Other Articles:

Can the killings in the Philippines ever stop?
-by Cesar Torres
Remembering Jose Avelino: A heartbeat away from the presidency
-by Quintin L. Doroquez
Exchanges between two deeply concerned Filipinos on the armed struggle in the Philippines
-by Cesar Torres
The Battle of Catubig
-by Quintin L. Doroquez
Rich, socialite Filipina senator meets with Maoist and “Communist” revolutionaries in the Netherlands
-by Cesar Torres
Dr. Jose V. Abueva & the Philippine Constitution in California
-by Cesar Torres
A fervent prayer for peace
-by Cesar Torres
Peru and the Philippines, some similarities and differences
-by Adelbert Batica
Dark clouds on azure Philippine skies
-by Cesar Torres
Cabinet Secretary Ricardo Saludo at the San Francisco Consulate Town Hall meeting
-by Cesar Torres









November 7, 2006

Bishop Palma with Samarenos in California photo
Bishop Palma, seated, with a crucifix, posing with the Samarnon priests and members of the Samarnon community in Northern California who joined him in San Francisco. Standing third from right are: Fr. Tony Petilla, Fr. Luis Llarenas, Fr. Paulino Singzon, Fr. Richard Tan. Beside him is Butch Balais-Fua. Together with Nonoy Fua, they were principal hosts and tourist guides of Bishop Palma and his entourage. Seated fourth from right is Fr. Dennis Baraan of Catarman, an excellent boggie dancer.

In all of Asia, Oceania, and the Pacific region, the Philippines is considered to be a predominantly Christian country. About 84% of the 90 million Filipinos are supposed to be Catholics. Catholicism reached Philippine shores when the Portuguese navigator, Ferdinand Magellan, who was searching for wealth and fortune armed with the sword and the cross, got lost and landed in Homonhon, an island off Samar, at dawn, on March 16, 1521. The European adventurers, accompanied by a Malay, Enrique, had survived a horrible voyage.  They were believers and they must have been grateful to God. Logically, they would have fallen on their knees and extended their arms to heaven in supplication while a priest was conducting a mass of thanksgiving. To us from Samar and Leyte, it does not matter whether the first Catholic Mass in that part of the world was celebrated in Homonhon, Samar on March 16, 1521 or on March 31, 1521 in Limasawa, in Leyte, Samar’s sister island. It is enough that Samar and Leyte can lay claim to some historical fame in the Christianization of the Philippines.

Today, the Catholic Church is a vital institution in Philippine society.  “Awesome!” is the adjective that comes to mind when I am contemplating the devotion of Filipino Catholics whether they are celebrating their numerous fiestas in the Philippines or in America, attending regular masses, taking communion or singing their hymns in the churches in the Metropolitan centers in Metro Manila or in a depressed or poverty stricken areas such as Samar or in the upscale Catholic parishes of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in America such as in Daly City, a suburb of lovely and picturesque San Francisco, in California.

Bishop Palma during a mass in Daly City photo
Fr. Tony Petilla, extreme left, by the altar, informing the congregation who the visiting prelates were after the mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Daly City, a suburb of San Francisco, California. To Fr. Petilla's left are: Fr. Paulino Singzon of Calbiga, Archbishop Palma, Fr. Luis Llarenas of Villareal, Fr. Richard Tan of Catbalogan a former parish priest of San Jose de Buan, in the interior of Samar, and now studying in Rome, and Fr. Dennis Baraan from Catarman.

In the midst of massive poverty, corruption, summary killings, profound moral depravity, hopelessness, injustice, political and government incompetence, no social institution, especially the Church and its adherents can just stand by the wayside uncaring about the totality of Philippine society. On the contrary, to fervent Catholics, Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical, “Populorum Progressio”, rings loud and clear:  “We must make haste: too many are suffering…the present situation must be faced with courage and the injustices linked with it must be fought against and overcome. Development demands bold transformations, innovations that go deep. Urgent reforms should be undertaken without delay. It is for each one to take his share in them with generosity, particularly those whose education, position and opportunities afford them wide scope for action.”

This Encyclical must have guided the Catholic faithful in recent years.  In 1986, they provided millions of warm, ready-to-die bodies in the removal of Ferdinand Marcos from more than 20 years as leader of the New Society.  In 2001, a president, Joseph Estrada who was well-known for his love of the beautiful life and beautiful women, was forced out of the presidency because of the involvement of the Catholic Church.

Today, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), the organization of the Bishops, Archbishops, and Cardinals in the Philippines, is a force that cannot be trifled with. There are very prominent Catholic prelates who are active participants in the political processes in the Philippines.  They join mass actions.  They sign documents to impeach top officials of the country.  They testify in congressional hearings.

No less dramatic is the innovation of Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales. His “Pondo ng Pinoy” (loose translation, “Fund for the Poor Filipino”) had generated P25 million in June 2005, one year after its establishment in June 2004. Enjoining the Catholic faithful to donate just P0.25 — about half a US cent ($0.005) to this Foundation, it had caught the imagination and massive support of Filipinos all over the world.

The power of the CBCP to mobilize millions, the activism of Filipino bishops, the grim martyrdom of some Catholic priests such as Fr. Rudy Romano and the Italian Fr. Tulio Favali, the financial and organizational innovations of Cardinal Rosales are images that are seared into the consciousness of Filipino Catholics.

However, no less inspiring is the simplicity and the refreshing example provided by one of the emerging leaders of the Philippine Catholic Church, Archbishop José S. Palma, the newly designated Archbishop of Palo in Leyte, which embraces six archdioceses in the Eastern Visayas Region the Leyte-Samar-Biliran Region.  This region has been classified by the Philippine National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) as depressed, meaning poor. In the past decade, through natural calamities and human greed such as illegal logging in Leyte, thousands have drowned and have been crushed to death.  The region is the scene of numerous summary killings.  Because of its mountainous topography the armed partisans of the Maoist revolutionary group, the National Democratic Front, and the soldiers of the Government of the Philippines have been fighting each other since the dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda.

After his assignment to the Archdiocese of Calbayog in Samar in January 1999, it did not take long for Archbishop Palma, a Hiligaynon, to become very fluent and eloquent in Lineyte-Samarnon.  In one year, he left the comforts of his “palace” in Calbayog City to go to the hinterlands of Samar to commune with his flock. His predecessors have never done this before.  He was at the core of the group which organized a Samar island-wide caravan opposing mining in Samar to protect the rainforest and the environment.  When some Trapos wanted to cut the rainforests of the Philippines in Samar, Archbishop Palma and his peers prevailed on the powerful people to reconsider their plans. Because he has to endure the “Hell Roads of Samar”, he refers to the situation as “Disgusting!”, and if the roads are now going to be repaired, he said that “They” should apologize to us for their corruption and lack of concern, whoever “They” are. “They” perhaps refers to the ninnies, the corrupt, and the plunderers, whom the poor and innocent Samarnons and Filipinos idolize.

Bishop Palma with Esdras Cleofe Romao-Villanueva photo
Archbishop Palma and Esdras Cleofe Romano Villanueva. Esdras is sharing her grief at the loss of her brother, the Redemptorist Fr. Rudy Romano who was abducted allegedly by Filipino soldiers in Cebu on July 11, 1985. Uncorroborated rumors has it that Fr. Romano's tongue was cut and half of his body was encased in cement and dropped on the sea between Maripipi in Leyte and Cebu while he was still alive. His abduction reverberated all over the world. The European Union suspended Official Development Assistance to the Philippines. The US Senate passed a resolution asking the Philippine Government to produce Fr. Romano, and in Ireland, an all-night vigil and a concert was held protesting the abduction of Fr. Romano. The Redemptorist Fathers have never rested in looking for him and knowing what happened to him.

Shortly after his assignment in the Archdiocese of Calbayog, a building of the Archdiocese was burned.  He turned to the Samarnons all over the world, especially in America, for help. In the San Francisco Bay Area, his ever gracious, kind and uncomplaining host was the Rev. Fr. Tony Petilla, the primus inter pares, first among equals, among Samarnon priests in America and the Parish Priest of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Daly City. Fr. Tony was assisted by the very Christian couple from Calbayog, Nonoy and Butch Balais-Fua.  Of course, we Samarnons responded to his appeal. We attended his special masses.  We sang as choir members.  We gave to the first and second collections.  We issued some checks.

Initially, he was alone when he was coming to America begging for our help. After three years, we were astonished to learn that he was no longer by himself in coming to America to commune with us and beg for our help.  This time, he was bringing with him the more senior priests from the Archdiocese of Calbayog and the Parishes in Samar.  They were those priests who had served the Church the longest, whose hairs had turned grey, whose faces were already lined by tears, worries, and supplications for their flock in Samar, the priests who would skip meals because there was nothing to eat in their poor parishes, those who were ministering to the spiritual needs of the hopeless and comforting them in their hour of need. With his priests in tow, Archbishop Palma would make the rounds – Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Florida, Minnesota, Colorado, etc. Of course we were glad.  We received them with open hearts. Archbishop Palma was sharing, and we Samarnons and our friends in America were sharing with our priests from Samar, some of whom were our kins. We were truly “Catholic”, universal, reaching out to each other across time and space. Our spirits were uplifted, suffused with joy. The Catholic Church was no longer the exploitative, irrelevant, and oppressive institution that it used to be, an “opiate of the masses.” It was Godly, divine and humanist.

Last October 28, 2006, Archbishop Palma, assisted by priests representing the entire island of Samar, celebrated mass at Fr. Tony Petilla’s Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Daly City, California. The church was bursting with people, standing room only. The Katbaloganon Male Choir, the enduring legacy of one of the most beloved Samareña ladies in America, the late Naty Villarin Silva Padul, with the cameo appearance of Samarnon-Leyteño tenor, Enrico Saboren, sang like they never sang before. They were inspired.

During his homily, which sounded like a tearful valedictory because every now and then he would choke on his words — and where he cited the novelty and the example of what the people of Villareal, Samar are doing in repairing and cementing an 8-km public road (a public road which used to be a lucrative source of thievery, plunder, and corruption) through Bayanihan or Tiklos, through personal contributions and using the Internet to appeal for help — Archbishop Palma told the congregation how he had become very close to the Samarnons.  And how dear they have become to him.  He hoped that even if he is already in Palo, Leyte, as Archbishop responsible for the six Archdioceses of the region that he could still join the Samarnons who have given him their love and respect.  His domain had become larger, the Samar-Leyte-Biliran region where many of the people are poor and the fighting between the NDF guerillas and the government soldiers is becoming white-hot and bloodier and bloodier.  Indeed, how Archbishop Palma and the Catholic Church will respond to the challenges of the people in that part of the Philippines, will determine the kind of society we will have in the next few years.

We are confident however, that the burning lines of  “Populorum Progressio” will echo and re-echo in the heart of Archbishop Palma: “We are sure that all Christians…will…expand their common cooperative effort in order to help mankind vanquish selfishness, pride and rivalries, to overcome ambitions and injustices, to open up to all the road to a more human life, where each man will be loved and helped as his brother, as his neighbor….All of you who have heard the appeal of suffering peoples, all of you who are working to answer their cries... Yes, We ask you…to heed Our cry of anguish, in the name of the Lord.”

Never have we felt the gravity, significance, and the solemnity of this prayer before.  Only now: “God bless Archbishop Jose Palma and his fellow workers in the Vineyard of the Lord, in the only Christian country in Asia, ang Pilipinas Nating Mahal.

Bishop Palma with the Villahanons in California photo
Proud Villahanons posing with Bishop Palma and Fr. Luis Llarenas, standing on the left. On a wheelchair, to the left of Bishop Palma is the Matriarch of the Romano Clan and Grand Lady of the Villahanons in Northern California, Mrs. Adelaida "Deling" Boller-Romano. The Villahanon Bayanihan Road Repair and Cementing Project was cited by the Bishop during his homily as a tribute to a proud and self-reliant community who are not at the mercy of corrupt politicians.

[Published in the November 2006 issue of The Filipino Insider, a monthly supplement of the San Francisco Chronicle. The author was a former faculty member of the University of the Philippines Department of Political Science. He can be reached at Cesar1185@aol.com.]

post comment | 0 comments

Web design by Samar News.com

 Last updated: 08/05/2019