Thursday, October 30, 2014


This came up to me in one of my frequent forays into Facebook (which nowadays has been more frequent than usual because I'm on vacation) there are people who get to have their activity known on Facebook because you see their faces plastered in selfies every time they post. I'm not fond of taking selfies, because I believe that there are other things more interesting than my face. What people may know of me are the posts that I do and the pictures that I may share, but never my face. You won't see much of me when I post, but you may hear or know of me: what I do, what I think, my opinions, what made me laught, what makes me feel strongly about something. Sometimes I feel that people may perceive me to be rather faceless, a faceless presence in social media networks, who is active nevertheless.
This week the media went bonkers once again with what our Holy Father Francis said about creation and evolution. Media went crazy over what Francis said about creation (an article of faith) being compatible with evolution (which is almost always placed in contrast and opposition with the fact of creation). But this isn't news in the Church anymore, at least since 1950. Pope Pius XII wrote an encyclical “Humani Generis” that particular year affirming that there was no conflict between evolution and Catholic faith. Pope John Paul II reaffirmed that, stressing that evolution was more than a hypothesis, in 1996. Pope Benedict XVI hosted a conference on the nuances of creation and evolution in 2006 (got this from an article). There's no contradiction from the fact that God created, and nature continued on its way with the laws placed into it by its Creator. 
This is how one could understand it: creation is God taking a selfie; you won't immediately see God in the way creation carries itself through after it had been LOVED into being, but it doesn't mean that God isn't there as well. That's evolution, that's how the created world goes about. Evolution is God's post in FB: you don't see his face, but you know he's there.
The same is true in life. How we wish we could see the face of God clearly as we could with the sun and the trees and the stars. How we wish we could see his face clearly especially in hard times. But I'm afraid God isn't much into selfies. One selfie is enough for him. But just because he doesn't take one doesn't mean that he doesn't exist, or that he doesn't care.  

Saturday, August 23, 2014


The official music video of the 70th Seminary Days Festivities of the Sacred Heart Seminary of Palo, Leyte (PHILIPPINES). Kudos to seminarians who came up with this beautiful song and music video!!!


 (Note: This is a reflection paper by the Rev. Fr. Mark Ivo A. Velasquez, submitted in partial fulfillment for the course of Filipino Philosphy)

There are many things that set the Philippines apart from its neighbors. Among these is the distinction of being the only Christian country in the Far East, the result of nearly three centuries under Spanish rule. A great bulk of the nation-building process had been realized under the tutelage of the Catholic Church. It is common knowledge that the Catholic Faith preached by intrepid missionaries to the natives of the islands had left much of its mark on the people and in their consciousness, whether individual or collective. Aside from just being one among the many factors that have determined the course of its history as a nation, Catholic religiosity has decisively formed the Filipino psyche, and is a significant influence that needs to be considered in the effort to understand who the Filipino is, as an individual in himself, and as a part of society.

Several approaches have been identified with regards to Filipino philosophy. There is a traditional way of doing philosophy, which entails studying the foremost thinkers, their life and their teachings. There is a national approach, which entails a shift in criterion and focus, allowing the author to take center stage and relegating the subject matter to the margins. And finally, there is a cultural approach, one that has been introduced into the local Filipino philosophical community by William Graham Sumner (1960) in his work entitled Folkways. By “folkways” he pointed to habits of thinking and doing developed over the years for the purpose of survival[1]. Understood as habitual ways of satisfying needs, they are not creations of human purpose but rather products of natural forces, that get crystallized in the life and memory of a society as traditions. As traditions, they are significative as a reminder of the beginnings and of identity. They admit no exception or variation, yet they change to meet new conditions, still within the same limited methods, and without rational reflection or purpose[2]. The cultural approach supposes that the lived experience of the community forms the substratum of its philosophical thought. From the life and experience of the community we can derive  and extract the philosophical underpinnings or presuppositions of cultural forms. 

This cultural approach is represented in the philosophical community by such authors as Florentino Timbreza and Leonardo Mercado. Each of them stated orientative aspects in this kind of approach.  Mercado (1974) in his book Elements of Filipino Philosophy said that the underlying world-view in Filipino thought is non-dualism. This Filipino vision of the world seeks to be integrative; the Filipino wants to harmonize the object and the subject, while at the same time holding both as distinct (1974:xi). Timbreza (1982) on the other hand says in Pilosopiyang Pilipino that philosophy is based on life experience; it is something that could be derived from the people’s world-view (1982:1).

One attractive thing that I find with this approach is that it is nearer to ordinary and common experience without being less intellectual and academic. With this approach, one doesn’t need to be hold a doctorate in philosophy to be able to do philosophy. In the cultural approach, life itself becomes a book in which philosophy could be examined and reflected upon.

One element in the Filipino experience is the Catholic faith. Attaining to what has been stated concerning the cultural approach to Filipino philosophy, the main question that I would like to pose in this paper concerns itself with what the local religiosity of the Filipino Catholic would reveal about the Filipino psyche. What does Filipino religiosity tell us about the Filipino? What does it reveal to us about his view of life and its meaning, and how does the Filipino deal with this proper view?

Whenever Filipino folk religiosity is brought up, there are at least two icons that are most popular among the people in the archipelago: the Black Nazarene of Quiapo and the Sto. Niño of Cebu. They represent Christ in two moments of his earthly life: his childhood and his redemptive suffering (actually there another aspect that is very important in Filipino popular religiosity, and this is the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, one so ardent that the Filipinos have been termed pueblo amante de Maria,a people in love with Mary. This third aspect I would mention in passing). These are images are by no means native to the Philippines, but have been brought to its shores during early years of the Spanish regime, but they have formed part of the cultural, religious and social fabric of the Filipino consciousness. The oldest, that of the Sto. Niño of Cebu, features Jesus Christ as a child arrayed in the vestures of kingly power. It is an image that reveals a paradox: the frailty of a child contrasts to the trappings of might and royal majesty. On the other hand, the image of the Nazarene of Quiapo features a man in his prime, bent under the weight of the Cross; his distinctively darkened visage (said to be caused by a fire, according to some) reveal a patient confidence in his Father despite of the suffering and pain that he undergoes on his way to Calvary. Millions of devotees flock around these images every year on the occasion of their respective feast day, a phenomenon that is utterly breathtaking and descriptive of the faith of the Filipinos. But what could it reveal to us about the way the Filipino views himself with respect to life and to the meaning that it holds for him?

Perhaps one thing that could be said about the devotion to the Black Nazarene is that people are drawn to it due to the fact that they can relate to the message that the image bears. The suffering Christ endears itself to a people who are no strangers to suffering. For the Filipino, suffering isn’t merely a part of life, it is a fact of life. People suffer because of many things; there is a major feeling of dissatisfaction towards the political situation that is blatantly corrupt, and this corruption is largely responsible for the suffering of many. People suffer because they have no proper housing, because they have no jobs, because they have to fight in order live.

When they see the Nazarene, they experience a certain affinity with it. Here they see a tangible representation of a God who is not alien to their suffering, a God who is merciful, a God who suffers for them and with them. to many who approach the image in faith and devotion, it seems to provide catharsis. May awa ang Diyos (God is merciful) is one common expression that reveals not only the faith of the Filipino believer, but in his own optimism that since God is near, God knows what it means to suffer, things are not that bad. This is not escapism nor fatalism, but rather a realistic view of life that doesn’t lead one to close in on any difficult situation, but rather it opens up to optimism. There is still hope in life, no matter how hard it may be. This confidence in God, if channeled well, leads to confidence in what I could do and what I need to do in giving a remedy to my difficult situation, while at the same time learning how to laugh at myself while being in a hard fix. When life throws you lemons, make lemonade, as one saying goes. This was very evident in times of tragedy and disaster. The Filipinos taught the world a lesson when we continued to smile and strike up a pose in the midst of the destruction of super typhoon Yolanda.

This utter confidence in God is likewise exhibited in the devotion to the Sto. Niño de Cebu. The Filipinos love children; if this is so, its because they are childlike in their confidence in God (this does not exclude the reality that there are times when Filipinos are childish at best). To trust in God is one sentiment that is evident in the life philosophy of the Filipino: the expression bahala na reflects this in a positive way (though this could easily express resignation as much as confidence, and resignation is not always good, since it could lead to a loss of initiative in dealing with things). Filipinos have confidence in God, seeing him not merely as a powerful an almighty deity, but as someone familiar: he is Father, and I am his child, and when I look at the image of his only-begotten Son, I am reminded of this relationship between God and myself. God is somebody who is near to me as a member of my own family; this could perhaps account for the Filipino penchant of calling Christ Papa Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mama Mary. In this I am reminded of a foreign missionary who was disapproving of this habit among Filipinos, describing it as indicative more of childishness that of being child-like. But then I think that in order to understand why Filipinos do that, one would need to look a bit deeper into the Filipino psyche.

Filipino folk religiosity offers a very valuable tool for us to discover philosophical underpinnings that are rooted in the Filipino psyche. They offer us a glimpse of how a people view life, the world and everything in between. People could be dismissive of folk religiosity and devotions, thinking them to be a thing of simple people. However, I believe that they reveal more to us than just faith. These devotions also allow us to come up with a portrait of the philosophical view of a people who know suffering to be a fact of life, and yet refuse to be bowed by it; a people who have an optimistic view of life, to a fault at times, and finally, it shows us a people whose vision of the world and of life far exceed the boundaries of this finite world, to rest upon the arms of the Infinite.

[1] Rolando M. Gripaldo, Filipino Philosophy: Traditional Approach, part 1, sec. 2., (Manila: De La Salle University Press, 2004), 173.
[2] Ibid.

Thursday, July 31, 2014


I remembered somebody giving a talk mention in passing that the term "monthsary" indicated a growing crisis in commitment and relationships. This was what came into my mind as I watched a video of a couple who were very much in love. The combox was rife with people saying how envious they were, or about how their relationships never went too long enough for them to graduate from the "monthsary" level into a real anniversary.

When I was a child and when I entered into young adulthood, I don't remember hearing the term "monthsary". Coming to think about it, I realize that indeed its usage is relatively recent (unless somebody could prove me wrong). 

There are many factors as to why relationships don't last as they should, or as we would want them to. Human interpersonal relationships can be really complex, a mystery in its own right. It's paradoxical to realize that a human, personal relationship---a complex, intricate reality as i have just mentioned--is founded on something as simple as the need to love and be loved, inherent in every person. As I was looking at the couple doing sweet and cute things to each other, I began to realize that it was all that was ever being shown to the world: the hugs and the kisses, the teddy bears and the dolce far niente (sweet-doing-nothing). To love and be loved is really sweet, and it's a delight to drown in that sweetness, until reality sinks in.

Here's what I think. Sometimes we need to ask ourselves what we are looking for in a relationship. Security? Self-discovery? Affirmation from the other? All of these are good things. But when a relationship is all about finding ME, discovering MYSELF, MY own happiness, before long, the steady stream of monthsaries would be progressively marked by the deterioration of our relationships, which may be then built on cream-puff sweetness.

The glory of any loving relationship is not in the sweetness, but in the effort of discovering the other. And this in itself is not easy. It is a journey, one that is mostly arduous. A Chinese proverb says that the hardest journey is the journey inward, and this is true whether in our case, or in the case of others. A relationship is an invitation for us to enter into world of the other person whom we esteem. Thus, it could never be said to be selfish, since it's not merely about ME, it's rather about the one I love. With this in mind, there is much sense in calling my partner in life as my "better half". 

For me to call my beloved my better half would entail a lot generosity and sacrifice on my part. It's a constant struggle to give first, since generosity becomes the condition for me to receive. This is true not merely in romantic relationships, but in any human relationship, even in our relationship with God.

Why are there more and more monthsaries? Maybe perhaps because we are forgetting that a relationship is not merely about ME...but about US...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


FEBRUARY 18, 2014:


           I am surrounded by green, leafy trees, situated atop a hill overlooking the city of Cebu. Within enclosure provided by the walls of the Betania Retreat House, everything is peaceful. The sun is shining, and I’m breathing easily. Presently in the Queen City of the South for my annual retreat, the peace and quiet allows me to look back at a different time, in a different place, and in a situation that is totally different from the one that I find myself in a little more than a hundred days ago, along with millions of other people, I suddenly found myself in the eye of the storm- a super typhoon to be exact- one which proved to be the strongest in recorded history. Ripping through the Central Philippines, it left behind a trail of death and devastation unparalleled in the history of Leyte and its towns and cities. But the terrifying and destructive forces of both wind and water which the super typhoon Haiyan (locally named Yolanda) unleashed merely served as the first act to the drama of pain and anguish that took place afterward. The terror of the violent winds and the powerful surge of water quickly gave way to the terrible aftermath of the calamity, wherein, bereft of homes and even the most basic necessities, we had to make the gargantuan effort of learning to stand up once again. To this day I clearly distinguish the experience of Yolanda from its aftermath; both were terrifying, but I believe that it was the aftermath- and coping with it- that was the hardest part. The story that I am about to share is a story of the wrath of nature at its worst. It is not my own story that I am recounting, though I have a part in it, but the story of a people. Our story is one of terror and pain, that of loss and devastation, of desolation and the temptation to lose hope. The story of the Yolanda survivor is one of what nature can do at its worst. But it is also the story of what man can do at his worst, it shows that he can be, as the Roman thinker Pautus once expressed, a wolf to his fellowman.

            However, over and above all, surviving Yolanda is a story of faith, of hope, of love, and--above all--of salvation. It shows that the light does shine in the darkness, and that man could be at his noblest even in the most adverse conditions. It is a story of grace.

NOVEMBER 7, 2013: 


The High School Building, November 7, 2013. Windows had been closed shut in anticipation of the typhoon 
            The sky was a cobalt blue over the sprawling grounds of the Sacred Heart Seminary, the afternoon sun shining hotly upon the basketball courts, which were all but deserted. The seminarians were all away having their annual holy retreat, in different locations: The College and Pre- College boys in San Damiano, Brgy. Libertad, just three kilometres away; the older high school boys were farther away in the town of Alangalang, in a facility situated in the midst of a rice field. Farthest were the younger boys- Grades 7 and 8- who went to Merida, on the other side of the island of Leyte. I have been told that their venue was securely tucked by the side of a hill.
Sacred Heart Chapel, on the eve of super typhoon Yolanda.

            The grounds were silent and tranquil; everything seemed to be in repose. Everything seemed to be still; even nature seemed to have stopped breathing. But we all knew the reason for the calm; we all knew that it was literally the calm before the storm, Haiyan (more locally known as Yolanda). Throughout the week we have received warnings and instructions concerning the approaching storm. The bulletins and news agencies were reporting (and warning) us that this was to be an exceptionally strong typhoon, the likes of which have yet to be seen and experienced, with winds more than 200 km/p (back then I believe that the forecast only gave up to more than 200. I, like many others, didn’t place a lot of attention on these warnings. We were accustomed to strong typhoons. Nonetheless, this didn’t mean that we didn’t prepare. People were bracing themselves for the approaching storm. The queues in the groceries and stores were of people who were stocking their cupboards and fridges with food and provisions. Houses were being propped up, especially the flimsy dwellings of poorer folk. I myself in the seminary had given instructions to the high school seminarians before they left to close the windows of their dorms in anticipation. There seemed to be no special urgency that could be observed among the people prior to landfall. The week before – and in fact, the afternoon of Thursday prior to the storm – the weather was hot. The weather could never have been better.

            But I myself somehow began to feel a sense of foreboding about the perfect weather and how it seemed to contrast sharply with the dire forecasts from various weather bureaus from the world over. Up until Thursday evening we were joking as to whether Yolanda would finally arrive or not, the weather being perfect. On Thursday morning people were riveted to their television sets, attuned to the news, - not because of the typhoon, which by that time had entered into the PAR (Philippine Area of Responsibility), Haiyan had become Yolanda- but because another woman was being grilled in the Senate:Janet Napoles, who was answering to charges of graft. The interrogation was well-publicized, and occupied the attention of the general public. Not much was gleaned from the hearing, at least from Napoles, who was at least consistent in her refusal to answer to the questions based to her, always invoking her right not to respond.

            In the afternoon, I made one final check of the high school building, making sure that all the doors and windows were closed and locked (which proved to be a bad idea, as things would later come to show). As I had already mentioned, the afternoon was just perfect: clear, blue skies, warm afternoon light being reflected on all the panes of the closed windows of the High School building. For many of these windows, this would be the last time they would catch and reflect the light of the setting sun.

            Looking back at that golden afternoon a hundred days back, there is one thought that makes me melancholic: for many people, that beautiful afternoon was to be their last. Many children who played then were not to play anymore; friends were taking their leave of each other, not knowing that it was going to be their final goodbye in this world.

            By late afternoon the skies had darkened; dark ominous clouds began to cover us bringing with them the first drops of rain. With them, the final preparations for the storm were being put into place. Local and foreign media men began taking up their positions. ABS-CBN’s Golden boy Atom Araullo established himself in Tacloban City, to the delight of his fans and admirers; Jiggy Manicad and Love Anover set up camp in Palo, right outside of the Cathedral. Even CNN sent one of its own, Anderson Cooper, to provide news coverage. I remember somebody commenting on Facebook, saying that if CNN had already sent one of their very best, then this must be one heck of a storm. I confess that it gave me a sense of foreboding. Whoever said that was right.

            It began to drizzle in the early evening. Many people have been compelled to go to the evacuation centers, but most preferred to stay where they were. At about 7:00 pm there was a strong gust of wind. “Yolanda has finally come” people began to say. But it was brief, and nature lapsed once more into stillness and quiet.

            At dinner that evening, Fr. Rex Ramirez, the Rector, commented that the Cathedral Rector had asked him about the possibility of us sheltering some evacuees at the seminary auditorium. I responded that while it had been done various times in the past, we welcomed people as evacuees already on the aftermath, but not usually before and during any calamity, this at least in recent history. Fr. Rex was okay with that. On hindsight that decision saved many lives. While still at table I called my mom back home. Our home is situated about a stone’s throw away from the seminary walls, a bit nearer to the river. Our house was built on a higher ground level, at a safe distance from the coast; it was a place that no flood water had ever reached. On the eve of the super typhoon, there seemed to be no cause for alarm. I asked my mom on the phone whether she would like to evacuate to the seminary, and wait it out with us. I told her that she and my sister Ivy would be lodged in the guest room, which I fondly call the “Werner Suite”, because it’s where a good friend of the seminary, Fr. Werner Ludescher, an Austrian priest, would usually stay whenever he came to visit. “Is there Wi-fi and a TV there?” my mom gamely inquired. “No, it’s only a room”, I replied, “Then I would prefer to stay at home”, she said, laughing. But she assured me that both she and my sister were going to be okay.

            After dinner I returned to the High School Building, to my room. Before going to bed I continued to monitor the situation from the news and via Internet. I had previously contacted the formators who had accompanied the seminarians in order to know how they were, so as to assure some of the parents who had either called or sent me text messages inquiring about the safety of their sons. I posted bulletins in Facebook concerning the seminary and the seminarians. The Napoles show over, netizens had turned their attention to Yolanda, and the social networking sites were replete with netizens wishing people well and reminding them to be safe and secure. There was plentiful info about the strength of the typhoon, and I could sense a real growing concern about it. But that night I slept well, secure in a building that had withstood all kinds of storms for more than fifty years.

NOVEMBER 8, 2013: 


            I woke up at 4 in the morning, well-rested and alert. The gale was already blowing against the windows and I could see the trees swaying to it. I guess a lot of people were already up and about by that time. I turned on the TV, tuning in to the news. I was also tuned in to Facebook. After donning a pair of khaki shorts and a white jacket I went out of the room to begin my watch. At that time I wasn’t especially concerned: I had awakened to watch a strong typhoon pass through, and that was it. I made a final check of the windows in the dorms. I re-entered my room to light the oil lamp in my prayer corner, went out, and positioned myself at the head of the stone stairs, which gave a very good view of the seminary grounds and the adjacent main chapel. I noticed Fr. Rex walking through the corridors as I went down the stairs. The wind was steadily growing stronger, and for the first time I began to feel anxious. In Facebook relatives and friends began to ask me how I was. My anxiety grew as I began to make out the situation of the Chapel roof, which had started to peel away around the edges. I sent the update via Facebook. Text messages from some parents began to arrive, and I tried to contact the group in Merida, to no avail. I had lost track of time by then, and I realized that I had been up by almost more than a couple of hours already. It was already past six in the morning, and the winds had increased in the ferocity. Suddenly, the power went out; As I observed how that wind bent and shook the trees I realized that I had never remembered the wind behave so violently before. I tried calling my mom on the phone, but she didn’t answer. As I was trying to contact her, I was pacing the length of the lobby of the second floor of the building. Then, a few minutes before the clock struck seven, my phone rang. It was my mom.

            “How are you two doing?” I yelled at the phone. My mom on the other end was already sobbing, and she talked as if she was running from one part of our house to another. “Mark, our roof just got blown away. I’m scared”, “Try to go to Tita Lilah!” I answered, thinking that it would be safer for them to be with more people, who lived just across the street from our place. I continued, “Get hold on something! Just hold on!”

“There’s nothing to hold on to anymore!” My mom sobbed. My heart froze. I understood at that moment that my family was in a very vulnerable decision, and there was nothing I could do to save them. Perhaps it was at this moment that everything I did began to have a sense of desperation. Everything I did, I did because it may be the last time that I might be able to do it. Not wishing to suffer an eternity of regret, I said that which may have been my last farewell to my mother “Mommy, I love you!” Barely had the words escaped from my lips when line went dead. At that moment, all cellular coverage in Leyte and Samar were cut off, and we were virtually incommunicable, not only to the rest of the world, but even to each other, Each of us felt alone, disconnected from anybody else. It was about seven o’clock in the morning.

            I now found myself alone and trapped in a huge edifice being rocked by violent winds. Minutes before the power event off, I received an update that the wind velocity had increased from 260 km/h to 315 km/h, a speed unparalleled in recorded history. I was stunned to find myself in the middle of a maelstrom of wind, water and debris. The wind velocity increased all of a sudden, and Yolanda came with all her fury. The sound of the violent, rushing wind was comparable to that of a plane’s reverse engine in close range, so loud I couldn’t even hear myself shout. The air was swiftly becoming dense, such that there was absolutely zero visibility.
November 8, 2013: The last photo that I took from my phone before I finally took cover. The  chapel is barely visible.
            I ran to my room, not to take refuge in it but to prop open the door. I had to push a heavy side table in order to do this. I immediately decided that the sports cabinet adjacent to my room and under the stairs was the best part of the building that could offer me protection; it was at the very heart of the building. Before I entered it, I thought it wise to break the large glass window situated exactly in front of my hiding place. I got a chair and swung it against the glass. I discovered that it was thick; I had to hit it several times until it finally fell to the floor. I also proceeded to break a small glass window cut above my head. Some glass particles flew and cut my eyebrow and my nose. The sleeve of my white jacket became stained as I tried to stanch the bleeding.

            Leaning against the wall, I could feel the whole building shaking violently, rocked by the wind that was not just howling, but rather shouting into my ears. It felt as if the whole seminary was trapped inside one gigantic tornado. I could heat the wooden beams on the third floor crashing against each other. The sound of shattering glass was horrible. I kept on praying aloud, thinking how comforting it would have been if i had somebody with me, hear somebody else's voice other than my own. The wind's violent fury escalated and so did  its  implacable roar. "Please Lord make it stop!" I shouted to the wind, bringing my hands to my ears, "Husto na gad, kalooyi kami pastilan!" (Have mercy on us and make this stop).

            Terrified and alone, I realized that I could be living through my last moments here on earth. I could die at any moment; the whole building could come crashing down, or I could get pinned down by the stairs above me. To be truthful, I didn’t know what might happen next. The only thing quite certain was I was staring at death in the face. So this is how it ends, I thought to myself. This is how I’m going to die, in the middle of a super typhoon. Had I been in the company of another priest, I would’ve made my confession, or asked for absolution straight away. But I was alone. Alone in dark room at the heart of a shaking edifice, drenched and cold to the bone, I crouched down and prayed, making an act of the presence of God. Looking back, I was surprised about how calm I became during those moments. It was only for a brief moment, and yet it seemed to stretch, me before God, asking for his forgiveness, seeing my life and priesthood pass before my eyes. It was as if my mind stopped paying attention to the chaos outside, and focused on the presence within and before me.

It was only like a split second, and then it was over. I became aware of the roaring winds once again, felt the trembling of the structure through the wooden post that I held on to. I clambered up on the wall onto a small opening that gave me a partial view of the chaotic world putside of my my miserable refuge. After that brief moment of surrender, I felt more purposeful, stronger, not yet totally certain that I would live through the storm, but at least calmer and more methodic. I was peering above the shoulder of an image of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, which seemed unaffected by the tumultuous wind before and beyond it. One of the doors of the second floor High School building was gone; another was still in the process of being ripped from its hinges by the relentless wind. Horrified and fascinated at the same time, I saw how the wind pulled the heavy wooden door straight up from its hinges and hurl it against the far wall by the staircase. I heaved a sigh of relief. At least that’s one less flying debris for me. But then what I saw beyond the doorpost took my breath away.

The wind had somewhat allowed for a certain visibility, and I saw something that left me a bit disoriented: where the quadrangle was, there was a raging sea. Waves were washing against the chapel walls, and had completely engulfed the base of the flagpoles, which were being mercilessly pitted against each other by the wind, which seemed to have no specific direction. I leaned out a bit more, and felt the driving rain against my face. It was like being hit with fine sand. Plus, it was salty. I kept on wiping my glasses and looked once again at the crazy scene before me. And then, my thoughts went from what was before me to my home, a few meters away from the seminary, but nearer to the sea. My mom and my sister Ivy were there the last time I talked with them.

The last time. The sea was beneath me, and with the salty rain hitting me, I turned my thoughts on them. Where are they? How are they holding on? Then a question came up: Are they still alive? As I looked on, I felt the scene before me distancing itself from me once again. You will have to accept that they are gone, I said to myself. At least it would make things bearable. Waves of regret threatened to take me down with them. I should’ve insisted on having them here with me last night…I should’ve went for them and brought them here with me.

But I chose to ignore those thoughts. What good is it for me to entertain them? If they’re gone, so be it. Regret would not bring them back to life, that is, if indeed they hadn’t survived the waves that had surely gone through our house.

But all was not yet lost. Clinging to slim hope, I began to pray for their safety. My hiding place was beginning to get flooded. Rain water was gushing down from the ceiling as the typhoon continued unabated and merciless in her fury. Things were floating on the floor. A small picture frame floating right up to the door of my hiding place. It was a picture of Blessed John Paul II, holding a telephone to his ear. I picked it up and propped it against the wall. I caressed it, feeling the smooth, slippery surface of the glass as I prayed to the saintly pope, soon to be canonized. Please take care of my family. Take care of my mom and my sister. Protect my brother and his companions. Save them from harm.

Gusts of wind continued to tear through the building. To my left, in one part of the dorm adjacent to the place where I was, the ceiling caved in, creating a waterfall, further flooding the second floor. I began to think of my brother Myko, who was in another location far from Palo, in a retreat house situated in the middle of a ricefield. If the Mommy and Ivy are dead, then I would be the only family he’s got left, I told myself. I was confident that he was still alive, compared to what I believed for my mom and sister.

The building continued to shake. I was concerned about how far the structure could take the beating of the fierce winds. Plus, I felt myself getting weaker, because of the cold. With my energy getting depleted, I needed to get something in order to replenish my waning strength. I remembered that a few days ago, I got a bag of chocolates from a stranger on my birthday, November 3. That Sunday I celebrated Mass at Robinson’s Place in Tacloban, and an appreciative person gave me those chocolates as a gift. But the bag was in my room, and I had to get out in order to get it. As I tried to get out, a really strong gust of wind propelled a long piece of tin roofing up the stairs. I rushed back to my hiding place and closed the door shut, just as the edge of the roofing clanged against it. It stayed there for some minutes, bucking like a wild bull, until another gust of wind pushed it to one side. The thing was like a wild animal, unpredictable and dangerous. When it had finally edged away, I took the chance and rushed out of the bodega, and made for my room. I was relieved to see it still intact. I reached inside my closet and found the bag of chocolates. Having made it back to my hiding place, I munched on some until I gradually felt my energy returning.

Yolanda continued to blow relentlessly, unabated in her fury. I have lost track of time, and I didn’t bother to look at my timepiece. At that time I was guessing that the structure—which had been battered by strong quakes and typhoons in her more than sixty-year existence—would have received more than it could take. I was eyeing the concrete staircase, thinking that in the eventuality of the building’s collapse, and no matter how strong the winds still are, I would run and take hold of the concrete bannisters. But the structure held on, and I stayed in the building until the typhoon run its course, and I was at last able to go out of my refuge. When I did so, I contemplate utter devastation, on a scale that was epic and truly catastrophic. It took a while before I was able to touch firm ground, since I had to walk over debris, tin roofing and wooden trusses from the building.

It is said that older generations used to make things so that they may last longer. Fortunately, that was the case of the High School building. Built under the SVD Fathers in 1957, it was meant to withstand the storms that would come hurtling through the Pacific, as well as the tremors that would shake the island. The foundations withstood the onslaught, but the winds have dealt mercilessly with the buildings. In the case of the High School building, it obliterated the whole roof, ripping its heavy wooden trusses from its walls and hurling it into the air. The surrounding area was littered with hard wooden beams. The whole third floor had its windows blasted out, its lockers and beds thrown against each other. Walls and partitions disappeared. The room of Fr. Francis Borja, just above mine, was completely obliterated. It was as if the whole floor had been one huge washing machine. I shivered to think what I would’ve seen if the seminarians had indeed been here.
The Sacred Heart Main Chapel after the typhoon.
November 8, 2013, 1pm: The High School building, photo taken immediately after the typhoon, 
The same fate had befallen the rest of the buildings in the seminary. The College Building was equally roofless, surrounded by its own debris, twisted metal and shards of glass, furniture having been hurled from its windows. The Sacred Heart Chapel was still standing, but now without its windows, its stained glass torn from their places. The sanctuary was roofless, as was one side of the chapel. The concrete crosses that adorned the pinnacles were broken and bent, hanging precariously above the ground. The heavy wooden pews had all been pushed to one side, and the main altar was flown to the corner. But the auditorium provided the most pathetic state of all. It had been totally destroyed, and resembled a flattened shoebox. It was a good thing that nobody was there during the typhoon, for there would surely have been no survivors. From a distance, I could clearly see the cathedral, bereft of its dome. It came as a shock to me, to see that great structure so desolate and ruined.
Heavy wooden pews all bunched up together at one end of the chapel shows the force of the storm surge.
After three hours of being alone, left to the mercy of the winds, I went down and made my way to where I hoped the others would be, at the Fathers’ Refectory. I had returned to the land of the living.

I found the rest of the personnel there with the seminary fathers: Fr. Rex and Fr. Aaron Quilaneta, and Fr. Bryand Restituto. Fr. Bryand had the same solitary experience as mine, having been trapped in the College Building. There, taking refuge on the stairs, he witnessed the raging waters pass through the buildings, keeping a watchful eye on the iron chandelier as it swayed frenetically above him, and witnessing the beds and lockers as it was hurled from one dorm to another.

There were two other people there, people who loved in my own neighborhood. They had been washed into the seminary premises by the flood, and were without slippers. They looked dazed and cold. I inquired about my family, and they told me that they hadn’t seen them. Pangs of regret began to surge through me. Some theology seminarians came and asked if we were okay. They themselves had been inches away from death as the powerful surge of water went through their seminary, at the far end of the compound. Yet as soon as the waters receeded, these young men were the first to go to the aid of the neighboring houses, checking in on the people, and bringing them to the Patmos Clergy Retirement Home and to the Archdiocesan Chancery, which were instantly converted into evacuation centers. I asked them if they had by chance seen my mother and sister. They replied that they had not, but that if they ever saw them, they would inform me at once.

Going back to the High School building, I busied myself in getting supplies from my room and medical supplies from the first-aid cabinet. Without bothering to look for the key, I just smashed the glass of the case and took the supplies that I thought would be useful. I also took the bag of chocolates from my hiding place, and dry clothes from my room. Then I headed back to the refectory, which from then on would be the center of our lives for the coming weeks. I didn’t feel like going to our house to check on my family. I still wonder why it wasn’t foremost on my mind at that time, but then while I was at the refectory, a seminarian came running to tell me that Mommy and Ivy were already here. I immediately dropped everything and headed back to the High School building. When I saw then at the far end of the corridor, my heart almost burst with emotion and relief. Despite of the debris, we ran to each other’s embrace. It was an intense moment, and I held on to them both as if I would never let go.
My mom and my sister, safe and dry in the seminary after their ordeal,
photo taken on the afternoon of Nov. 8.
I led them back to the refectory, with the rest of the survivors. We would need to get used to calling ourselves that from now on, I figured it was already almost midday by then, and the women tried their best to prepare lunch from whatever food that they could find. I wasn’t hungry, I don’t know if others were, but I ate anyway, more because I would be needing the energy than anything else. Now that I had my family with me, I was more at peace. I wanted to go and see the damage that the typhoon had wrought. What I was to discover would exceed my expectations, and would lead me to be convinced that surviving Yolanda was one thing; surviving the aftermath would be another. The days and weeks that followed would prove me right.
 (end of part 1)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


Ashes signify man's overthrow by time. Our own swift passage, ours and not someone else's, ours, mine. When at the beginning of Lent the priest takes the burnt residue of the green branches of the last Palm Sunday and inscribes with it on my forehead the sign of the cross, it is to remind me of my death.
          Memento homo
          quia pulvis
          est et in pulverem reverteris.

Everything turns to ashes, everything whatever. This house I live in, these clothes I am wearing, my household stuff, my money, my fields, meadows, woods, the dog that follows me, my horse in his stall, this hand I am writing with, these eyes that read what I write, all the rest of my body, people I have loved, people I have hated, or been afraid of, whatever was great in my eyes upon earth, whatever small and contemptible, all without exception will fall back into dust.----Romano GUARDINI, Sacred Signs.

Our annual observance of Lent begins with the sign of the ashes pressed upon the warm flesh of our forehead, as a fitting reminder of our mortality. The rough feel of the burnt remains of what was once green and alive reminds us of our mortal fate, of the road that all men without exemption, no matter how influential or great, will have to take, a road that leads to death. Death entered into creation thanks to man's option--freely made--to go away from God. This option in man has been observable: to move away in an effort to assert his own independence from God, a mistaken effort. Lent shows us another path: one which leads to authentic freedom and fullness of life.

This is why Lent culminates in the celebration of the Paschal Triduum, at the climax of which is another sign: water, an element which harbors within itself the force necessary to destroy evil, to cleanse, reinvigorate, give life. The path begun by Ash Wednesday begins with the reminder of our mortality, so as to end with a celebration of life and light. This is why Lent isn't exactly a somber season; rather, it is characterized by joy and hope in the Christian struggle for inner renewal in Christ. In the liturgy there is sense in calling Lent a joyful season, there is sense in talking about "the glory of these forty days". 


Saturday, March 1, 2014


Some of our formators have just returned from Ormoc and Palompon after having conducted the opening salvo of the entrance exams for next school year. We would be conducting admission exams for the Saturdays of this month in various designated testing centers all throughout the Archdiocese. At this table this evening the discussion turned around the observation that the majority of the applicants came, not so much from Catholic schools, but from public institutions. This could also be observed in part with regards to the present population of the seminary. There are seminarians who are products of Catholic schools run by religious congregations, but there seem to be more who come from public schools. 

It would be natural to suppose that vocations would come from institutions that offer Catholic education. It would be natural to suppose that more vocation would come from the ranks of altar servers in the parishes and in these same schools. But somehow, this--in my opinion, and if those whom I have spoken with-- does not seem to be the case. SOMETHING SEEMS TO BE AMISS. 

Of course the problem concerning priestly vocations is intricate; it touches on many aspects, but I would like to focus on certain specific things. somebody voiced out--and I certainly agree with him, that THERE IS A CORRELATION WITH THE IDENTITY AND CATHOLICITY OF A CATHOLIC SCHOOL AND THE VOCATIONS THAT IT CULTIVATES. It is a correlation that could even be said to be necessary. Turning my eye to the parishes, it could be safely assumed that there ought to be vocations among the altar servers: proximity to the Sacrament of the Altar and to the priestly ministry, given the proper coordinates and conditions, should inspire somebody among the altar servers. If fact, this is one important end for which the Knights of the Altar exists: to encourage priestly vocations. This is another main reason why girls should not be allowed in this kind of apostolate. But there are fewer altar servers who are entering the seminary. 

In the Archdiocese of Palo, if there are lesser applicants for the seminary coming from schools run by religious congregations, or schools that are Catholic in identity, if fewer altar servers are joining the ranks of the seminarians, IT'BECAUSE WE HAVE BEEN REMISS IN SOME ASPECTS.  Religious sisters, religious brothers, and parish priests need to do some serious soul-searching concerning this. HOW ARE OUR CATHOLIC SCHOOLS, YOUTH MINISTRIES AND SACRISTIES EFFECTIVE AND CONDUCIVE AS PRIMARY SEEDBEDS OF THE PRIESTLY VOCATION?


Saturday morning I went to the market place of Palo to buy some garden rakes for the seminary. I remember one conference that I attended once when I was still in college, by an anthropologist who was studying Leyteño culture that he enjoyed coinciden to market data because he could observe many thing: people, the local produce, the social interaction. 
I've been familiar with market day in Palo, ( which is also known in the local language as "tabo") which before used to fall on a Saturday. It still does nowadays, except that they've extended it to Friday afternoon as well. 
Market day is a social thermometer in any town, especially in Palo, a good-sized municipality known for its tradition, and yet rapidly opening itself to economic progress. Heavily damaged by super typhoon Yolanda (international code name Haiyan), it nevertheless sought to rise rapidly from the ashes despite of the immense devastation that it suffered. Market day resumed a week after Yolanda, another proof of the resilience of its people and the will to rise from the destruction. 
This morning I could see some of the structures in the market place still unrepaired. Some stalls have collapsed due to the string winds, and yet people still set up shop wherever they can, and the rhythm in the market still continues on as before the typhoon. There's one thing that I miss though. I could remember that as a child I used to see and hear vendors sing as they count the produce that they were selling. They weren't merely counting the fish that they were selling, they were singing what they were counting. 
I went around for a bit, and bought some of the homemade delicacies that would always be featured in any market day. I bought a small cake made out of sticky rice topped with melted caramel syrup. Very tasty.  

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Among the 101

I learned lately from a priest-friend that I was presented as among the 101 priests to be followed on Google. To be honest, it was flattering enough to be mentioned ( I remembered that while in high school I strove hard to be what Cardinal del Val's Litany of Humility asked: the desire to be forgotten. I still do so today most especially. I'm afraid that I'm so far from being what the saintly Cardinal prayed for). But digesting the good piece of news made me realize that this means that I need to be more availing of this media in order to teach, share and inspire. Thanks to Fr. Zenki Manabat for the tip (and the example of his assiduous and fruitful blogging), and I hope to post more thoughts, reflections, insights and experience in the immediate future!

Saturday, February 15, 2014


Is it just me, or am I witnessing what someone one day described as " a veritable avalanche of sex and filth" in mainstream media, both print and digital? Reflecting on that combination, a deeper truth would cause me to recoil at the way "sex" has been paired with "filth". Yet sadly what I myself would observe nowadays seems to justify this unholy tandem. As an afterthought, I think "Lies" needed to be added to the two as a third party. TV shows and series that present marital infidelity and homosexuality (the lifestyle, and not the mere tendency) not just as a reality (which need not be denied as a present reality) but more as an option that could be ideal; surveys that may seek to present an objective fact, but which may be used to argue that teen and pre marital sex, homosexual lifestyles and sexual deviance be treated as the normal, the "in" thing in society nowadays. 
There are so many voices, a real cacophony, while will serve mainly to confuse. Proponents would argue that this is a fruit of the sexual revolution. It is true that what we are witnessing are products of the revolution that erupted in the late '60's. BUT WHAT EARLIER GENERATIONS PERCEIVED AS A REVOLUTION THAT LIBERATED, WE IN OURS REALIZE AS A REVOLUTION THAT IS CLAIMING COUNTLESS VICTIMS. 
In this revolution, the great number of its victims are the youth. We are witnessing the growth of a victimized generation that would later go on to be victimizers. 
Going back to that avalanche, there is a need to counter the revolution with another one: that of love, love that lies at the very heart of sexuality and which gives it its authentic face. Love which is the only one capable of making the true beauty of human sexuality shine.
These considerations push me as a formator to speak about sex to the young people under my charge. I believe that in the seminary, formators need to speak about this to their seminarians, in a manner that is frank, to reveal the true face and beauty of sexuality, to teach that "sex" and "filth" need not go together, and that such was not the plan of the Creator "in the beginning"; that sex is not shameful, you don't talk about it in whispers, that it goes beyond skin-deep, and looks toward the fulfillment of the whole human person. I owe it to my seminarians, especially in the high school seminary. 
But parents also owe it to their children to talk about it with them, in a manner that is sincere, that is honest, frank, and based on the truth of is great gift. Educating children and the youth in the beauty of authentic sexuality forms part of any Christian parent's witness to Christ. You owe it to Christ as well: to be brave, to be truthful, and most of all to be loving.

Of loaves and fishes

The Gospel for today once more shows us the immense love that lies in the heart of the Savior. Concerned for the people who have come from all parts to follow him and listen to his words, he calls upon the Twelve to feed the multitude. The apostle have merely enough to feed themselves. But the Lord presses them to do what is virtually impossible, judging from the very limited resources. Taking from what his men have and which they have offered to him, after having blessed them, they suddenly become enough to feed the hungry multitude.

The Lord knows that by ourselves we have nothing much to offer that could give him sufficient glory. And yet he continues to ask for our correspondence to his grace. In,y when we have given the little that we could possibly give to The Lord could miracles truly happen, only when we have generously surrendered the little that we have could we be able to feed the multitude.