Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Choosing someone for canonization

Commentary By: Denis Murphy Philippine Daily Inquirer 9:03 pm | Tuesday, September 20th, 2011 Most often we don’t know why the Church chooses one holy person for canonization and not another. We don’t know why Pope John Paul II was beatified and not Pope John XXIII whom all the world loved or the wise and humble Paul VI. Most people would probably say anyone of the three could have been chosen. Choices are made for strategic and political (Church politics) reasons, in addition to heroic personal sanctity. There are many people today living truly saintly lives, but only a handful from each generation are set on the road to sainthood. To be canonized a person must have personal sanctity and fit in with the Church’s strategies and priorities for evangelization. The person must be seen as relevant to the problems of the people of the day. To appreciate how this process works let us attempt to choose someone for canonization. But first, it should be clear we are not talking about a person’s face-to-face relationship with God. This relationship at its highest is described in Deuteronomy as being God’s “intimate friend.” We are talking, instead, about the person’s public work in our society. We are talking of a lay person, because for the Church this is the age of the laity. This current policy is due not only to the dwindling numbers of priests, but to the demands of the age that were apparent even before the great outflow of priests in the 1960s-1980s. Our candidate will be a man, not a woman. I apologize to our women, but they are still problematic for many Churchmen. The man chosen will symbolize the laity’s mission to transform the world. He will show in his life how lay people can, in the eyes of the Church, transform the world’s politics, economics, science, practice of justice, educational systems and the other institutions that govern us. The person is not under the authority of the Church, but he recognizes the need for the help of the historical wisdom of the Church to enrich and purify the institutions of the world. He is open to the Gospel, especially to its concerns for the poor, women and the downtrodden. He will not be seen as someone worried about internal Church matters, but rather one who is totally concerned with the transformation of society. Where in Philippine society is such a man? If pushed to respond many might point to Nandy Pacheco. Remember we are not choosing here the man we think is best suited for sainthood, but rather the one we think the Church might choose as an example of the lay people it seeks for its work in the world. The Church might select Nandy because of his work on the Gunless Society and Ang Kapatiran Political Party. The Social Teaching of the Church is the foundation of Ang Kapatiran’s platform. The party was publicly supported by some bishops, though Nandy was disappointed that more bishops didn’t do so. The party didn’t do well in the last presidential election, but Nandy is not giving up. The Church doesn’t necessarily look for winners in society. It has in fact a fondness for losers. Ang Kapatiran’s relatively poor showing in the election may reflect the Church’s loss of esteem among ordinary people in recent years due to its perceived over-closeness to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the sex scandals around the world and the Church’s absence from the main justice struggles. It hasn’t been seen lately as a crusading force in society. Individual bishops and dioceses have been so seen, but not most. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword: those lay people who have success in their reform role in the world because of the esteem the ordinary people have for the Church may suffer if that support weakens. Lay people will have to learn to live and work with a Church that is increasingly cautious, and less in tune with the younger generation. The lay people may be seen in the role of grown children looking after their elderly parents. They will need patience and understanding in that role. Nandy has not stopped because of setbacks. Neither has his Ang Kapatiran Party. He has, however, shown an inclination to put his efforts into a radical conversion of the human heart, since that is required before people can accept the reforms that are demanded in politics and other arenas of secular life. Nandy is now organizing a movement that, he hopes, will change the hearts of Filipinos and enable them to accept the needed changes in the country’s socio-economic and political structures. This movement urges people to accept Jesus’ peace. This is the peace Jesus entrusted to his Apostles on the evening of his Resurrection. “Peace be with you,” Jesus said twice to them (John 20:19-23). These words were the polite greeting Jewish people offered one another in older days, but his use of the phrase carried much more than a simple greeting. In it Jesus conveyed to the Apostles all the blessings of His Kingdom—all the wisdom, humor, courage, perseverance and simple kindness they would need in spreading His message throughout the world. This peace is ours, Nandy points out, if we accept it wholeheartedly. We should “accept” this peace of Jesus rather than “seek it,” since Jesus has already offered it to us in the Gospel. Knowing Nandy, I think he might prefer a big victory for his party at the polls to canonization. Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates. His email address is

Monday, September 12, 2011

UPA Study Says Evictions Lessen

News Release September 12, 2011 In the first eight months of 2011 the number of urban poor families who experienced eviction lessened somewhat, according to a study of Urban Poor Associates’ (UPA). From January to August 2010, 8201 families were evicted in 29 demolition incidents. In the same period for this year, 7060 families in 14 demolition incidents lost their homes. Eight of this year’s evictions were on government lands, three were privately owned while the others were on lots along esteros. All 14 of the 2011 eviction incidents were considered illegal because they did not meet the legal requirements for evictions of the Urban Development and Housing Act. Evictions in San Juan, Navotas, Makati and Pasig turned violent. The number of cases in 2011 went down to 14, compared to 29 demolition incidents in 2010, but larger urban poor areas were demolished. UPA pointed out that if we compared President Noy-Noy Aquino’s first complete year in office, June 2010- June 2011, we find he had many more evictions than former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had on average per year in her term. These eviction episodes are considered high because President Aquino signed a covenant with the urban poor during the election campaign at Del Pan Sports Complex, Tondo, Manila, March 6. The Covenant promised an end to illegal forced evictions and showed a bias for in-city relocation. Such in city-relocations have not been implemented yet. Instead demolitions have been increasing. The government’s reasons for demolitions were the cleaning of esteros and expansion of government facilities. Fire From January to May 2011, a total of 12 fires broke out in urban poor areas which affected 9,849 families. Three out of twelve fires were believed by the people to have been done intentionally to force them out of places where they have lived for more than 15 years. They thought the government used fire because it is the easiest way to remove people. The majority of families who lost their homes were not allowed to return. Most of the fire sites were privately owned. Five of the communities were on government land. A total of 6,114 families or 62 percent of the total number of affected families were not allowed to return to their homes while communities in Satima, Las pinas, Brgy. Culiat, Quezon City and Malabon City are now negotiating with the private owners to purchase the land they lived on before the fires through the Community Mortgage Program (CMP). Navotas, Quezon City and Makati declared fire areas as danger zones. This prevents the people from going back to the fire site. Navotas passed a Resolution No.2011-36 on March 4, 2011 that the area in that city is a danger zone. Quezon City declared an area a danger zone because of “congestion and condition of structures.” The Makati government can pronounce an area a danger zone if the area has a minimum of five fires blaze. The areas were cleared of all residents. These moves of the City governments were strongly opposed by the fire victims. In Laperal Compound, Makati, the clearing operation turned violent. Molotov bombs and rocks were thrown by residents at Task Force Laperal. Makati was criticized by residents for enforcing a demolition though the lot is privately owned and there had been no court order. A child died in the staging area because of pneumonia. Only 25% of the 2700 families who lost their homes were relocated to Montalban. Families in Navotas and Quezon City also resisted clearing operations. Most of them chose to stay in their original places than be relocated far from their jobs. Government Intervention Secretary of Interior and Local Government Jesse Robredo put holds on demolitions in San Juan and Makati, which were not respected. UPA Spiritual Director Fr. Robert Reyes said, “The president should do more to stop illegal evictions or else eviction will continue to rise.” Data gathered by UPA shows that there are 300,000 families still threatened with eviction in Metro Manila and the surrounding area. “The government must find win-win solutions that will uphold the interest and rights of the poor and allow the necessary infrastructure of the city to be built,” Fr. Reyes concluded. -30-

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

‘All are responsible’

Commentary By: Denis Murphy 3:12 am | Tuesday, September 6th, 2011 For decades our social research has dealt predominantly with poor people, namely, farmers, urban poor, tribal people, street children and others. We sought to know why they failed to progress more rapidly in society. We have learned many lessons no doubt, of which the most important is that in order to have a more equal sharing of wealth and a decent life for all, we must allow for poor people’s participation in the decision-making that affects their lives. Programs were started based on this insight and had some success, but there have been few substantial changes in income distribution and equality. We know more about the urban poor now than we did 40 years ago when systematic organizing of poor people began in Tondo. We know more, but the people there now have the same problems as people had back then. They still need decent jobs and housing. We have come to realize more clearly that lack of progress by the poor is not primarily their fault, but rather it is because their efforts to shape their future run smack into the interests of the rich and powerful. The fault is not in the poor, but in the elite, that they are underlings, if we may be allowed to mangle a line of Shakespeare. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Herschel said when asked who was responsible for the Holocaust: “A few are guilty; all are responsible.” Do the rich see themselves simply responsible as others in the country or do they see themselves as guilty? We know how much poor families spend for recreation, including beer and cigarettes—only about P400-P500 per month—but we have no idea how much a rich family spends on its recreation. We know from research a great deal about poor people’s hopes, fears and goals in life, but almost nothing about those of rich people. As a result we are far from understanding our society. If Bill Clinton were a sociologist working here in Metro Manila, he’d be repealing in that inelegant way he has, “It’s the elite, stupid!” Before interviewers flood the rich subdivisions, I want to ask some general questions that have been with me for years. First, I would like to know how our well-off people react when they see old women begging or small girls tapping on their car windows to sell sampaguita flowers late at night. I am sure they feel the compassion all humans feel at such sights, but do they feel responsible as rich and influential persons for what is wrong in the society that they and their co-wealthy peers control? Do they feel responsible when they read that among Southeast Asian countries the greatest income inequality is in the Philippines? (Stratbase, Inquirer, July 22) Another question concerns our very slow rate of economic growth as a nation. Why has economic growth trailed far behind that of Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore? Corruption is not the answer. Corruption exists everywhere, but other elites have been able to manage their countries’ economic affairs far better than ours. We would like, therefore, to ask the elite why this is so. Other elites may take care of themselves in shady ways, but they still find ways to benefit all the people of their countries. Why can’t our elite do the same? I’m sure many people would like to know how it is that a Christian country is the most unjust among Southeast Asian countries, judged by its very poor distribution of wealth. Is Catholicism a less powerful influence to acting justly and caring for one another than Buddhism, Islam, or even Marxist ideology? Catholicism has the most carefully worked out social teaching among all the religions, yet it seems less effective in moving the rich and powerful to act justly. A country where 80 percent of the population is Catholic should be doing better in matters of social justice. The word “elite” is an abstraction. Do our powerful people see themselves as an elite, that is, as a governing group or class, or do they see themselves simply as fragmented and competing rich families? Are these families opponents in day to day matters, but able to come together in times of crises to protect their common interests? Is there hope that they will see that inequality of income can lead to political instability? Maybe research among the very rich will provide answers. Let’s hope so. Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates. His email address is

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