Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sins of the confessional

“I WAS misinterpreted.”

This, in a nutshell, was the defense made by a diocesan priest recently accused by a Catholic student of touching the strap of her bra while he heard her confession.

Last Jul. 30, Sun.Star Cebu’s Justin K. Vestil and Bernadette A. Parco reported that the accused priest said he only “tapped” the students on the back and “drew his face closer” to “whisper” his advice during the confession.

A reader who claims his daughter was one of the priest’s “unlucky victims” posted a comment to the Jul. 30 report uploaded in the Sun.Star Cebu website. Aside from denouncing the priest for being a “liar, liar, liar,” the reader wrote that his daughter was “terrified” and that he hopes that Church officials will not just transfer him to other locations, “as they always do, otherwise this maniac will do the same to other poor children.”

While church officials ask the media and the public not to “pre-empt” their ongoing investigation, they must also listen to public criticism, specially since this is directed at actions, or inaction, that are no different from those in the past.

Anyone drilled on the concept of penitence will seize on a pattern or repetition of lapses as alarming. To repeat an act either means one has not realized the mistake or feels no guilt about flouting what’s right again and again.

For instance, a priest’s act of tapping, rubbing or kneading a confessor’s back is not usual during confessions. However, this act figures in two allegations of priestly misconduct: the current case and the Nov. 2006 incident involving the Cebu Archdiocesan priest Fr. Benjamin Ejares.

Ejares was accused of touching the backs and arms of seven students of Abellana National High School during confessions made during a Christian life seminar conducted at the school’s grandstand on Nov. 14, 2006. In Oct. 2007, the Cebu City Prosecutor’s Office dismissed the lasciviousness complaint filed against Ejares, which was decried by the affected families, government officials and child rights advocates.

The church says there is proper conduct guiding priests during confession. Why did the accused priests rub the students’ backs? If a confessor needs to be consoled, a priest can use his voice or even silence to comfort. Touching a girl’s back may mean rubbing against the bra straps. Even if unintentional, the act is prone to misinterpretation.

If one was truly sensitive to the confessional, particularly in the context of clergy abuse controversies, isn’t it prudent for priests to observe distance, particularly the injunction, “keep your hands to yourself”?

More importantly, the recent charges of priestly misconduct put once more to the test, even in the eyes of the faithful, the church’s capacity to measure up to the same exacting standards it sets for persons and institutions.

The church has to show that it is accountable to the public, and that it cares for the innocent harmed by erring members. In 2006, the BBC released a documentary, “Sex Crimes and the Vatican,” that mentions a secret document, the “Crimen sollicitationis,” which means “the crime of soliciting” before, during and after the sacrament of penance.

The BBC documentary asserts that this 1962 document was used by the church to distance itself from accusations of homosexuality, pedophilia and zoophilia (sexual contact with animals). This code was enforced by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger for 20 years before he became the Pope.

Last Apr. 16, 2010, the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) reported the findings of an investigation made by the Associated Press (AP). Covering 21 countries in six continents, the AP found 30 cases of “’abusive’ priests shuffled around the globe,” with some ending up in the Philippines.

One seminarian convicted of sexual misconduct in Michigan was ordained a priest and served in a diocese in Bohol. The practice of transferring abusive priests is called the “geographical cure,” reported PDI.

Could this be an improvement on the old wives’ wisdom of including papaya in priestly diets for its libido-lowering effect?

Justice is preferred.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Aug. 1, 2010 issue of “Matamata”

Saturday, July 24, 2010


WHEN I met Cecille the first time, she blended in with her batch: smart, confident, promising. (Real name withheld.)

I saw Cecille in another light when she, along with two other coeds, was a news source for an article about one-night stands.

For fact-checking, the writer submitted the names of his anonymous sources. I couldn’t associate the articulate and witty Cecille with the person so confused by self-doubt, she slept around because she thought nobody wanted more from her beyond that one night.

I asked the writer to probe why Cecille sabotaged all her relationships by equating every male’s interest in her with sex.

The answer came from Cecille herself: she said all men had to be like her father, a philanderer, but she wasn’t going to be like her mom, who acted blind to his infidelities and always took him back after his “whoring.”

I remembered Cecille again when I read about the proposal that Rep. Pablo Garcia (Cebu Province, 2nd district) will file again. If Garcia’s bill is approved, persons getting a church annulment will have this automatically recognized by the civil courts.

According to the July 24, 2010 article by Sun.Star Cebu’s Justin K. Vestil, the bill promises less cost and inconvenience to couples who want to go their separate ways. At present, it requires time, money and lawyers to process the separate annulment one has to secure from the Church and the State to be finally and truly free to remarry.

This view was countered by a judicial vicar who handles annulment cases in the Metropolitan Matrimonial Tribunal, which evaluates if a petition for nullity is valid. According to the same article, Fr. Raul Go cautioned that if the bill becomes a law, this may be abused by some parties as an alternative to divorce.

Annulment cases may increase, he warned.

According to a Feb. 11, 2008 article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) found “alarming” the rise of petitions filed for annulment of marriage: 7,138 cases in 2006, 7,753 in 2008. Before 2006, the OSG noted that the number of annulment cases never exceeded 7,000.

The OSG attributed the trend to the relaxation of society’s attitude toward separated couples. On the other hand, the State urged the Church to help couples save their marriage because break-ups also scarred the innocent, the couple’s children.

The human desire for closure in relationships is far too complex to be grasped by institutions like religion and the State.

Cecille’s mother’s decision to keep their family intact was not without cost. Had her parents opted for separation or annulment, would this have nipped in Cecilia the same weakness she hated in her mother?

In 2006, Sun.Star Cebu published a three-part special report entitled “Going Solo”. As a member of that special report team, I interviewed multiple sources who went through the familiar tale of love-marriage- disillusion-dissolution (or not quite).

All my sources were women through no deliberate intention of mine. All experienced a form or combination of different forms of abuse: physical, sexual, financial, emotional, psychological.

Those who pushed on successfully with their petitions to nullify their marriage said they wanted the annulment to signify an empty, clean slate with which to begin anew even if they did not have a new lover or were uncertain if they could sufficiently trust themselves to fall into another commitment again.

As a child of parents who mutually decided to separate, I can say there is no empty, clean slate. As lovers, parents, sons, daughters, friends, we humans are a messy lot.

The only consolation, if it is one, is that we have a hand in writing our lives.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 25, 2010 issue of “Matamata”

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Yo, peasant!

Mr. Clean-cut & Earnest.

Taking over as male co-anchor of the “Wowowee” noontime show, Lucky Manzano was acceptable when he did not distract me from my lunch.

Though he does not create sparks like his actor-politician parents, Manzano is still less grating than its still-absent former host.

When interviewing the folks who are thrilled to compete in a game requiring them to guess a song’s title, Lucky seems less inclined to follow his female partners’ screech-and-shimmy approach to interviewing.

He sounds as if he seems interested in every sob story, in everyman’s or –woman’s old but unfading hope that dreams will eventually triumph over loss.
Or so it seemed until last Friday.

For this particular episode, the show featured entertainers who didn’t quite make it to the big time. One of the players was a Mandaue-based singer named Jan-Jan.

With Manzano and Mariel Rodriguez interviewing, Jan-Jan narrated how he often competed in local singing contests where all he brought home was canned sardines.

After more probing by Manzano, Jan-Jan admitted that these were consolation prizes when all he could cop was a fourth-place finish.

The relief was audible in Manzano when he expressed incredulity that any singer would compete if sardines in cans were all that was awaiting the grand prize winner.
Jan-Jan replied that a pack of canned goods was oftentimes all he brought home after a night of competition. When I heard this, I looked up from my plate of “piniritong isda” and “utan Bisaya”.

On the TV screen was a typical Wowowee spectacle: glitter and glam, toothy Lucky and slinky Mariel, and a squat, burly fellow way past his youth but with a curtain of hair half-draping his homely mug.

It was not for Lucky and Mariel that I wanted to leap to my feet and clap (I did not because I had just used my hands to detach the head from the fish for chewing).

Then it was the turn of Jan-Jan’s wife to give the regulatory message. The camera cut to a not-so-young-anymore woman standing among the studio audience. Her tresses were as long and jet-black as Jan-Jan’s, but she was definitely not a Mariel.

She told Jan-Jan how much she appreciated him, specially because of what they went through. When the camera cut to Lucky, Mr. Clean-cut & Earnest only interjected: My, she’s speaking in English!

Time on TV goes at such a clip that an audience shouldn’t have to decode a message for a possibility of meanings: a) You don’t look like the type to speak in English (i.e. mestizo enough, educated enough, rich enough, etc.), b) Are you trying to make us Tagalog-speakers look bad by speaking in English?, or c) It sure surprised me that you speak English; you look as if you just crawled out of a cave.

It’s highly possible that I only have these three interpretations to Manzano’s moments of incredulity because at about the same time that he exclaimed his wonder over Jan-Jan’s wife’s preference for the Queen’s language, the fish head I was masticating speared me something awful.

If I will forever remember this moment in TV game show history, it will be for, in the order of emphasis: a) Jan-Jan’s song (in English), which did not just “entertain” (his enunciation was flawless); 2) the dignity and self-possession of Jan-Jan’s wife, who calmly finished the rest of her message to her husband in English, despite Manzano’s putdown (in Tagalog); and 3) Manzano, who made me check online for synonyms to “peasant”: provincial, bumpkin, hillbilly, clean-cut & earnest.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 18, 2010 issue of “Matamata”

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Binay and my lola

WHEN we visited my lola the other night, she was repairing her wooden fan.

Lola was applying a bottle of glue to stick back the cloth that came loose from some of the wooden staves.

My cousin, glancing up from his laptop, offered to buy our grandmother a new fan.

Lola held up the repaired fan, now fully unfurled, and experimentally stirred the air with it.

If I forget this fan in church, it will still be good for the one who finds it, my grandmother mused aloud.

I looked down at the newspapers I was sifting. On the front page of the July 2, 2010 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) is a boxed story of Vice President Jejomar Binay on his first day at his rented office.

“His chair is too big; his office is a tad too small, too warm and too bare,” PDI’s Tarra Quismundo summarized Binay’s carping about the place he found too stark (“hubad na hubad”) and lacking of the “dignity commensurate to the occupant of the office.”

Complaining that he has no official residence or a permanent office, Binay is eyeing the Coconut Palace. In 1978, when then First Lady Imelda Marcos commissioned the mansion for Pope John Paul II, she said “Tahanang Pilipino (Filipino home)” will display different types of Philippine hardwood, coconut shell and a “specially engineered coco lumber” known as “Imelda Madera”.

When the pope came in 1981, he did not stay in the Coconut Palace, finding this strange in a country suffering from widespread poverty.

Today, the Coconut Palace is still grand enough to house dignitaries, serve as backdrop for society weddings, and apparently appease the injured feelings of the country’s 15th vice president.

During World War II, my grandmother, pregnant with my aunt, moved between two houses, one in Sibonga Poblacion and a mountain retreat to avoid Japanese soldiers. Even when the rain turned the mountain trails into red mush, my mother’s family was forced to evacuate frequently.

Unlike her younger brother, who loved to run up and down the trails, my mother, horrified to have red clay squelching between her toes, and an aunt, often driven to tears by hardship, rode the “balsa,” a wooden cart pulled by the carabao. My grandparents chose to walk during the entire journey. Lola was expecting to give birth any day.

Protocol affixes “The Honorable” to the vice president’s name for occupying the second highest executive position in our government. The 1987 Constitution puts the vice president as “first in the presidential line of succession. Upon the death, resignation, or removal by impeachment and subsequent conviction of the president, the vice president becomes the new president.”

In Binay’s words, he’s the “No. 2 man.”

During the war, my lolo was the only doctor for miles around. When he treated guerillas, the Japanese and their local puppets took umbrage. When he treated the “enemy,” the guerillas took issue. My lolo shrugged and said no one could tell him how to do his job: lessen pain, save lives.

Thus, it fell on Lola to smoothen the churning wake left by my lolo. Japanese officers frequented her table as they were drawn to the chorizo, tapa and other dried meats she hung from the rafters, visible from the windows. To keep the soldiers from eating everything they had, my grandmother showed them my mother and her younger brother, and mimed to them to leave something for her children.

Heavy with child, my grandmother was not scared the Japanese would harm her. She hid her sisters-in-law under dried banana trunks from soldiers. When she learned the Japanese interrogated Lolo, she sought them, armed only with her anger, her fear, and the unbearably swelling burden of my aunt, who still refused to leave that safe cocoon for a war-torn world.

In time, the “enemy” did not just eat in her kitchen and sleep in her veranda without guards or bayonets within reach. One officer cried in her presence, hugging my uncle in place of the child the war made him leave behind.

Many strangers, when they learn Lola is 91 years old, are overcome with awe. I am silenced by my grandmother remembering the tears of an enemy or repairing a fan anyone else would have thrown away.

Binay, too, reduces me to silence. Before June 30, the worst thing about Binay was that he is not Mar Roxas. Now, I think the worst is that Binay is Binay.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 11, 2010 issue of “Matamata”

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Back to the wild

DROP by our home and you will also not fail to miss our garden.

Ask the mailman, the water delivery boys, the teachers conducting the latest census.

After they mount the stairs and spot this rectangle of about 25 square meters, visitors nearly always stay on the pebbled path that leads to the door.

They might just want to spare their shoes or avoid stirring up mosquitoes as large as horses from bursting out of the wild growth.

I can’t say I blame them. After decades of pouring cement, concrete and asphalt, our leaders and investors are bringing back green spaces. They are re-sculpting urban consciousness to return the outdoors to our life.

It’s a relief not just to find our cities breathing again but many people actually walking, running, biking, skateboarding, playing, reading, conversing and sleeping under trees.

Yet the popularity of “natural architecture” has one “tic”.

Emphasizing the aesthetic, the exotic, and the decorative started the fad among homeowners to abandon the backyard gardens of old for botanical showcases.

For generations that lived with the deprivations of war, a garden was for raising household needs: the omnipresent “malunggay,” herbs, vegetables and root crops, if space allowed.

These days, we drive to the nearest grocery or the wet market for what the household needs. We cultivate a garden to distinguish our home from the similar-looking units in the mass housing project.

A few summers ago, our family worked on our garden. We hauled in garden soil. We brought in organic fertilizer. We got plants and shrubs of varying hues of green, flowers whose names I did not even know.

Before summer ended, we spread a mat and played Scrabble or Monopoly on the carpet of blue grass that eventually turned brown, like a moth-eaten rug, under our trampling.

Though they did not strike us as landscape consultants, our cats, too, took a stake in the transformation of their territory. Statuesque plants swayed, graceful but flowerless. I wondered if the trellis’ shade or the hilltop breeze was upsetting the blossom production until I saw the cats swat at, nibble and pounce on them during slow afternoons.

The gradual disappearance of our garden happened not due to human neglect or feline malice but household need. When dengue cases rose in our village, scrounging for “manggagaw” along the streets seemed insufficient and unhygienic. Thriving even in shallow soil or under the shade, the weed is boiled to make a decoction that prevents the worsening of a person bitten by a dengue mosquito.

When we potted shrubs that had velvety maroon leaves, the cats also fancied them as cushions. Dreaming about mice, cats pouncing in their sleep occasionally caused pot and plant to smash on the street. When we replaced the ornamentals with “manggagaw” and onion bulbs, the cats kept off the pots. Onion is good for burns, insomnia and Pinoy “bistek” (beef steak).

We drink but don’t buy java tea or wachichao tea; we grow cat’s whiskers plant. It’s a pretty sight in the wilderness before us, its white feathery stamens any fastidious feline may proudly claim as its own whiskers. Wachichao flushes the kidneys, urinary tract and gall bladder. It is said to treat diabetes and elevated levels of cholesterol and blood pressure. It fools the cats.

Whenever someone’s delivering mineral water or the post, we calm their fears by pointing out that only household tabbies, not larger predators, are stirring the overgrowth.

Look, this is a garden. That’s green tea (for managing weight, cancer and heart disease), oregano (for flavoring pasta, pizza and salads and driving away mosquito), two kinds of jasmine, also known as “sampaguita,” fragrant in the night air and in a cup as jasmine-flower tea, and “tanglad” (lemongrass juice is “antiseptic, analgesic, antifungal, antimicrobial and antidepressant,” as well as unforgettable when paired off with native free-ranging chicken in a pot).

( 0917-3226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 4, 2010 issue of “Matamata”