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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, May 28, 2014

Janet Napoles’ much-awaited affidavit is, to quote lawyer Levito Baligod, “mostly truthful and partially false,” with leading allies of P-Noy missing from list. With confusion and agitation all around as solons deny, deny, which entity can be entrusted to conduct impartial, truthful investigations? A National Transformational Council with prominent non-partisan leaders is bruited about, but without FOI Law how far can it get in digging for truth?




Many people’s fears came true the other day when Janet Napoles’ much-awaited ‘expanded’ true confessions affidavit---issued 26 days after she met in a five hour 'tell-all' session with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima in her hospital room at the Ospital ng Makati, where she had just undergone a uterine operation---was submitted to the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee. This blogger, commenting on the marathon session's poor timing, had feared that this infamous patient would still not be in control of what she was revealing as she would still be under sedation then. 

True enough, Napoles admitted that her scam list of 20 senators and about 100 representatives was “what I could remember in my present condition at Ospital ng Makati.”  It would seem that Secretary De Lima did part of the remembering---or forgetting---for her. 

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Napoles’ affidavit was, as Atty. Levito Baligod, original lawyer of whistle-blower Benhur Luy and his group, pointed out, as quoted in the Inquirer, “mostly truthful and partially false” and that “she was selective.” Missing from Napoles’ “final list” were six current and former senators whose names were found in Luy’s list: Edgardo Angara, Franklin Drilon, JV Ejercito, Ralph Recto, Ramon Revilla Sr. and Miriam Defensor-Santiago. Luy’s list has 138 representatives whereas Napoles only listed 100 names from the House, but as Inquirer noted, 76 names were common to both lists. 

The disclosure of the explosive list has provoked all manner of denials and angry outbursts, and possibly a rain of lawsuits on the scam brains.

The question is, who was being “selective?” Was it Napoles or did Secretary De Lima already edit it to exclude some of the President’s biggest allies. Did Napoles have any choice, now that she’s fighting to be allowed to turn state witness and get a bailable sentence for her children? What happened to Benhur Luy's hard drive files? Were they also edited?

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The presidential allies got off to preferred treatment. For instance, it’s difficult to think of Senate President Drilon not having enjoyed the perks of friendship with Janet Napoles when his longtime right-hand man and alter ego, former DAR Secretary Rene Villa, served as a lawyer of Napoles in his lean years at the tail end of the Arroyo administration.  As an Inquirer story on Napoles last year noted, Villa would be seen coming in and out of the Ortigas office of Napoles carrying bags of money in those pre-campaign years.  

A Daily Tribune story earlier today alleged that according to a former high Palace official (in the Arroyo administration?) it was Drilon who introduced Napoles to Secretary Villa around 2004 at DAR.  But when Villa resigned, along with the Hyatt 10 in 2005 after unsuccessfully forcing President Arroyo to resign, Napoles was left to operate in DAR. 

The question is, could it really be possible that given Villa’s access to all the Napoles funds the LPs under campaign manager Drilon could have resisted using them?  The two past LP campaigns have been notably awash with funds, and Napoles had admitted in her affidavit having helped to fund the campaign of reelectionist senator Alan Peter Cayetano and a number of other senators.  

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If the “final” Napoles list left out prominent LP leaders, it’s curious that her story about Budget Secretary Florencio Abad---how he allegedly introduced her to the magical art of PDAFs disappearing into bogus NGOs--- was allowed to find its way into Napoles’ affidavit.  Abad stoutly denies her story but there’s now tremendous pressure on “Professor Abad,” as Rep. Lito Atienza calls his former LP colleague, to resign. P-Noy was quoted today as demanding “proof” of Abad’s complicity before he acts on Budget chief's case. But it could also be that he now finds  Abad too heavy a burden to carry, and to parody a favorite hit with kids nowadays, P-Noy's now singing, "Let him go! Let him go!

I really wonder, though, if P-Noy could sack Abad, given that the latter’s genius with unspent executive funds---a dog with a brand new collar, the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), every cent fully approved by the Chief Executive---was what worked its magic among the senators during the Senate trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona. It was DAP, not their individual belief that Corona had amassed ill-gotten wealth (which was never proved by the impeachment court, as then Senate President Enrile stressed in his closing statement)---that apparently convinced 20 senator-judges to throw out CJ Corona TWO YEARS TO THE DAY TOMORROW, May 29.

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The country is seething in turmoil over PDAF scams and bogus NGOs and it’s hard to say just how things would turn out. Already there are a number of casualties . One is that as realization dawned that PDAFs were greedily channeled to bogus foundations for personal profit, the concept of foundations---so wonderful when used for the good---has now become suspect, as we confront the shameful reality of innumerable “foundations for rent.”

Citizens are asking, how do we ferret out the truth about these scams, what with every accused denying his or her guilt to high heavens.  Implicated senators furiously want to confront Napoles and third-degree her in their controlled environment, the Yellow Ribbon Committee---so there’s no use for such hearing. It would just turn into another circus---a waste of time!

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The Board of Governors of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines published half a page in newspapers yesterday, wherein it urged the Office of the Ombudsman to exercise its “statutory power to take over the investigation of any case (regarding the PDAF controversy and other allegations of misuse of public funds) COGNIZABLE by the Sandiganbayan, to prevent confusion and promote public trust and confidence (emphasis BOC's).”

Indeed, confidence in the government has been eroded badly, but many people would question investing trust in Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, as the IBP governors are urging.  She’s not even here, having flown to the US, according to news reports, to attend a two-month seminar (on what?), when the more prudent thing to do is to quickly attend to the fires flaring up over the PDAF scandals. 

Moreover, the OMB proved too unreliable when she testified as hostile witness at the Senate trial of CJ Corona and threw outlandish figures about the supposed foreign bank accounts of Corona that were not supported by facts. She exhibited such an amateurish job aimed at putting down her former Chief at the Supreme Court, with those figures supposedly cobbled with the help of COA Deputy Auditor Heidi Mendoza. 

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Lately, as thoughtful citizens began to look desperately for solutions to the quagmire of hopelessness and deceit engulfing the nation, there’s talk about a National Transformational Council being pushed by political pundits like Carmen Pedrosa, to whom they would like to entrust the independent investigation and trial of the PDAF scams and its perpetrators. From what I gather, the NTC is being proposed to be composed of non-partisan, eminent individuals from different professions and faiths---bound by an urgent desire to bring about the redemption of our beloved country.


I think a concept like NTC would work in digging the truth about our current terrible predicament. The problem I can see immediately, however, is the absence of a Freedom of Information Law that could help in making critical documents available to the citizenry, such as those in the proposed NTC.  Given all the scandals enveloping Congress, it’s entirely conceivable that the FOI bill, until a year ago being given some kind of impetus by responsible legislators, could languish in the purgatory of dead files, as the solons fear disclosure of their shameless actuations. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

In pleading for immunity for her children, Janet Napoles loses whatever little bargaining chip she has. Thus, we can’t expect all the truth to come out about her perpetrated scams as it will be tailored to administration’s liking. This could be reason why the very existence of Ben-Hur Luy’s hard drive files took months to disclose---were they being edited? There’s on-going battle royale at Pasay City’s RTC Branch 115 between former Sen. Edgardo Angara and renowned urban planner-architect Felino Palafox.



Last October journalist Tony Lopez wrote in his BizNews Asia publication a long article on the PDAF explosions, then rather new, which began with this paragraph: “Senators and 334 congressmen have been found to enjoy hundreds of millions of payola disguised as pork barrel. In 2007-2009 alone, they got P115 billion. President Aquino has two options: to prosecute the guilty or since some of them are his political allies, to help in the cover-up of what is a massive yearly plunder of people’s money that has resulted in the poverty of millions and the perpetuation in power of the greedy, corrupt and incompetent political dynasties. PEOPLE ARE MAD (emphasis BOC’s).”

Lopez’s article, written before the Supreme Court’s ruling rendering the PDAF unconstitutional, raised the question:  “Can President Aquino run after Enrile, Angara, Bong, Jinggoy and Alan?”  Juan Ponce Enrile, (Edgardo) Angara and Bong Revilla were the three top PDAF senators for 2007-2009, as per official COA listing (Enrile P904,500 million, Angara P862.645 million and Revilla P853 million), and quoted by Lopez in BizNews.

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Today, seven months later, it has become clear to all and sundry---except the most fanatical of P-Noy’s followers---that Malacanang and its minions are engaged in a cover-up of the massive plunder. It has become clear that the President is out to protect his allies implicated in the Napoles scam, even as the administration’s firepower is directed primarily against opposition senators Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Revilla, in a shameful display of selective justice. 

All this time, P-Noy has been shielding his allies---led by the chief of the office where all the squandered public funds for Congress and the LGUs have emanated from in the last nearly four years---the DBM under Secretary Butch Abad. 

In the light of the P10 billion that went to fake Napoles NGOs, media have failed to highlight the gargantuan pork barrel of LGUs, which this year alone has amounted to P361 billion---all sans veritable COA audit. This prompted Rep. Gary Alejano of the party-list Magdalo to demand that COA render the same scrutiny to those LGU funds as it sought to do with the PDAFs of 2007- 2009. 

Janet Napoles claims that Abad had taught her the rudiments of setting up bogus NGOs to lure the legislators’ PDAFs, and that their dealings go as far back as the late 1990s when Abad was a House member---which he has denied. 

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What’s sad is that from all indications there has been no genuine effort to pursue the truth concerning funds channeled to other public servants, especially of the yellowest kind, such as Abad, Sen. Franklin Drilon (recipient of the second fattest Disbursement Acceleration Program or DAP fund in the Senate, whose constitutionality is pending before the SC) and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala. 

Instead, the administration seems to prefer to blur and obfuscate the facts, and it's easy to see why: if the entire truth about Napoles and other NGO scams is fully revealed, the Aquino government could very well collapse under its weight (at the moment one can already feel the instability). 

As for the nation’s corpus, so much financial blood has been drained from it by official corruption---aside from the P10 billion that went to eight bogus NGOs of Napoles, there's the still-to be computed amount funneled to 64 lesser non-Napoles fake NGOs. This explains its frightfully emaciated state---so much poverty especially in city slums as well in as the rural countryside where, with few exceptions, things are at a virtual standstill. 

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To begin with, it appears that the Liberal Party had tapped this polluted source for its campaign funds in 2010 for candidate P-Noy and in the recent senatorial elections of 2013. Denials have been made, but the public is convinced about the LP conspiracy with Ma’am Janet in the elections---given all those cozy photos showing her and her daughter with LP bigwigs that have circulated in social media. LP campaign banners in various areas announced her valuable presence. And of course, the special treatment accorded to her at the Palace and in Crame where P-Noy personally escorted her for custody. 

The grand cover-up is achieved principally by confusing the public with conflicting lists of scams and scoundrels, including a list from Rehabilitation Czar Panfilo Lacson, who seems to prefer the limelight derived from dangling the list supposedly from Janet's husband Jimmy, rather than to get devastated Visayas back on its feet.   

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There’s a grand build-up about the  affidavit of Janet Napoles, which is supposed to be a written and sworn version of what Justice Secretary De Lima extracted from her in a “tell-all” marathon confession for five hours five weeks ago---just before she went under the knife for uterine surgery (probably already sedated. Was a credible 'confession' still possible?).

De Lima promised to make the affidavit public tomorrow, but we can’t really hold our breath on it or its veracity.  Recall that weeks after that tell-all session, De Lima kept saying she was still “vetting” the sins Napoles had confessed at Ospital ng Makati.

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Consider too the following: after the song-and-dance act of the Three Furies (De Lima, COA Chief Grace Pulido Tan and Ombudman Conchita Carpio Morales) many months ago, Tan, under heavy public pressure, promised to reveal the sequel to the 2007-2009 list, but she never got around to it. On the other hand, the lead prosecutor against public graft and corruption, Morales is apparently not in a hurry either to prosecute any scalawag, as she left for the US to attend a seminar (on what?) for one and a half months ! 

CBCP President Socrates Villegas has exhorted the administration to pursue the truth about the scams and for all the political scalawags to return the dirty money they received from Napoles at al. But tracking the truth is tough, especially since Napoles can’t afford now to tell the entire truth about her special friends in high places, for one good reason---she’s seeking immunity or at least a lighter punishment for her children. Hence she has to toe the administration line and incriminate or exonerate whoever it wants her to.   

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It’s no stroke of brilliance to predict that Ma’am Janet would exclude majority of the presidential bigwig allies from her list, except perhaps for one or two small fries to be thrown in for credibility (who shall the sacrificial lambs be?). To ensure that there won't be any contradictions, remember that the hard drive files of whistle-blower Ben-Hur Luy have been in the possession of the NBI, which is under De Lima's jurisdiction, all this time. Just why the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee failed to demand these files from Luy when he appeared before it months ago is a wonder---but then, it’s really no wonder. That committee has changed its color from blue to yellow, with chair TG Guingona exonerating the administration even before the conclusion of his hearings.

Thus, when presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte very haughtily snapped last Friday that Janet “should put her money where her mouth is” (by the way, that’s language unbecoming of Valte’s office), that was a naked threat to Janet.

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Architect Felino Palafox Jr.
Former Sen. Edgardo Angara




There’s a battle royale going on at the Pasay City RTC, Branch 115, between former Sen. Edgardo Angara and renowned architect-urban planner Felino Palafox Jr. The architect was hired by Angara to develop the Aurora Pacific Ecozone and Freeport Authority (APECO) in Aurora province on the Pacific side, the Angaras' pet project. But their relation eventually soured and Angara didn't like some of Palafox's public pronouncements about APECO and his person, and hailed him to court for libel.

The latest development is that Palafox through counsel Ricardo M. Ribo filed an omnibus motion to inhibit the presiding judge of RTC Branch 115 from trying his case vs. Angara---citing “serious doubts and misgivings as to the degree of objectivity, impartiality and neutrality of the Presiding Judge.”

Atty. Ribo cited that during continuation of the pre-trial last April he demanded from Angara’s lead counsel, Atty. Leonard de Vera, that he produce his special power of attorney (SPA); but instead of De Vera confirming with the defendant’s counsel’s request, it was the judge himself who demanded Ribo’s production of his SPA and scrutinized it, whereas he did not do so with De Vera's SPA. 

Palafox, through counsel, also asserted that the Presiding Judge ordered him to appear in court for the third time last May 7, which, he claimed, was “grossly oppressive and calculated to harass the defendant.”

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I can see some justification in the claim of Palafox about the lack of neutrality of the Presiding Judge of Branch 115. In one of those hearings some months ago, Palafox asked some media friends to cover the presentation of arguments. Before the start of the hearing De Vera stood up to plead that it be a closed-door session and everyone with no direct interest in the case be sent out, as there could be “sensitive matters” to be taken up, he said.

I thought De Vera’s plea was out of order, as what’s involved in the construction of APECO---which has become a white elephant owing to its location in a typhoon belt on the Pacific side---are public funds (more than P3 billion at last count).  Ribo tried his best to counter De Vera’s argument, but the judge appeared to be hardly paid attention to the heated exchange. Then quickly he upheld De Vera’s motion and all the spectators had to file out of the court room, except for the lawyers and Arch. Palafox. Secret masyado.

I thought that episode was one clear indication of how ACCRALAW has become so legendary in our judicial system. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Newly-minted St. John XXIII, the 'good pope,' convened Vatican II that brought sweeping changes in the ancient institution, even as post-conciliar era under Paul VI saw ‘turbulent weather.’ Not well known: how John XXIII helped avert what could have been worst Cold War crisis, by brokering peace between JFK and Khrushchev in Cuban missile crisis of October 1962. Grateful Nikita thanked Pope by sending uncorrupted body of 17th century martyr St. Josaphat of Ukraine to Vatican.




This last of my blog series on the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II could raise valid complaints from the vast number of admirers of St. John: why only one blog about him when I’ve written four about St John Paul II? Is it discrimination or excessive love for one over the other saint? Not at all.

For one, there’s less material on the rotund much-loved smiling man known to the world as the “good pope,” and the “Good Shepherd” than on his colleague two successions removed, Pope JPII---who captivated the world with his profundity, theatrical talent (as the great British actor John Gielgud once said, JPII had this “perfect sense of timing”in his pronouncements) and telegenic looks.

The comparative lack of material on John XXIII doubtless arises from the fact that this "meek and gentle, resourceful and courageous, simple and ever active Pope," elected on Oct. 28, 1958 at the age of 76, reigned on Peter’s Throne only for four years and seven months, whereas JPII was Pope for nearly 27 years. Even the write-up on John in the handsomely-designed official misalette distributed by the Vatican at the canonizations was shorter.

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But there were two singular achievements of Pope John that cannot be taken away from him. 

One was his decision that stunned and shocked the Church and the world, to convene the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (Vatican II) on Oct. 11, 1962. By popular notion, Vatican II constituted the opening of the ancient institution's windows to let fresh winds blow inside it after an existence of almost 2000 years---akin to a "New Pentecost."

The 21st ecumenical council in Church history (the First Vatican Council was convened by Pope Pius IX from 1869 to 1870), Vatican II was considered by Church historians as the most important religious event of the century at that time. It allowed many significant and far-reaching changes in the Church---most familiar to us lay people is that now we can hear mass and the rituals in our own language, not the sonorous Latin of ancient past.

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For one thing, as Catholic scholar George Weigel noted, “The Church’s theology, its study of Scripture, its worship, and its approach to modern politics all needed development.” Or as author Thomas Bokenkotter put it, Vatican II was John’s “magnificent dream of a heart-to-heart conversation with the whole of humanity on the major spiritual issues of the day.” For Vatican II, 3000 bishops from around the world met in four three month-sessions at St. Peter’s Basilica itself over three  years, which saw it issue 16 documents---four constitutions, nine decrees and three declarations.

John XXIII, however, would not be allowed by God to shepherd his dream council to its end, for on June 3, 1963, significantly the day after Pentecost, he died suddenly.

As in any post-earthquake period, the “post-conciliar” period after the close of Vatican II stirred a lot of tensions, confusion and controversy and it was left to John’s successor, 65-year old Giovanni Cardinal Battista Montini of Northern Italy, who became Paul VI, to heroically deal with them.  Our own Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle studied the influence of Paul VI over Vatican II for his doctoral dissertation at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., titled “Episcopal Collegiality and Vatican II.”  

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What’s also not known much by the outside world was how this smiling gentle Pontiff helped pull the world from the brink of what’s considered the worst nuclear crisis to hit in the Cold War era. The time was October 1962, a 13-day confrontation between the USSR and its ally Cuba, on one hand, and the US on the other. In May that year Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev proposed the idea of placing Soviet nuclear missiles on the island of Cuba in the US’ underbelly---to deter what he claimed would be future invasion attempts by the US, after the latter had placed nuke missiles in Turkey and Italy, aimed, said the Soviet leader, at Moscow. 

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A July secret meeting between Khrushchev and Fidel Castro ended with the agreement to start construction of missile sites in Cuba late that summer, and US defense intelligence produced photos by the U-2 of nuke missiles on the ground there. The US contemplated an air and sea attack, but ultimately decided on a military blockade, euphemistically called a “quarantine.”

Nikita protested the “act of aggression propelling human kind into the abyss of a world nuclear-missile war,” while JFK demanded dismantling of the missile sites and return of the weapons to USSR. What the world did not know at that time was that “secret back-channel communication” was going on between the two world leaders.

Very much in the midst of this back-channeling was John XXIII whom the Soviet Premier had secretly asked to negotiate with the US President. The Pope called President Kennedy and they talked about it, and to the huge relief of the world, the missile konfrontasi ended on Oct. 28, 1962. The USSR agreed to the dismantling in Cuba and the US agreed to pull out the weapons deployed in Turkey and Italy. That moral victory was among the highlights of JFK's all-too-brief Camelot reign.

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In the early part of the on-going Ukraine crisis, Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, reading my write-up on that crisis, emailed this blogger to recall that Nikita was so happy over John XXIII's "intercession" that he later dispatched his son-in-law to the Vatican to ask what he could present to the Pope in gratitude. John XXIII asked for only one thing: that the remains of 17th century Archbishop-martyr St. Josaphat be turned over to the Vatican from the Ukraine, which was part of the USSR at that time.

St. Josaphat was killed by a rival Christian Orthodox faction as he attempted to quell schisms and broker unity between warring factions. His body had remained unncorrupted for several centuries, despite being recovered from a river at one point; reports said it smelled of fragrance of roses and lilies.  Josaphat was canonized by Pope Leo XIII in 1867.

Khrushchev indulged the Pope's request and in fact, said Archbishop Arguelles, he was ordained bishop by Pope John Paul II not far from the altar of St. Josaphat at the Vatican. The Saint's Feast is on Nov. 12, which, happily, coincides with the Lipa Archbishop's birthday.

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Body of St. John XXIII, exposed to veneration in St. Peter's Basilica

Angelo Guiseppe Roncalli, who later became Pope John XXIII, was born in Bergamo, Italy, of humble origins, in stark contrast to his predecessor, the patrician Eugenio Pacelli, later Pope Pius XXII who died in 1958. Ordained priest in Rome, John became secretary to a significant Vatican official named Giacomo Radini Tedeschi, at whose side he acquired profound contact with sainted bishops such as St. Charles Borromeo, St. Francis de Sales and blessed Gregorio Barbarigo. He became seminary professor and spiritual assistant to various ecclesiastical associations, then bishop, archbishop and Cardinal-Patriarch of Venice, following in the ministerial footsteps of holy bishops such as St. Lawrence Guistiniani, Venice’s first Patriarch, and St. Pius X.

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One interesting stint of Roncalli---perhaps unique among church leaders---was his military service in the two World Wars. When Italy joined WWI in 1915 the future pope was called to be a sergeant medic behind enemy lines and later as military chaplain serving military hospitals and coordinating spiritual and moral care of soldiers. In World War II, while assigned in devastated Greece and Turkey as Apostolic Delegate, Roncalli sought to gain information about prisoners of war and helped many Jews escape by giving them transit visas. In the final months of the war and immediate peace, he also worked to restore stability to the life of the Church in France.  

If this blogger may be permitted this recollection, I wrote last year about the time when my husband, then a young lieutenant serving as junior aide-de-camp to then Vice President and Foreign Secretary Emmanuel Pelaez, accompanied his boss for an audience with Pope John XXIII in Rome in early 1963. When the Pope learned of the  young West Point-trained lieutenant’s background, he recounted to him  his service behind enemy lines in the trench warfare of WWI. Then John put his arms around him and said, “Don’t worry, my son. You’ll become a general someday.” That prophesy proved great, for General Cunanan was able to earn three stars in his military career. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Young polish Father Karol Wojtyla, later St.John Paul II, was, among others, poet and mystic, heavily influenced by great Spanish 16th century mystic/poet St. John of the Cross. Iconic UP humanities prof Josefina D. Constantino, now Sr. Teresa Joseph Patrick of Discalced Carmelites, also sees in Karol's poetry influences of/similarities with those of French 'cerebral' poet Paul Valery, Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, British poet T. S. Eliot and American Jesuit poet Gerald Manley Hopkins



The young Fr. Karol Wojtyla, later Saint Pope John Paul II


This last blog in my recent series on newly-minted St. John Paul II is not going to be easy read, but console yourselves, dear readers, neither has it been easy write for me. This is because this blog will show the interaction between three great personalities: poet Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II), St. John of the Cross, the 16th century Spanish mystic saint who heavily influenced Wojtyla’s thought and actions, and the former UP icon for the humanities for decades, Prof. Josefina D. Constantino (who holds a master's degree in comparative literature from Cornell University and was fondly called just "JD"  by her legion of fans over nearly five decades).

JD Constantino eventually joined the Discalced Carmelites’ order and became Sr. Teresa Joseph Patrick. Today, at 94 years old she has arthritis that’s the glorious gift of old age---but remains relatively lucid and still talks in her excited tone.

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But if you readers would persist in reading this blog, your reward will be great, as you’ll get to savor the exquisite poetry of Karol Wojtyla composed in his formative years, which has not been published in recent times. Indeed his poetry-writing is one aspect of this great Pope/Saint that remains a mystery. 

Thanks to Sr. Teresa who took pains to publish and analyze Wojtyla's poems under her pen-name, Susana Jose, and gifted me with some copies many years back, I can now share these poems with my readers right after St. John Paul II's canonization. 

As an aside, this blogging exercise brings me back to my humanities days at the UP in the early '60s.

For this blog, I shall refer to Sr. Teresa in her pen-name, Susana Jose, lest she be mistaken for Santa Teresa of Avila. On the other hand, Karol Wojtyla will be referred to as KW. Susana is apologetic that KW’s poems in Polish  as well as John of the Cross’ poems in 16th century Spanish will have to be read and discussed in their English translations. Indeed I realize that this would make their respective writings the poorer, but how else?

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As St. John Paul narrated in his all-time best-selling book, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” in his youthful years he met Jan Tyranowski, whom he considered a “true mystic” and a saint and who introduced him to great Spanish mystics Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Thus, narrated KW, “Even before entering the underground seminary I read the works of (St. John), especially his poetry.”

But Wojtyla confessed that in order to read St. John’s poetry in the original, “I studied Spanish. That was a very important stage in my life.” (This recalls another great Polish writer, novelist Joseph Conrad of “Heart of Darkness” and "Nostromo" fame, dubbed the “Polish ‘Hamlet,’ " who learned English at 38 years of age).

So engrossed was Wojtyla with St. John of the Cross, whom Santa Teresa de Avila called “divine and celestial,” that he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Spanish mystic in Latin, titled “Doctrina de fe apud S. Joannem a Cruce,”while studying for his doctoral degree at the Dominican-led Angelicum University in Rome.

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Before the Congress on St. John of the Cross held in the Vatican in May 1991 on the  400th anniversary of they Mystic's death, Pope John Paul II, speaking in Spanish, mentioned how he paid tribute in his apostolic letter “Maestro en la Fe” (Teacher in the Faith) to St. John as “a man of letters and a poet of the Castillan language…an artist and a humanist. He is a man of deep mystic experience…a theologian and spiritual exegete…a spiritual master and a director of consciences.” JPII quoted the words of A. Machado that the Spanish mystic was “an expert in words and poetic expression, who deserved to be called ‘ “the holiest of poets and the most poetic of the saints.’ “

Thus, while Fr. Wojtyla’s dissertation on St. John was written in Latin, KW's poetry, highly influenced by the mystic, was written in Polish in a collection titled “The Easter Vigil and Other Poems,” that he wrote under the pen-name Andrzy Jawien. Those poems were then translated by Polish poet/Jerzy Peterkiewiez of London University into English, and published between 1950-1966---twelve years before Archbishop Wojtyla became Pope in 1978.


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To show how strong was the influence of St. John of the Cross on Fr. Wojtyla, Susana Jose presents the following five stanzas from the great Spanish Mystic Doctor, as found in his "The Living Flame of Love" (in Spanish, Llama de Amor Viva). Indeed the Mystic's influence is quite strong as we later plumb the poetry of Wojtyla. Wrote St. John of the Cross:

1. O living flame of love
that tenderly wounds my soul
in its deepest center! Since
now you are not oppressive,
now consummate! if it be your will:
tear through the veil of this sweet encounter!

 2. O sweet cautery,
O delightful wound!
O gentle hand! O delicate touch
that tastes of eternal life
and pays every debt!
In killing you changed death to life.

3. O lamps of fire!
in whose splendors
the deep caverns of feeling,
once obscure and blind,
now give forth, so rarely, so exquisitely,
both warmth and light in their Beloved.

4. How gently and lovingly
you wake in my heart,
where in secret you dwell alone;
and in your sweet breathing,
filled with good and glory,
how tenderly you swell my heart with love.

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Karol Wojtyla’s poetry collection starts with a poem on Mary the Mother of God which, Susana Jose opines, is “Deceivingly simple, it can even be thought of as rather literal and prosaic, especially by those who love to bathe themselves in emotions…” whereas a “contemplative experience of a poem, as an act, is grandly and profoundly simple: it is a fixing of one’s gaze on truth with love.” In this case, Susana says, the celebration between Mary and her son has to be just that, as KW presents it: Mary is amazed that this Child is her Son.

“Her amazement at her only child”

“Light piercing, gradually, everyday events:
A woman’s eyes, hands used to them since childhood.
Then brightness flared, too huge for simple days,
And hands clasped when the words lost their space.
In that little town, my son, where they knew us together
You called me mother, but no one had eye to see
The astounding events as they took place day by day:
Your life became the life of the poor
In your wish to be with them
through the work of your hands.
I knew; the light that lingered in ordinary things
like a spark sheltered under the skin of our days----
The light was you; it did not come from me.
And I had more of you in that luminous silence
Than I had of you as the fruit of my body, my blood. “

XXX

Susana presents the following first stanza of his concluding poem in the above collection, which is really KW’s testament and dedication to Christ Jesus--- if only to complete KW’s celebration of simply ‘being’:


“Invocation to Man who became the body of history”

 I call you and I seek you in whom / Man’s history
finds its body,
I go toward you, and you do not / say ‘Come’
but simply ‘be’

XXX

In another poem, still a continuation of Mary’s role, titled “John beseeches her,” Susana notes how “the beloved disciple John is lyrical (tender, awed and loving) in his first words to her…(Actually) This is KW speaking to Mary and appealing to her in the name of us all---for all men.”

“Don’t lower the wave of my love / it swells to your eyes, Mother
don’t alter love, but bring the  / wave to me
in your translucent hands.

Then, Susana notes, “follows KW’s famous silences and…one-liner stanzas…the reality beyond grasp of words…And then John the Beloved Disciple talks of himself as a fisherman does, saying that both Mary and he had been commissioned: she to take him as her son;  he to call her Mother: ‘his wish” and he beseeches her, “May this word never grow less for you,” 
though 

"It is not easy to measure the meaning
of the words He breathed into us both"
 

concealing ‘all earlier loves,’ for now they have work to do.


XXX

In two of Kw's poems titled “Thoughts’ resistance to words” and “Words’ resistance to thoughts” Susana noted that KW had to wrestle with words and celebrate such struggle, and finalizes with his “Error.” In these three poems, KW searches a way to extract what he terms the "still centre of thought." He viewed things as not just ‘things,’ but realities…In fact, “all things to him---all else apart from the man himself in his unmoving, living, pulsating center--- are history, the whole body.” As KW says:

‘Never separate man from things, the body of his history…Things cannot save what is utterly human---only ‘Man’ (meaning Christ).”  But things can also just be things “enclosed in themselves.” Only “man is left with the immortality of things---things don’t die a personal death’---that is the privilege alone of man.

As Susana put it, “KW therefore defines more pointedly the real problem of the thoughts’ resistance to words: it is the truth of or in the moment which resists words: the passion, the secret of each moment---“

"But when we act can our deeds
Surrender the ultimate truths 
we presume to ponder?'

Susana stressed that “The problem of the finest, purest, almost unmoving integrity of being is the plea of KW’s poetry. He thinks little of a difficult enough situation as he says:

“Sometimes it happens in / conversation; we stand
facing truth and lack the words, / I have no gesture, no sign;
and yet---we feel---no word, / no gesture or sign would convey
the whole image that we must / enter alone and face like Jacob.

Notes Susana: “The last line, remembering with whom Jacob wrestled, delivered the unspoken thought. But again, lest the reader miss his point, KW explains directly: ‘This isn’t mere wrestling with images in our thoughts.’ Then KW delivers the weight of pain and agony with which he lived his days, years, during the days of the German occupation and inner bondage, as he says:

“we fight with the likeness of all things
that inwardly constitute man.”

Susana: “He fought with all he had got as man---and so between him and his God (like Jacob) he asks:

But when we act can our deeds surrender
the ultimate truths we presume to ponder.

Susana: “But if thought has a center, its very core beyond expression, so also does even one word have a center---and here KW IS poet as he talks of:

its weight the ripeness of fruit

Susana: "Yet, it seems to ask: what is this ripeness? When is ripe, ripe? But the ripeness becomes again a query:"

"Is this the weight Jacob felt / pressing him down when tired
stars sink within him,  / the eyes of his flock?"

Susana: "Indeed who is to tell him what to do: a choice of personal integrity or the integrity of his shepherding assignment, from God, of his flock?

XXX

Susana: "Anguished by such moment-to-moment encounter with truth and Truth, we rejoice at his annunciations of grace, such as he celebrates in Embraced by new time when Karol says:

"My depths are seen into, I am seen / through and through
Open to sight, I rise, in that vision gently submerge
For a long time nobody knew of this:
I told no one the expression of your eyes."

Susana: “How tenderly, intimately he writes of God, He knows---and that is all that matters. So he muses lingeringly over such moments. Here he is, the comtemplative, the mystic:

"How attentive your stillness; it will / always be part of me
I lift myself towards it / I will one day grow used to it
That I will stand still, transparent / as water vanishing into a dry riverbed
though my body will remain / Your disciples will come, and hear that my heartbeat has stopped."

Susanna: "God graces him with union in his deepest center:  he is found, and he is still. And totally transparent, caught in the purity of being; as one dead, lost in God! But the deep sadness, the weariness is glimpsed: when, O when, Lord! And he continues along the same vein:

My life will no longer be weighed / deep in my blood
the road will no longer slip away from my weary feet
New time now shines in my fading eyes:


XXX

Susana: “There is the secret: he has had a taste of heaven:

It will consume me, and dwell with my heart,
And all shall be full at the last, / and left for nought’s delight.

Susana: "And Karol the poet sings alleluia; he is reborn and he promises confession, revelation, exaltation:

I will open out my song / and knew its smallest sound
I will open out my song, / intent on the whole of your life.
My song possessed by the even so simple and clear
Which begins in every man, / visible there, yet secret.

Susana: KW sings hosanna to the incarnation event that continues in all men:

In men it was made flesh / was revealed in song with grace,
And come to many, and in them / found its own peace,

Susana: "All have been “embraced by new time”: the continuing resurrection of the spirit of time, because reborn faith has “found its own space.”

"One can end right there and know that he has met KW in flesh and blood; and that he has also has been reborn in faith." 


XXX

But to Susana KW is "unceasingly fascinated by the greatness of the spirit of man, any man: the car factory and the armaments factory workers, the quarry man, the actor, the schizoid, the blind, the girl disappointed in love...and of course Magdalene: and the man of intellect, the man of will and of emotion." To each of the above, says Susana, KW is always confessedly Simon of Cyrene (which is his favorite role)."

I know the Cyrenean's profile best
from every conceivable view

Susana: That is to be all men for all men because KW has become alter Christus, as he says in the next line:

The profile always starts alongside the other Man;
It falls from his shoulders / to break off exactly where 
that other man is most himself, least defenseless. 

Susana: KW is always (praise God!) priest, so he rushes to add, almost apologetically (the shepherd in him is always above the poet) and he explains:

he would be defenseless if what is in him and of him
did not form a vertical line / but gave way

Susana: And then as though now he has said the word (his exhortation), one can sense he plucks his wife anew, because now he writes singingly":

Feet search grass. The earth insects
drill the greenery swaying the / streams of the sun

Susana: And just right off, KW is back to the agonizingly humdrum daily routine of a regime of suppression and fear (the Nazi occupation and later the Soviet conquest---BOC).

Feet wear down cobbles, the / cobbled street wears down feet.
No nation / No pathos, thoughts in the crowd, / unspoken.


XXX

Susana: Like Simon, like Jesus who keeps going, trudgingly he tries again---

Take a thought if you can---plant / its root in the artisan's hands
(workers think, don't forget) in / the fingers of women typing eight 
hours a day ; block letters hang / from reddened eyelids.

Take a thought, make man complete
or allow him to begin himself anew
or let him just help You perhaps
and You lead him on.

Susana: Always KW exalts the thinking man---thought makes a man complete. Try and try again---take that first step, the Magdalene or Simon, and then ---ah, then, again he is reborn in faith:

Grass waving, a green hammock / a breezy cradle of bees
walk the waves---I don't hurt your feet
In the waves' embrace you never / know you are drowning.

Susana: And across the waters, as to Peter, so to us---

And then He comes, He lays his yoke
on your back. You feel it, you tremble, you are awake.

Susana: "Great lines, "He comes"---you think to help you, to relieve you, to guide you safely back to shore? No, "He lays his yoke on your back." This is drama: sublime encounter. This is truth piercing and you are found---"You feel it, you tremble, you are awake!"

The Buddhist will exclaim "Satori! You are enlightened.