Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Luxuriating in John Paul the Great: a list of the "Ten Accomplishments" of the 263rd successor to Peter, according to a fervent admirer.

In the last of his three visits to his native Poland, Pope John Paul II,
famous for his love of nature and an athlete in his younger days, takes a break in the mountains of Malopolska

For  two weeks or so prior to the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, I had been deep into reading various sources on their lives in preparation for my trip to Rome for the great event of their joint canonization in St. Peter's Square. After giving you, my readers, accounts (and photos) of actual scenes in Rome last Friday and Saturday,  just prior to the great event, then the event itself last Sunday and the immediate post-event, I'd like to devote my next few blogs to analyses of the contributions of these two new great saints in the human and spiritual spheres.  

For starters, let me feature here a compilation by Dr. Luis Esteban Latorre, Ph.D. in Philosophy of History (his thesis on the British philosopher/historian Christopher Dawson) and a tenured professor emeritus of the Dept. of European Languages at UP Diliman, of what he considers the "THE TEN ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF ST.JOHN PAUL II." 

Dr. Latorre stresses that this list is based on a 45-minute podcast-format lecture by American writer and professor George Weigel, delivered at the Colorado Catholic College in Denver, Colorado. Weigel is  acknowledged as one of the world's leading authorities on the Catholic Church and a prominent biographer of newly-minted saint John Paul II.


As Dr. Latorre explained to this blogger, "On my own initiative, I ventured to write a summary of the great writer GEORGE WEIGEL's ideas which are found throughout his two-volume biography of (then Blessed) John Paul II." Latorre expressed the hope that "this summary will help you organize your thoughts and  be a great help to you in writing your series of blogs, preparatory to your trip to Rome for the GREAT CANONIZATION of APRIL 27, 2014."  

Going through Latorre's summary list based on George Weigel's lecture/biography of St. John Paul II, this blogger realized that the best thing to do is to publish this list as it's quite comprehensive. Then what I plan to do is to pick out certain points he raised and illustrate some of them, mainly by citing vivid and colorful anecdotes about JPII that Weigel so excellently researched and captured in his monumental two volumes, titled "Witness to Hope," (a New York Times best-seller) and its sequel, "The End and the Beginning."

I began reading through Weigel's books myself over the past week and continued it aboard the plane to Europe;  and indeed JPII came across so vivid and captivating that I hardly slept on the long flight. Weigel's books are out of stock in Manila, but if ever you folks could get hold of them, you'd simply be amazed by all that you'll learn about the 263rd successor of Peter, whom the world refers to now as "St.John Paul the Great."

But  just so that you admirers of St. John XXIII won't think I am neglecting him or playing favorites, I shall devote another blog to this much-loved pontiff from Bergamo, Italy, whom the world likes to refer to as "the good pope"---centering mainly on his monumental achievement: the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65.


Here's Dr. Esteban Latorre's summary of points in George Weigel's work, which he titled "Ten Accomplishments of John Paul II":

"1) In less than a year after he was elected Pope in 1978, JPII wrote his signature encyclical REDEMPTOR HOMINIS in which he defined the true meaning of Christian Humanism vis a vis the Secular Humanism of the 20th Century, which was corroding the Catholic Church specially through the different forms of MODERNIST HERESIES.  This was a very deep philosophy of the former Karol Wojtyla which he brought to Rome for the first time in the 1960s, when at the age of 39 he attended the Second Vatican Council as a young auxiliary bishop of Krakow (perhaps the youngest bishop delegate).

"2). As Pope, JPII clearly defined the most outstanding characteristic of his Christian Humanism.  It was not man-centered nor a "selfie" type of religion but one which was based on giving of self to God, and to neighbor for the love of God.  This, incidentally, was re-echoed by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his first encyclical DEUS CARITAS EST.  The big difference between Secular Humanism and Christian Humanism is that the latter is based on LOVE and not on selfishness or egoism.

"3). From JPII's first pastoral visit to his home country Poland in 1979, within 10 years--- with the "collaboration" of two great world leaders (US President Reagan and UK PM Thatcher) who believed in the Judaeo-Christian world view against the Marxist-Leninist philosophy being propagated from the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe---COMMUNISM was literally toppled down. This was symbolically represented by the crumbling of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  JPII, certainly not singled-handedly, but with his personal charismatic leadership -- which only a man of his greatness could have handled---helped destroy world communism.

In fact, George Weigel asserts that the day JPII kissed the soil of his native Poland as he descended from his jet plane there for the first time as Pope, "that symbolic gesture of the Vicar of Christ marked the beginning of the end for Marxist Communism."

"4). To the new emerging democracies in all seven continents which were awakened to a new political reality after the end of the Cold War, JPII cautioned and taught them that their new-found freedoms had to be used well.  Freedom is a two-edged sword which could be used as a weapon for building a Christian Humanism in the world, or it could be abused and bring about more problems and woes to the world.

"5). He revived the Catholic Church's interest in a genuine ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT, began by his predecessors John XXIII and Paul VI, which had already been partially abandoned even by the mainstream Protestant churches.  JPII pushed for real unity among Christian religions and even non-Christian faiths.  This was clearly expressed in his Apostolic Exhortation UNUM SINT.

"6). MORE ON ECUMENISM: JPII was not one to believe in superficial and false ecumenical initiatives pushed by pseudo-reformists of the post-Vatican II era, specially in the Liturgical Movements, wherein they tried to erase the very basic doctrinal and disciplinary differences between the Catholic forms of worship and the religious services of other religions.  He advocated a deep study of theology which became the basis of Benedict XVI's famous "reform of the reform" of the Liturgical Renewal of the post-Vatican II era.

"7). He maintained a steady and strong position on the TRUE DIALOGUE based on TRUTH (not COMPROMISE)  betweeen FAITH on one hand, and REASON & SCIENCE on the other hand.  As a very deep philosopher well-entrenched in Thomistic Philosophy (Benedict XVI was more Augustinian than Thomistic), JPII was not afraid to tackle the centuries-old conflicts between SCIENCE and the CATHOLIC FAITH;  the usual issues like the Galileo question, the Creationist interpretation of the book of Genesis of the Bible, etc.

"8). In the Pro-Life Movement, he re-affirmed Paul VI's HUMANAE VITAE, and early in his pontificate he wrote the magna carta for Christian families:  FAMILIARIS CONSORTIO.  More than just championing  anti-abortion and anti-divorce currents (all based on the contraceptive mentality that had infected even Catholic priests and bishops, as evidenced by the weak opposition to the RH Bill in our country the Philippines), JPII wrote, talked and preached about a new THEOLOGY OF THE BODY, updating all the traditional Catholic norms of morality on sex, marriage, reproduction, family-life, etc. with very deep and serious research by family experts he hired to work in the Vatican to advise him on this new THEOLOGY OF THE BODY.

"9). JPII made sure that all these efforts of reform would be "canonized" or "crystallized" by two monumental works of compilation and updating:  the NEW CODE OF CANON LAW and the new official CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH.  His entire 28-year pontificate was a living catechesis, bringing the Gospel of Christ and the doctrine of the Church to every corner of the world, comparable only to the apostolic journeys of the great Apostle Paul.

"10). In his person, in his pontificate, in his documents and writings, and in the sufferings he physically bore in his body after dozens of surgical interventions (specially after the attempted assasination of the Turk ALI AGCA whom he eventually personally forgave), the great John Paul II synthesized in his person the great mind of a world-class intellectual enshrined in a human body full of great humanity, overflowing with the GRACE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.

"In Karol Wojtyla, eventually JPII, we witnessed a living example of the DEPTH OF CHRISTIAN DISCIPLESHIP lived to the most heroic extreme.  He was truly a great, great saint and after the great Popes like Gregory the Great and Leo the Great whom the Church has unstintingly recognized as "Great,"  we have a newly canonized saint who truly deserves the title SAINT POPE JOHN PAUL THE GREAT!"

Dr. Latorre adds that "of course, we should never forget that behind all this was his very early consecration to the Blessed Mother of God.  Karol Wojtyla, very early in life, had consecrated his entire being to the Mother of God, thus his Papal Motto:  'TOTUS TUUS!' (in Filipino, "ako'y iyong-iyo!"). 

Many thanks for sharing your "list" with my readers, Dr. Latorre.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Canonization of two popes breaks record in crowd attendance. Two popes canonized and two living popes at elegant ritual.

Crowds begin trickling in soon after entrances open about 6:30 am.

Crowds swelled an hour later.

Rome---The Vatican has played host to many grand events over the past two decades, including the canonization of giants such as St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina and St. Faustina Kowalska of the "Divine Mercy" devotion, as well as the beatification of Pope John Paul II, Pope John XXIII and Mother Teresa, founder of the Missionary Sisters of Charity. Mammoth crowds also attended the funeral of Pope John Paul II in April 2005, led by world leaders.

But it's no exaggeration that perhaps the crowd-breaker is the canonization today, the Feast of the Divine Mercy, of two very popular pontiffs of the 20th century, Pope John XXIII and that rock star, Pope John Paul II. The crowds assembled in St. Peter's Square this morning were already so huge that people had to spill out into the long stretch of avenue called Via Conciliazione that runs perpendicular to St. Peters all the way to the Tiber River at the other end. Crowd estimate is about 5 million.


I'll do an analysis, based on research I've conducted, of the role of these two new saints in the life and history of the Church; but given the pace of travel and the tiring run-up to this morning's historic canonization, I'd need a little more time to put together a more thorough and thoughtful blog---including how the new saints responded to the challenges of their eras and how, even though they began their respective reign over two decades apart, with two other popes in between, their lives actually intersected in many ways.

For instance, Karol Wojtyla, later to be Pope John Paul II, was perhaps the youngest auxiliary bishop (of Krakow, Poland at 39) when Pope John XXIII decided, on promptings of the Holy Spirit, to convene the Second Vatican Council from 1962-1965. Bishop Wojtyla participated in that Council and made a significant contribution to the drafting of the Constitution, known as Gaudium et Spes.  It was Pope John Paul II who beatified John XXIII on Sept. 3, 2000.  

I shall also dwell on reasons why the distinguished son of Poland is now referred to as Pope John Paul the Great, in the league of a few pontiffs in history who merited that tribute. 


For the moment, my heart is still full of the beautiful canonization rites, and I'm sure I'm not the only one---emotions really ran high this morniing.

The rites began with a call to the Church's greatest saints over the ages, formally called the "Litany of Supplication''---beginning with Mary the Mother of God and St. Michael the Archangel---to intercede for the new candidates. Pope Francis then accepted the plea of Angelo Cardinal Amato, Prefect for the Congregation of the Cause of Saints, in three separate petitions, for the pontiff to accept the enrollment of JPII and John XXIII in the roster of saints. In turn Francis, invoking the Holy Spirit and acknowledging consultation with "many of our brother bishops," declared and defined them as Saints and that they are to be venerated as such by the Whole Church."  

The canonization rites were elegant, in keeping with highest Church tradition (what higher endeavor than to immortalize two mortals by raising them to the altar). Pope Francis is not the theater thespian that John Paul II was in his youth and he lacks the magnetism and flair for drama of the Polish pope; but the rites for sainthood in the 2000-year old institution that Francis intoned remained gripping as ever.

The mammoth crowds welcomed the frail-looking Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI with hearty applause, obviously having missed him, and Pope Francis gave him a warm embrace. Benedict could not have missed those rites, for when Pope JPII was already quite ill, it was he, then Cardinal Ratzinger, Dean of the College of Cardinals, who virtually ran the affairs of the Vatican; then, as successor Pope he beatified John Paul on May 1, 2011.  

Intersecting of lives once again in a story of continuity of the Papacy through the ages.


Security was understandably super-tight. To make sure I could get in, I woke up at 4:30 am. to be at one of the entrances by just past 5 am. Most of the crowds, as I narrated earlier in FB, had camped out all around the Vatican side-streets in cold spring weather last night, so that while waiting for this morning's 10 am. ceremonies, many rolled out sleeping bags and tried to sleep off fatigue. Some areas looked like veritable evacuation sites.  The Roman spring brought darkened skies and eventually a slight drizzle, and among the gigantic columns where I managed to grab space, the winds hissed bitingly, something I was not prepared for.  

The Poles, estimated about a million strong, stole the show with their vigorous hurrahs and brandishing their red and white banners. One banner read, "Thank you, John Paul." Other nationalities also bore their banners proudly, but disappointingly Filipino groups from home and overseas forgot this detail.  


In the past two days I had been posting entries in my FaceBook Page on happenings here in Rome as a run-up to the canonization rites, but I realize that not all my blog readers are FB active. So, for local color, while I take a little time to assemble my write-ups about our two newest saints, allow me to reprint these FB posts for my blog readers, even though they are now history: 

Thursday afternoon, April 24, 2014:

By the grace of God I got to Rome Thursday afternoon, terribly excited to witness an unforgettable, historic first in the 2000-year history of the Church this coming Sunday, April 27, 2014---the canonization of two Popes in a morning mass-ceremony to be officiated by two living Popes: Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. As you can see from this photo I took this morning, after hearing mass at the altar housing the body of Blessed Pope John Paul, and a visit to the tomb of Blessed Pope John XXIII, the Vatican grounds are all set for Sunday's mammoth gathering of peoples from all over the world.

Elegant portraits of the two Popes were displayed at the facade of St. Peter's Basilica this morning and crewmen have installed giant TV screens in various places in the Square, to enable the world to witness the historic rites on Sunday. Rome is exploding with people from all over the world, with delegations roaming around proudly displaying banners. There's talk that the immense St. Peter's Square would be deluged with five million devotees of the two Popes, but it's beginning to look like seven million, what with the Poles arriving in every conceivable means of transport! There's a big prayer vigil-gathering scheduled tomorrow afternoon at the Square and from random interviews I held, most folks will already encamp there to get vantage places for Sunday's rites. Yes, rows and rows of portalets are already in place.

Saturday morning, April 26, 2014:

This morning I walked to St. Peter's Basilica to hear an early mass and I was amazed to find long queues of people already lining up before the numerous X-ray machines, in order to get inside the Basilica. It would be their last chance to get in as I imagine that tomorrow, the grand day, the Basilica would be closed prior to the canonization ceremonies at 10 am.

People came in groups big and small and from all corners of the earth---a babel of tongues and all hues of skin. Among them: Ukranian sisters in black habits with yellow distinguishing scarves; 5000-strong Lebanese folks (one of whom boasted to me that her country already has four saints and two blesseds in the pipeline); big groups from Indonesia that first journeyed to Fatima before Rome, and of course so many Pinoy groups (a 44-strong group under Fr. Joey Faller from Lucban flew into Rome's Fuimicino Airport and headed straight to Padre Pio's Shrine in San Giovanni Rotondo, a good six-hour journey, before Rome), and Africans in brilliant outfits matching the spring sun. And of course, the Poles came in full force---I chatted with two nuns from Krakow, Poland, where JPII had been Archbishop for a long time, battling the Communist regime in his country, and I sensed right away their great affection for him. 

The mammoth assemblage of peoples from all over the world, brandishing their individual country's flag, is stirring testimony of the universality of the Church under God and the Pope. I have witnessed a number of huge gatherings in the Vatican over the decades, but tomorrow's canonizations will dwarf every event in the past---because of the immense popularity of the two spiritual rock stars---specially John Paul II who reigned for 28 years.

This morning a lot of youngsters already carried their back packs with sleeping bags or styrofoam mats, obviously ready to claim their precious square foot of space at St. Peter's Square this early. Tonight there will be prayer vigils at St. Peter's Square and other churches, and Pope Francis will be serenaded by youth groups.

This city seems prepared to handle the mammoth crowds. The Italian and city governments have set up emergency medical tents equipped with ambulances in a number of street corners around the Vatican. In addition, the Sovereign Order of Malta, which dates to medieval times, has also set up its medical teams with personnel in flaming red jump-suits. Malta counts with some prominent Filipino ladies as members, e.g., Ambassador to Rome and Malta Mercy Tuason, Malta Ambassador to PH Ody Gregorio-Arroyo and Cherrie Pie Lazatin.

All over Rome there's an air of festivity with pilgrims dining al fresco in various piazzas and alley streets in the crisp spring air and troubadours serenading them for some euro change. Here and there youngsters would suddenly burst out into loud cheerings or in native songs and dances. The whole world is rejoicing at the raising to the altar of these two great popes.

I think tomorrow's ceremonies will be frightfully emotional, and I'm trying to be as understated as I can in saying this.

Saturday evening, April 26, 2014:

Tonight's scene in the environs of the Vatican will rank among the "most unforgettable" even in this jaded journalist's memory. Earlier today I wrote about  hordes of people descending on St. Peter's Square in Rome, armed with  back-packs and sleeping mats, ready to camp out in the cavernous Square. But the weather and security concerns changed all that. Later in the afternoon it began to drizzle but folks came prepared with their plastic ponchos and umbrellas. However, still later came the order to vacate the premises, doubtless for security reasons. 

The various groups from all over the world, many of them from Poland and John Paul II's compatriots, began marching out as police began setting up their barricades around St. Peter's to regulate crowd movement for tomorrow's big event. The pilgrims have spilled out into the side streets and alleys around the Vatican, where they are camped out for the night in the very cold Roman spring weather.

I visited one such site not too far from my pension tonight, and it looked like one of those huge war refugee camps one sees in movies, or back home after a storm. But far from exuding misery, the pilgrims from around the world were happy singing folk or religious songs and strumming guitars (among the groups notably were sisters from the Rome-based Order of St. Camillus which runs a medical mission in PH), even as some families huddled together to try to sleep amid the noise. Deprived of the comforts of a warm hotel and forced to use the smelly portalets to relieve themselves, it's truly a great sacrifice for the pilgrims. Tomorrow they will all march back to the Square at 5 am.

What spirit indeed and what love for the two Saints and the Lord! I will never ever be able to forget this scene tonight.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

When will Napoles’ touted tell-all sworn statement be released to public, or will it suffer same fate as the 2007-2009 COA report that singled out only three opposition senators? Since there was no witness to her marathon “confession” except for her lawyer (was he sent out by DOJ Chief at critical part?) how would public know if De Lima edited portions? Why the special treatment of Napoles until now? Is it because she was heavy contributor to LP campaign kitty for 2010 and 2013?

“Jinggoy smells something fishy,” says a lead story in Philippine Star today. Indeed Sen. Estrada has every right to assert that there’s something fishy about the conduct of the DOJ Secretary and her allied agencies. The problem is that Leila de Lima does not bother to make her actuations appear right and correct;  this comes out glaringly in recent developments regarding alleged scam mastermind Janet Napoles. 

In this regard, De Lima reflects the arrogance of the administration that she serves hand and foot. In so many issues it has demonstrated that it is not  bothered by public opinion, obviously super-confident that it holds sway over many in media and so-called opinion surveys, as well as over the leaders of both chambers of Congress who are singularly supine to President Aquino.


De Lima admitted that she met with Napoles at her tightly-guarded hospital room at Ospital ng Makati last Monday night, just before she was scheduled to undergo uterine surgery; their meeting lasted five hours, witnessed only by the detainee’s lawyer.  Afterwards De Lima grandly told media that she was able to extract a “tell-all” sworn statement from Napoles where the latter decided, kuno, to reveal everything she knows---in order to buttress the state’s cases against the politicos allegedly involved in the PDAF scams linked to Napoles.

But couldn’t De Lima have made her story more credible by ensuring that there's another witness to that marathon meeting, other than Napoles’ lawyer? To be sure, there's supposed to be a video of the meeting, but we know things can happen to such gadgets. Because there was no other witness, there is JUSTIFIABLY GRAVE SUSPICION that parts of the scam lady’s testimony were edited out---erased---perhaps in exchange for concessions, e, g., that Napoles would be admitted as state witness and her husband, children and brother would not be bothered by the law.


For instance, was it true, as reports have it, that the part alleging that De Lima’s former husband, Atty. Plaridel Bohol, received P8 million from PDAF funds was stricken out of Napoles' confession?

This may be a relatively small credibility issue in the scheme of things, but the secrecy hovering over the marathon confession of Napoles raises more questions. Did she really decide to “tell all” finally after a “deny all” appearance at the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee hearing months back, or was her true confession, as Jinggoy Estrada put it, only channeled toward how to nail down more firmly himself and Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Bong Revilla---in order to lock them up behind bars for good?

Media accounts indicate that supposedly 19 other senators and several dozen members of the House of Representatives are in Napoles’ “tell-all” list. If this is true, presumably, even staunch allies of President Aquino will be implicated inasmuch as practically the entire Senate appears involved. But will Napoles’ supposed tell-all tale be released soon, or will it suffer the same fate as the COA report that until now has released only the 2007-2009 PDAF picture ---isolating the three opposition senators in guilt?


Questions and more questions: if it was truly a “tell-all” confession, did Napoles tell De Lima about her whopping contributions to the LP campaign kitty in 2010 and 2013? There are persistent rumors that Napoles contributed P200 million to candidate Noynoy Aquino’s campaign in 2010---which Senate President Franklin Drilon, LP senatorial candidate in 2010 and then LP campaign manager in 2013, now professes not to know anything about. His excuse then was that it was not his job as campaign manager to raise funds!

There’s no estimate of her contributions to 2013, but it must have as whopping.

Recall how denials rained on the public from ranking LP leaders about knowing Napoles. when a huge campaign banner across the LP stage in a Pampanga rally clearly welcomed her in bold letters. Recall too, how President Aquino said, after photos of him with Napoles came out in social media, that it was no big deal---for many folks do want to be photographed with him.

But if this whopping P200 million contribution from the polluted source of Napoles' scams is true, then the “daang matuwid” of the President was off to a bad start, a joke on the people---with no moral claim to speak of AT ALL. 


Was Napoles coached by De Lima in the 5-hour marathon session on what to say about her singular closeness to the LP bigwigs---which is to deny deny deny? Was her denial in exchange for turning state witness? But allowing Napoles to turn state witness won't be acceptable to the Filipino public---for as the main polluter of the politicos, how can she be allowed to rat on guilty senators? . 

L'affaire Janet is perhaps the most sensitive issue to bedevil the administration and it makes the Vitangcol-MRT issue pale in comparison. In the Napoles scams funds from the taxpayers---blood money fleeced from the corpus of the people by greedy politicians of various hues, not least of all the administration pols. 


Something as sensational as this issue could topple regimes--- which is why M’am Janet is being handled all along, not just with kid gloves but with sheer love by De Lima. Compare her treatment with the terrible roughing up that the seriously sick 67-year old Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is being subjected to---denying her bail when all of her co-accused are already out on bail, or when the last of the charges against her---that she finagled with public funds of PCSO---has since collapsed after a witness testified of no direct knowledge about it and COA itself said all amounts involved are accounted for.

Or the way Ombudsman ConchitaCarpio Morales has treated her former colleague, Chief Justice Renato Corona---slapping him left and right with 28 COUNTS involving alleged tax evasion, misdeclaration, perjury, etc. etc., but no proof ever offered that his funds, the fruits of 42 years of mainly private service. were ever ill-gotten. The huge lawyers’ fees and tons of paper alone needed by Corona to answer those Ombudsman’s charges already boggle the mind. 

Truly, Napoles is being coddled and the reasons are obvious.

Contrast all these to the way M’am Janet has been treated and it sets one thinking---clearly, when it's one of their own, this administration treads easy. Ma'am Janet is clearly one of them. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

In this Easter Season of Grace and on eve of historic canonization of two Popes of 20th century, let's recall the Great Jubilee Year 2000 launched by John Paul II and his opening of holy doors of four patriarchal basilicas in Rome---in a Faith steeped in rich ancient tradition. Easter Vigil part of that great Church tradition. Costa Rica Ambassador to Holy See, in his book launched in Manila recently, testifies on miraculous healing of his seriously ill infant son and wife, through intercession of Padre Pio.

Blessed John Paul II reigned for 28 years, from Oct. 16, 1978 to April 02, 2005

In eager anticipation of the historic canonization of two popes of the 20th century this coming Sunday in Rome, I have been neck-deep into reading on Vatican II, the outstanding achievement of Blessed John XXIII's pontificate, and the biography of Blessed John Paul II, so lovingly written in fantastic fullness  by American writer George Weigel, acknowledged one of the world's leading authorities on the Catholic Church. In Volume II of Weigel's magnum opus, "The End and the Beginning," he dwelt in detail about how the Pontiff launched the Great Jubilee Year 2000 that ushered in the Third Millenium.  

When Karol Cardinal Wojtyla of Krakow was elected Pope on Oct. 16, 1978, then Primate of Poland Stefan Cardinal Wyszynksi told him that the Holy Spirit precisely chose Wojtyla to be God's instrument to lead the Church in the Third Millenium. I presume this assertion from his compatriot and former senior prelate encouraged John Paul II to make Holy Year 2000---the 2000th anniversary of Christ's incarnation--- especially meaningful and historic.


The Church is an ancient institution steeped in traditions and one of the most revered is the observance of Holy Year every 25 years. A bronze door at the extreme right of St. Peter's is kept closed throughout those 25 years, and only opened during Holy Year in solemn rites awash with indulgences. This practice of observing Holy Year dates from Feb. 22, 1300 during the reign of Pope Boniface VIII, who intended it to be commemorated every 100 years. 

But its observance became so popular that it was repeated with more frequency---so that now it's observed every 25 years (I was lucky to visit Rome and pass through that door in 1975 and again in 2000. Doubtless I won't be that lucky in 2025, but I already feel more than blessed to be able to mark those two Holy Years).  

Weigel wrote that the practice of opening Holy Doors at the three other major Roman basilicas (St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul Outside the Walls) was began in 1499-1500, but John Paul II, already more than 21 years in the Papacy and beginning to suffer rather poor health, made sure that his marking the end of the Second Millenium and ushering in the Third Millenium ---the "Great Jubilee year 2000"--- would be a break from tradition. 

Hence, he opened the traditional Holy Door of St. Peter's during Christmas Eve of 1999, and then also opened the Holy Doors of the other three patriarchal basilicas in Rome within two weeks' time.

The transition from the Second to the Third Millenium was so special to JPII that he issued an encyclical just for it: the "Tertio Millennio Adveniente." In that encyclical he wrote, as quoted by Weigel, that "the Holy Door of the Jubilee of the Year 2000 should be symbolically wider than those of previous Jubilees, because humanity, upon reaching this goal, will leave behind not just a century but a millenium."

Reading through all these details of the glorious Pontificate of JPII that enabled me to vicariously live through various decades of Church history, thanks to George Weigel, I was inspired to soak in the rituals of Easter. Normally I attend mass only on Easter Sunday proper, but last night, Holy Saturday I decided to attend Easter Vigil at my parish church which began at 9 pm. until nearly midnight. It began  with a short procession by the priests, one of whom carried the tall Easter candle, around the church premises where they lighted a small fire in one corner using sticks and dried shrubs. Then the procession entered the darkened church where at some point the faithful was asked to light their candles---just the soft glow of candles.

The liturgy for Easter Vigil began with a proclamation recalling the Passover feast and how God freed the people of Israel from their slavery and led them dry-shod through the sea---"This is the night when the pillar of fire destroyed the darkness of sin..." Then came seven readings from the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Exequiel, etc., beginning with the near oblation by Abraham of his only son Isaac, when God stopped him, happy in the thought that the patriarch was willing to please Him by sacrificing his son, and two readings from the New Testament.

Then came the "Gloria" which is very dramatic: the tall Paschal Candle lit as the faithful's light is extinguished, and ringing of Church bells as the purple Lenten drapery is pulled down from the altar statues. This is followed by the renewal of baptismal promises by the faithful and the liturgy for Easter, with the gospel reading recounting the encounter with the Risen Christ by the holy women.  

It's a ritual ancient and yet so contemporary: "Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega, all time belongs to him."


Last March 24, Philippine Ambassador to the Vatican and the Sovereign Order of Malta Mercedes Tuazon sponsored the launch of a book titled "A Spiritual Son is Born, Our story with Padre Pio of Pietrelcina," written by her Vatican colleague, Ambassador Fernando F. Sanchez Campos of Costa Rica, about the miraculous cure of the latter's infant son Fernando Felipe and his wife Milagro---through the intercession of St. Padre Pio.  Sanchez Campos journeyed to Manila for the Wack Wack Golf and Country Club launch, and its success was doubtless due to the popularity of the well-loved Saint from Pietrelcina, renowned for his powerful intercessions, the drawing power of guest of honor Cardinal Tagle, the gracious diplomat-author and the vast social circle of Mercy Tuason. 

In this season of grace and faith in the Risen Christ, I'm happy to present the edited synopsis to this book, billed as a "hymn of faith" and available at popular bookstores.  

"What does a man do when, at thirty-three years of age he's faced with the following: his firstborn, just hours after being born, is diagnosed with an atrial flutter (a heart condition where the heart beats at 220-240 a minute instead of the normal 130-140) that not even five electric shock treatments, seven long days in the neonatal intensive care and special medications could normalize the contractions of his heart muscle; his wife who, four days after her Caesarian delivery, began to have renal hemorrhage and respiratory problems, losing 70% of renal function in both kidneys; and he himself, on the verge of crisis in his political career because some people were trying to put an end to it---so much were they opposed to his ideas?

"Sunken deep into the abyss, completely broken down, he decides to make the sacrifice of Abraham when the latter immolates his son, Isaac, out of faith and obedience to Yahweh’s seemingly “illogical” command. Sustained only by the power of his faith, he gives everything up to God.

"But God comes to his aid. On September 23, 2007 evening, seven days after the birth of his son, through unexplainable circumstances a priest carrying a relic of Padre Pio, enters the neonatal intensive care unit at midnight, to pray to God for cure of little Fernando, through the intercession of the Capuchin saint. The same relic is also brought to the bedside of his wife, Mila. 

"The next day, to the surprise of the medical staff, the baby’s heartbeat begins to normalize and the mother gets better. A miracle takes place.

"In this book Ambassador Sánchez Campos relates the dramatic story of the miraculous healing of his son and wife thorough the powerful intercession of Padre Pio.  He describes the itinerary of faith, hope and love which he and his entire family went through as they are tried by God who, in his great wisdom and paternal love, makes them experience and share in a very vivid and tangible manner the Cross of his Son, Jesus Christ. And they do this by the hand of the Saint of Pietrelcina whom they had gotten to know more profoundly; in time they have become among the many thousands of his spiritual children spread throughout the world.

"The book includes a short biography of Padre Pio,  a chapter of verses, quotations and biblical passages which have reached Ambassador Sanches Campos in a providential manner and which have provided spiritual nourishment for him in this difficult journey. This is a conclusion which relates the event from the point of view of three people who lived through the experience: Mila, mother of little Fernando and wife of the author; Father Gabriel Corrales, the priest who brought the relic of Padre Pio to the sick baby and mother; and Archbishop José Rafael Quirós of San Jose, Costa Rica. 

"The epilogue is the story of the personal encounters of the family with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, and how these Roman Pontiffs have gotten to know of the miracle wrought by Padre Pio.

"The book appendix is a collection of prayers, novenas and meditations of Padre Pio, included with the hope of enriching the spiritual contribution and opportunities for meditation that it may offer to the reader.

"The book was originally written in Spanish and published in 2010, with a new edition in Spanish in 2012. It has been translated to Italian by  Angelo Cardinal Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in 2011 in Rome. For the English version, the book's foreword was written by H. E. Luis Antonio G. Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila.

"With this story, the author wishes to ' “renew the faith and hope of those seeking and needing the mercy of God.” '

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Al Vitangcol: hustler and idealist rolled into one? One thing sure, he’s going through his own Calvary now. Is Ambassador Rychtar merely trying to save face with a deal that didn’t come through?

Former activist Fidel Nemenzo posted a reaction to my earlier blog on the case of Atty. Al Vitangcol, where I stated that I liked the latter’s straightforward answers at the hearings conducted by the House Electoral Reforms Committee chaired by former Makati Rep. Teddyboy Locsin in late May to early June 2010---apart from Vitangcol’s looking like a seminarian. Nemenzo posted: “I remember Al Vitangcol from college days. He did look (and acted) like a seminarian. Hard to imagine him metamorphosing into the hustler media is portraying him to be.”

Indeed this is the problem of the controversial GM of MRT-3.  A large part of media is indeed making him look like a "hustler” and leader of an extortion ring that allegedly tried to mulct $30 million from Czech company Inekon in the second half of 2012, when the DOTC was bidding out the purchase of additional trains. Is Vitangcol really the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde they’re portraying him to be: an idealistic technocrat (Namfrel volunteer, lecturer, author of three books) and corrupt bureaucrat-mulcter rolled into one?

People who have taken pains to examine his statements and actuations--- in other words, those who have gone beyond press releases dished out by a powerful propaganda machine apparently paying big bucks to paint Vitangcol as corruption personified---have opined that he's being pinned down as fall guy for some highly influential persons.

In this connection, he's being painted as a sleazy politico when, as he protested in a recent TV program, "I'm a technocrat, not a politician."


At a forum organized by a student group at De la Salle U in Manila where Vitangcol was the speaker, his former colleagues in the local IT world showed up to demonstrate, as one of them put it, that they don’t doubt his integrity at all, and to lend moral support to him.

Among them were former Comelec Commissioner Gus Lagman, former Chief of Comelec's IT department Ernie del Rosario, former Comelec lawyer Melchor Magdamo  (who had denounced the ballot secrecy folder scam amounting to a whopping P700 million, and a few months ago also exposed the overprinting by the Comelec, through a private printer, of ballots way after the May 2013 elections), IT practitioners Lito Averia, who was recently appointed member of the Comelec Advisory Council (CAC), and Nelson Celis, who was president of the Philippine Computer Society in 1999 and again in 2009.

These distinguished IT experts represent large computer umbrella groups such as AES Watch and PCS, that have monitored various elections and decried electoral frauds.

A number of them who had their own run-in with their former offices, such as Lagman and Magdamo,  denouncing issues of fraud and integrity within the poll body, commiserated with Vitangcol who, they said, is undergoing his own Calvary now with the intense organized vilification against him. But they're solidly backing up his reputation of integrity.


PCS former prexy Nelson Celis pointed out that Atty. Vitangcol, who’s a UP-trained civil engineer, master’s degree holder in computer science from De la Salle U and certified forensics investigator, headed the forensics team that in June 2010 investigated and examined six PCOS machines recovered in a private house in Antipolo, still smoking from prolonged use (outside the precinct). Vitangcol, in his final report to former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and former Speaker Prospero Nograles, asserted that the extracted Hash Code of those examined machines (which is to the PCOS machine what finger-print and DNA are to humans---a unique identifying mark) did not match the Hash Code published in Comelec’s official website. Magka-iba.

Moreover, said Vitangcol, there was no evidence to prove existence of digital signatures in those machines, contrary to the claim of Smartmatic.


The forensics team under Vitangcol also found that the PCOS machines contained a console port which Smartmatic claimed was only a one-way output port. But very significantly, using a serial cable provided by the Smart technicians, the forensics guys were able to connect AN ORDINARY LAPTOP COMPUTER to the console port of a PCOS. To the surprise of everyone (now longer surprising, after IT experts have grown hoarse denouncing Smart’s many grave shortcomings), the serially connected laptop computer was able to ACCESS the operating system of the PCOS machine, in a NON-SECURE manner---meaning, WITHOUT ANY PASSWORD OR USERNAME REQUIRED (emphasis BOC’s)!

It clearly showed that the machines were perfectly open to hacking and being controlled from outside (which apparently happened in 2010 and again in 2013, leaving the outcome of those elections totally DISPUTABLE).

Why am I belaboring these findings of the forensics team headed by Vitangcol in 2010? Obvious, di ba?  Vitangcol is clearly that sophisticated and idealistic. Thus, it defies comprehension how and why he would suddenly be the RING-LEADER of the seemingly shady characters who sought to extort $30 million from Inekon in exchange for guaranteeing the contract for additional MRT-3 trains.


In his power-point presentation at De la Salle Vitangcol flatly asserted that he does not personally know the people the Czech Ambassador is linking him with in the alleged scam, but that he has dealt with them only on a professional basis. Neither has he authorized anyone to talk to the ambassador on his behalf.

Vitangcol also stressed that Inekon submitted a bid for extra trains way above the price offered by a wide range of other bidders from all over the world, but that nevertheless he forwarded its bid to Usec Perpetuo M. Lotilla, chair of the DOTC’s bids and awards committee, and Usec Rene Limcaoco who handles the rail sector of DOTC, “for appropriate actions.”


At the same time Vitangcol stressed the huge discrepancy between Inekon and the other bidders (China Dalian eventually won the bid in June of 2013), and later also reminded his superiors about “open competitive public bidding procedures as per RA 9184, the Government Procurement Reform Act.”

It should also be noted that there are two layers of decision-makers in that bidding process ABOVE Vitangcol---DOTC Secretary Joseph Abaya and the undersecretaries (Vitangcol holds rank of assistant secretary). Then there’s NEDA that approved a budget contract for $1.895 million per train that would bring in 48 additional trains instead of the 26 offered by Inekon.

Another relevant factor: even if he suddenly turned corrupt, away from his old  idealistic reputation, due to the dizzying prospect of getting part of $30 million in kickbacks, would Vitangcol be so brazen and audacious as to try to ram through a huge scam WITHIN SIX MONTHS after he was appointed to his office (on Jan. 2, 2012 by DOTC Secretary Mar Roxas)? This is his very first government job, but even veteran bureaucrats couldn’t be that bold in a six-month old job!


What am I driving at with all these facts? It’s that there's nothing in Vitangcol’s professional record to indicate he would suddenly turn corrupt. Even if the titillating   prospect of having a big slice of the $30 million extort fee could have corrupted him, he’s too intelligent not to realize that there are the real decision-makers above him---unless he’s fronting for Abaya. But that speculation cannot wash as Abaya treated him quite shabbily in late 2012---ordering Vitangcol to go on leave three consecutive times, slapping one order after another, allegedly so as not to influence the extortion investigation.

On the third order to go on leave, however, Vitangcol refused to obey and instead challenged  Abaya, through a lawyer, to just file charges against him, but until now there’s no charge. In fact, two weeks ago Abaya CLEARED him of all administrative charges, ahead of the NBI’s completion of its investigation. 

Secretary Abaya, an outstanding Annapolis graduate, seems quite inconsistent in his actuations toward his subordinate. 


As for Czech Ambassador Rychtar, Vitangcol pointed out a number of inconsistencies in envoy's statements to media, asserting that a lot of what he has said is pure hearsay that won’t stand in court (he plans to sue Rychtar). There’s also the letter that Inekon Chair Josef Husek wrote Vitangcol on July 16, 2012 where he sounded quite confident that he'd bag the contract and thanked the MRT-3 GM for a “fruitful and promisable (sic) discussion” in Manila. In that letter Husek announced the reduction of train unit price from Euro3.1 million each, to $3.05 million each and his plan to set up a “daughter company” for the separate maintenance contract (which a Filipino joint venture ultimately bagged). Husek also invited Vitangcol to visit Prague (“mabuti na lang hindi ko tinanggap,” he mused at the forum). 

When the deal failed to be consummated, Husek began echoing Rychtar’s line about the MRT-3 GM being the scam ringleader.

Folks who have followed the exchange between Rychtar and Vitangcol suspect that the envoy could have been promised the contract early on by some people close to the powers that be---only to lose it when Vitangcol discouraged the DOTC officials by highlighting the big discrepancy in price of the trains. They opine that Rychtar might have lost face with his government on this deal, so that now he has become quite irascible about Vitangcol and ayaw na pasaway. 

Paging Mareng Winnie.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Manny Pacquiao, give your adoring fans a break: don’t run for the Senate. Stay in the ring where you’re the greatest---the champ.

Manny Pacquiao regained his welterweight champion title earlier today after his celebrated bout with Timothy Bradley in Las Vegas, where he demolished the American boxer. Filipinos all around the world rejoice in his victory---even as we were all frightfully nervous at first whether our champ, defeated by Bradley in a controversial decision nearly two years ago, could truly rout  the black American boxer, or whether Bradley could truly usher Pacman to retirement, as he had bragged earlier. 

It turned out that the Kano boxer was no match for Manny’s inexhaustible energies and lightning speed, which twice nearly sent his opponent to the floor.

So, okay, Manny Pacquiao won decisively and sports analysts speak about his raring to go on to other fights in the next few years, as they note that the revitalized boxer shows that he indubitably still has the fire of a champ in his belly and his fists. Fine---so go on with those bouts that will become the stuff of legend.

What bothers me and doubtless many other observers, however,  is that even before his fight this morning began, Pacquiao was already talking about being “80% sure that I would run for the Senate” in the next elections.  


Can’t the champ just stay in the ring and win other bouts, other titles? Why does he have to run for the Senate that’s already filled with misfits---those who don’t have an iota of what legislating is all about. 

In the House Rep. Pacquiao was rarely seen and even more rarely heard. I recall when he arrived in the House session hall straight from the airport during the critical voting on the RH bill a year and a half ago. It was just after his disastrous defeat by boxer Juan Manuel Marquez  who knocked him out cold for two minutes. The Pinoy champ was meek and humble as a lamb as the cavernous Batasan rang out with a standing ovation and lusty cheers.

But now he admits to training his sights on the Senate, presumably without giving up the boxing titles to still conquer. That’s having his cake and eating it too. To stay on top of the boxing world, however, even as he remains as senator, he'd have to be out more often for training abroad. That's not fair to his constituents.  

No, Manny, give your adoring people a break: just stay in the ring where you’re the GREATEST, THE INCOMPARABLE CHAMP. Be the LEGEND you deserve to be, IN THE RING! Take on Marquez again, and yes, that dream bout with Floyd Mayweather. But stay in the ring and away from the Senate. 

That way you’ll teach a valuable lesson to all those delusional misfits who think being senator is just a walk in the park---as they undeservedly thrive on a name that rings a bell with the masses, or worse, buy their way through elections and recover gargantuan expenses through some fake NGOs.

We need real legislators, who'll put their brains and heart together for the welfare of our people via the laws they craft---to restructure society and the economy, to pull the poor Filipinos from the clutches of the poverty of centuries. Happily, Manny Pacquiao, your heart and your brains  are gloriously in the ring.  PLEASE STAY THERE. 


What the recent Supreme Court ruling that the RH Law is “not unconstitutional” succeeded in doing, among other things, is to spur more debates on various aspects of this issue, instead of slowing them down.  For instance, one of the favorite arguments of pro-RH groups is that the mortality rate among women in childbirth is high, and statistics furnished by said groups vary from 11 women dying per day due to childbirth- related causes, to as many as 15 daily. This is said to be due to the lack of access to reproductive health services.

I’ve been hearing the same argument since I began to be interested in the RH issue years back. The solution offered by pro-RH groups , however, to childbirth mortality seems to be to control the number of pregnancies with contraceptives. But in my simple mind, as well as to many others who have taken issue with that bill, wouldn't the better solution be to set up more hospitals and birthing clinics with basic equipment (such as ultrasound machines, so important), better-trained personnel and adequate pre-natal care, so as to reduce childbirth mortality? 

Women especially in the remotest rural areas often die of childbirth because sadly in this modern age, so many of them still give birth at home, often with only a comadrona attending. 

Hence, assuming that because of the RH Law, pregnancies would be controlled by various contraceptives and preventive devices, would this already guarantee that no woman would die of childbirth?  Obviously  not. Instead of pouring billions of pesos into contraceptives, many of which, as medical doctors against the RH law assert, are abortifacient (i.e., inducing abortion of a primary or secondary nature), perhaps the better option is to establish more clinics manned by adequately trained personnel.


Just as worrisome as the childbirth deaths among women is the fact that many of these contraceptives imported from abroad induce cancer and other related diseases. The SC justices had a full hearing on this aspect, and apparently they believed the medical arguments when they struck out use of abortifacient contraceptives.  

Obviously too, the Filipino public believes what it hears about the harmful side of contraceptives. The popular radio-TV program “Umagang Kay Ganda” ran a survey the following morning after the SC ruling was promulgated , and the results showed an overwhelming number against the RH Law (where are the “surveys” supposedly supporting the law’s high acceptability coming from?).

Another important point: if contraceptives manage to still elude the dragnet to be set up by anti-RH people in our courts, there would be an urgent need to beef up the cancer department at various hospitals. For as many doctors against the RH Law have argued, many contraceptives do induce this dreaded disease. 


This is really an event after my heart, so folks, if you're free, do go down to Aklan for this exciting summit and spread the word about it. Dubbed as the "Strategic Convergence of NGOs for Countryside Growth," this nationwide summit of NGOs is scheduled this April 21 at the Aklan State University in Banga, Aklan, with central theme of "New Vistas for NGOs."

This summit will be under the auspices of the Ben-Hur Z. Mobo Move Aklan Forward Foundation, Inc. (BHZMMAFFI), which was organized in 1987 to enshrine the idealism and vision of Ben-Hur Zabal Mobo, who faithfully served Aklan and its people as a youth leader, pro-poor lawyer, senior Provincial Board Member, V-Governor and Governor.

My good friend, former PNRC Gov. and veteran journalist Juan P. Dayang, who chairs BHZMMAFFI, says: "This coming Summit of NGOs aims to invite leaders and representatives of NGOs to converge and act together as an advocacy and mission-propelled movement---to help recast and re-invent vital sectors of Phil. society, so that they can set up a truly democratic and egalitarian polity." 

Invited to attend this Summit of NGOs are officers and members of foundations, organizations of professionals, different sectors of academe, humanitarian service groups, sectors engaged in volunteerism, reps of religious sectors promoting charitable and welfare services, and other civic groups. As we all know, PH is one of the most successful countries in the world for the harnessing of NGO power.

Tara na sa Aklan on April 21. it's a short bus and boat-ride to glorious Boracay after the Summit.