Pass Universal Access to Higher Education in SUCs and Private HEIs

To our esteemed Senators and Congressmen of the 17th Congress of the Philippines:

In the name of the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA), the unified voice of Private Higher Education in the Philippines, I would like to thank the Senate and the House of Representatives for the hope they afford the Filipino people for greatly improved access to quality higher education in the Philippines through the bills they have separately passed. These both promote universal access to quality higher education.   While the separate bills have yet to be reconciled in the bicameral committee before passage into law, we already wish to manifest our deep appreciation for the recognition both bills manifest, first, of the contribution of the private sector to the Philippine educational system, and second, of the complementarity between public and private higher educational institutions in this system, a complementarity that is mandated by no less than by the Philippine Constitution itself. In this context, we are happy to inform our legislators of the ongoing deliberations between our COCOPEA and the Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC) towards the greater achievement of this complementarity.

We are appreciative of both the House and the Senate versions of the bill – and look forward to its final passage into law.

But as the bills now go to the bicameral committee for final adjustments and reconciliation, may COCOPEA be allowed some comments? Where there is difference between the versions, kindly allow us to share our preference and why.

Title: The full titles of both the Senate and the House Versions indicate a movement towards universal access to tertiary education through free tuition in SUCs, TVIs and corresponding funding mechanisms. We appreciate the explicit mentions of private HEIs in the House version, and would hope that this be maintained in the final law.

Short Titles: The Senate version proposes the “Free Higher Education Act for All Act.” The House version proposes “The universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act.” Because the House version stresses quality education (a key desideratum in all out COCOPEA-PASUC deliberations), we prefer the House version. Improved access to but poor quality higher education is a sham and greatly harms the educational system.

Objectives: Both versions are satisfactory in the declaration of universal access to quality higher education as an inalienable right of all, etc.

Definitions: The Senate version of the definition of Higher Education Institution (HEI) as “an institution of higher learning, primarily offering bachelor and advanced degree programs” (Art. 3c). The House version narrows this definition to private HEIs and therefore defines it as “an educational institution that offers bachelors degree or graduate courses as may be authorized and recognized by CHED” (Art. 3c). The House version unwittingly excludes the SUCs from this definition. The Constitution however says, “Academic Freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning.” (Art. XIV. Sec. 5.2). In this light, for both the SB and the House version, academic freedom is essentially constitutive of the HEI. It may therefore be more appropriate to define the Higher Educational Institution as “an institution endowed with academic freedom that offers education higher than basic education: bachelors degrees or graduate courses.” This is what is essential to the HEIs.

 “Basic Education” may be defined as Kindergarten to Grade 12 (K-12) that is mandatory in the Philippines.

Student Benefits

The Senate version provides a full tuition subsidy in SUCs and an opt-out provision for students able to pay for their tuition (Sec. 4); it does not explicitly cover fees. The House version covers tuition and other school fees. Furthermore it explicitly prohibits the SUCs and public TVI from collecting tuition and fees from qualified students (Sec 6). The House version is therefore more beneficial for the student. However, clarification in the IRRs is necessary to reconcile the prohibition of collecting fees of Sec 6 with the possibility of collecting certain fees in the Proviso of Sec 4.

Ability of the SUCs to Expand

The Senate version clearly requires any expansion in student population of SUCs to be contingent on CHED’s conditions and approval (Sec 8b). This is a requirement designed to militate against overpopulation of SUCs due to free tuition. It was an oft-repeated fear of SUC administrators in PASUC that while access improves to SUCs, corresponding fund subsidies to develop, maintain or improve quality in SUCs are not provided. This is one of the main reasons why the SUCs through PASUC opposed earlier versions of SB 1034. The House versions requires CHED to consider quality standards prior to endorsing any SUC expansion.

While both versions seek to protect quality by limiting expansion, the Senate version seems more straightforward.

Funding

In both bills adequate funding is provided for free higher education in the State Universities and Colleges (SUCs) and public Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET). In the House version, Congress appropriates funds for this upon recommendation of CHED; in the Senate version, there is a Tuition Subsidy Fund (TSF) administered by CHED (Sec 6).

For private HEIs, in the House version, it is through the Unified Assistance System for Tertiary Education (UNIFAST) that funding will be provided students opting to go to private HEIs through various packages according to need. In the House version, however, there is provision for student loans (Sec. 8).

While free education in all SUCs is provided for by both bills, this is not so for all private HEIs. Free education or educational assistance is provided students opting for private HEIs depending on the funds available.

For this reason, in the final version it would be good to provide not only for educational subsidies in private HEIs, but also for educational loans as provided by the House (Sec. 8). Well administered, these student loan funds would enable more students to access higher education through private HEIs.

It is greatly appreciated that in both versions funding is to come through annual provisions of the General Appropriations Act – which recur annually, but normally increase with time and actual need.

But the stronger mandate to funding all provisions of the act makes the version of the Senate preferable. “The amount necessary to effectively carry out the provisions of this act shall be included in the annual General Appropriation Act” (Sec. 13)

UNIFAST Details and Coverage for the Private Sector:

The Senate version is general, requiring the “strengthening” of all Student Funding Assistance Programs (StuFAPs) through the UNIFAST (Sec. 12-13).

The House version is more explicit on its coverage: these include additional subsidies for education-related expenses in the Tertiary Education subsidy (TES) for poorer students for public and private HEIs, plus student loans for private HEIs and LUCs.

The House version is more precise on the repayment scheme and coverage (Sec. 8)

Very significantly, the House version includes expansion of the UNIFAST Board to include the President of the PASUC and the “President” [sic] “of the COCOPEA.”

COCOPEA prefers the House version, but requests that “President” be replaced by “Chairman.” The representation of the two major organizations of public and private HEIs respectively on the UNIFAST Board will keep its deliberations grounded in the requirements of actual HEI practice. The private-sector representation on the UNIFAST Board will also underscore the necessary complementarity between public and private higher education.

For these reasons, the House version is preferred here.

Gratitude and Hope

We reiterate our thanks for both versions, even as we request that our comments be considered for the final version of this bill.

In the imminent passage of this law, we hope for generations of youth more prepared to face the challenges of the world because of the higher education it will provide them in both public and private schools. At the same time we hope for increased actual complementarity between public and private HEIs in shaping these future generations through a well-functioning system of Philippine education.

Sincerely in Our Lord,

(Sgd.) Fr. Joel Tabora, S.J.

Chair, COCOPEA

 

 

 

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What does “Lobby money talks” mean? PRRD must take over DENR

President Duterte has expressed sadness that the CA rejected Gina Lopez as DENR Secrtretary, on the one hand, saying that he liked her passion, but on the other hand, saying in a democracy, “Lobby money talks.”*  While it is true that there is separation of powers, it would be good for those who feel the environment, the people, and the common good shamefully betrayed by the ignominious CA decision, if it were clarified what “Lobby money talks” means.

If “Lobby money talks” means that there was huge money at play to persuade the population and the members of the CA about the importance of mining for the common good, I am afraid that that message has been lost against the people’s experiences of environmental destruction caused by mining and the fact that it has not been the small people and the farmers who have benefitted from mining but the miners.  Since the passage of the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 (a law that still cries out for repeal!) it is indeed questionable whether the Filipino People benefit from mining at all.

But if “lobby money talks” means members of the CA were persuaded to vote against Gina Lopez by bribery, that is a matter that is not covered by the separation of powers.  Because the Chief Executive has promised the Filipino People a corruption-free government, that includes freedom from the pernicious effects of  “lobby money.”

One cannot say, “That’s the way democracy works.”  Where there is bribery and the overweening influence of lobby groups, democracy – the rule of the people – precisely does not work.

Should there even be a hint of bribery in the CA, the President is duty-bound to investigate that and punish those who betray their public trust because “lobby money talks.”

If responsible mining is really good for the country and must continue, then it cannot be the “money talking” lobby group that guarantees that it is being done responsibly.

Under these circumstances, let President Duterte himself run the DENR and continue to use the passion of Gina Lopez for the sake of the environment.

Where there are geopolitical strategic decisions for peace that have to be made where mining plays a key role here, let it be the President himself and not the mining lobby to define those interests and explain them to the people in terms of the common good.

We continue to pray for the success of this administration.

 

 

*“http://news.abs-cbn.com/business/05/04/17/sayang-si-gina-duterte-says-on-lopez-rejection
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Do Not Be Afraid!

[Homily:  Baccalaureate Mass of the ADDU Law and Graduate School, Assumption Chapel, 29 April, 2017]

I see from your faces, you are happy.  But I also know that deep within, you know that the happiness of this day carries heavy responsibilities.

You are happy because you made it. Many times you thought it would not be possible.  Many times, you were tempted to throw in the towel and give up.  But you didn’t.  You stayed the course – despite all the competing responsibilities at home or at your regular workplace which complained about the effort you were putting into this graduate degree; they mocked your academic ambition.   But today, wearing the toga in this festive graduation ceremony, you know you prevailed.

And you are grateful.  You are grateful to your families, your spouses and children, to your colleagues at work, to your parents, superiors and benefactors who continued to support you along the way.  You are grateful also to your teachers, no matter how demanding they were, to your alma mater, and to your God.  None of these can be taken for granted; you are grateful that they were there for you.  All of this gratitude you exude at this graduation.  You bring your gratitude to God in this Eucharist.

This grateful happiness, however, carries with it great responsibilities.  The liturgy of this Eucharist reflects that.  It is still liturgy in Resurrection light, celebrating the joy of redemption through the incarnation, ministry, suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Its prayer is for freedom.  You have all been been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ.  Bathed in resurrection light, we pray, “Give us true freedom….and bring us to the inheritance you promised.”  We pray for freedom because we often know ourselves unfree; we know ourselves diminished by our lazy compromises, unable to live up to the dignity and responsibility that has been entrusted in us.  We often lose sight of the mission and goals which would lead us to “our true inheritance.”  At the same time, in Resurrection light, we know sin, suffering, failure, and death are not ultimate in our lives.  What is ultimate is God’s love and God’s life which he restores to us in the Resurrection.  We live in Resurrection hope.

This is crucial as you freely take on the responsibilities of graduates of higher education at the Ateneo de Davao University.  You are graduates of professional courses in law, arts and sciences, business and governance, nursing, engineering and architecture, and education.  You take on the responsibilities of your technical knowledge; many of you will have your professional knowledge confirmed through professional bodies.  Through your enhanced competencies, you will take on significant roles in our economy and society, many in positions of leadership.  We pray for God’s blessings on your professional careers and increased service to society.

But we also pray that with your growth in professional competence and responsibility, you also grow in your life as a Christian.  This is life not only within the private sphere of the family, nor only within the sacred sphere of the Church, but now especially in the public secular sphere of the world.  Through your Christian life may you be blessed in advancing social justice, contributing substantially to the common good, and leading all you can influence towards a society where all as human beings flourish optimally.  Through your Christian life may the lives of your workers happier, may your students break out of poverty, may you lead your communities to prosperity, and wherever you are ma there be peace.

Today, our Gospel suggests that it will not always be smooth sailing.  You may be smiling and reveling on a graduation day, and there may be many bright and sunny days ahead.  But in time your voyage will lead you to troubled waters.  Not all will go as expected. The waters and waves will rise perilously.  Your vessel will be buffeted by violent winds.  People will disappoint you, friends will hurt you, enemies will attack you ; you will fall, you will fail, you will suffer.   But that may also be a moment of the Holy, where you encounter Jesus walking on the water, telling you, “It is I, do not be afraid.”

That may be God’s graduation message for you:  He is alive.  He is present.  He is in control.  He is with you.  Do not be afraid.

 

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Law and Graduate Schools Graduation 2017. President’s Address.

As the joy of this celebration comes to an end, allow me just once more to recall to you briefly what your alma mater expects of you as graduates of the ADDU.

Whether already in your professional life enhanced by higher education or as you face the hurdles of professional examinations, ADDU expects you to excel as ADDU sui generis leaders in life.  It expects that the mission and vision of the Ateneo de Davao impact on the quality of your leadership in the world today.

It expects therefore that your leadership be rooted in the faith, promote justice, especially social justice, transform culture accordingly, engage in dialogue with diverse religions, and preserve and conserve the environment God created for the benefit of all.

It expects that this leadership be freely appropriated in your lives and evidenced in the clarity of your outlook, the audacity of your dreams, the reality of your plans, and the real choices you make.

ADDU expects that you express your faith through commitment to justice, and that the nexus between faith and your commitment to the common good be compelling in your leadership.

ADDU expects that you engage in dialogue with peoples of different faiths and cultures in Mindanao;  in this dialogue, which engages Christians, the Bangsamoro, the CPP-NPA-NDFP, it expects that you work for peace.

ADDU expects that you promote environmental responsibility and stewardship, and that you lead in the care of our common home.

It expects that in our society still shamefully plagued by widespread poverty, you create wealth and see to its equitable distribution.

It expects that you work for and with vulnerable communities for their development.

It expects that insofar as you are a Catholic and Christian you serve the Roman Catholic Church as a matter of vocation, or that you serve the faith of your vocation.  Having received the benefits of good education, ADDU expects that you participate in promoting educational reform in the Philippines – or in Myanmar.

Go forth to make your mark in society, dear graduates.  But I invite you to never cease to come home to your alma mater, its mission and vision, its ideals and values.  Come home to join its ongoing conversations –pakighinabi – on the requirements of the common good. Come home to continue to grow in knowledge and insight, to visit your teachers and administrators, to encounter anew your batchmates and friends, but especially, to enter the chapel of the Assumption to converse with your unlikely King looking into your heart from a Cross.   There, with St. Ignatius, you may consider:  “If this is what you have done for me in love, Lord, what have I done for you?  What am I doing for you?  What ought I do for you?” How you answer those questions may be the source of liberation, love, and joy in your lives.

Congratulations, ADDU higher education Graduates 2017!

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Resurrection Light

[Homily: Easter Vigil, April 15, 2014]

This night Light vanquishes darkness.  The flames of new Fire dance against cold and gloom.  The Paschal Candle bearing the wounds of the Crucified Lord heralds Christ alive, the Light, yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and the Omega.  This Light dispels the darkness – the darkness in our Church, the darkness of our world, the darkness in our souls, the darkness of sin. In what is perhaps the most beautiful song in Catholic liturgy, all are now called to exult and rejoice.  Why?  Because “Jesus Christ, our King, is risen.”

They thought he was dead.  They thought they had killed not only him but with him everything he had taught. They thought that all he had said of the Kingdom of God, of his having come to bring life and life to the full, of our need to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves, and of his being one with the least of our brothers and sisters, was dead.

The Father had introduced him as his Son.  He had lived among the people, taught them, healed them.  He had been recognized as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Mt. 6:16). When his divinity shone through in his Transfiguration, his Father commanded, “Hear him” (Lk. 9:35).  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).  To return to God, to overcome the division between God and man, heaven and hell, God’s will and man’s will, the division that had begun with the sinful disobedience of Adam, one must put faith in him.  He stood up against the forces of darkness:  he rebuked evil spirits and cast out demons; he healed the sick, raised the dead; he battled hypocrisy, he attacked those who manipulated God for their own purposes, who instead of facilitating access to his Father complicated it.  He called them “whitened sepulchers, beautiful on the outside but inside full of dead men’s bones” (Mt. 23:27).  He said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).  He said, “I am” (John 8:31).  He shocked them, scandalized them, angered them.  So they conspired to kill him.  They demanded the Roman authorities crucify him.  Pilate accommodated.

Jesus suffered immensely.  He died.

But this night, we are called to exult:  With St. Peter we know: “This Jesus God raised up again… Having been exalted to the right hand of God…”(Acts 2: 33).  “God has made him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2: 36). “He is the one whom God exalted to his right hand as a Prince and Savior, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31).  St. Paul says, “Christ became obedient for us unto death, even to death on the cross.  For which cause, God has exalted him and has given him a name above all names” (Phil. 2:8-9-10)

With the Messiah resurrected for all times, the Exultet intones:  “This is the night when Christians everywhere, washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement, are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

“This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave.”

At this point, the Exultet goes berserk in its praise and exultation:

“Father, how wonderful your care for us! How boundless your merciful love! To ransom a slave, you gave away your Son”.  Such divine extravagance poured out on us!

Then the Church sings the unsingable, speaks the unspeakable:

“O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam,

which gained for us so great a Redeemer!”

Do you hear that?  Sin – which caused the rift between heaven and earth, between God and Man, and which we are supposed to avoid at all costs – is spoken of as necessary.  Fault is spoken of as happy.  For it was because of man’s sin and fault that the Father showed us his compassion, sent us his only begotten Son, who in dying dealt death its death blow, so that together we might all live not unto death, but unto life.

I suppose in celebrating Easter it’s important to hear that:  we do not live unto death, even though we all know that death is inevitable, we live unto life.

“I have come to bring life,” Jesus said, “life to the full” (John 10:10).  As Christians, we live unto life – whose fullness comes through the Resurrection.  Through Baptism, what was Jesus’ is ours:

“Do you not know,” St. Paul asks, “that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Rom 3-4).

That newness of life is Resurrection.  It is the prospect of life after death.  But it is also life before death in Resurrection light, so that even here on earth – in this vale of tears – we might live lives impacted by the Resurrection, transformed by it, energized by it.

This Easter, I invite you to reflect on how true this may or may not be in your lives.

It is important to live the moment, to seize the exhilaration of the present.  But it is important not to live just in the moment, but to appreciate the moment enriched by the past and challenged by a future.  For the Christian, that past is in memory of Jesus and that future is not just unto death, but unto Resurrection.  That makes a difference in the value of a sum of money, a marital relationship, a friendship, a lustful attraction, a use of power, or even of a life. It makes a difference in how I treat my child, or in how I treat my workers.  A life can be very dark.  Or it can be enlightened by the Resurrection.

It is in Resurrection light that one recognizes that the highest good that one can attain is after death in an eternal embrace with the Father.  But it is in that recognition that my behavior on this earth must be determined.  It cannot be as if there were no Resurrection; it cannot be behavior that denies eternal life and refuses responsibility in this life.  The goodness that I have received from the Crucified and now Resurrected Lord must be shared with others in the hope that all without exception may flourish together and that all may cooperate toward this common good in Resurrection light.

It is in Resurrection light that one can feel hope, no matter how discouraging the poverty, how insensitive the selfishness, how callous the corruption, how violent the hatred. We are hurt by the 49 lives of Christians killed in a Coptic church in Egypt, we are mortified by the human beings, men, women, and children, killed by sarin gas in Syria, we are dismayed by weapons of mass destruction fired against “the enemy” and the threat of yet more lethal weapons to be unleashed by martial masters against “the aggressor.”  These enemies or aggressors, whether in North Korea or in Afghanistan, whether in Stockholm or in Moscow, whether in the Mediterranean or the West Philippine Sea are all human beings of delicate flesh that hurts and of blood that flows, of sensitive feeling and of deep love.  We are horrified by the costs of interminable killing, the increasing liability of unending sin.  We are tempted to think this is the way it necessarily is.  But as children of the Resurrection, our perspective is different.  Sin has always been there, and some would say necessary.  But it is in this situation that leads so many to despair, that the Christian encounters the Resurrected Lord inviting – commanding – newness of life, change, love, for which Christians must take responsibility, leading towards the fullness of Resurrected Life.

In the light, life, and hope of the Resurrection, I wish you all the abiding joy of Easter!

 

 

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Whoever keeps my Word will never die

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 1.54.19 AM.pngYour commencement exercises take place in the week prior to the Holy Week, when we recall the suffering and death of our Lord, and its meaning for our lives.

The Gospel for today contemplates Jesus locked in conflict with the Jews.  The Jews here presented themselves as close to God, but they were not.  They touted themselves as teachers of truth and life.  But they were not.  They were teachers of darkness and death.  In this darkness they presented a false God, a depersonalized, legalistic, unfeeling, vindictive God, fully boxed-in in the petty concepts of the Jews and manipulated by their pettiness and scheming.   These Jews did not lead people to the God of compassion, light and life.  They led them to hatred, darkness and death.

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 1.55.23 AM.pngThat is why Jesus battled these Jews of darkness.  He was the light.  He was the Life.  He was the Word – the Word of Love of the living Father.  “Whoever keeps my Word,” Jesus said, “will never die” (Jn 8:51).  His was a message of life, everlasting life.

Jesus’ statement shocked the Jews.  What was he talking about?  Abraham was the father of the Jews; he was the heroic figure revered in the consciousness of the Jews.  It was he with whom Yahweh had forged an everlasting covenant, “I am making you the father of a host of nations.  I will render you exceedingly fertile; I will make nations of you; kings shall stem from you.  I will maintain my covenant with you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting pact, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.  I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land in which you are now staying, the whole land of Canaan, as a permanent possession;… I will be their God.”  Abraham was the father of the everlasting covenant, yet he died.  How could Jesus be promising eternal life if the great Abraham had died?  Jesus’ reply was in effect totally shocking.  Abraham was the father of the Jews.  But he had not heard Jesus’ message:  “Whoever keeps my Word will never die.”

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 1.56.30 AM.pngThese words must be understood, first, in the context of the Prologue of John’s Gospel and, second, in the light of his other public teachings.

In the Prologue it is stated, “In the beginning was the Word.  And the Word was with God.  And the Word was God.  Nothing was made without him.  … And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (cf. Jn 1: 1-14a).  The Prologue introduces Jesus as the Eternal Divine Word that enters this world manifesting the Father’s special love.  When Jesus says, “Whoever keeps my Word will never die,” he first means whoever accepts him as the eternal, divine Word incarnated into this world to express the Father’s Love, he shall never die.

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 1.58.25 AM.pngBut he also means all who accept his words, his public discourses, all he had revealed in teaching and healing the people he served.  Among these words were:

“I have come to bring life, life in abundance, life to the full” (John 10:10).

“A new command I give you:  Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34).

“I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one can come to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6).

“Unless a grain of wheat fall into the ground and dies, it remains but a seed.  But if it dies, it bears much fruit.  Whoever loves his life will lose it.  But whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn 12:24).

Jesus meant all of his teachings, all of his words, when he said, “Whoever keeps my Word will never die.” Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God, was offering whomsoever accepts him and heeds his teaching everlasting life.

It is the same promise the Lord makes to you as you move on from Junior High School to the rest of your life: “Whoever keeps my word will never die.”  Whoever accepts Jesus and his words will have life, everlasting life.

While Jesus comes to bring the fullness of life, the enemies of Jesus propose a truncated life, a life lacking in human sensitivity, human love, human responsibility for others and the common good.

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 1.59.47 AM.pngWhile Jesus teaches, “Love one another as I have loved you,” the enemies of Jesus teach: exploit one another, hate one another, kill one another.  Reduce the other person to your purposes. Convince him, cajole him, bribe him.   Fool him, use him, laugh at his weakness as you subject him to your power.

While Jesus teaches of truth and life and returning to God, the enemies of Jesus speak alternative truths and alternative facts.  They cause confusion intentionally, destroying others’ lives and reputations.  They thrive on wounding and killing, on violent conflict and carnage in war.  They manipulate the concept of God to serve their purposes, making God an inexorable Force of deception. violence and death.

We know, not only the enemies of Jesus but even many of his disciples rejected him and his words.  When he said, “I am the living bread come down from heaven … He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day,” many of his disciples walked away from him.

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 2.01.33 AM.pngSo in your Baccalaureate Mass, God speaks directly to you: “Whoever keeps my word will never die.”  Do you accept Jesus as the Divine Word?  Do you accept his teachings?  Do you accept Eternal life?

Your answer defines your faith, shapes your convictions, and determines what you make of your life.  In skepticism and scorn, you can take perpetual issue with his words, and choose to put Jesus to death in your life.  Or, with great humility, reverence and love you can open yourself to the Divine Word crucified on a Cross communicating with you.   Your answer is your choice.

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 2.03.21 AM.pngWhat God proclaims in the book of Deuteronomy may help:  “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.  So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying his voice, and by holding fast to him” (Deut. 30:19-20).

As you move on from Junior High School, my dear graduates, in all choose life.

 

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A New Saint in Heaven; a Kind and Gentle Man on Earth

[Homily at Mass of Christian Burial of my father, Jose Quiogue Tabora, who passed away peacefully on March 31, 2017 at the age of 97]

joel and jose tabora 2As Christians, we are privileged even in moments of great bereavement to come together in celebration.  Even as we mourn the passing of my father, we also celebrate his life in heaven.

Yesterday I shared with you the story of how God intervened in my father’s life to prepare for him the place in heaven from which I am sure he is smiling on us today.

God involved our Lady of Peñafrancia.  On the occasion of my inauguration as President of the Ateneo de Naga University, she brought my mother and father together – after many years of marital separation and oftentimes painful animosity – in an unlikely reconciliation.

As we were preparing for the inaugural ceremonies, our organizers had been instructed to entertain the groups of my father and mother, but keep them apart.  So, after a day of shopping, my mother’s party was to visit the old, historic Shrine of Our Lady of Peñafrancia.  My father’s party, on the other hand, after a day of touring Mt. Mayon, was to visit the relatively new Basilica of Ina.  But what we had planned to avoid actually occurred.  Because the driver of my mother’s group confused the Shrine with the Basilica, all of a sudden the two groups were facing each other on the steps at the side of the Basilica.  It would be the last time my father and mother would meet before the long illness that eventually claimed her life.  Then, what was totally unexpected occurred.  My mother left her group, quietly walked up the steps to my father, and kissed him.  I firmly believe it was a sacrament of reconciliation and love that Ina had worked out for my father and mother.

joel and jose tabora 1God involved the late Jaime Cardinal Sin and Archbishop Socrates Villegas, who was then the secretary of Cardinal Sin. My father was deeply disturbed by a preacher on EWTN who had threatened all who were in irregular marriage situations with fire and brimstone in hell unless they repent for their sins, see their bishop, and work out their reconciliation with God.  He asked me, his “Father Son,” to make an appointment with Bishop Bacani.  When I asked him why Bishop Bacani, he said that he would be more accessible to him than Cardinal Sin.  When I explained to him it was really the Cardinal he needed to see, he acceded to an appointment with him.  I returned the following morning to Naga and from there called my friend, then Fr. Soc Villegas, to ask him for an appointment for my father with the Cardinal “on a conscience matter.” Fr. Soc immediately said yes.  I told him I would be back in Manila in three weeks, and that I would bring him to the Cardinal.  Fr. Soc however said that if it was a conscience matter it could not wait three weeks.  But he told me not to worry, and that he would take care of it.  Eventually, he got hold of my father not at his home but on the tennis courts of the Philippine Columbian.  The next morning, my father was in deep personal conversation with the Cardinal. Both he and Esther confessed their sins to the Cardinal that morning and received absolution.

Weeks later, at an ordination in Loyola House of Studies, the Cardinal called me to himself.  He told me that my father had shared the story of his life with him in tears for over an hour.  He told me that my father was a very good man and that I was never to forget it.  He also told me that he had encouraged both my father and Esther to return to the sacraments under certain conditions.  He asked me, “Do you know why I told them to return to the sacraments?” “Why?” I asked him.  “Because that’s what Jesus would have done,” the Cardinal said smiling.

It was in this context that eventually, two months after the passing of my mother, I was privileged to preside over the marriage of Dad and Esther.  At that time, Dad was 91.  Many times since, whether in sickness or in health, we have spent happy evenings celebrating Mass and enjoying supper in their home rejoicing in the presence of children and grandchildren.

When I’d texted Soc Villegas, now the President Archbishop of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, and thanked him for his pastoral intervention in my father’s life, he replied: “I am sorry to hear the news of your father’s death.  My condolences.  I am sure he passed away happy and fulfilled.  We have a new saint in heaven.”

I am sure that is what many of us here believe as well.  We have a new saint in heaven!

But in what did that sainthood consist on earth?  Just a few points that I am sure many of you can add to.

My father had a deep devotion to Our Lady.  With Esther he would pray the rosary, or lately, mysteries of the rosary.  Honoring Mary’s role in the Incarnation as Ignatius did, his day began and ended with the Angelus.  When I was a child, it was my father who brought me to church on Wednesdays and taught me devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

My father had a deep sense of gratitude.  This morning Bro. Armin Luistro and Bro. Dennis Magbanua of the Brothers of the Christian Schools were here.  My father was a La Sallite.  (Not all of us can be perfect!)  And he would tell me how grateful he was to the La Salle brothers.  My father’s father, Lolo Manuel, a lawyer, had passed away early in his life, thrusting the family into poverty.  He would tell me how studying in his time was difficult, with his mother working hard to make ends meet, but not always able to make the deadline for tuition and fees.  He would tell me how normally the Christian Brothers would look the other way so that he could continue his studies.  When finally he had graduated and needed to prepare for the CPA exam, he was allowed audit the review session without charge.  He eventually became one of the early CPA’s of our country.

He was eternally grateful to his younger brother, Tito Moning, who upon the death of Lolo Manuel, went to work in order to allow my father to finish his college studies in La Salle.

IMG_1663My father was an entrepreneur. When he had left the foreign service which in our childhood brought us to the United States, he gambled his separation pay on capital equipment that could make cosmetics formulated specially for the Filipina complexion.  He founded “Beautifont.”  In its heyday, Beautifont had become the largest sales organization in the country.  He was a strict manager, but he also understood to call forth the best talents of his people.  He had the true entrepreneurs’ mind, plotting and scheming 24/7 to make and develop new products and programs.

In this way he provided well for his family – even after Avon eventually mounted a hostile take over of the company.

He loved sports, especially tennis – and all the people he came to interact with playing tennis.  Many of you who are here have been companions of my father at the Philippine Columbian or at the BF Homes’ Sports Club.

If we are to sum up Dad’s sainthood on earth, as one of you texted, Dad was “a kind and gentle man.” Those who lived close to him know this well.  He was always concerned about others, needing to be assured that they were properly provided for.

My father died repeatedly signing himself with the Cross of the Redeemer.  He experienced the love of the Father working out redemption for him in the Son and living in the love of the Holy Spirit whose fire purified him in life, consumes him in death, and raises him in the glory of the Father – forever and ever.

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