April 28, 2005

Requiem for Ray

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Today, Ray Punongbayan died after a PAF chopper he was on crashed somewhere in Nueva Ecija. He was probably the most famous volcanologist in recent memory and the explosion of Mt. Pinatubo (see picture) was one of the primary reasons he became famous.

He was intelligent and articulate but he was also passionate, to a fault, about his chosen field. He also cared very deeply about his country which you would discover after a 30 minute conversation with him. He was also an honest man and that is saying a lot for a man in government.

I had a chance to meet him when I defended him from a baseless graft charge filed by a subordinate who was after his post. Throughout 3 years of protracted litigation, I got to know the scientist, the man and the Filipino, Dr. Ray Punongbayan:a good man.

He retired from the office he held for 20 years, Director of PHIVOLCS, poor as a mouse but still dedicated and committed to serving his country. Until the date of his death, he lived in a rented apartment--a far cry from many government officials whose mansions sprout within the first years of their appointment.

Ray enjoyed many simple things. He had a great sense of humor and he could laugh at himself. He enjoyed good conversation and could imbibe spirits with the best of them. But the one thing I saw that he was really passionate about was his craft, his science. Once he toured me through the equipment at PHIVOLCS and his eyes were alit as he explained to me, practically a luddite when it came to volcanoes and the equipment in the room, patiently and very clearly what was going on. He was most excited when talking about PHIVOLCS, volcanoes, earthquakes, science and his country.

He retired with a graft conviction wrongfully imposed on him for a corruption that was so alien to him; yet that did not turn his mind from serving what appeared to be an ungrateful country. He poured himself into another realm of public service, serving as governor of the Red Cross--which is how he found himself on that chopper earlier today.

Ray was not a religious man; he did not speak of God often. He was also a man of science which does not lend itself easily to faith. Yet I know that Ray would appreciate that he is now with the Creator, He who made the volcanoes, the rocks and the nature he loved so much in life.

Goodbye Ray. Pacem en requiescat.

She put the GG in PCGG

She put the GG in PCGG Posted by Hello

Haydee Yorac both defies and surpasses all your expectations.

Her reputation as a tough, no-nonsense, intelligent and articulate lawyer precedes her; it is a reputation that is well-earned because she is all these. But she is also more than all these. Fiercely loyal to her good friends and comrades, intensely passionate about things she loves, compassionate for those who find themselves with the shorter end of the stick, Haydee Yorac's tough demeanor hides a heart that beats not only with nationalistic pride and fervor but great love for those who find themselves honored with her friendship.

Of all those appointed to head the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), she put the GG in PCGG. She will not be missed BY government; she will be missed IN government.

Ma'm Haydee,welcome back to the grind--may God hold a warm place in His heart for you.

April 22, 2005

SW3: Be very afraid of George Lucas

Read somewhere that SW3:ROTS (that's Starwars 3:Revenge of the Sith, in shorthand) has been pitched by George Lucas as an intergalactic "Titanic."

I am afraid, I am very afraid.

Of all the films Lucas could have alluded to, it would have to be "Titanic." Just when I had gotten over the monumental stupidity that was SW2:Send in the Clowns ("Anakin, how you've grown"-retch, barf, vomit), Lucas had to go and compare ROTS to "Titanic."

Screen writing is not Lucas's strong point--SW2:Send in the Clowns is a sterling example, SW1 is a close second (compare both to SW5:The Empire Strikes Back NOT written by Lucas and you will see the difference palpably). So when Lucas brags that ROTS is going to be another Titanic, I am afraid that the insipid love angle in that monumental waste of time and money passing itself off as a film is going to be carried over to what should have been the crowning glory of the SW trilogy.

Just when I was excited to see how the wookies come into the picture; just when I was excited to see how Anakin would turn to the dark side; just when I was excited to see the monumental battle between Anakin and Kenobi that the GREAT Sir Alec Guiness (THE Obi Wan Kenobi; though Ewan McGregor does a fantastic job of channeling Guiness and at the same time creating a totally absorbing younger Kenobi) alluded to in SW4:A Brave New Hope; just when I was excited to see how Samuel L. Jackson (totally underused in SW1 and SW2) would KICK BUTT--Lucas has to go and say that it's going to be a Titanic.

Now we're probably going to have to sit through lame, insipid,mushy, did I say lame already, dialogue between Anakin and Padme just so that the film can have the obligatory love angle which Lucas botched big time in SW2:Send in the Clowns. He could have totally excised the love angle from Send in the Clowns and the film would have rocked--but no, he had to put it in and he had to insist on writing it himself.
I hope Lucas comes to his senses and asks someone who knows writing, like Lawrence Kasdan, to come in and save this film from Lucas himself.

Old dog, new tricks

You really cannot teach an old dog new tricks.

The President has reportedly signed an Executive Order directing a National ID system--something the Supreme Court had already struck down as a violation of privacy a long time ago. What is more, the President refused to wait for Congress which is deliberating on an Anti-Terrorism Bill which would also contain provisions for a National ID system.

To mix metaphors, the National ID system is a big, fat, fastball waiting to be hit out of the park. Can't wait.

April 21, 2005

For whom the bell tolls

I almost went to sleep early.

Tuesday evening, while scanning the channels (GMA7, CNN, BBC and EWTN) monitoring the events at St. Peter's Square, I was about to switch the tv off when I heard Vicky Morales excitedly saying, live from the Vatican, that there was smoke from the chimney. Sure enough, there was.

But, it wasn't clear to Vicky because her vantage point was ground level at St. Peter's Square whether it was black or white; from where I sat watching the tv, it was WHITE and I wanted to scream at her, "hey, its white! We have a Pope!" But then, a few minutes after, it turned grayish and then white again. That led every commentator, including the very knowledgeable John Allen Jr. (his book, The Conclave, is very informative), to issue a cautionary notice. Then, very wisely, the priest on EWTN (very cool guy, I must say), intoned in his deep baritone that "we must thank John Paul II for this--his foresight in ordering the great bell at St. Peter's to toll if there is already a new Pope."

So, the eyes of the world, previously riveted to a smokestack, which was now literally smoking, turned to a great bell. Minutes crept by and as filler commentary poured in, the crowd at St. Peter's was already chanting, "Habemus Papam"; they knew, don't ask me how but they knew. About fifteen minutes after the smoke, while all eyes were on the great bell, I SAW IT MOVE even before it tolled! Then, bedlam ensued.

As the bell tolled, you could hear the crowd cheering and clapping. From where I sat, I texted friends whom I knew would still be awake (and a few that I was sure wouldn't mind being awakened) the two words that everyone had become familiar with over the past two weeks--"Habemus Papam!"

While speculation was rife over who it would be, I was almost sure that it would be Cardinal Ratzinger given the brevity of the conclave. There would be no surprises and the man who entered the Sistine Chapel a Pope came out as Benedict XVI.

As the bell continued to toll and the crowd continued to thicken, I said a short prayer for my new shepherd--"a lowly laborer in the vineyard of the Lord"--for his protection, for grace and blessing, for his health, and for wisdom and inspiration. But I also said a short prayer for me--his stubborn sheep, his obstinate lamb, his headstrong ward--that I would be able to trust in the wisdom of Our Father in Heaven and His Holy Spirit of Truth, that I would be able to transcend any intellectual disagreements with Pope Benedict's conservative edicts and believe, with all my heart, that God's wisdom will be made manifest in not only his choice of shepherd but also his selection of sheep.

I had many intellectual disagreements with John Paul II's pronouncements on a lot of things but never on matters of faith and belief; my intellectual disagreements, however, never detracted from nor diminished my respect and love for the man, John Paul The Great. And now the man behind a lot of John Paul II's pronouncements was now seated on his chair. I knew that, in the days to come if he proved true to his character and his principles, I would have the same intellectual disagreements with Benedict XVI. I took refuge, though, and found comfort in the knowledge that he was a choice made not by man but by God Himself, working through men, and that there is a divine wisdom, unfathomable to man, in his choice as shepherd to me. And, humbly, I accepted and I obeyed.

As the bell continued to toll at St. Peter's Square, I ended my prayer to the background of the cheering crowd and the tolling bell, lending my cheers to the crowd and knowing fully well for whom the bell tolled.

It tolled for me: tolling an end to my stubborness, my disobedience, my hubris and my pride.

It tolled for me: asking me to embrace wholeheartedly the faith that stretches unbroken two thousand and some years back.

It tolled for me: inviting me to put my trust in my new shepherd, the one whom God had burdened with the task of salvation, of conversion, of transformation.

And I said simply, Amen.

April 20, 2005

For two weeks, everyone was a Catholic

From the time John Paul II died until last night when Benedict XVI pronounced his blessing urbi et orbi, everyone was a catholic. The long queues said it all--it didn't matter that some people in line didn't believe in God or a god, they came anyway to catholicism's largest and most famous shrine--St. Peter's Basilica.

For two weeks, unfamiliar terms were on everyone's lips: conclave, camerlengo, in pectore. But for two weeks, two names were familiar to everyone: John Paul II and Joseph Ratzinger. The latter, pronounced great by everyone who came and paid him the respect he was due, because of his death, the latter, anticipated to be a great steward of the See as well, because of the grace he exhibited during the death of the former.

And now one name is now familiar to everyone, after two weeks: Benedict XVI.

Now it remains to be seen, if ater two weeks, everyone remains to be catholic.

A German Shepherd in the land of the PapaRatzi

Filipinos never fail to surprise me with our sense of humor and great appreciation of irony. A few minutes (and I do not exaggerate this) after the camerlengo came out on the balcony to announce that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger is the next Pontiff and that he had chosen Benedict XVI as his name, I received a series of text messages from an irreverent and funny friend of mine (who is also a very devout Catholic): "The church is safe, we have a new shepherd--a German Shepherd! The italian cardinals fondly call him Papa Ratzi!"

In the midst of the emotion-filled moments surrounding the confusion over the smoke and before the tolling of the great bell at St. Peter's Basilica, that text gave me more reasons to smile.

April 06, 2005

Tell the world of his love

The song “Tell the world of His Love” was written for a special occasion and with one person in mind. It was written for the World Youth Day 1995 in Manila and, of course, it was written with Jesus Christ in mind. But to a Philippines that fell in love (even more) and remains to be in love with the one man who symbolized the love referred to in the song—John Paul II—the song will also be indelibly linked and identified with him.

“He has sent His message of love and sends to those who hear, to bring the message to everyone in a voice loud and clear.”

To the many who have queued up and are still queuing up to see the Pope in repose for mere seconds were not only told of his love, but experienced it. Some may have had the privilege of being ministered to by the Pope; others may have been blessed by his visits to their countries; still others may have been inspired by his writings and encyclicals. But to a person, not one of those in line at St. Peter’s Basilica will deny that John Paul II, in speaking of Christ’s love to the world, spoke as well of his own great love for the world and all its peoples.

We were fortunate to have been blessed by two visits—1981 and 1995. If not for failing health, he would have been here, for a third time, in 2003. In those two visits, we felt not only Christ’s love but his love as well for us as a people. A particularly astute observer said it well, the Pope does not hurry when he is attending to people, he gives you his complete and absolute attention; it is as if you were the only person that existed at that moment. It is a testament to how much he loved people and how telling that love for people was.

“John Paul II, we love you” the chant would go; and invariably, the response would be, “John Paul II, he loves you too.”

For most of this generation, John Paul II was the only Pope they knew; I was in first year high school when Karol Wojtyla of Krakow became John Paul II. And even as I was aware of Paul VI and John Paul I, his immediate predecessors, John Paul II was the only Pope of any impact in my life.

The number of countries he has visited, the trips he has made, the sermons he has given, the encyclicals he has written, the countries he has helped free are part of the history books. But what, by far, is his most memorable legacy, for me, is the number of lives he has changed simply by John Paul II’s decision to tell the world of Christ’s
and his love as well.

All throughout, the gospel he has preached remained the same—the gospel of God’s love and mercy. Yet, in the telling of that gospel, John Paul II told also of another love—his own love for the people of God. This would perhaps be the reason why he would break the traditions of an imperial pontificate—of the faithful going to the Pontiff—and insist on a practice that perhaps only he was suited for and called to—that of bringing God’s gospel of love and mercy to the peoples of the world. If not for his own love, as well, for God’s people, the choice to go to all the farthest corners of the world would not have been an easy one; yet, you could see that John Paul II truly loved God’s people. In all his visits, in all his travels, you could see that he truly relished being one with the people of God and he truly was energized by the opportunity to tell the world of His love.

“Search the world for those who have gone astray and lead them home. Fill the world’s darkest corners with His light from up above; walk every step, every mile, every road and tell the world. . . of His love.”

John Paul II searched the world’s darkest corners and brought the message of God’s redeeming and transforming love to those in darkness; one by one, they fell—those who kept God’s people in darkness. Dictators fell or were transformed, one by one, after God’s Ambassador came to tell them of God’s love for His people.

He walked every step, every mile, every road—yes, including the roads not taken. Praying at the wailing wall, praying at the Tomb of St. John The Baptist in a mosque, apologizing to the jews, breaking bread with the Greek Orthodoxy and many others—all so that he could tell the world of Christ’s and his love.

God, in His infinite love for us, chose John Paul II, a man so in love with God and so in love with God’s people, to tell the world of His love. In his rich telling of God’s love through his words, his acts and his life, John Paul II managed to tell us as well of another great love—his own. The messenger became the message as well and we, God’s people, are all the richer for that re-telling.

Let us tell the world of the love John Paul II had for God’s people and in that telling, let us re-tell as well a tale of another love—that which John Paul II had for God’s people.

Good bye, Holy Father, vessel of God’s great love. I will miss you. I love you.