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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Chapter 5 - Meeting With Bishop

Chapter 5

Meeting With Bishop

           I’ happy to see you once more gentlemen,” said Msgr. Romero after embracing twp young aspirants to the priesthood.” The bishop has been waiting for you since yesterday. He would be leaving for Manila tomorrow to attend Catholic Bishops Conference. It’s good you arrive just  on time.”
               Both  reciprocated the good cheer of the Dominican trained Msgr. Romero kissing his ecclesiastical ring as usual sign of respect.
               Romblon is still newly created diocese with Bishop Valdez as its pioneering Bishop. The good Bishop from Palawan has so far came out with very impressive performance as leading pastor of the church in the province. There’s the renovation of facades of the cathedral, newly completed Bishop’s palace made of bricks and marbles. Tourism industry boasting of excellent facilities for tourists like scuba-diving, spacious bedrooms, library and restaurant which offers fresh sea-foods like prawns, eel, crabs, blue marlins and other delicious sea foods  is also right across.
               Few meters across the palace stands proudly the Mensa Christi, the religious house of sisters he founded. And along the beach stands The Bishop’s Palace.
                There are critical church goers who questioned the tendency of the Bishop in serving both God and mammon at the same time. But Driarco feels that this is a misreading of the Bishop’s initiative in addressing the financial problem of the diocese. Save of course to tourists with shapely legs clad in bikini nearby instantly transforming the scene into scintillating  spectacle among visiting priests and seminarians, Driarco doesn’t entertain doubts on the work of the Bishop. Not at all. But who knows why this attempt of commercializing tourism area right near Bishop’s palace. Men of God as James Joyce would put it are also Ulysses with libido still intact below their belts.
               “The diocese’s investment in this project guys has so far paid off. No, I don’t mean we are reaping  many profits. As we plant we would also harvest. Right?”
               Taklin and Driarco nodded approvingly.
               “Indeed, it helps us send young men with vocation like you for priesthood in the Seminary.”
               “Why sell soap when we can build people in other words my dear Bishop,” Driarco volunteers recalling a poster in the convent inviting young men considering  joining  religious life as lifetime commitment to the Lord.
               “You’re still in your prime and welcome to the club of God’s Mafia ad infinitum. Even if you lose your vocation someday – we don’t have control of the way we travel towards Calvary for instance many priests after discovering identity crisis left priesthood and married. Others lose their calling by surrendering their vocation to Marcos. God forbid.”
               “You mean those who went to the hills and took up arms against the government,”  Taklin asked.
               “Yes. And what a tragedy. I hope you and others would not later follow suit.”
Driarco was caught in deep anticipation.
               “That’s the easiest and the humblest way of losing one’s vocation you know. A priest forever in the order of Melchizedek even if he marries in case you doesn’t know yet.”
Pointing his left index finger to the long piles of bricks across the palace he added: “Those are the products of cooperative I formed. And look at their houses mostly made of bricks. Do they not look  better alternative residential houses for small and subsistent farmers and fishermen?”
               Driarco nodded. “You’re not only provider of priests to the diocese Bishop but also, decent houses  for God’s people,” Taklin readily expressed appreciating his good cheer.
               “Not really. Just trying very hard you know practicing what we preach - food for the stomach, houses to cover man from cold and sun, water, light and what have you and other basic stuff without which man cannot survive in this planet.
               “Walking and working your talk,” Driarco qualified in crooked English.
                “Must be all members of San Isidro Cooperative?”
               “Yes. Mostly of them are small fishermen and subsistent farmers. They sometimes work in marble queries to augment their meager income derived from fishing and  farming.”
               “Do you intend also engaging in other services like trading, hauling, milling, Quedan loan and similar services?” Taklin snapped.
               “Well said young man. Exactly. But that would be the time when San Isidro Cooperative would be converted into multipurpose cooperative later. Not now. It is very premature yet. I hate  preempting the initiative of the farmers. The cooperative as it is now should first show some signs of miracles that they could not only sustain their respective families and community but also, all other members of the association. Obviously, this is the theological dimension of cooperative. Remember how Jesus Christ shows miracles – converting stones into bread and feeding thousands of Israelites and similar accounts in the bible – convincing His people about His being the Son of God?”
               “It seems you really mean business organizing these people into cooperatives,” Driarco quipped  back.
               The Bishop chuckled, tilting his head and then laughing aloud. Answered.
               “Sure. If not. Then we don’t have any business here in the diocese either. Besides who do you think could help our own people?”
               “Government!” Driarco readily answered.
               “Right and wrong sir. Right because that’s their work. That’s what precisely why  we’re paying our taxes. Wrong, that’s supposedly not their work if I have to be strict. Know what I mean?”
The innocent visitors decided just to listen or they would be clearly confused all the more.
               “Paying their taxes?” Driarco wonder a bit disoriented hearing from the good Bishop, prince of the church, engaging in sustainable development and yet not regular tax payer. But he just keep the issue to himself not to put Him in defensive.
               “It’s just like this Driarco. If I give you one thousand pesos, you owe me that amount right? And as you probably know that does not include the corresponding exorbitant interest. Remember nothing is free in this temporal world except love for sure. Ergo, you are always under my influence and control. Chances are I could dictate to you what I like you to do at your expense or that of your organization. Incidentally, in the country where politics we inherited from Americans so ingrained in our daily lives second only maybe to cockfight handed to us down by the Spaniards, it is very easy to waste time organizing cooperatives away. But never when the people themselves especially the grassroots take the initiative in the long and fragile process of organizing.”
               “What if the organizer would use the association as pretext in draining government coffers merely making the government as their milking cow the way  many self-anointed Messiahs have done.”
               You made very important point there Driarco. You’re absolutely right. We have indeed many kinds of organizers – middlemen heaters, bureaucrats, dreamers and all that. But what we need are leaders who themselves can identify their cause with the grassroots. Look whatever happened to the growth of cooperative in the country. Witness how it was mangled awfully by several personalities from politicians to technocrats from the very beginning. That was the greatest mistake the government committed against cooperative. What could they get anyway  entrusting the fate of cooperatives into the hands of unpredictable technocrats. They are not miracle workers by the way  deserving time to nurture and run cooperative ventures in the country,” the good Bishop went on narrating vividly explaining in random its formal organization on 1907 and later on 1938 through Rev.  Yuber, a protestant missionary from Ilocos Sur and its gradual spread from Manila to Visayas down to South in Mindanao saturating many Regions making Cooperativism  venture build their economy.
               “So far, the government has promulgated and enacted five Republic Acts, several Presidential Decrees and Letter of Instructions since 1915 to the present and you bet and I’m sure you will win that PD 175 and Letter of Implementation soon to hit the ground would turn the development of Cooperatives the other way around. Superseding all previous laws on Cooperative and re-orienting their programs in the Philippines towards more government intervention and control, what would happen?” the Bishop asked poking his middle finger against his throat slashing it off.
               “Kill,” Driarco mumbled.
               “Very big kill,” the Bishop reacted.
               “But be as it may. We don’t have enough breathing space you see under dictatorship. We should not lose hope. On the contrary, the more we should be challenged  finding solution to act as coping mechanism if we want Cooperative  thrived in this country. That’s where the role of the Church comes in. You know I’m sure we qualify better than all the rest because we know better our own people, their problems and aspirations. I don’t intend to give you a homily on Cooperative guys. But maybe it’s better for you to learn that there are at least three important factors contributive to a success of any Cooperative - agricultural or non-agricultural. First, no government control please. Suggestion yes, Overbearing direction, no. Second, membership should be from the majority rural poor or better not organize. The contrary holds true. Beware basing wide membership from the minority better-off or it would be easy  wasting away funding extended by donor institutions.”
               “Graft and corruption in practice you mean,” Taklin  intervened.
                The good Bishop winked in acceptance. “That’s the common problem among Cooperatives in the third world countries if I may relate the issue outside our shores. In strict term, this is what we call adopting Capitalist Development Model, a gross mistake we should not afford to commit. But could we? Third and most important one is savings. No one in his right mind could perhaps refute the significance of this indicator. In fact it is imperative that no loan should be extended to a member until he is through putting some savings in the Cooperative.”
               “Are you implying then that our Farmers Cooperative Marketing Associations, Samahang Nayons and similar associations do not qualify as cooperatives in stricter terms if I may get you right Bishop?” Taklin posed the question.
               “Hmm,” the Bishop  gathered his thought, his index finger was gently rubbing repeatedly  the tip of his nose.
                “Strictly speaking ‘yes.’ They are not in a sense Peoples’ Association or Cooperative but merely dummies of government to drain taxpayers’ money out and away making the government milking cow as you rightly said earlier. That’s the problem we have in the country,” he paused pointing his finger above.
               “At first glance one would most likely agree that they do qualify. But this is practically misleading. I believe it is now high time to disabuse in our minds the concept that Cooperative is not a cheap lending institution let alone, a tool of the government – those holding the rein of powers –  perpetuating themselves to their lofty positions. I mean the traditional politicians and those occupying higher and sensitive positions in the bureaucracy. FACOMAs and Samahang Nayons of Marcos and the rest organized overnight by the government fit in the picture.”
               “In a nutshell gentlemen, unless those three factors are considered in organizing Cooperatives, such associations would soon die their natural death and what a waste of energy and resources. Do I have to spell out litanies of failures among our Cooperatives organized by the government since 1912 till 1970’s? Unfortunately and worst still, we can no longer trace their shadows including the huge capital build-up the farmers patiently invested to millions and millions of pesos which vanished like balloon into thin air.”
Both visitors seemed mesmerized as they remained glued to the talk of the Bishop.
“But my dear Bishop Cooperatives or Associations. What’s in a name? Among  industrialized countries like Taiwan, South Korea or even the already established economic giant Japan have their Cooperatives run and supported by their government,” Taklin ventured protesting.
               “Not just any ordinary government but responsive government my son,” Bishop Valdez stressed.            
               “Don’t you ever forget the prevailing political atmosphere of these countries and most importantly, the Confucian ethics that define the character of these people. In case of Taiwan, the retreating Nationalists led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek had no other alternative left than to develop their economy through agricultural development after they were driven away by the Communists under Mao Che Tung from Mainland China on 1949. Korea is another country divided and devastated by war leading to creation of 38th parallel lines delineating the North as territory of the Communist and the South for the Capitalists. Japan, the land of the Rising Sun of course used to have General Douglas Mc Arthur whose record at West Point Academy still remains unbroken, calling the shots in reviving dying economy after the war. South Korea and Taiwan are still picking it up and I would not be personally surprised if Japan would soon wake up scared to death by these growing tiger economies, a fact vindicated by the succeeding events later. The Far Eastern Economic Review for instance writes asking how Taiwan would spend their money after accumulating huge foreign reserves the same journal projecting that Chinese Taipei would soon left behind Japan gauging from the blistering pace they set on their economic development.
               At the point of saturation, both gentlemen savored the wisdom of Bishop Valdez with relish vindicated later by Driarco after his assignment as missionary at Kaoshiung.
               “Did I make myself clear? When I speak of Cooperative I’m particular only to our own experience, our own government and our own people right in our own backyard. I’m afraid I took many of your time on this unsolicited piece of topic. I hope I didn’t purge you this early. But it’s good you know to have this kind of brainstorming notwithstanding informal once in a while. After all whether we like it or not, methinks you would soon find yourself in my own shoes either you become a priest or not. At least I would have you to carry over my work,” the Bishop said tapping gently their  shoulders one after the other.”
               “ Now, we can proceed to business. What’s up?”
               “We would like entering the Seminary Bishop and please include us in your prayers.”
               “Good to know. The request should be mutual,”  Bishop Valdez cleared grinning.
                “For us especially all our projects in the diocese. I’m leaving your option which Seminary you’d  enter – Davao, Iloilo, Cebu or Manila. Don’t worry about your Seminary fee? A certain Mr. Smith, a German national assured me that he is more than willing enough to sponsor one young man for the priesthood for our diocese. Might as well shared to both of you. He is a successful businessman he’d like to invest some money in God’s project. Maybe as a way of reciprocating God’s kindness. Remember seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. All the things shall be added unto you – he fell into that trap. It’s not easy falling into God’s trap you see. But it makes wonder like that German national.”
               “Oh thanks indeed” both said nodding.
               “I’m leaving to your parents and friends your need of monthly allowance. I’m sure you could become a promising clergyman someday. You’ve got all the talents to share your parishioners – music, wisdom, athletics and above all – vocation.”
               “We’re most grateful You Excellency of your compliment,” Driarco complimented looking at Taklin nodding for approval.
               “How I wish I could convert them into cash or in kind,” the Bishop broke into laughter with much gusto.
               “No, no, no,” Driarco retorted.
               Taklin laughed.
               “I suppose I just exploited to the fullest what God has given me this early. Hoping  this will be  forever as life is only lived once you know . . .,” further said emphatically unsure whatever implications his statement might have  to the Bishop.
               “Come on guys, don’t be pessimistic. Remember vocation is just like a gift from God to each one. But we have to open it yet that package and make it  workable and best  we could. Even freedom is only for the brave if I may relate.  Your vocation just like mine and all other Bishops is from God’s. If  not then I suspect it would not last. It would vanished away like bubbles into thin air. Okay? It’s not between you and me. You don’t actually owe me one. Imagine how insecure and physically drained would I be going all around the diocese looking after our priests. By the way and in relation with this, you can choose other options like joining maybe other religious congregations; you can also become an entertainer and of course you can raise your own family. Yes, why not. Oh there are many ways God is  working in man’s life you know. Yours and mine are only to make the choice. Leave it or take it. Common gentlemen think about it further. If need be, dream about it tonight to be more enthusiastic and full of life the following day,” the good Bishop dished out further.
               “So much with that stuff, let’s talk other matters on the table. Manang Conching has already finished preparing our lunch. Come on let’s eat,” the Bishop invited his young parishioners.
               An eerie sharp grated sound momentarily filled the air as the Bishop pulled out the chair for Driarco and Taklin. The latter was so touched by the gesture feeling so special by the treatment of the well-respected prince of the church in the diocese. The Bishop started eating after saying the grace leaving Driarco’s eyes wandering the well-decorated interior of the palace.
               The refectory is very spacious and glittering chandeliers carved out of marbles hang like giant lanzones from the ceiling impressed the young visitors.
               “Careful not seriously fixing your gaze on that stuff or you would suffer stiff neck,” the Bishop disturbed.
               “Oh thanks I’m just appreciating you know how that huge stuff was fashioned  hanging out  there.”
               “Thanks for the compliment. It’s quiet heavy you know twenty to thirty kilos I presume. Our own product why not patronize it to help generate income for the province.”
               “What if there would be an earthquake and it falls.”
               “Never mind them dropping for  as long as not  on my balding plate,” Bishop Valdez  readily answered.
               The sizzling hot milkfish stew in tamarind were scooped by the two young visitors. Driarco for one  sweated eating with much gusto. What he liked best however was the spicy gabi cooked through grated coconut milk mixed with chili, garlic and ginger. It’s the favorite menu among Tagalogs.
. . . . . . . . . .

               “Emergency power it seems would be declared in due time  by  President Marcos and Minister Juan Ponce Enrile. And in few more days  if I may predict it, the entire country would be under Martial law,” he said setting the tone of touching another sensitive topic, dictatorship – politically charged issue of the day.
               “How long do you think would the country be under Emergency rule?” asked Taklin.
               “Not sure. No one knows except President Marcos and his trusted lieutenants. Never mind how long we would be under dictatorship. The point is the people should be prepared for the worst. We just don’t know what’s going to happen. What would one expect anyway with one man rule? No one really knows. So let the message be - prepare, prepare and prepare!”
                “I presume that secret safe houses all over the country especially those within military camps would be re-opened for those whom the hatchet of Brown Shirts would fall.”
               “Brown Shirts .. . ?” Driarco looks like smelling dead frog from a closet.
“Yap, killing machines of the Administration - hired mercenaries, military men, warlords, politicians – name it they would soon make our day.
         “You mean those senseless killing happening around the country and just everywhere are all their handiwork. . . ,”
               “Precisely. Just everywhere as they wish leaving no trace of their barbarity except  a question: who could have done these atrocities!” the elder Bishop nodded giving his young innocent visitors benefits of their  doubts.
               “What happens now would be an exodus of gullible Juan de la Cruzes trooping into  military camps. Tragic. Ergo, that would make many prison cells in the country filled to the brim,” he continued.
               “Indeed should Marcos adopt the rule of the camp or military rule. That would start the day of infamy. How could there be real peace when innocent civilians would be sacrificed, detained and or given coup ‘d grace. Yes killing them to buy their silence. Death of democracy no less?”
. . . . . . . . . .

               Never did the faintest idea of military dictatorship  would later preoccupied the  two bosom friends  death  playing them, their family, people and institutions they  would be representing.  But who in his right mind could avoid not actively participate through respective association their lives and safety  their own  people included  constantly harassed relegated in the defensive.
                It’s how Martial Law plays its game. You either dance with its music albeit gingerly or be blown away by it through salvaging or extrajudicial killing. Either way both could not accept and hope against hope that despite the unpredictable and  explosive situation they were in would preserve their sanity. If not  fighting back against dictatorship would do it. In what way?  Depending how Fascist’s rule unleashed its atrocities showing its ugly head against the  protagonists of story. Suffering harrowing experience under an  Iron Fist under Dictatorship would show it all breaking and tearing their bond of friendship unexpectedly.
               “Silly thought,” Driaco dismissed. But who knows, just who knows given the monster that is Martial Law experimented in the country that is Philippines.
               “Not far fetched,” Taklin agreed otherwise.
. . . . . . . . . .

               It was such a beautiful dream that a smile was seen on the face of  Fr. Driarco. Seriously though, how he wished that all would end in peace.
                “No, it was not beautiful but a nightmare. Good that I was thrown back into reality,”  the thought played in his mind reflecting the implication against unpredicctable volatile situation.
                 But it was just a start and might be bracing for another episode seeing him carried over by another dream. Must have constituted the second  episode though only as he was carried back like sweet refrain of the beautiful memories after the visit to the  Bishop down further to high school days  as sang by Sharon Cuneta says “. . . . so exciting kay saya at bakit kung graduation na’y luluha kang talaga.”
               This as  his subconscious further treated him to a familiar journey  reminiscing thrilling memories down the lane  when the grass was green and loud voices of  classmates filling  the air helped planting rice in his farm.
               That was many decades past when he  was student-farmer. Beautiful indeed his recollection listening  innocent voices of classmates, idealism and rhetoric flying high and swift like  comet crossing the skylines dazzling bringing those  memories of good old school days back together high school  graduation fast approaching at Sta. Rita Agricultural College. This was  symbolic as both gentlemen shoved in a familiar vocation were half-way reaching the threshold of their ambition resolved considering priesthood as vocation. Their double response to God calling them  to be His alter-Christos merits double celebration. But this was premature who knows really their rightful place under Dictatorship.
               It could be funny, dramatic, nostalgic and adventurous story some riveting like  fairytales and suspense stuff  movies are made of. Dangerous living on the edge in the context of  military  dictatorship freely expressed and well placed at the end of the day.
. . . . . . . . . . .

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