Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Name Change for the Philippines

When I visited Manila in January of 2006, a city councilor I knew excitedly informed me that his council had just voted to change the name of the Philippines . What? The country would no longer be named after a ruthless Spanish despot? We would finally be rid of this last vestige of colonialism? Hallelujah!

Breathlessly, I asked my friend, Councilor Cassie Sison, to pray tell me what name the good City Council of Manila had proposed.

“The Philippine Islands,” he replied.

After I recovered from my disappointment and picked up my jaw from the floor, I heard Cassie explain that Manila Mayor Lito Atienza believed that the country would draw more tourists if a more exotic name could replace the staid “Republic of the Philippines ”. The proposed name, Cassie said, would conjure dreamy images of palm trees, cool breezes and sandy beaches.

While the country's name change would be at or near the bottom of the nation’s immediate priorities, it should not be ignored because there is no other country in the world that is named after a mass

If Ceylon could be changed to Sri Lanka , Mongolia to Ulan Bator , Siam to Thailand , Leningrad to St. Petersburg , Peking to Beijing , why can't the Philippines change its name?

When Ferdinand Magellan “discovered” the islands on March 16, 1521, he named it the Archipelago de San Lazaro. We would have been called “Lazaroans” if Magellan had survived the Battle of Mactan against LapuLapu on April 27, 1521.

Three unsuccessful Spanish expeditions followed Magellan but all failed to reach “San Lazaro”. The fourth expedition, led by Capt. Ruy Lopez de Villalobos, reached Sarangani Island off the eastern coast of Mindanao on February 2, 1543. He renamed the islands “Felipinas” after the crown prince of Spain , Felipe II, the son of Spanish King Carlos V.

Villalobos left “Las Islas Felipinas” after eight months and sailed to the Moluccas where he died. It would not be until 1572 when the Felipinas islands would become a colony of the Spanish empire.

By then, the crown prince had become King Felipe II and he was to rule Spain from 1556 to 1598. He would also rule the Netherlands and Portugal (starting in 1581) as well as the kingdoms of Milan , Naples and Sicily . In his time, Felipe II was the most powerful monarch in the world and it was said that the sun did not set on his empire.

When he became master of the Netherlands , Felipe II reenacted the Edict of 1550 which prohibited the printing, copying, keeping, buying or giving of any book written by Luther, Calvin or other “heretics”
condemned by the Holy Church or the breaking or damaging of any image of the Holy Virgin or any Vatican-canonized saints. The penalty for Edict-breakers would be death by the sword for men and burning at the stake for women. Informers against suspects were to be entitled on conviction to half the property of the accused.

Before burning his opponents at the stake, this Catholic King insisted on going through an “Auto da Fe”, a religious ceremony which accompanied the sentencing of heretics by the Inquisition. Among the victims of Felipe’s inquisition were more than 10,000 Lutherans and more than 80,000 Andalucian Moriscos, Spanish Moors who had converted to Catholicism but who had violated Felipe’s edict prohibiting the speaking of the Arabic language or retaining of any of their ethnic culture.

While he was still crown prince, Felipe II married his first cousin, Princess Maria of Portugal , who provided him with a son, Don Carlos of Spain (1545-1568). Following Maria's death in 1546, he married Catholic Queen Mary I of England in 1554 to cement an alliance with England .

After Queen Mary died in 1558, Felipe wanted to marry her successor, the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I but the plan failed. He blamed his son, Don Carlos, for the failure of the planned marriage and had him imprisoned where he later died.

Felipe then married his son’s fiancĂ©e, Princess Elisabeth of Valois, daughter of Henri II of France . Elisabeth provided him with two daughters, but no son. So Felipe married Anne, daughter of
the Emperor Maximilian II, who provided him with an heir, Felipe III.

While he was engaged in wars with the Dutch, Felipe II put together the largest Spanish fleet (Armada) ever assembled, more than 100 ships with more than 30,000 men, to invade England in 1588. The pretext was Queen Elizabeth’s execution of Mary, the Catholic Queen of Scots. But English guile and the “Protestant Wind” thwarted Felipe’s ambitions, and destroyed the Spanish fleet.

When Felipe died in 1598, Spain was bankrupt and in decline as a European power.

What does it mean then to be named after Felipe, to be called Felipinos (later changed to Filipinos), to be "like Felipe", to be intolerant of other people and other religions?

Changing the name would also end all the confusion about the spelling of the country (Phillipines) or the people (Philippinos).

When Andres Bonifacio formed the Katipunan revolutionary organization against Spain in 1896, he refused to use the term “Filipinas”, preferring Tagalog or “Katagalugan” to refer to the country.

Others objected on the grounds that Pilipinas sounded too much like “Alipinas” (land of slaves). Some have proposed “Kapatiran” (brotherhood) or “Katipunan”. Others have suggested “Luzviminda”
referring to the country’s three major group of islands.

In the late 1970s, the Dictator Ferdinand Marcos (who should have been named after Felipe the despot) seriously attempted to change the name of the country to “Maharlika”, the “warrior-noble” in pre-colonial Felipinas who, like the Samurai class of Japan, rendered military service to his feudal lord. But his proposal went nowhere.

If countries like Bolivia could be named after their liberators, why can’t the Pilipinas be named after Rizal? We would all be Rizalians.

My personal preference would be to call the country “Bayanihan” and we would all be “bayanis” (heroes) bound together in the "Bayanihan" spirit of working for the common good.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ninoy's Faith

Was it his fate or faith that led Ninoy Aquino to return back to the Philippines on August 23, 1983 knowing what awaited him upon arrival?

Even as he wore a bullet-proof vest, Ninoy Aquino told the journalists accompanying him on China Airlines Flight 811 from Taipei that "you have to be ready with your camera because this action can become very fast...in a matter of 3 or 4 minutes it could be all over...and I may not be able to talk to you again after this.” He was precisely right.

Just a a week before Ninoy left his family in Boston, he received word of a plot to assassinate him upon his arrival in Manila from Ferdinand Marcos’ Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile. First Lady Imelda Marcos warned him months earlier that if he returned to Manila, he will most certainly be killed. But Ninoy ignored the threats.

In a “Letter to Ninoy” which he read to members of the Ninoy Aquino Movement (NAM) on August 21, 2006 at St. Andrew's Chruch in Daly City, California, Ken Kashiwahara (husband of Ninoy’s kid sister, Lupita Aquino Kashiwahara), wrote: “A lot of people don’t realize that the preparation for your trip was nerve-wracking: four months on an emotional roller coaster, a battle of nerves, with the other side firing all the salvos. Any ordinary mortal would have succumbed to the enormous20pressures. I for one wouldn’t have blamed you one bit had you cancelled your trip. But then, that’s what made you so special: your commitment to a cause, your daring to dream; which is why, on this day especially, I feel such a sense of loss.”

Ken recalled the last night of Ninoy’s life. ”You were subdued that last night in Taiwan. After what you’d been through, I could understand why. Up to the last minute, rumors were still flying: that you’d be hit at the airport when we landed, that the plane would be turned around. But they were just more rumors, we thought. There was no turning back now,” Kashiwara said.

When martial law was declared, Ninoy Aquino was among the first of more than 10,000 Filipinos to be detained by the Marcos Dictatorship. He was confined to a small cell in Ft. Magsaysay, Laur, Nueva Ecija. In a smuggled letter to Sen. Soc Rodrigo on June 19, 1973, Ninoy described his incarceration:

“I was stripped naked. My wedding ring, watch, eyeglasses, shoes, clothes were all taken away. Later, a guard who was in civilian clothes brought in a bedpan and told me that I would be allowed to go to the bathroom once a day in the morning, to shower, brush my teeth and wash my clothes… I was issued only two jockey briefs and two T-shirts which I alternated every other day. The guards held on to our toothbrush and toothpaste and we had to ask for them every morning. Apparently the intention was to make us really feel helpless and dependent for everything on the guards.”

At this point of his desperation and deep desolation, Ninoy questioned the justice of God. Why was God allowing the thieves in Malacanang to enjoy themselves while he was being made to suffer so much in prison? What had he done to offend God?

“Then, as if I heard a voice tell me,” Ninoy wrote: “Why do you cry? I have gifted you with consolations, honors and glory which have been denied to the millions of your countrymen. I made you the youngest war correspondent, presidential assistant, mayor, vice governor, governor, and Senator of the Republic, and I recall you never thanked me for all these gifts. I have given you a full life, a great wife and beautiful lovable children. Now that I visit you with a slight desolation, you cry and whimper like a spoiled brat!”

“With this realization,” Ninoy wrote, “I went down on my knees and begged His forgiveness. I know I was merely undergoing a test, maybe in preparation for another mission. I know everything that happens in this world is with His knowledge and consent. I knew He would not burden me with a load I could not carry. I therefore resigned myself to His will.”

Ninoy’s persecution by Marcos had transformed him from just another ambitious politician to a man who looked beyond material wealth and personal glory.

Ken Kashiwahara recalled that on that fateful Sunday morning of August 21, 1983, Ninoy was up at 5 AM in Taipei praying the rosary, calling up Cory in Boston, speaking to his children one by one and writing each of them a letter. And soon Ninoy and Ken were on the morning plane bound for Manila.

“Your faith in God gave you strength,” Ken wrote in his Letter to Ninoy: ” I understood that when I turned to talk to you on the plane and you were deep in prayer, head bowed, praying the rosary again. You hoped for the best but settled for what God gave you: a “victory” if we just landed, you said. After all you’d been through, I thought, it would be indeed.”

Upon arrival in Manila, Ninoy had prepared a speech but a soldier’s bullet to the back of his skull prevented him from delivering it. He would have said: “According to Gandhi, the willing sacrifice of the innocent is the most powerful answer to insolent tyranny that has yet been conceived by God and man.”

Ninoy’s sacrifice was a “victory” as Ken wrote posthumously to Ninoy of the funeral procession attended by more three million Filipinos. “It was a victory the likes of which the world had never seen. Millions of people visited you at your house, in Santo Domingo Church, and said goodbye as you rode the final leg of your journey to Manila Memorial Park. It took eleven hours to get there, not your speed, I know, but so many people wanted to see you. When we passed Rizal Park, the heavens opened up with a torrent of rain, thunder and lightning. I assumed that was you making your presence known. People became energized, looking to the skies, arms raised, shouting “Laban” and “Ninoy”.

The Filipino people were inspired by Ninoy’s faith that “the Filipino is worth dying for”, resolving that his sacrifice would not be in vain. Less than three years later, the mighty all-powerful Marcos Dictatorship was deposed.

Let us honor Ninoy’s sacrifice by attending the 25th anniversary of his assassination on August 21, 2008 at the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall at 6PM for a Candlelight Vigil and March to the Green Room of the Veterans War Memorial Bldg at 7:30 PM to watch the world premier of the documentary “Beyond Conspiracy: 25 Years After the Aquino Assassination”.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Who Ordered Ninoy Killed?

After 25 years, the question remains unanswered: who ordered the assassination of former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino on August 21, 1983?

I previously wrote that Ferdinand Marcos was the mastermind because the military precision of the assassination could not have occurred without the knowledge and involvement of Gen. Fabian Ver, who would not have done anything without the Dictator's’ knowledge and approval.

But could someone else have been the actual mastermind? Let’s review the facts.

Ninoy Aquino's plane had just landed in Manila on August 21, 1983 on a flight from Taipei when Philippine soldiers entered the plane, approached Ninoy and placed him under their custody and control. The soldiers hustled him through the crowded aisle and out the airport door which they immediately shut to prevent anyone from following them to a staircase.

A few seconds later, shots were fired and Ninoy’s lifeless body lay on the concrete tarmac of the Manila International Airport.

About 16 soldiers (no officers!) were charged with conspiriing to kill Ninoy. “The forensic evidence submitted to the trial court," columnist Antonio Abaya wrote, "established that the trajectory of the fatal bullet was 'forward, downward and medially', the bullet entering Aquino’s skull near his left ear and exiting at his chin. This was consistent with the gun being fired at Aquino by someone behind him who was at a higher plane than he was, such as someone who was one or two steps behind him on a downward flight of stairs.”

Rolando Galman, the hapless patsy brought by his military handlers through tight security at the airport, was positioned at the foot of the staircase. After Aquino was shot once from behind, the soldiers pointed their assault rifles at Galman and shot him several times to make sure he was dead.

After a military van appeared on the tarmac, soldiers quickly loaded the bodies of both Aquino and Galman on to the van which sped to a military camp. Several hours passed before the corpses were delivered to a coroner for examination.

Barely eight hours later, Marcos announced to the world that “communist hit man” Rolando Galman had killed Ninoy Aquino.

But no one believed Marcos and a fact-findiing commission he formed in response to world outrage determined that 16 soldiers were responsible and they were so charged before a trial court. After the 16 soldiers were convicted of conspiracy in the killing of Ninoy and sentenced to Muntinglupa penitentiary, one of them, M/Sgt. Pablo Martinez, became a born-again Christian and decided to confess and reveal what the other soldiers would not.

In his affidavit, Martinez declared that he was assigned by Col. Romeo Ochoco, then deputy commander of the Aviation Security Command (Avsecom); Brig. Gen. Romeo Gatan of the Philippine Constabulary; and Herminio Gosuico, a civilian businessman from Nueva Ecija, to escort Galman from a hotel near the airport to the tarmac, to await the arrival of Ninoy from Taipei.

Witnesses at the Agrava Fact-Finding Commission had previously identified Gosuico, along with Air Force Col. Arturo Custodio and two others, as the men who fetched Galman from his home in San Miguel, Bulacan, on August 17, 1983.

Martinez had previously served under Col. Ochoa, who personally recruited him for the special assignment. Martinez wrote that he and Galman were briefed on the assassination plot at the Carlston Hotel near the domestic airport on the night of August 20, 1983. Briefing them on the details of the plot were Gen. Gatan, Col. Ochoco and Gosuico. That evening, Col. Ochoco gave Galman a .357 Magnum revolver, while Martinez was given a Smith & Wesson .38 cal .revolver.

On the morning of August 21, 1983, just before Martinez brought Galman to the airport, Galman’s mistress, Anna Oliva, and her sister Catherine, were brought to the Carlston Hotel to have breakfast with Galman. The two women were last seen at their workplace on September 4, 1983 when armed men picked them up. Their corpses were later exhumed from a sugarcane field in Capas, Tarlac in 1988 in a hacienda reportedly owned by Danding Cojuangco.

Galman0s wife, Lina Lazaro, was picked up at her home by two men on January 29, 1984 and was never seen again. During the Agrava Fact-Finding inquiry, Gosuico was identified by Galman’s son and stepdaughter as one of the two men who picked up their mother. Gosuico was a known business associate of Danding Cojuangco.

Despite all the testimonies implicating them, neither Col. Ochoco, Gen. Gatan nor Gosuico were ever charged with involvement in the conspiracy to kill Ninoy.

Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s current Justice Secretary, Raul Gonzalez, was a Sandiganbayan prosecutor under Cory Aquino when he came upon a witness with crucial evidence who was willing to testify under certain conditions. Gonzalez went to President Cory in Malacanang to tell her that the witness wanted protection for herself and her three kids. Before Cory would agree to the terms, she asked who the witness would name as the mastermind.

When Gonzalez answered that she would name her first cousin, Pres. Cory reportedly responded “Impossible! It cannot be!” She refused the demand of the witness who eventually disappeared.

Gen. Romeo Gatan died of a heart ailment at an unspecified date. Hermie Gosuico died under mysterious circumstances leading Abaya to ask: “Did he die of illness or accident, or was he eliminated because he knew too much?"

Of the original conspirators named by Martinez, only Col. Ochoco is still alive, reportedly living with family somewhere in Stockton, California.

A documentary on the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, prepared by the Foundation for Worldwide People Power, will be shown on Thursday, August 21, 2008 at 7:30 PM at the Veterans War Memorial (400 Van Ness Avenue) in San Francisco sponsored by the Ninoy Aquino Movement (NAM). You’re invited. Before the showing, you are also invited to a Candlelight Vigil and March at 6 PM at the steps of the San Francisco City Hall.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Healing Priest

I had never heard of Fr. Fernando Suarez until a few days ago when I had dinner with a friend from the Philippines who spoke glowingly about him. “He’s the real deal,” he said with full conviction. “I have personally seen him make the blind see and the lame walk.”

This friend related that for years he had a stiff neck with a limited range of motion that made it impossible for him to turn his neck either left or right without moving his whole body. Then he went to see Fr. Suarez who put his hand over my friend’s neck and prayed. After Fr. Suarez left, someone called my friend from the back and he turned his head to see who it was. It was the first time he could do it in years.

The friend related that after that “miracle”, he became a “disciple” and started attending the healing masses of Fr. Suarez. In one event, he noticed a woman carrying her blind daughter in her arms, patiently waiting in line, hoping that one touch from Fr. Suarez would heal her child. Fr. Suarez placed his hand gently over the child’s eyes and prayed. The child opened her eyes, my friend said, and she could see. The child’s mother started crying buckets of tears.

My friend decided to be that child’s “ninong” (godfather) and visited the child’s family at their modest home. He would take care of her education all the way through college, he promised them. The family told him that blindness was only one of her many medical problems which were all cured by Fr. Suarez. The child’s doctors could not understand how she was healed. It was a medical impossibility, they said.

Another friend at our dinner table related that she went to see Fr. Suarez the last time he was in San Francisco at St. Anne’s Church in the Sunset District. The church was packed and the line to be personally touched by Fr. Suarez stretched for blocks, she said. If I wanted to personally see Fr. Suarez, my “disciple” friend said, I was in luck because he would be passing by San Francisco on Sunday, August 3, on his way to Australia. He would be co-officiating a mass with his friend, Fr. Mark, at St. Mathew’s Church in San Mateo on Sunday morning. It was my regular tennis time but this was clearly more important and so I went.

Before the mass, Fr. Suarez was in a room behind the altar surrounded by people waiting to be touched by him. I was ushered into the room by my friend and I saw him. He was younger than I imagined, of slender build and Malay-skinned, no hint of mestizo blood - Spanish or Chinese - that I could see.

After waiting in line, it was my turn. Fr. Suarez placed his palm on my forehead, closed his eyes and prayed. He then placed his palm in my heart and prayed again. And then he placed his hand behind my neck and pulled me over gently as he whispered in my ear “Continue what you are doing to help people”. How could he possibly know that’s what I do or try to do? Does he whisper this message to everyone?

Other than my diabetes, I didn’t have a physical ailment that needed healing. My friend explained that Fr. Suarez regularly reminds people that God heals but not always in the form we expect, which is usually physical. We also need healing on the spiritual and emotional aspects, my friend said.

After touching a few more people, Fr. Suarez then told the rest that he would see them after mass, when he has stronger energy. He then concelebrated the 10:45 AM mass with two to other priests. After the mass, he went outside the church and a long line quickly formed.

Fr. Suarez was born in 1967 at Barrio Butong, in Taal, Batangas, to a driver father and a seamstress mother. He attended public schools until college where he earned a chemical engineering degree at Adamson University in Manila.

At age 16, young Fernando felt he call to pray for and heal the sick. He attempted to enroll in a seminary but he was rejected by the Franciscan Order and the Society of the Divine Word (SVD).

According to the Wikipedia encyclopedia, “Father Suarez discovered his gift of
healing at the age of 16. He saw a crippled woman and upon feeling sorry for her, he sat and prayed with her. During this, he literally started to feel bones growing in her legs, and due to shock, he ran away. He tried to keep this a secret for as long as he could, and agreed to pray with the sick as long as they don't tell anyone
about him.”

Engineer Suarez immigrated to Canada in 1996 and in 1997, joined the Companions of the Cross, a Catholic religious order. In 2002, he was ordained a Catholic priest and served as the associate pastor of St. Timothy's parish in North York, Ontario until July of 2003 when he created his worldwide Mary Mother of the Poor-Healing Ministry.

Even as Fr. Suarez travels the world, his heart remains in his home province of Batangas where he plans to build an oratory to the Blessed Virgin Mary on 20 hectares of land overlooking Batangas Bay in a place called MonteMaria or “mountain of Mary”. He plans to erect a statue even larger than Jesus’ statue in Sao Paolo, Brazil and about as high as the Statue of Liberty, serving as a beacon for sea travelers.

The center at Montemaria will have chapels, prayer gardens, Stations of the Cross, retreat houses, campsites, lodging houses, a center for the poor and even a replica of Mary house in Ephesus (ancient city in Turkey). The place is meant to draw pilgrims who want to renew their faith.

Could this be the Marian message at Medjugorje that the Philippines is to become a global spiritual center?

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