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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bishop instructs flock to shun GK projects

Oh man, I just want to laugh at all the non-sense this priest is saying!

Condemning a group for helping them improve the plight of the poor and the homeless??? God should come down from heaven and strike these pretentious preachers!!

By Norman Bordadora

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:47:00 05/18/2009

MANILA, Philippines—Archbishop Oscar Cruz has issued instructions to shun Gawad Kalinga (GK), a civic group whose initiatives to build shelter for the poor have come under fire for receiving donations from advocates of population control—a policy opposed by the Catholic Church.

The directive from the outspoken Lingayen-Dagupan prelate—the strongest on the issue from a ranking official of the Church hierarchy—was issued to parishes and chaplaincies in Pangasinan.

It came after the Couples for Christ International Council (CFC-IC) cut its ties with the GK recently.

Cruz said in his circular, which appeared on the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) website, that the CFC-IC action would allow the GK to function as a nonreligious organization.

“In this particular regard, it would be right and prudent for you and me to have nothing to do with the Gawad Kalinga—directly or indirectly—in the event that such goes to your respective parishes or chaplaincies,” Cruz said.

“[This] in no way means that the said civic entity is altogether bad or something the like. Yet, pastoral prudence dictates the above advisory,” he said.

Gawad Kalinga is an advocacy group engaged in building decent housing for the impoverished, a program hailed here and abroad. Until recently, it was a part of the activities of the CFC.

Persons involved with CFC and the GK have had serious disagreements, including the housing advocacy being open to donations from groups promoting population management that the Catholic hierarchy opposes.

Interdependence remains

Antonio Meloto, GK executive director, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that there was no severing of ties with the CFC-IC. There may be an independence of governance, but there remains an “interdependence of members” of the two groups, he said.

Meloto indicated that the Catholic hierarchy should continue to be part of his group’s activities.

“Gawad Kalinga is the pearl of the Catholic church. It is an expression of what has been preached,” he said in a telephone interview.

Meloto said CFC members continued to serve on the GK board despite what he described as a realignment in leadership.

Cruz told the Inquirer that he issued the circular to make it clear that the Catholic Church no longer had any connection with the GK following its disassociation from the CFC.

The prelate said the CFC had the “pontifical imprimatur of Rome.” With no more connection to the CFC, Cruz said the GK also ceased to be a Church-based organization.

“It is already a civic group,” he said, comparing GK to the Rotary and Lions clubs.

“It’s good if Gawad Kalinga does well. But if it does something bad, the Church might get involved.”

But Cruz clarified: “Individually, any one without reference to faith, without reference to creed, everyone [is] free to join Gawad Kalinga.”

In his text statement, Meloto said: “There is greater solidarity between CFC and Gawad Kalinga in our work of bringing Filipinos out of poverty.

“This is the mission of every Catholic and every Filipino, and we will work with the government, the business community, the academe, civic organizations, Catholic groups like Bukas-loob sa Diyos, Focolare, Knights of Columbus, Cursillo, Magis Deo, Ligaya ng Panginoon, Bo Sanchez’s Light of Jesus, and Catholic schools and parishes here and abroad.

“There is a change in the board of Gawad Kalinga, but all of the members are CFC, except Ateneo president Fr. Ben Nebres. I am a devout Catholic and an active leader of the CFC.”

Earlier in Batangas, Lipa Archishop Ramon Arguelles expressed regret over the severed CFC-IC and GK ties.

Arguelles, the CBCP news website said, insisted that GK projects in his archdiocese continued to be administered by the CFC as a “prime result of CFC’s pledge to renew families worldwide.”

“I am convinced that the GK should continue and become a more effective social arm of the CFC firmly rooted in and reflective of the Catholic faith and practices without prejudice, though, to the CFC-GK’s commendable work of sharing God’s blessings with non-Catholics and non-Christians,” he said.

Arguelles said GK activities outside CFC direction were neither allowed nor recognized by the Lipa Archdiocese.

“Evidently, the GKs in Batangas are prohibited to have anything to do with institutions whose policies contradict the Church’s teachings,” he said.

CBCP news said Arguelles was referring to institutions like the Habitat for Humanity, Pfizer, the Population Commission and others. The groups are known to promote population management that the Catholic leadership opposes.

Fundamental differences

The CFC-IC, a lay organization, early this month announced the breakaway to allow GK to expand its work as a nonreligious organization.

“While CFC is pursuing the fullness of the mission, GK is focused on nation-building and poverty alleviation, which necessitate that it mainstreams and partners with all sectors of society. It is even poised to enter non-Christian countries (such as India, Indonesia and the Middle East) as a nonreligious organization,” CFC executive director Joe Tale said on the CBCP website.

“[As such], there has been honest divergence of opinions [from] these fundamental differences. We have tried to resolve these … However, despite our common best efforts and intentions, unity continues to be elusive under the present structure,” he added.

Tale said the CFC would continue with its pro-poor ministry even with the decision.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Speech key for Obama with Catholics

Carol E. Lee, Jonathan Martin – Sun May 17, 8:03 am ET

President Barack Obama’s time at Notre Dame Sunday will be brief, but how he handles one of the biggest, most public controversies of his presidency so far could have a lasting impact on his relationship with a key constituency – Catholic voters.

It’s not just the few dozen graduates boycotting Obama’s 20-minute commencement address to protest his support for abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research. Or the bus loads of protestors driving in from Milwaukee, Chicago and Detroit, activists who might never have voted for Obama in the first place.

The controversy — over a pro-abortion-rights president speaking at the nation’s flagship Catholic university — has in fact drawn wider attention to Obama’s views on a divisive issue. Some experts say that could trickle down to those who supported him as a candidate, threatening to upend a political strategy he has carefully tended for the past two years.

“Where it matters is for the Catholics who may have voted for the president but are anti-abortion,” said John Green, an expert on religion and politics at the University of Akron. “It’s those groups where the president faces a challenge at Notre Dame and beyond that as well, because it’s possible that he could alienate them if the abortion issue becomes salient.”

Obama courted Catholics by keeping the focus on bringing pro- and anti-abortion rights groups together to reduce the number of abortions. He talked of depoliticizing a divisive issue that was at the heart of the “culture wars” Obama sought to avoid.

His stance helped him win over more religious Catholics, too, who liked his policies on issues such as the economy and health care, and saw him as moderate enough on abortion that they were comfortable supporting him.

But some of Obama’s policy decisions and appointments since take office have upset some in the anti-abortion community – and could put him in a situation where renewed disagreement on this one issue sours support from Catholics that was based on his broader platform.

The White House knows that Obama’s majority support among Catholics helped him get elected – he beat Sen. John McCain 54 percent to 45 percent among Catholic voters — and officials have stepped up their efforts to reach out to them since the Notre Dame controversy began in March.

But if the White House once hoped the speech was another way for Obama to reach out to this key constituency, the address instead is likely to be overshadowed by the public outcry, and in a state that Obama carried in the fall, Indiana.

White House Communications Director Anita Dunn declined to say whether administration officials were taken aback by the strong opposition and suggested the president would, in keeping with his political approach, use the moment to try to forge consensus.

"He doesn’t view this as a distraction," Dunn said. "He sees it as an opportunity."

He’s not the only one. Obama’s speech at Notre Dame has become an outlet for anti-abortion groups who have been waiting for a chance to pounce on a president they view as far left on the abortion issue.

In effect, they’re forcing him into a fight he never wanted to have.

“Barack Obama made no secret of trying to win over Catholics and Evangelicals,” said Jill Stanek, an anti-abortion blogger. “We’re trying to take that territory back.”

Obama will touch on the controversy in his speech, White House officials say, but he’ll do so in the context of saying that the students are graduating at a time when they need to come together and rise above old-style politics to move forward.

One administration official described it by saying Obama is not going to South Bend to take on the abortion issue. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters, “The president will obviously make mention of the debate that's been had.”

The demonstrations will greet Obama almost as soon as he arrives on campus. Organizers say there will be a picket line near the entrance of Notre Dame, so anybody who gets off the interstate will see it. Already, airplanes have been carrying banners featuring aborted babies, and trucks doubling as billboards targeting Obama on abortion have been doing loops around the campus. Some protestors have been arrested.

During the actual commencement, a few dozen students and their families will hold an alternative ceremony.

“A commencement should not be a political arena,” explained Mary Daly, a Notre Dame graduate who is leading the student boycott. “It’s not the place for a dialogue.”

Obama still has considerable support among Catholics. A recent Pew survey showed 50 percent of Catholics surveyed think Notre Dame was right to invite him to speak, while 28 percent disagreed with the invitation.

But Obama’s support has dropped among certain groups, including white Catholics who attend mass regularly, according to Greg Smith, a research fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. In February, two-thirds of white Catholics who attend mass every week approved of his job performance, and now less than half do, Smith said.

Obama also comes to Notre Dame as a new Gallup poll found that for the first time, the majority of Americans are anti-abortion.

Obama has sought to position himself well amid the changing sentiment.

Politically, Dunn pointed out, Obama has made clear to anti-abortion voters that they are welcome in the Democratic fold. Obama’s convention platform was amended to include references to pre- and post-natal care and adoption – ways "to reduce the need for abortions.”

Obama also gave his anti-abortion colleague, Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Penn) a prominent speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention, 16 years after Casey’s father, the former Pennsylvania governor, was denied a convention speech.

The younger Casey ardently defended Obama, whom he endorsed at a key moment last year in the Democratic primary.

"He could be invited to speak and people could say that they disagree,” Casey said. "But the idea that you can’t appear on the campus of a Catholic college because you have a disagreement, even on something as important as this issue, I don’t think it’s good for school or the church.”

Casey said the opposition to Obama’s speech is "rooted in partisanship."

"It's people who didn't vote for him, don't support him and want to use this to register their disappointment," he said.

Others disagree and say Obama is increasingly alienating Catholics who voted for him in November.

“There’s a lot of buyer’s remorse growing out there,” said Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center who recently joined Catholic leaders in urging Obama to remove Harry Knox from his White House advisory council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, charging that Knox made anti-Catholic remarks.

“The anger is growing,” he said. “And the sense of outrage is growing because people are seeing the Obama administration picking unnecessary fights and challenging Catholics to political duels.”

Bozell won’t be voicing his protest at Notre Dame. But for those who are, like Stanek, the more immediate goal is “to make Barack Obama radioactive on any Catholic college campus,” she said.

New party-list reps aid RH bill passage

by Jesus F. Llanto, Newsbreak | 05/07/2009 4:24 PM

The entry of new party-list representatives in Congress is expected to give a boost to the passage of the reproductive health (RH) bill, lawmakers said.

In a forum on the reproductive health bill held Thursday in Quezon City, two lawmakers said the number of legislators supporting the RH bill is expected to increase as a result of the entry of additional sectoral representatives in Congress.

The Supreme Court on April 21 allowed the entry of an additional 32 sectoral representatives to fill up all the available seats for the party-list system. The 1987 Constitution states that 20 percent of the members of the House of Representatives should come from the marginalized or under-represented sectors.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, the main proponent of the RH bill or House Bill 5043, said they are confident that they could get half of the 27 new party-list representatives to support the legislation. The bill seeks more funding for a government campaign to promote natural and artificial family planning.

“We are going to get majority of the new members of Congress,” said Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman. “Out of the 27 sitting [new party-list representatives], majority will support the RH bill.”

Lagman added that five of the 27 have already signed as co-authors of the bill while around 15 have committed to support the measure.

The five who have signed are: Abono’s Francisco Emmanuel Ortega, Akbayan’s Walden Bello, Bayan Muna’s Neri Colmenares, Barangay Association for National Advancement of Transparency (Banat) Rep. Salvador Britanico, and Abakada Guro’s Jonathan dela Cruz.

Lagman said that this would bring the number of RH bill supporters in the Congress to 133. “We do not need 133 to pass the bill because we only need a majority of the quorum,” he said.

Iloilo Rep. Janette Garin said other representatives have also expressed their interest in supporting the bill, but she refused to divulge their names.

“The moment we release their names, the Church will be ganging up on them and it becomes detrimental on our part,” Garin said. “The moment CBCP [Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines] gangs up on them, especially since they are new in Congress, they will either withdraw their signatures or be very silent, or probably abstain.”

Lagman, however, said the entry of the new members have also increased the quorum to 134, a number that is high. “If we do not have a quorum, that’s the best weapon for the opponents to delay the passage of the bill.”

Overshadowed by Cha-cha

The “unbelievable initiative” on Charter Change, Lagman said, has delayed the debates on the RH bill and other more important issues.

“It’s consuming too much time in the house, and this has crowded out more important measures like the extension of the land acquisition component of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), and the reproductive health bill,” Lagman said.

Since the 9th Congress, similar RH bills have been filed but they were met with strong opposition, especially from the influential Catholic hierarchy and some lobby groups that interpret some of its provisions as promoting irresponsible sex and abortion.

“It is not about sex and it’s not about religion. It’s about health, rights, and sustainable human development,” Lagman said

Recent surveys show that majority of the Filipinos support the legislation. For instance, a Pulse Asia survey in October 2008 showed that 63 percent of Filipinos support the RH bill.

The Philippines is the 12th most populous country in the world with around 88.6 million inhabitants as of 2007. Its population grew at 2.04 percent from 2000-2007 and is expected to double or reach 177 million in 2041.— with Sammie Sauler, Newsbreak intern

Sunday, May 03, 2009


‘I was jailed for committing journalism’

MANILA, Philippines— “I got put in jail in Zimbabwe for simply doing my job. They said I was ‘committing journalism’ and I hope they were right.”

That’s how Barry Bearak of The New York Times described his arrest, brief detention and expulsion from Zimbabwe for trying to report from the country during the last elections. Bearak’s plight was widely reported in the global media and created a storm of indignation and protest in the international community.

As many as a thousand journalists are arrested in the world each year, however, and the dramatic, often tragic, stories of the vast majority of them go untold.

At least 125 journalists are currently in prison serving significant jail terms—and more than 400 have been murdered in the past decade. To report on corruption, to challenge government policies, to investigate organized crime—these are just a few ways to get a one-way ticket to prison or the cemetery in dozens of countries.

Why do these journalists take the risk, voluntarily put themselves and their families in the firing line? Each man or woman’s story is different, but all are united in one idea at least: That without the right to inform and express ideas freely, one cannot demand any other rights.

Today is World Press Freedom Day, an annual occasion to reaffirm this idea and to turn the spotlight on repressive governments, which deny their people this freedom. It is a day to support and understand the fundamental relation between press freedom and democracy and all human rights.

There are countless stories to be told and remembered today.

Clearly outnumbered

Barry Bearak, The New York Times’ co-bureau chief in Johannesburg circumvented a draconian press law in Zimbabwe that severely restricted coverage of the presidential elections. His reporting mission was cut short when 21 police officers raided his hotel room. He spent four days in a concrete cell before being expelled from the country.

In Zimbabwe, where independent news sources struggle to stay afloat, reporters could be instantaneously deemed criminals for what they’ve written or for not having proper journalistic accreditation. Trying to achieve press freedom, said Bearak, “is a rear-guard action. In places like Zimbabwe, we’re clearly outnumbered and I can’t say we are winning.”

Moussa Kaka would agree. The director of the private radio station Saraouniya Radio was imprisoned for 384 days for his coverage on the Niger Justice Movement, which has been engaged in a long rebellion against the government.

“The rebellion in the North is the most important story in Niger, yet no one can cover it because the government censors everything,” said Moussa Kaka.

“People are always talking about modernizing Africa, but that is not possible as long as journalists are going to jail for what they write or say,” he said. “You want democracy, then let the press do its job. And, if intimidation worked, this job wouldn’t exist, or at least I wouldn’t be doing it. I am ready to go back to jail, no hesitation.”

Such stories are common.

Bloggers in danger, too

Mohammad Al-Al Abdallah, a 26-year old Syrian blogger and human rights activist whose father and brother were both jailed for criticizing Syrian policies and calling for reform, was briefly detained before he fled the country for the United States, where he continues to write his blog, “I’m leaving and I’m not coming back,” which is censored in his home country.

“We are getting arrested, like traditional journalists, and although it is shameful, it means that we are doing something right,” said Al-Abdallah.

[This may sound familiar to Filipino journalists – ED]

In Yemen, Abdel Karim Al-Khaiwani, spent a year behind bars for his reportage on high-level corruption, nepotism and human rights abuses. Al-Khaiwani, is now facing another six-year sentence, and is frequently barred from leaving the country to attend international meetings on press freedom.

“I refuse to submit to or to put up with intimidation. I refuse to give up the principles of freedom and justice. I protest against despotism, oppression and all forms of harassment,” he said.

Defend freedom together

In Colombia, 130 journalists have been killed over the past 30 years, for articles that cover guerrilla warfare, high-level corruption and drug trafficking.

Claudia Julieta Duque, who has battled court cases, faced death threats and has left the country on three occasions in fear that her investigative reporting would have deadly consequences, said: “I strongly believe that the only way to achieve real press freedom in Colombia is to ensure that all of us defend it together. Regardless of personal differences, focuses, or ideas—the right to express is above all interests and sensitivities.”

This repression isn’t only a problem for journalist and bloggers, but for all of us, since we rely on them to take the risks and report the stories.

Mohamad Ali Al-Abdallah of Syria said much could be done. “From attending court hearings to supporting the family of imprisoned journalists, everyone can contribute in their own way, at their own scale,” he said.

(Written by Larry Kilman, director of Communications and Public Affairs at the World Association of Newspapers. WAN annually organizes a World Press Freedom Day to draw attention to the role of independent news and information in society, and how it is under attack. More information can be found at