Friday, February 8, 2013

A tale of two lakes

The multi-million-peso project that was the dredging of Burnham Lake is done, all that’s needed now is more water to bring back the nature-initiated, man-made lake’s water level to its usual depth. It reminded me of a similar project we did with fellow artists in Manila long ago.

Actor Ronnie Lazaro gathered us in his studio in 1996 to discuss a project he dubbed “Bayang Ginigiliw” – the clean up of the relief Philippine map at the Rizal Park. There was no money involved, all we had was the permission of the local government to go ahead with it.

On the first day, there were tens of us – theater actors, visual artists, ballet dancers, videographers, photographers, filmmakers, etc. armed with nothing more than shovels, walis tingting and other improvised implements and the determination to clean up the submerged relief map. The area is a bit smaller than the Burnham Lake. We watched as the water slowly drained revealing the stories of people part of whose lives were reflected in, told to, depended on that lake.

As the last of the water was released, years of neglect became apparent. The silt was up to our knees, in some parts waist deep. What we thought was going to be a two-day project ended up being almost a week-long labor of love. We started digging in – picking up coins thrown by people who wished for a better life, and other objects of some value, necklaces, rings, earrings, a watch or two, wallets with washed out photographs, which we later donated to an orphanage. There were guns thrown into the lake by lawless elements being pursued by law enforcers, which we surrendered to the police.

In the days that followed, despite the noticeable decrease in the number of volunteers - by the third day there were only a less than ten os uf left, we toiled from sun up to sun down for days, prodded by the sight of the Philippine map becoming cleaner and cleaner. A lot of passersby, job seekers, stopped to ask how much were getting paid for the job, and were shocked upon learning that we were doing it for free.

We chipped in for food – one day I cooked a huge batch of pasta, another day we ate at some nearby karinderya, once we cooked with an improvised wooden stove right there in the water-less lake.

As the last dust-pan full of silt was swept away, we watched as the lake was slowly filled again with water which played the role of the Philippine seas that cradle this archipelago. It was a beautiful sight, it was a very beautiful feeling.

The dredging of Burnham Lake cost the people twenty million pesos.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Then a man in a top hat comes

I agree with the message, but not with the delivery. I agree that the punishment of imprisonment is too harsh, but the deed must not go unpunished – in this case, the means just can’t justify whatever end was aimed for.

The issue: at an ecumenical service, some say it was a mass, at the Manila Cathedral last Sept. 30, 2010, Carlos Celdran entered the cathedral dressed in a suit and a top hat carrying a placard that simply said, “Damaso,” in reference to Jose Rizal's infamous character. He was protesting the Catholic Church’s stand against the RH Bill and the way it has been forwarding that stand. The bill has since been signed into law.

The church filed a case against Celdran, using a provision in the Revised Penal Code that deals with “offending religious feelings.” He was recently found guilty, and sentenced to a minimum of a couple of months to a maximum of a little over a year in jail, despite Celdran’s written apology to the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and their ensuing issuance of a pardon.

Citizens and netizens are divided – some say the sentence was way too harsh, others say Celdran deserved it. Some say Celdran shouldn’t be punished at all, others say otherwise. Some are calling for the abolition of the provision pertaining to “offending religious feelings,” some are threatening to use the same to sue the bishops for offending their religious feelings.

To me, it doesn’t matter whether there was an actual mass ongoing at the time, or “merely” an ecumenical service, as some of Celdran’s apologists said of that afternoon. The Manila Cathedral is still a place of worship – sacred to the church’s followers, as it should be even to non-Catholics, even non-Christians. A lot of the people lambasting the guilty verdict now are the same people who speak out for our right to freedom of information, freedom of choice, freedom of religion - and the right to practice that faith freely, without fear, without being mocked, molested, disrespected.

There are some in the Catholic hierarchy who have acted offensively, true. But that shouldn’t be justification enough for anyone to insult the whole church. It certainly isn’t reason enough to attack the whole religion. We cannot condemn Islam for Bin Laden’s actions, just as we cannot condemn all Germans for the holocaust perpetuated by Hitler and the Nazis, and for that matter, all Australians, or all actors?, all action stars?, for Mel Gibson’s drunken anti-Jewish rants.

It’s definitely not right to subject its followers, some of whom actually support what Celdran was advocating, to disrespect. Celdran’s action during a legitimate religious rite in a legitimate place of worship is offensive, no matter how noble his advocacy was, which I fully support, by the way.

Whatever your belief is, whether you believe at all or not, to others, their whole lives revolve around their faith. It is a matter of life and death, as history has shown us. How about those people in that church that afternoon who were there not to preach about the supposed evils of the RH bill but to commune with their God? Pray. Pray for salvation, a miracle, food on their table tomorrow, for a dying loved one to be saved, for their own lives to be saved. Then a man with a top hat disrupts that solemn, sacred moment because they happen to be in the same place with someone who has offended Carlos Celdran.

Free Carlos Celdran. Amend that vague provision on “offending religious feelings.” But let’s not tolerate nor glorify disrespect and arrogance, too.