness or displeasure in life. Apparently, there are no genuinely happy murderers.

Death then first came to this world through Cain’s murderous act and through Abel’s sacrifice. Since then, murder has stained this world a million-fold or more. Since then, countless martyrs and innocents have given up their lives for God.

In essence, every murder is premeditated or planned by its perpetrator. Whether one takes a day or a year to plan the act or does so in a moment’s anger, it all comes from a heart which has been brought up in a culture of hatred, vengeance, selfish pride and unrighteousness. A road-rager kills not because he has a gun in his car but because his heart speaks hatred and murder every minute. Hence, like genuine worship, which is nothing but an expression of constant love, the antithesis of hatred, it all starts in the heart. And it was conceived in the Garden. By whom?

Satan. His great plan was to murder pure and innocent beings. Such were Adam and Eve. Such is every one born into this world. But to effect his plan – the premeditation of murder all began in Eden – he had to cause the most devious deed ever thought of in the history of the Universe and even of pre-Creation: the invention of death. Not that Satan had the power to author death but that God merely authorized Satan to be the bringer of death which was his lot after he, as Lucifer, rebelled against God with his angels. Imprisoned, it seems, in the underworld and within reach of humans, Satan sought to interfere with Creation and take vengeance upon God through humans. And here is the big catch, literally: Satan would put the blame in the hands of God by causing Him to pronounce death upon humans and, thereby, implicate God in the eyes of humans and lead many to doubt God’s goodness and even His very existence. Great plan, for it works so well that so many even deny Satan’s or Hell’s existence.

Eden was God’s replication of Heaven in material form. What was up there, He put in the Garden. Life, Beauty, Bliss and Immortality. Satan, who was driven from God’s presence for his rebellion, planned the overthrow of this new realm. He, like every other murderer, hopes to destroy whatever goodness there is that exists. Hatred, in essence, is a person’s inability to see or acknowledge that God is good and that to acknowledge that truth (that is, to worship Him) one needs only to thank Him and do as He bids. How hard is it to live and let live in this world? Not for Satan and murderers; death is their aim and also their lot. Divine Justice requires the latter.

Why then did God put the Forbidden Fruit in the Garden? To give way for Satan and his evil scheme? No, it was put there for humans to appreciate God’s goodness – and His power. With a million and one good things in Eden and one nice-looking bad thing to choose from, how could we choose the latter? Unless one is so naïve and so lacking in self-control, the choice was so easy. Such was Adam; he kept away from the Fruit and from Satan. Not so Eve. It was not that Eve was weaker. Both she and Adam were weak when separated as individuals. If Adam had been there, they would not have eaten it. And so, when Eve had eaten and tempted Adam, he could not resist for he was all alone against Eve and Satan.

And so, Satan, it seems, succeeded in forcing God to destroy His own creation. Furthermore, it seems that he succeeded in putting the blame upon humans for violating God. They were not pure and innocent after they had committed sin against God. And with God, the Just One, punishing them for their disobedience, Satan triumphed over God and His Creation. Since then, the whole Universe has followed the whims of God’s archenemy. Murder is but one of many past-times the Devil delights in for breakfast, lunch, supper and snack-time. His followers are legions and their ways versatile and atrocious.

When we see massacres, bombings and wars, we see Satan smacking his lusty lips, savoring the flow of blood into his deathly coffers of souls he hopes to keep eternally in Hades. His gruesome collection awaits judgment just as he does. Knowing he has little time left and no hope whatsoever of victory, he aims, at least, to maximize his hold over those who will join him in Hell. He suffers punishment as of now and seeks only to do as much damage as he can to a wasting Universe. He has brought about so much confusion, delusion and destruction upon humanity that to stop at any time would only give a chance for more people to escape his clutches.

Satan, as is often said, is the busiest person there is -- more workaholic than a bee or any banker, media person, politician, business-person or showbiz celebrity. When we see how many of these people seem to be in the Devil’s sway (if not drugged for primetime, drunk with money, prestige, lust and power), we do not wonder at all. The spate of murders and unnecessary deaths around us all come from the Great Death Orchestrator whose curtain is about to fall.

His final and supreme act is nothing short of spectacular for apart from death he also has tentacles into the very realm of God. Whereas He has caused God to pronounce death upon humans, he has proudly pronounced life upon those he has deceived. Satan has proclaimed himself as the sole god of this world and promises salvation through deception via the many false teachings, fake sciences and pseudo-religions he has established. This is, in fact, his great soul-harvester: Promising life eternal without or apart from God. In the end, however, what it leads to is – Death. Bloody murder of souls! The Great Deceiver continues to plan and to deceive. Satan continues to murder.

In all this, God has already given the antidote. Beauty for ashes. Life and Resurrection in Christ. The war has already been decided except for the body count. When God finally visits the scene of the crime and looks at the strewn bodies of Satan’s victims, He will not simply carry a clipboard and list the names of those who had died and how they looked when they died. He will bring His Book of Life and call out those whose names are written there. And those who hear His voice will rise up and join Him to Eternal Life. God will un-murder those whom Satan murdered. Victory!

Myth or Fancy? Satan whispers unseen. But the Holy Spirit says openly: Trust God and live. His own Son Jesus was murdered and resurrected. The testimony of Christ speaks out the Truth. Listen, finally, to what He said to the hypocrites:

You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. (John 8:44 NKJV – highlighting provided)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hand-Made Civilizations: The Story of the World

Look out the window and what do you see?

If you live in a high-rise condo, you will see tall buildings or low houses. All made by human hands. If you live in a subdivision, you will also see houses, streets and cars -- all formed by human labor. Even in the provinces, you will see old churches, bamboo houses and concrete or asphalt roads built by human hands. Except for the plants, animals, rivers, forests, mountains, planets, the Sun, the stars in the sky and yourself, almost everything else came through the power of human ingenuity.

The chair you sit on may have been once a tree planted by Nature without any human involved; but it took human hands to cut it down, to saw the lumber and to nail the wooden parts to make the chair. In a way, the chair and its wooden parts are still the tree -- transformed into something else -- and is, therefore, not entirely human-made.

But, philosophically speaking, we can also say that the lumber taken from the tree is dead and is, therefore, no longer the original tree. It has taken on a different form and has even acquired value for human use. Even as firewood, it might still have some of the qualities of the former living plant species but it is now a different matter with a different use. Its heap of ashes is the remains of the tree and, well, “was” the tree.

As creative humans then, we see ourselves as agents of change or transformation -- for better or for worse. People have the power to utilize what Nature hands us and to form things -- that is, solid ideas -- that make us multiply the value of un-harnessed things, so we think.

Of course, many today say that tropical forests are better off left alone to preserve the environment and to maintain ecological balance. That allows millions of living things to thrive and reproduce in the perpetual cycle of life. Ideally this is the case, for we know that dwindling resources bring us closer to transforming the globe into something that it was not meant to be before humans began abusing Nature.

Conservation and preservation are, in reality, two somehow overlapping goals of environmental protection which can provide the only practical approach to saving the environment. Conservation aims to “conserve” the use of things such that we allow Nature to recover and to maintain production in a sustainable way. Economic use requires producing value out of things -- tree to lumber to chair involves input of human capital and labor which is why the chair may be many time more expensive than a single tree. When people are led by greed to make more than Nature can produce, we end up with no raw materials and a degraded environment. The resultant floods tell a truly sad story, apart from the expected deaths that they bring. We lose good soil and we lose water. What is life without these?

Preservation, on the other hand, aims to preserve the overall interrelation of each aspect of our environment. This means, leaving enough space for rivers without shanties or buildings constricting its flow to the sea. It also means retaining enough open space for plants to grow, animals to thrive and humans to live in comfortably and provide water to seep into the ground and be retained much longer. This refreshes the land instead of letting the water carry so much soil through uncontrolled erosion. Ultimately, preservation is finding the ideal and overall balance of Nature needed to sustain life in any tiny patch of land and, it must follow, in the whole Globe. When we fail to do this, we not only lose raw materials, we also lose many of our basic needs in life -- enough space for planting and for water to collect in. Yes, we may have houses, condos and malls; but where would we go to catch fish, to wash our clothes and to swim for leisure if the rivers are gone? A long time ago, we used to do all these things in a river.

We may have passed the point-of-no-return in conserving and preserving what we have left in order to sustain a rapidly growing global population. Human hands (and other organs) have worked too fast and too wildly to have caused so much change while failing to give back to Nature. We have changed the entire world just by our unknowing and uncaring ways. Unknowing, because as young ones, we did not know that we live in a world that has limits. Uncaring, because we said often that everything will be fine.

Today, we cannot afford to be unknowing and uncaring.

Take this simple insight into the human cycle of life. Inside the toilet room, we shed off a small part of our physical being -- some falling hair, dead skin cells, liquid and solid excreta and, in an unending process, carbon dioxide and other gases. Yes, in the process, too, we renew or refresh ourselves by inhaling oxygen and when we eat, we rebuild our bodies. With what?

With fish, vegetables and the meat of animals which ingested what we gave out. The water we used to take a bath carry with them some of ourselves and flow into the streams and into the oceans where other creatures feed upon our dead skin and excreta. And so, the food we eat is actually us! The cycle of life seems gross but, quite literally, “we are” what we eat! Well, maybe in another form made more colorful and tastier by someone who studied culinary arts, but, in reality, the foie gras or the dimsum may contain the remains of a whole generation or two of nations from at least two or three continents. For without being facetious at all, the soil that remains to be eroded from the mountains today may well contain the remains of thousands who had died during the Flood of Noah. Forget about the millions who may lie safely in their modern “sanitized” graves. Millions more – whether shipwrecked, killed in battles or fires, or simply lost at sea or in the jungles -- died and gave back to wild Nature what it gave them beforehand.

People and animals die so that others may live. Now we know that this must be also literally true.

Human hands may reform or change the environment but the original design and intent of the Creator will never change. To dust we came from and to dust we will return. From a once-perfect land, humans were formed and given the spark of life. In the Fall that followed, the imperfect land now claims back what it once owned. Four things, Solomon said, are never satisfied: a barren womb, a barren land, fire and the grave.

Humans today remain unsatisfied, insatiable, greedy and subject to death. It is not in our power to completely conserve and preserve this world. It is a passing scene. Like a movie which begins with great youth-filled allure and magical hopes, it winds down to the climax until the story unfolds and brings us home to its resolution. Either the lovers kiss and live happily ever after or the actor dies and leaves us empty or victorious.

The story of the world is the greatest story we can tell our children and one another. Until today, we do not agree as to how it began and how it will end. Some say it will survive forever. Others say it will disappear. No, it was actually God Who said the latter. And if He did say so, we must have reason to listen more intently. Why? Because if this world is not made by human hands -- obviously --then it must be God-made. As it is written, God’s word created everything from nothing. And to nothing it will return. If He said so, it must truly come to an end, like a movie that has an ending. A beginning and an end.

Whether the story of the world will be a happy ending or not is the big question. As it is, it does not show much of a promise. But the weather alone seems to be telling us something. Is it something good or evil? Well, depending on how we treat the world and people today, we can deduce the outcome. The Maker of this world must be saying something through His own handiwork, the way our own hand-made civilizations are telling us that we have failed in so many respects.

Hope or despair. Life or death. Human-made or God-made. We have the power to create; we must surely have the power to decide what we can have out of life.

(Photos above: Thea Jael Tuazon builds castles on the sand not unlike so many people who think their handiwork will last forever.)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Transubstantiation Revisited

(I am posting a letter I wrote to a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church on the complex issue of Transubstantiation. As the other forum did not allow me to voice out my personal opinion, I have opened this space for that very purpose without being bound by rules that seem necessary for order but not really conducive to free exchange of ideas and, the opportunity to learn from one another.)

Dear ____,

Thank you very much for your comments.

I never said my book or my discoveries matter to anyone. In fact, my views don’t matter, to so many -- Orthodox, RCC, Protestant or Evangelical. But it is my own and I live my life and faith by that revelation. Besides, a wrong concept repeated a billion times will still be wrong. But when one discovers the Truth, it can erase a thousand years or more of error, as in the case of Christ bringing the Gospel to the Jews. My statement served only to introduce who I am (a writer) and what I know (from studies) in relation to the topic.

The verses you quoted (John 6:48-66) only prove my point that Jesus was not talking about literal flesh and body. He still had to finish His ministry and He was merely testing the faith of the disciples if they were indeed willing to see His mission through the end -- that is, to eventually “eat” His flesh and “drink” His blood. But we have to understand what He meant based on what He really said as a whole.

All He was saying at that moment was that He indeed was able to give them life through real food (spiritual food, not physical substance). He defined His words as “spirit”, hence, to be construed figuratively or spiritually. Not literally as many do. (John 6:63) “The flesh profits nothing!” (Was He not also referring to His own flesh when He said this? Obviously, for He was talking about His own flesh and not anyone else’s.) Why then should He leave us with His flesh if He lives and reigns as spirit? The bread and wine are enough concrete reality that connects us to His bountiful blessings here and now.

Remember what He said after feeding the throng? (John 4:32-34) He was telling them that “to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work”-- that was His food! Christ was as consistent on the figurative meaning as He could; but, today, we act like Jews still taking the literal, albeit, mystical meaning (a very convenient mental route). Those who deserted Jesus, as with so many today, think of food and of flesh every time they see or read the “bread” or “body” but fail to see the real significance in “spirit”. The veil of Moses still hangs!

Those who worship today must do so in truth and spirit. Transubstantiation fails under this primary test.

It is so easy to say, as you claim, that what Jesus said (“This is My body”) means what it says. But He was also referring to His own real body when He spoke those words. He was, in effect, saying, “In a few hours, I will be giving up this body and my blood for you all. (The kingdom is not about eating and drinking -- Rom. 14:17) Meanwhile, I have this food that will remind you of Me and what I am about to do for you.” In the minds of the disciples, Jesus was saying meaningless words, until the Spirit explained everything afterward on Pentecost Day.

The Greek word used for “reminder” is anamnesis which derives from a root word which means “to think of” or "to put into mind" and not “to remember His death”, as we do today. Thus, when Jesus said, “Do this to think of Me”, He was not referring directly to His death or His body but to Himself as Lord and Savior. He was still alive and He wanted them to think of Who He was, what He had done and What He would do. The bread and the wine (ordinary food, like burger and juice) merely point us to the real nourishment we have from Him through His completed saving work. Hence, today, we think of Him alive and reigning in Heaven. (II Tim. 2:8) That is all that He requires from each believer. So, what’s all this talk about flesh and blood? I do not see it from all the verses cited and from the essence of His teachings.

I don’t know which is more obvious: what He explains or what He speaks without explaining? It is like a father telling his son one day that he will strangle and kill their bad neighbor, which really scared the son. When the dad said, “I won’t really kill him, I will sue him in court,” the boy understood what he meant. If the son had left without hearing the explanation, he would have been uneasy all day long. The same confusion remains among us today.

Therefore, when we say that “This is My body” should be taken literally, materially or substantially, we miss the easy and liberating feeling of being filled with plain food and yet being full of the spiritual grace knowing that Christ sits on His throne in Heaven, no longer to be sacrificed over and over again on the altar of ritualism but proclaimed as Living Savior once and for all in the hearts of simple believers.

Can we not see how simple and elegant the Gospel message really is?

In short, therefore, what I believe and practice is much older than what churches today practice for that is what the early disciples did. Acts 2:42, 46 pictures the culmination of Christ’s work, the spontaneity and innocence of which is sorely missing in our world until now. They were communing (eating full and satisfying meals, just like the Passover was, and not a mere bite and a sip) and celebrating daily the reign of Christ in their homes as one community. Do we now see why churches today are so divided? It is because we cannot agree upon what Christ taught about the Meal of Love and Unity.

Finally, I respect what the Orthodox fathers have taught and done for their followers but I honor the Lord Jesus Christ above all. It is His word and His alone, as revealed by the Holy Spirit, our Sole Teacher, that guides me. (I John 2:20-22, 27)

In Christian love,


(Photo above: Someone said that the Bible is shallow enough for a child to swim in but deep enough for theologians to drown in. Often, God talks as if He were a child talking to a child, rather than an adult talking to an adult. Thus, "out of the mouths of babes" God speaks. >>Tyra Jamile Tuazon plays with the sea and sand of Subic Bay.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

We, Pinoys, Have a Choice!

I have always thought of the name “Philippines” as a memorial to our painful colonial past and a demeaning vestige of our being diminutive copies of a vile Spanish monarch. To call ourselves “Pinoys” further emphasizes our not-so-amusing self-wounding tendency. My use then of the above title is more poetic than honorific. (The title actually came to me in a dream; so, what writer can resist an inspiration?) Besides, it adds a slight sarcasm that might help awaken us to finally claim a better nation with bigger dreams and, preferably, a better name (read: reputation, also). Not a bad choice at all.

After Ondoy, Pepeng and a taste of Ramil’s Lupit, we squat on the muddy ground like hungry flood-victims shivering in wet clothes, waiting for some help from generous souls. Dazed and cold, we seem not to know where to go. We eventually stand up and tell people that we must do this and that to rebuild our towns and our homes and to prepare for more disasters.

We go through a disaster and get ready for more! This is how we forget how to live a full life. We have not done what we should have done a long time ago and so we pick ourselves up every time calamity comes around. And yet we do not really improve our lot. We simply live and survive. The cycle is too obvious to miss.

The 1972 flood in Central Luzon brought us down. We built dams afterward -- great! But we failed to provide wider channels or protect our forests to prevent future floodwaters. 2009 brings us Ondoy and Pepeng and we blame the dams for the flooding! Then, the July 1990 earthquake struck Luzon and we shuddered with the Earth. The ill-prepared government did its best and the people simply suffered through it all. Laws were passed to limit heights of buildings in Baguio; but, soon, high-rise buildings mushroomed. They might be strong; but they still pose real dangers and deduct from the city’s quaint resort-image as well as its dwindling resources. And gauging from our response to Pepeng, we still are not prepared to face the coming Big One. Landslides and road cuts isolated Baguio as they did in 1990. Earthquakes or rains deliver the same disastrous effects; but we fail again to deliver deliverance from them. We must not be learning at all for us to fall into the same rut every time.

Then, Mt. Pinatubo dealt us its near-apocalyptic wrath in 1991. Central Luzon became a wilderness and continues to suffer from lahar flows, if not, faces the danger of the volcano’s crater collapsing. God forbid! In spite of assurance from Phivolcs, we must do what is necessary to prevent a big catastrophe. Who would have thought before 1991 that Mt. Pinatubo would erupt? Who are we to say that its crater lake is as safe as a water tank atop a tall building? Water pressure is not the only natural force that will cause its crater walls to give way. Another strong tremor can bring all that water down. How do we prepare for that eventuality? Who was it who said that anything that can go wrong will go wrong? We can’t go wrong if we do what is right as early as we can.

We need not talk about the many shipping disasters, mudflows and fires that come our way often. Natural or man-made, we have them all. It seems we do not really have a choice but to hunker down and face the howling winds and the rampaging waters.

But we do have a choice! We, Pinoys, definitely have a choice. In spite of the dark picture we paint here (something that TV, radio newscasters and even movies cater ad infinitum), we remain masters of our destiny.

But how do you prevent a typhoon or an earthquake or a volcanic eruption from occurring? We cannot. But we can prepare our lives and our cities to mitigate effects of disasters. Now, we know how to prevent flooding in Metro Manila; but can we do it without so much corruption slowing down the process? We found ways to diminish the danger of lahar flows; but it too became a source of corruption, a disaster of sorts equally draining on our souls. We found ways to allay fears of structural failures during earthquakes, but people readily violated laws -- another disaster waiting to happen?

The point then is not merely to say we know what we must choose to do. It is not even a question of actually doing what needs to be done. The issue requires assuring the next generation that they will receive a priceless heritage from us by our making a disciplined and moral choice now. Without that hope burning in the hearts of the youth, I fear that this country will have lost its chance for greatness.

Discipline covers all aspects that its meaning implies, from military to academic to spiritual. The discipline of soldiers, artists and scientists is the lower limit, while the discipline of saints is the higher limit. Average that and we have a citizenry that is not only trained, creative and aware but also inspired, compassionate and sacrificing. A disciplined choice is one then that tries to encompass the wealth of intellectual, scientific, social, economic, cultural and spiritual wisdom -- quite attainable now through our integrative management systems. Our colleges, universities and public and private corporations have some of the smartest people capable of synergistic thinking. What they may lack as a whole is the capacity to incorporate higher moral values without which plans and decisions turn into nothing but inane or inanimate, lifeless, if not, immoral ventures.

Can we, at least, make these criteria (trained, creative, aware, inspired, compassionate and sacrificing) as among the basic requirements for our elective officials? Never mind if they are college undergrads as long as they have heart and soul to start with. As long as they qualify the next requirement, they should be given a chance to prove their worth as public servants.

Moral choice, of course, refers to right behavior based on certain ethical standards. As a predominantly Christian nation, it would not be presumptuous to make the essential principle of Christianity as our guidepost: Love for God and for others. That should include all faith-systems without causing ill-will or prejudice among any of them. The important thing is that we make the choice to agree that THAT is the only way we can live with one another, nothing else. For if one says he loves God but harms his neighbors then that choice violates the communal peace and stability.

LOVE. As simple as that.

Religious differences have no place in this effort to make disciplined and moral choices in rebuilding our nation. In whatever way an individual or group worships God or practices his or her religion, it should not detract from our common goal of achieving a disciplined and moral society. A biologist goes about his work of studying animals and plants while a geologist, that of understanding the Earth. So why cannot a Christian live her life as one, the same way a Muslim can? In any island, province, city or town, this must be possible as long as we keep in mind the common good.

Withholding our tendency to highlight the minor issues that cause divisions among us (whether religious, cultural or political) and nurturing the desire to fulfill the “weightier matters of the law” will go a long way toward patching up the wounds and aches that separate us as a people. Indeed, we can converse and contend to our hearts’ delight, but must end our dialogues with a group-hug or a high-five. Absurd? No, quarreling and fighting are absurd and stupid. As Jim Wallis stated in his book God’s Politics, “Ideologies have failed us; values can unite us, especially around our most common democratic visions.”

Even as early as now, we already feel the heat of the election fever rising. AH1N1 has nothing compared to the boiling partisan passions that can cause more deaths than any virus can inflict, as seen in our long list of political assassinations and violent conflicts. “All You Need is Love” and “Give Peace a Chance” may be corny themes for this Beatle-fan to bring up; but they simply echo the need of the hour. Under such dire and tragic circumstances as we have, flared up political sentiments are the last things we want our people to hear and see in the news. No matter how sincere one’s thoughts or motives are, no matter how diplomatically phrased our words are, if it involves partisan politics, expect divisiveness to thrust its morbid head.

But in our country, an election seems like a disaster we cannot prevent and find hard to avoid. Hence, we push for a disciplined and moral way of going about choosing our leaders as well. How? Choose those people who truly lead disciplined and moral lives (remember our definitions) and campaign for them (you must) in a disciplined and moral manner. Use your phone, the Internet and your conversations as calm venues to highlight your candidates’ qualities, not the failures of others. This is the least we can do to attain our bigger dreams. Avoid rallies for they are subject to inordinate passions and to mob rule. (To candidates: Use YouTube to campaign or, if you feel the need, to sing or dance.) Watch them on TV if you must, but only as if you were watching a movie, a concert, a documentary or a reality-show and not as a way to glorify anyone. Be a fan but do not be a fanatic. Be a believer but do not be a blind follower or voter. Idolatry is both a political and spiritual mistake. Why adore would-be public servants? The last time people cheered servants was when they fed them to lions. Ironically, it’s you they are feeding to lions. For more often than not, they are the lions!

We can have disciplined and moral elections if we choose to, not the noisy, dirty, violent and shameful ones we have had for so long. If we can hack it this time by electing disciplined and moral leaders, we could have fewer disasters (or, at least, one disaster less). God is not asleep and knows how to care for obedient followers. Ultimately, God’s way is our choice.

Passions, then, must give way to disciplined thinking and living. Know what is true and right and work toward perfecting the craft of living a righteous life. The Japanese Samurais attained perfection in their way of life, albeit violent for common taste; but if we acquired the same discipline in our moral lives, imagine what we can do as a nation. Let other people herald their deeds and their promises. Our common duty is to show everyone that we want a better deal in the way we build our cities and towns and that means a better deal in governance. Let us choose to lead as individuals by having disciplined and moral lives and even our leaders will follow us.

Pinoys – as one -- have a choice. Unless and until we make this idealistic and uncomfortable choice, we will end up where we find ourselves today: in a looping, disaster reality-movie. Seeing our country-folk on CNN or National Geographic as real-life actors in tragic events is not only embarrassing and humbling; it is mentally, emotionally and spiritually torturous. For such gentle, God-fearing and self-effacing people to suffer so, there must be something wrong with how we behave and that God does have something to tell us that we fail to heed. For if we did what was right, sin, terror and death would not be right behind our doors knocking every night.

Ours may not be the only country going through the same fate but we have no time to understand others’ lot. Let us make our own choices and chart our own course first before we deal with helping others. We have so much to correct in our own backyard that once we accomplish what needs to be done here, we can have the desire and capacity to extend whatever good influence we may have. For now, we need to look inward and begin a real revolution within us.

We, Pinoys, have a choice! A disciplined and moral choice. This could be our last chance.

(Above photo: Engr. Cesar Yniquez, left, of UP ACES (Assoc. of Civil Engineering Students, Alumni Chapter), assisted by Mang Nonoy of UP Admin. Division, joins the group's tree-planting project at the University Avenue grounds last Saturday, October 24, in anticipation of the UP College of Engineering Centennial in 2010.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Damming Evidence

In response to Mrs. Monsod’s "Analysis" on, I have these to say:

1. Timing of the release was dependent upon attaining the end-objective of dam operators which is to fill up the dam. You do not release until you have enough water in the dam. The five days or more of waiting was exactly the time the dam needed to do that.

2. When she said NPC “panicked” and released so much water which caused the flooding, she did not take into consideration that Pepeng came back twice and wreaked havoc upon Northern Luzon three times and, hence, poured an inordinate amount of water than anyone can handle. Common sense will tell us that if you have a full dam, you have no other choice but to “release” as much water as you can to prevent causing damage to your structure. The “panic” came because there was no other move but to “let pass” (not anymore “release”) the surplus water Pepeng delivered.

3. The rate of “release” was not dictated by dam operators but by the amount of water falling into and passing through the dam. It was reported that at first the rate was 500 cu m per second and progressively increased to 600 cms, to 2,500 cms and then to more than 5,000 cms. That, in simple terms, is the better and only logical option than all the water of the dam bursting through a broken dam.

4. Finally, considering that Pangasinan has a total land area of 5,368.8 sq km or 5,368.8 million sq m and San Roque Dam’s watershed area is 9,500 hectares or 95 million sq m, we have a ratio of about 56.5:1. Using official estimates of 80% of Pangasinan as having been underwater, we derive a flooded area of 4,295 million sq m. Using this conservative figure against the watershed area of San Roque, we still have a ratio of 45:1. Meaning, more than 40 times the amount of rain that fell and collected into San Roque Dam eventually and actually fell upon the entire province of Pangasinan and coursed through the waterways, part of it joining the comparatively smaller volume coming from the dam’s spillway and the bigger part going directly into the towns that got submerged. You might feel the sting of a cup of water spurting from a water pistol; but it will not fill up a basin the way 45 cups poured slowly into it will. To put the blame of the flooding on the dam alone is to say that the last straw broke the camel’s back.

Generally, rains fall evenly upon the land, whether up on the mountains or over the plains. That is why meteorologists measure the amount of rainfall by inches or millimeters per day. Area, then, determines volume. This whole issue has not highlighted this fact, but rather focused on a part which is much smaller than what reality presents.

Again, I say that with or without the dam, there would have been flooding because for so many centuries we failed to work within the signs or warnings given to us by Nature that the land can only absorb so much water and that we must allow the rest to flow over wide channels and direct them to the sea without causing damage to lives, lands, farms and properties. A dam mitigates flooding by storing some of the rainfall. It is not a miracle-solution to eradicate our neglect in preparing the land so that it will be spared from disastrous floods.

(Photo above: Calm Subic Bay -- while Typhoon Ramil (a.k.a. Lupit) threatens Northern Luzon, beach lovers were treated to this vista of friendly water, mountain and sky, so far away from the tortured memories of another time, place and story.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Dam if You Do, Dam if You Don’t

Even in the aftermath of Ondoy and Pepeng, our country continues to reel and roll like an empty steel barrel careening on a rampaging river fed by a monstrous tropical typhoon. Also, it seems those two killer visitors brought out the many hidden cracks in our already weakened foundations of our society.

In an effort to find out what happened, many voices – official and unofficial, wise and otherwise – have expressed exasperation, anger and hopelessness over the government’s neglect, mismanagement and unpreparedness in the face of disasters. One major target of public indignation was the NAPOCOR engineers’ supposedly untimely release of waters from San Roque Dam. That is, the flooding in Central Luzon was caused by delayed release of water. Lawmakers and critics were quick to release their own putrid floodwaters upon those beleaguered engineers during a Senate hearing.

Flood us and we will flood you!

But the engineers did exactly what they were supposed to do, for several simple reasons:

1. A dam’s purpose is to, well, dam water in order to store as much water as possible for future use. As the rains fall, dams are filled up to their optimum carrying capacity.
2. When there is more rainfall than needed to fill up the reservoir, water is allowed to spill over to protect the structural integrity of dams.
3. The timing (when) and the rate of release (how much per minute) of water from a dam is left for engineers to determine. Obviously, on the side of certainty, engineers would have to assume that a typhoon’s rainfall is the last chance it has to impound enough water to capacity level. Hence, the time of release would be that moment just before or, possibly, when capacity has been reached. Again, that would be a decision based on the rate the dam is filling up. So, whether we have a fast-filling or a slow-filling rainfall, the amount of water to be released will be computed based on when the rains (assuming it does not cease) will fill up the dam.

To make it simpler, when taking a bath using a pail and a tub, you take out as much water from the pail at about the same rate the pail is filling up. This is to prevent the pail from overflowing. One may get water as fast as possible to keep the water low. But in the dam’s case, the rain may not stop and the release of more water becomes inevitable. It fills up and water has to be released. Hence, the rate is both determined by the rate of the rainfall and how much water has been stored.

4. Furthermore, the rate of rainfall – hence, the corresponding rate of release -- is complicated by the added effect of water runoff within a dam’s watershed (the enclosed area that captures the rain and collects all that water behind the dam). The less forest cover there is, the greater the rate a dam fills up.

In brief, we see that dam operators base their decisions on their objectives of storing water, of releasing water to feed irrigation canals as needed, of generating power and of alleviating (not preventing) flooding during the rainy season. The tricky nature of the fourth role puts the operators between nature’s unpredictable ways and people’s unsavory opinions.

Flooding, when there is more rain than the land can absorb or handle, is inevitable and is further aggravated by the denudation of forest covers in the dam’s surrounding watershed and the failure of waterways to drain waters readily to the sea. To blame dam engineers for flooding is too much to ask from these people who must work only within the reasonable parameters that nature will allow. If they must be blamed, blame also the other engineers who fail to dredge creeks and rivers, the politicians who allow people to build houses along water channels and the illegal loggers who destroy forests.

Maybe we can blame nature for its unpredictable ways. But why blame anyone or anything at all? Are engineers such clueless and heartless creatures that they should take all the blame?

There is a simpler way to look at this issue graphically and more clearly. Look at it this way: If there was no dam, would there have been flooding? Of course! In 1972 when Central Luzon was flooded, there were still no San Roque or Pantabangan Dams. Who did we blame way back then in the absence of dam engineers? They built the dams, precisely, to alleviate flooding. The fact that the dams are there should be reason for us to be thankful that the flooding did not reach Noahic magnitudes!

There is a corollary illustration which will finally bring home the point and help ordinary readers to put the blame where it should put or, if not, thrown where it should be discarded entirely. This was brought to my mind while I traversed the Candaba Viaduct along NLEX. Cruising in a bus above the glistening floodwaters that covered the Candaba Swamp, one can appreciate the unchallenged prominence of Mt. Arayat over the Pampanga rice fields. I almost felt like Noah seeing Mt. Ararat itself rising above the receding Great Flood. What is this anomalous mount doing in the vast expanse of Central Plains of Luzon? It looks out of place. It should not be there at all!

During Ondoy’s visit, Arayat town in Pampanga was flooded and remains so at the present. But what if Mt. Arayat had not been there at all? Would there have been a flood? Of course! The mountain – like a dam – absorbs or stores as much rainfall as it can through its soil, its underground aquifers, its trees, its animals and its vegetation. Beyond that, the rivers carry the excess water to the lowlands. Anything not stored on the mountain or underground and carried away by the river to the sea, will remain as floodwaters. If Mt. Arayat had not been there, imagine how much worse the flooding would have been in Arayat and its neighboring towns?

A dam then is a veritable mountain that stores water. It holds visible water while a mountain hides it. Humans built the first; God provided the second. Let us be thankful we have dams and we have forested mountains like Mt. Arayat that can still absorb enough water. Maybe, just maybe, we could blame sin for the flooding that occurred. It has happened once or twice before. But that might not be something an engineer should say. Yet, as one, I would gladly take the blame for I, too, am a sinner.

We have some of the most diligent and intelligent engineers in the world. Many of them work in the best companies in Asia, in the Middle East and in the major industrial countries. To make them culpable for a disaster that they did not cause is an injustice. To accuse them of wrongdoing in spite of their having done their work well is pitifully foolish.

If there were no politicians or journalists who spoke as if they already knew the conclusions before the technical people were able to explain fully and clearly how civil works functioned, or, who listened and failed to understand as they should have, we would still have a society that would operate. Perhaps, it will function even much better.

(Photo above: Floodwaters in Candaba Swamp.)

Saturday, October 03, 2009

What Images of Ondoy’s Damage Teach Us

View this Music Video Tribute to Ondoy-Ketsana Flood Victims

The images made the heart succumb with unbelief and horror: cars floating in the flood current or piled on top of one another after the flood; people huddled on rooftops, unable to reach safe ground or unreachable by rescue teams; and, the most terrifying of all, people standing on what seems like floating debris on a rampaging river rushing at such speed that all one can do is weep and wave goodbye.

The final scene reminded me of that time when I lived in Marikina (yes, the same town in the news today) in a subdivision which turned into a lake after an hour or two of continues rain. After one particularly heavy downpour which submerged all the streets and left our driveway and the rest of the house dry, I stood behind the post of the gate surveying the Venice-in-Marikina panorama.

As the water flowed past our house, I saw this fiery-red clump of trash floating lazily by. When it became clear that it was a colony of giant red ants, I suddenly had this childish urge to drown them. This was long before I became an environmentalist (read: before I had gained enough common sense in dealing with nature and life). So, I threw a stone at the ants hoping to displace them from whatever they were floating on. Only to find out that there was nothing between them and the water! The ants had floated by sheer self and common buoyancy. Or for some other reason. The colony had formed a pyramid to float to safety. (Whoever taught them to do that, I raise my admiring hands and fold my humble knees to.) Scattered on the water, the ants scampered to find a foothold on solid ground. They swam (walked on water actually!) toward the nearest object they knew would give them refuge – the post I was leaning upon. An army of vicious ants was now attacking me!

Well, I was bigger and smarter, I thought, and got some matches and old newspaper. If water spared them, fire will not! Many ants died that day, fried and frittered on the floodwaters. War brings out the worst in humans oftentimes, even against the most innocent and helpless creatures of God. In my viciousness, I felt triumphant.

Several days later, I came home and noticed a trail of red ants crawling up from the garden where I had my previous battle, upon the house façade and all the way beneath the roof. The ants had survived water and fire, not to mention my mean ways! How did I react? I gained so much respect for the ants and their Creator, I let them live with me and my family for as long as they wanted to.

I don’t know what happened to those people who rode the river on nothing but flotsam and a flickering hope that someone would come to their aid. God, Who gave ants such instincts and survival skills must have a reason why He would allow humans – gifted with greater wisdom and abilities than ants, supposedly – to perish in no less cruel a manner, so it seems.

Almost 300 people died from the devastation that Typhoon Ondoy caused in September 2009, a month to be remembered for its many dire stories and its heroic scenes. As a nation tries to recover from the grief and damage, one can only stop to think what precious and practical lessons that can be learned.

First and foremost, of course, is culled from this nursery song: All things bright and beautiful, creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all. Like the ants and the cockroaches which we as children (and even as adults) somehow learn to despise, everything has a purpose in the circle of Life. That includes the trees, the rivers and the mountains. Kill or destroy any one of these and we also kill and destroy ourselves and our homes.

Floods, like taxes and cancer, have been with humans for as long as we can remember. Perhaps, we cannot give humans all the honor of causing floods. The dishonor belongs to those, among others, who continue to court disaster by building structures and living beside rivers and thereby eventually constricting the flow of water. The shame goes to those planners or officials who have not given enough space for water to flow down from the hills and mountains and let it reach the ocean with as much volume and violence as it wants. We can certainly control its flow with modern technology but only if we first learn and respect its ways. In the meantime, is it at all possible to enforce the law (I know there is one) or enact one that provides a 50-meter (make it 100 meters) open zone along beaches and the banks of rivers and lakes? No houses or buildings, only parks, bike-lanes or promenades. No malls or factories, only trees, flowers and grasses. No human structures expect, perhaps, dikes or walls to keep away the flood.

Yes, we have flood control systems properly designed and constructed within the limits provided by existing urban realities. Mangahan Floodway is located near one of the most populated areas in Metro Manila – Pasig City, near Marikina and Cainta (another town badly hit by Ondoy). It was designed to allow some water from Marikina River to be diverted to Laguna Lake and thereby alleviating flooding in Metro Manila. But what happens when Laguna de Bay, which finally drains into Manila Bay via Pasig River, overflows? The catastrophic answer was provided by Ondoy: Water from the mountains and from a large lake beside the Metro flooded the towns located right beside the rivers and the lake, such as the towns of Tanay, Pateros and Taguig City. Perhaps, the better plan was to build another outlet for Laguna de Bay that is deeper and wider than the constricted Pasig River.

We “destroyed” the rivers and lakes by building around them such structures that prevent them from breathing and moving with freedom and clarity: subdivisions (Provident Village in Marikina was one of those worst hit), malls (whoever thought of building a shopping mall beside a river?), hotels and amusements parks (Riverbanks in Marikina was submerged), factories (again, those along Marikina and Pasig Rivers) and commercial buildings along the bodies of water.

The amount of rainfall as a major cause of flooding was not -- or is not – totally unavoidable, contrary to common belief. The past heavy floodings in the Metro should have been enough to convince us that the worst was yet to come. With relatively fewer people and structures in the late ‘60’s, we should have done a massive and unforgiving flood control design that will prevent constricting the bloodlines of the megacity; but we did not. This is the primary goal before we can make any sensible design. Moreover, this objective will not be attainable without addressing other related issues such as: population control, enforcement of urban zoning laws, relocation of informal settlers and, most importantly, restoration of estuarial areas to their rightful owners – the creeks, rivers and lakes and not to private individuals or companies.

When I first arrived in Mandaluyong in 1965, my cousins and I played with the ducks on a shallow, sandstone-bed creek behind the houses. There were trees along the banks and the water was clear and clean enough to wade in. But signs of urban blight slowly crawled upon our town and the surrounding districts back then. I remember a flood there in 1967, I think, which was inevitable for the government-owned residential area (it was called a squatters’ area then) was located beside the creek. With the burgeoning population in the Metro, officials allowed more and more people to occupy what should have been estuarial areas off-limits to human habitation. (By the early ‘70’s, the creek – murky and stinking -- had disappeared from view when shanties sprouted along and on top of it.)

The main point is that the greatest amount of water or an extremely high rate of rainfall within a short period of time – worst-case scenario, they call it – can always be assumed before making any design for a flood-control system. Provide enough open and wide channels (like the ones in Makati) to convey the water and everyone can sleep easy through the night. The closed canal they built underneath España Extension is obviously insufficient. So with many channels we have built. Time to redesign and to rebuild! Ondoy has shown us the way.

This is not blaming but assessing what we have and projecting ourselves into the future. This is not crying over spilt milk or, more to the point, merely seeing the mess as water under the bridge. It is precisely the best lesson we can learn from Ondoy, one we must accept with humility, if not remorse. And there are so many more lessons which we will come to know soon enough. Unless and until we face this problem squarely, we will continue to float in a wet limbo.

Open, wide and unobstructed channels that can take in as much water as it can from an angry Nature. Oh, yes, did we forget to say that Nature is on a rampage to repay all that we have done to her or neglected to do for her for so many years? Yes, it is an expensive proposition; but any monetary value is nowhere near the real value of Life and of Nature which sustains that Life.

All things wise. . ., wait, doesn’t that include us humans? Are we not wise enough to figure out what is right and necessary to make our lives so much better than what we have now? God made us indeed; but as it is, we make Him not so proud of us. In fact, as in the days of Noah, He could be angry – really angry -- at us. If Noah could spend more than a hundred years building the expensive Ark to save the world, how much are we willing to spend today to save our own lives and our cities? (In one of life’s fateful twists, I missed watching the musical N.O.A.H.* at the Meralco Theater last Sunday because it was flooded out. I had just released a new book on the same theme of Noah and the Flood and eagerly wanted to compare notes on the story’s relevance in our times. Talk about timing and relevance!)

A nation remains poor, languishing and subject to destruction because it fails to spend for things that are truly of value. Like ants, humans will survive, but only by God’s grace. Are we not much more valuable than ants? Then, why do we allow ourselves to die like helpless infants? Ants know how to work with Nature and survive; but humans continue to work against it and reap the consequences.

Yes, it is the time to go out and help the afflicted survivors and assuage their suffering; but it is also the time to remind those who have the ability to prevent more suffering to do their job. Our Christian duties of healing and of convicting go hand in hand. We have two arms: the right to hold the sword that makes us do righteous deeds and the left to hold the shield against evil attacks. To leave ourselves defenseless while rebuilding our homes will make us easy victims to the predators around us. Time no longer allows us the luxury of being nice to those who wantonly destroy for selfish reasons.
Rebuilding requires destroying such things that prevent us from progressing. No, not by destroying wicked people but by removing the mess they have done in our midst. A flood teaches us to clean up – really clean up -- our lives.

(Photo above: Muddy road and loads of trash after Typhoon Ondoy in Marikina City.)

*"No Ordinary Aquatic Habitat", a Trumpets Family Musical

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Typhoon Ondoy Flushes Metro Manila (09sep26)

Suddenly, we realize once again that Nature is still in control over our lives and not us who controls it. A wake-up call? Yet in the midst of this new calamity, we see so much compassion and heroism and, therefore, enough reason for hope and renewal.

Manariwa tayo!

Photo above: Street in a Quezon City subdivision becomes a river for kids to splash in.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Baguio Haikus (A Hundred Years After)

A complex city

Reduced to a dilemma,

Crowded hideaway.

A monstrosity

Transformed into grotesqueness,

A concrete pine tree.

Where are the cone trees

Glistening on the hillsides?

Cut! Behind billboards!

A mall-shaped giant

Sucks the city of its life:

Light, water, space, sense.

A friend of mine said:

Here's proof to all of where not

To build a city.

The frost disappeared,

The iced-covered roadsides passed

A long time ago.

Where is the native

With swarthy skin and g-string?

Where is innocence?

Whose vision was it

To raise a town in the clouds?

There, ask the horses!

Before a town rose

There lay a village serene,

Then the bombs rained down.

Over this city

They've fought to get to the gold;

Now there's only fools'.

City-dwellers come

Not to hike pine-scented trails

But to dance and drink.

The height of folly

Was not the Babel Tower;

It's now, it's this, here!

Faith's grand melting pot

Rests on this pillared plateau,

Each heart a stranger.

If they all declare

To agree to disagree,

Who will lead the blind?

Strawberry, lemon,

Broccoli, beans and carrots:

Live, grow, give, nourish.

Here is nature's nest;

The good, the vile may leave it

Better or viler.

Thanks for all the years

We walked the dark lonely paths

To find life's treasures.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Going Crazy over Art

For so many years, I searched for the book (and the video) on Vincent van Gogh’s story, Lust for Life, but failed. YouTube came to the rescue the other day and piped out 12 video clips of the 1956 classic movie starring Kirk Douglas as the painter and Anthony Quinn as Paul Gauguin. (Tag: lust for life 1, 2, etc.) (I was too young to watch it then.)

In spite of its oldness, the film’s story-line, acting, dialogue and cinematography exude a raw freshness and earthy sincerity one hardly finds in many modern films bent on being romantically cute or technologically glamorous. The passion of the main characters is matched by the production’s own intense desire to highlight the “lust” that drove a great painter to heights or depths of artistic achievement and moral self-discovery.

In one scene, van Gogh and Gauguin argue over how the sky should be rendered on canvas. The former suggests it should have texture to make it come alive, to which the latter adamantly cries, “That’s the way I see it -- flat!” Passion vs. passion. Perspective vs.perspective. Style vs. style. Two great artists looking at one subject with varying creative eyes and minds. Paul eventually leaves the tortured van Gogh, who in his extreme loneliness and manic depression, ends up in an asylum.

Art, however, does not make us lose sanity; it is our inordinate passions or lusts for the things we value, art being only one possible avenue leading to our so-called self-actualization. For how can art, which is a by-product of benevolent nature, be a source of evil? How can wine, a natural result of physical processes, be destructive per se? It is what we do with the good or the freedom we have that creates imbalance and evil in this world.

In van Gogh’s case, art set him free. His desire to capture the “dignity of toil” in his paintings of peasants and factory-workers helped him to express his Christian duty to honor and uplift the poor and the oppressed. His seemingly futile efforts in duplicating nature’s beauty in two-dimension somehow provided a means for channeling his creative energies which his loneliness sought to imprison. It was also his art which kept him alive in body and spirit, as well as in the eyes of his dear brother Theo, his friends and, perhaps, many of us today.

Yes, art is meant to expand our minds, our souls and our relationships. That is where the real and encompassing value of art lies. Hence, anything that diminishes our humanity, as individuals and as a community, is not art but vanity or whatever other clever disguises society has provided for art. And so, when we use art for self-glorification, we corrupt art and ourselves. When that happens, we isolate ourselves from others. As in van Gogh’s case, our isolation may lead to insanity.

Today, like van Gogh, Philippine society totters near the edge of insanity over the issue of the National Artist Awards. With politics and economics thrown into the overheated pan for good measure, what we have brewing is a recipe no less toxic and violent as those we digest daily through media from the conflicts in Basilan or Afghanistan. A virtual war waged with words that could only lead to the disappearance of Harmony, Peace and Unity – a fate worse than insanity.

On that corner, stand NA awardees themselves and their friends opposing the nominations of Alvarez, Caparas and others. On the other corner, stand the nominees and their supporters. The first group claims the violation of due process while the second says otherwise. Add to these, public opinion and we hear chaotic noise swelling up to heaven where it ends up as one common voice, saying: “I am right!” Sometimes, it sounds like “I have the right!”

Where is the freedom that art promises us in our minds and souls? The sacrifice that van Gogh went through to try to attain artistic and moral excellence? The purity of purpose that artists start out with but very often end up losing when tempted by the carrot-stick of honors, allowances and national glory? Do we as artists ever feel the profound inadequacy van Gogh felt when he encountered beauty in nature? Or as persons, do we feel at all privileged and overwhelmed by the great Artist and Creator Who gave us everything and promised us honor which we, in our pride, have appropriated for ourselves or for others?

The honor and support we give people who attain excellence is but a recognition of the tiny reflection of the goodness that comes from Heaven’s benevolence. The psalmist said, “Promotion comes from God.” A person achieves greatness because he or she has harnessed the talents granted to him or her. There may be nothing wrong with wanting to get awards; but, perhaps, there is something vain about it. There may be nothing wrong with giving awards; but, perhaps, there is something presumptuous about it. Vanity feeding on vanity. Or as Solomon said, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!”

Laurels -- and a good name -- were once prized above gold for what they truly represented: honor and glory in human accomplishment. The human desire for recognition is a normal attitude. Even dogs love to be patted on the head. But when money, position and the power they bring entered the picture, the predators of vanity grew and multiplied. We institutionalized awards and gave them left and right. Even religion handed out titles to those who exemplified saintliness or ecclesiastical devotion. Hence, the Apostles and saints now adorn the pillars of Rome and the many churches in far-flung places, something they would have frowned upon in their lifetime. We enacted laws to proclaim who should be honored and how they should be placed so that others may emulate them. Living or dead, our great achievers are set up high above the masses to see and adulate. Our art, in general, has become nothing but a consensual form of idolatry. Vanity of vanities! Who could be higher and greater than the One Who was lifted up on a cross and raised into Heaven to rule over all things? We want real honor? Do what He tells us to do.

But then we say: Our laws have declared it and must be followed. In case the people are divided on what the law says, let the judges decide. Now, we can be still and wait for the verdict. Really? Of course not! The protests will continue (until people get what they want – what pride!) and the counter-protests will not cease (neither will their own pride give in). Oh, vanity of vanities!

Perhaps, not unlike van Gogh, we have painted ourselves into a corner because of our inordinate passion, but for the wrong things. Our carnal obsession for recognition and for legal redress has blinded us to the simplicity of what truly matter in art or in life, which are one in essence: Glory, Honor and Immortality. We really think we humans can award that to ourselves? God sent His Son to make that a reality and even added Peace as a concomitant reward. Yet, in all our puny goal of lifting ourselves above our own mediocrity, we sacrificed Harmony and Peace which are the only strong foundation of a truly creative and progressive society. The Prince of Peace lived and died to make it a reality. Yet, today, we spit at His face and cry blood once again.

Our country prides itself for being Christ’s follower and yet we have failed to even listen to His way of settling things. Brother goes to court against brother. In this you shame yourselves. Whether it is a political, civil or domestic case, the court of law is called in to arbitrate. Yet, it is merely the start of an unending conflict of interests and opinions. It will rage on for years and even through generations. Who will suffer? Not just our children but also our children’s children? We might attain a social, legal, military or political peace but what simmer underneath will be the hurt pride, the gnawing hatred and the bitter anger. What finally remains of the fabric of society is made up of flimsy, self-oriented egos pulling hard in many directions. Before Heaven, we appear poor, naked and blind.

Vanity of vanities! What we are fighting for are honors that will rot in this world. These are temporal glories based on pitiable human efforts. The greatest symphony ever written and the best painting by any human are but tiny reflections of the beauty God put in our lives. Why can’t we wait for the true riches or genuine rewards which He alone may grant? Why do we squabble over our own paltry rights? Why not rather be defrauded? Why not give in? Why not humble yourself and wait for God to promote you?

“Whom the gods wish to destroy, they make crazy.” Whoever said that serves a warning for us now. A nation divided over how its government is being run, will always end up being divided. A society partitioned over who should receive honor and who should not, will end up dishonored. But a people who seek approval from God and honor Him with their righteous and submissive ways will attain Peace, Glory, Honor and Immortality. Not just in the world to come but right here and now.

God’s artist waits on His favor in silence and does not seek vainglory. For True Art builds Life, Peace and Harmony, not Death, War and Conflict. Against such Art there is no law.

(Painting above: Van Gogh's "Sower with Setting Sun")

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Cory: Matters of the Heart

Former President Corazon C. Aquino has become part of a glorious Philippine history. The outpouring of affection and honor for her person and her life’s work has proven beyond doubt the extent of her influence on the Philippine and the global community.

How do we explain this social phenomenon? What meanings does the name Cory bear in this so-called “benighted” nation?

Corazon means “heart” in Spanish. Cory could mean “substantial” (full of “core”) in English. In the Filipino mind, however, it means so many things: renewal, power, courage, faith, humility, simplicity and personal grace. And many more.

Cory Aquino was born into a wealthy family -- which makes her extraordinary to many of us who are extraordinarily poor in an extraordinarily blessed tropical country. From being a humble Christian housewife, she became a strong crisis-president. Her life symbolizes the highest possibilities that this nation can achieve and has indeed been destined to achieve for itself. If only we can see through the forest fires raging right in the “heartland” of this nation.

Filipinos, in general, grow up accustomed to the image of a burning heart (“Corazon de Jesus”) which symbolizes the agony of the Lord Jesus (as depicted in many Catholic Church artworks). It seems the suffering of this small nation is eternally tied to the “unfinished suffering of Christ in the flesh” which Apostle Paul wrote about and which became the ultimate life-motto of Cory herself. She lived to be the “heart of Jesus” for her people. And in so many ways, she succeeded.

Perhaps, it is ironic then that the death of Cory should bring back to the Philippines the same euphoria of the EDSA Revolution in 1986 – not as a celebration of freedom from a dictatorship but as a national impulse of rejoicing at one woman’s life who, at first, reluctantly sought to champion political and social justice and ended up giving the world a shining model of democracy and peace. Broken though were the many hearts at the sight of Cory’s cancer-wracked body when she lay in the hospital and when she eventually expired, those same hearts now overflow with triumphant life. Those hearts – images of Cory’s own -- have not allowed suffering to destroy but have overcome and recovered a renewed faith in God in the face of death and defeat.

The paradox of joy in sorrow indeed abounds in this land of contrasts: wealth and poverty, sacrifice and corruption, holiness and depravity, faith and dishonesty. Where else in this world can you find opulence marching along side-by-side with poverty because someone who was rich lived a simple life in order to bring together the two and, in return, is greatly loved by both? Where else can you find the saintly and the wicked sit down together because someone who lived a pure life challenged the vile in order to bring about change in their lives and, in so doing, show that godliness is the way to true life? Where else can you find the faithful converse freely with unfaithful because someone who had such deep faith in God showed a shining example of trust in God and, thereby, adding to the diminishing store of holiness in this world?

Cory, then, means “heartful” because of the great love she had for her God and for her people. Like Abraham who lived out his name, Cory likewise lived up to her name. And from the testimonies of those who knew her well, Cory also means “hurt-ful” in that she suffered more than many of us. And like the Lord Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, Cory also learned to turn her pains into diamonds of glory. The “heartaches” that her own daughter admitted to have pricked Cory’s heart will someday serve to lead us to sow and to bear fruits of righteousness, if we all but take it to heart. For unless the heart forgives, it cannot love.

Cory, finally, means “heart-felt” exultation. The people who cheered her name and clapped their hands as her coffin was carried out of the Manila Cathedral, then into Manila Memorial Park and, finally, inside the tomb, gave her the best expression of their respect for her – the acknowledgment of their joy at having her for their leader and paragon in life. Many of those people ran toward her grave – unmindful of the security cordon set up by the police -- and shouted her name because in the dark, rainy night of her interment they felt even more the light of her love burning in their own hearts.

We cheer or clap after a great performance. Thousands clapped for Cory for the sterling performance of a life lived out well for God and for others. Our own hearts clapped with a “heartwarming” gratitude for the gift of an offered life to God.

And when the sorrow and the rejoicing have run their course through the many rites and traditions we have made for ourselves in our sojourn through life, we will all remain still and listen to our own hearts and search for the real meaning of our own being. Are we any better or much worse at having seen a person baring her brave, broken heart for all people to see? Or is our heart only at peace because we have merely seen and heard and have not really understood the heart of the matter?

What matters to the heart is a question of life and death. Or more precisely, the eternal issue of life. Thank you, Tita Cory, for reminding us.

(Photos taken at Cory's funeral wake at Manila Cathedral in Intramuros on August 4, 2009.)