On my table are two newly published books that deserve thoughtful readers who would be moved to act positively to bring about change.
I am not an official book reviewer of the Inquirer, but every now and then I, a reader of books and books, feature books in this space to call attention to them.
One of the two books is “Altar of Secrets: Sex, Politics, and Money in the Philippine Catholic Church” (211 pages) by Aries C. Rufo, published by Journalism for Nation Building Foundation.
It is described as “the first of its kind in the Philippines” and exposes sexual misconduct, political interference and financial mismanagement by bishops and priests. I must say that in the sexual-misconduct category, Rufo’s book is not the first of its kind, having been immediately preceded by “That They May Dance Again: Rising from Violence Against Women in the Philippine Catholic Church” (2011) by Maryknoll’s Sr. Nila Bermisa. Her book was published by the Women and Gender Commission of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines.
I mention the latter to show that members of the Catholic Church, the religious women particularly, have not been remiss in exposing hidden ills that plague it.
Rufo asks: “Why a book on the Catholic Church?” And of this nature? His answer: “This book attempts to make an honest portrayal of the men in white vestments. It seeks to demystify the people perched on a moral high ground and aims to show that they are as human as we are—vulnerable to mistakes, faults and wrongdoing, and susceptible to temptation.”
That, people have known for centuries. So what is new—if there is anything new—in this book that has not been exposed before? My own answer is: It does not have to be new, there could be more of the same. What is new is the fresh insights of a journalist who has broken into “one of the most impenetrable and least scrutinized institutions in the Philippines,” to use the words in the book’s Introduction by Marites Danguilan Vitug, president of Journalism for Nation Building.
Sexual offenses by the clergy, though not new, continue to be shockers and, sad to say, are not always addressed—openly, legally, canonically, etc.—in order for the cases to have closure. Very little transparency, or none at all, defines the outcome of such cases. Rufo stresses this.
But there are other “secrets” that need to be addressed, and which Rufo has much knowledge of. Part II of his book, “The Second Greatest Scandal in the Church,” presents three cases showing how the Church conducts itself on financial matters: the bankruptcy of Monte de Piedad which was previously owned by the Manila Archdiocese; the unaccounted multimillion-peso donations to the Church-owned Radio Veritas; and the alleged diversion of donations to disaster victims by the diocese of Parañaque.
There is much, much more than I can mention in this space. What I can say is that Rufo’s bombshell of a book is a riveting read, not only because of his shocking no-holds-barred revelations, but also because of his crisp, fast-paced journalistic style. The research and interviews he has done reveal his passion for his subject matter. It helped a lot that as a journalist, he’s had a ringside view of the crises he writes about.
Grab a copy. The book is “for those who remain steadfast in their faith yet ache for reforms within the Holy Mother Church.” Rufo has done his part, not in destroying the Church, but in helping to rebuild and renew it.
The other book is “The Nation’s Journey to Greatness: Looking Beyond Five Decades of Philippine Education” (431 pages) by Mona Dumlao-Valisno, PhD, a former education secretary. It was published by the Fund for Assistance to Private Education and has a foreword by Education Secretary Bro. Armin Luistro, FSC.
The book is a must-read for educators, policymakers, lawmakers and those who believe that education is a key to progress and greatness.
With her 50 years of experience as an educator in the public sector (she has served under five presidents), Valisno has seen it all, so to speak, and so now she speaks about them so that we may learn and “look beyond” even as we journey still to that elusive “greatness.”
The portion that grabbed my attention was Chapter 2, “Fault Lines in the Philippine Education Landscape: The Diagnosis.” I couldn’t help asking, You mean we still haven’t gotten it right?
Valisno states what we oft repeat: “Whenever a change in administration occurs, there are always reports that the state of Philippine education has deteriorated.”
She says that various surveys dating from 85 years ago show the same problems: lack of classrooms, worsening dropout rates, increase of out-of-school children and youth, deteriorating teacher quality, problems in educational management and supervision, undefined learning outcomes, decline of overall quality of education.
In a state of disarray, and also complex—this is how Valisno describes the current education landscape. She cites study findings, one dating back to 1925, and lists the most obvious. Sadly, she concludes: “Philippine education does not meet the needs of the country’s economy. The situation is so devastating that the country must address immediately the major ‘cracks’ in the system before these … have lasting and irreversible consequences.”
Valisno introduces the concept of active “fault lines” that can lead to more cracks in the educational system. She even uses an illustration.
She is not only an educator. She has also served as a government bureaucrat for most of her life and has seen both sides of the railroad tracks. What a waste if she did not share what she knows, what a waste if we did not heed her offered solutions.
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