Thursday, September 27, 2007


I have been neck deep with work and commitments this first semester. Much as I would like to write my take on the raging issues of the day - most especially the focus of our national shame - the NBN project racked with so many shadowy and intriguing deals hatched, not in smoke-filled backrooms of the corridors of power, but in the fairways of Manila and Shenzen, I simply don't have the leisure time to get around doing it.

I post a rehashed letter I wrote to friends back in 2002 ... for a change from all this serious and spiritual talk that I have on my three other blogsites.


June 16, 2002

The largely uneventful week that brought back the stifling heat of summer was punctuated by a talk I accepted to give to a prayer group in a nearby parish in Las Pinas City. It was supposed to have been a talk on the Sacred Heart. Thinking it was a sophisticated group, I prepared my piece in English, complete with scribbled notes. As I found out later, it was an overkill. I would have been killed if I delivered my peroration in English. The crowd was as simple as can be. So I did what I think I do best at: extemporize in the language I grew up with. The makeshift lectern that could use a few more planks and nails to give more stability, more than represented how I felt at the start of the talk, with several individuals whispering to one another audibly, providing initial competition to what I was trying to say. Like the lectern that tittered and tottered on its unstable base, I was the picture of instability. I thought to myself: why on earth did I accept this talk anyway? The lady who was very active as she goaded and cajoled everyone to share in the initial portion of the meeting, a picture of ebullience and enthusiasm as she held the microphone and stood in front of the assembly, suddenly metamorphosed into a tired, expressionless heap of a face ensconced in the front pew as I took the floor. You know the type… OK sila pag sila ang bida. Give them the microphone and put them in the limelight and, for as long as they are the center of it all, they will be the epitome of active and enthusiastic cooperation. Take them away from center stage, and they fold up all of a sudden, unrecognizable, totally different from what they portrayed themselves to be just minutes earlier. Individuals, they are, whose ideal selves have grown faster than their real selves; their personas brilliant and their true selves taking a back seat somehow.

And then there was the recollection of the staff of Don Bosco Academy, Mabalacat, Pampanga. Soon after the talk ended at about 10 pm, I was brought home to meet with the driver who was to take me to Pampanga. I got to Mabalacat at half past midnight, straight to bed in a corner room that had funny venetian blinds that did not quite fit the windows they were supposed to cover. Somebody obviously did not do his measurements right. Pampanga may be widely known for its people’s skills and craftsmanship in terms of construction, masonry and carpentry works, but whatever Pampanga is famous for is surely not found in the convent of the SDBs in Mabalacat. Door jambs did not quite fit the doors some of which kept on jamming, for lack of precision in measurement. Tiles in the bathrooms seemed to have been laid by unsteady hands and corners and edges are, well – rough.

I talked to the staff about Duc in Altum, the watchword popularized by Pope John Paul II in his Novo Millenio Ineunte of January 6, 2001. It is, of course, a topic dear to my heart, one which really strikes close to my personal experience since 1994 when we, at Canlubang adopted the motto AD MAIORA NATUS.

It is, indeed, a vast ocean to which we are invited by the Lord to put out into…the deep, the vast arena of the educational apostolate. It is a call to go deep, not to remain in superficialities. It is a call to cast the nets far and wide. One wonders how our traditional works could be defended vis-à-vis this call so grand, so wide, so far-reaching. One wonders too, how, - given the mediocrity of our school apostolates, given the lack of professionalism in all aspects of Salesian works, as shown for example in the appalling lack of respect for tradition, for what went before, for what has been done before painstakingly, for the most part, given the mania of so many of us to change the face of the earth as soon as we get into power, - we shall ever move forward at all! This has been a sore point of issue decades ago, even as young practical trainees, we already saw this insane culture that equates the system with the person in charge. Change the person; change the system. Never mind the sensibilities of lay people who are after all, also part of the whole enterprise. I wonder if in future, individuals who will be given the same tasks will still have the energy to think ahead, plan and work so hard only to be sorely disappointed because one’s valiant efforts will only be thrown out the window of selfish pride and misguided individualism. Understandably, power and a good dose of the former (pride and individualism) are a dangerous combination. If service is to be equated with trampling on people’s dreams and unilaterally defining the course of history, then I would not even want to know what leadership is. And yet, you see those two 64 dollar words emblazoned all over – servant leadership! God help us with iconoclasts who pass themselves off as servants and leaders. In this fatherless generation, what we need is not so much a servant and a leader as a father who communicates, a father who listens, who guides and inspires. Technocrats who have no heart have been the bane of Philippine society for so long… for far too long…

I write this reflection/entry to my diary on Father’s day. I got not a few thoughtful greetings to mark the day. I even got a doubly memorable advanced celebration of father’s day last June 4. Nakakataba ng puso… It feels good to be affirmed precisely on that aspect of my personal vision-mission statement that has to do with paternity – something I guess that comes naturally with one’s human nature. It feels good to be reminded just how one has influenced others for the better. It feels good to be recognized for what one has been trying to do all these years – to be acknowledged as a mentor by the very persons one has been trying to mentor. Mentoring… this has been what I have been trying to do… to make a difference in people’s lives…by journeying with them in faith and life…

The good Lord has been more than good to me. I feel – and I know He has journeyed with me all along. I thank God for the years of scouting in Mandaluyong. I thank God for the countless camping trips, the innumerable “good night” talks to campers in the field, the hours spent trying to decipher the stars and the planets on a clear sky framed in a dark night, perhaps atop the foothills of Banahaw, or – undeniably the ultimate – star-gazing up on the summit of the Philippines’ second highest peak – Mt. Pulag, on close to freezing point temperature on a January night, or a few minutes of reflection with, and for, a small group of college students up on lowly Maculot, that for its humble stature, gave the best and most stunning view of Lake Taal and Tagaytay ridge on one side, and the Batangas and Laguna plains down below on the other – all in one stupendous, breathtaking and panoramic gaze. These were unparalleled moments for me to help the young clarify their visions and dreams in life. These were precious moments for me to help them see the world and reality from different vantage points. They had been moments of deep interpersonal communion among them, between themselves and me, and with their God. They were, indeed, very literally and figuratively, moments of peak human experience. The 13 Philippine mountains that I have climbed, one of them – Banahaw – for more than 10 times, and Pulag, four times, stand as eloquent witness to what every human person, at bottom, aspires and pines for – as epitomized by a friend’s (Sid) apt paradoxical – if, poetic – statement: “I climb a mountain I do not see; I run after a dream that chases me.”

Who among us has not thought even once about chasing after the end of the rainbow? Westerners speak about a pot of gold sitting at the rainbow’s end. Filipinos are less materialistic. We never thought of rainbows in terms of pots of gold, did we? But all the same, we chased after the mysterious point of contact between the earth and the vast colorful bow that adorned the big blue sky on occasion. Fond of mysteries, Filipinos prefer to look at rainbows as unfolding an endless list of potential surprises for the ardent seeker. We Filipinos are still seeking for that nameless surprise. We are still searching, all over…Is it any surprise that we Filipinos are found in more than 90 countries all around the globe, including the vast and utterly cold icy steppes of Alaska? Is it any wonder that we Filipinos, ever so hopeful, ever so patient, could still afford to wait and wait with a smile for something to turn up, at the end of a long fight with cancer, at the end of a long struggle to get a degree, to finally get our rightful niche under the sun, even in places where the sun never shines? Is it any surprise that we Filipinos are ever so resilient, so optimistic? Is it any surprise that for us, for many of us, hope springs eternal in a very real sense? How else could literally millions of Filipinos with hardly anything, bear up with so much hardship and discomfort and utter want – and still be capable of smiling? How else explain the sight, repeated in so many places all over the country almost to the day, of a young emaciated mother waiting patiently umbrella in one hand, and her sick child on the other, out in the open in the oppressive heat of a summer’s day, hoping against hope, that her employer would happen to pass by, perchance to rescue her child who has been suffering diarrhea for all of five days? Can anybody tell me how, with all our problems as a people, we can still afford to set aside time and precious little money for prayer and celebration?

Every Filipino, like me, is climbing a mountain he does not see. We all pine for something more; something better; something nobler. That same longing chases us; that same dream goads us on. I would like to think this is all about the DUC IN ALTUM, the Holy Father is talking about. It sits right there in the heart of every Filipino. It definitely is present in the heart of the 8 or 9 million Filipinos overseas. This is what AD MAIORA NATUS is all about, too. It is all about forging ahead; moving on; dreaming on; burning on. It is all about hoping as every Filipino can – and does!

As I write, my thoughts race back to the many who have journeyed with me through all the mountains of my life: real and figurative, including one who, at one very treacherous point in Kabayan coming down from Pulag, back in 1989, I had to slap because he was demoralizing the group with his openly expressed fear fast turning into panic. I look back at the so many who have given me a hearing despite their initial lack of understanding perhaps. I think about all those who chose to follow me closely as I shared with them my own homespun brand of life technology. Life 101, the first of a series of courses on meaningful human living – the kind of life technology I, too, learned at the feet of the mentors of my youth in Mendez, Makati, Bacolor, Canlubang, Mayapa, Mandaluyong, Rome and the US was what I strove to pass on, up on Pulag’s summit, or down in the cramped conference rooms of Canlubang, to the young boys, now turned into men of integrity and responsibility in their own right. It is now their turn to do their own brand of mentoring, of leading, of opening up a whole new world of visions and dreams that would make for a better world, a better life, a nobler existence and a deeper communion with the supreme master and leader who once told us: “Come up, my friend, to a higher place!” (Lk 14:10)


Duc in Altum. It literally means, “Put out into the deep.” It is taken from the Gospel passage from Luke that recounts the disciples’ unsuccessful attempts at catching fish all through the night. In the early morning the Lord showed himself and told the disciples to cast the nets once more for a catch, out in the deep. The disciples did catch a big number of fish after they followed the Lord. Duc in Altum, was the watchword suggested by Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter Novo Millenio Ineunte of Jan. 6, 2001. At a reenvisioning of the Don Bosco Seminary early in 2001, the staff and the seminarians adopted the same as the motto of Carreno House (Don Bosco Seminary). The same motto was adopted later by Bishop Francesco Panfilo, SDB when he was appointed Bishop of Alotau-Sideia of Papua New Guinea.

Ad Maiora Natus. This literally means “born for greater things.” At an institutional reflection held at Don Bosco College Seminary in 1994, this motto was adopted for the school, principally at the suggestion of yours truly, as I was instrumental also for the adoption of PRO DEO ET PATRIA for Don Bosco Technical College, in Mandaluyong, back yet in 1987. This last means “for God and country.”

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