On the sidewalk
In the course of the 10-day “Dasal at Ayuno para sa Katotohanan at Katarungan” (Prayer and Fasting for Truth and Justice) being held in front of the Supreme Court, the “fasters” have been visited time and again by police and security personnel. Threats to dismantle the makeshift tents of tarpaulin and cardboard because of the alleged lack of permit are met by presenting a stamped application form. But when the “visitors” prove especially intransigent, it’s time to call in the group’s “security officer,” whom organizer Fr. Robert Reyes calls “the veiled woman.”
That a nun, Sister Teresita Alo, SFIC, acts as the “security officer” is just one surprise the fasters and prayer warriors spring on inquisitive police. That Sister Teresita is in her 80s, and one of the fasters besides, is another astonishing revelation. “I may have some crackers and coffee once a day,” says Sister Teresita while lugging an image of the Virgin Mary on our way to the front of the Supreme Court gates.
But hunger is perhaps the least of their concerns. Among other hardships, the protesters camped out on the sidewalk of Padre Faura must deal with diesel fumes from passing vehicles, “mosquitoes the size of cats,” and worst of all, the heat, which is especially oppressive at midday and at night.
It is all for a cause worth the suffering: to convince the Supreme Court justices to vote against the petition for a quo warranto to be issued against Chief Justice (on leave) Maria Lourdes Sereno. If granted, the petition would subject Sereno to instant dismissal from her post. This, even if the Constitution specifically states that the Supreme Court justices, among other office-holders of independent bodies, can be ousted only through an impeachment.
Which is why the prayer-and-fasting, organized by Gomburza, a group of militant priests and religious, and of different evangelical churches, is about much more than just Sereno’s fate. It is, says “running priest” Fr. Robert Reyes, about the survival of our democracy, especially the principle of separation of powers.
Celebrant at that afternoon’s Mass was Fr. Flavie Villanueva, SVD, a young missionary whose last posting before returning to the Philippines was East Timor. I wonder if he thought a 10-day stint on a sidewalk in Manila (preceded by another prayer-and-fasting at the People Power Monument) was any cushier than his past assignment. When time came for the greetings of peace at the Mass, Father Flavie hugged me as I approached him, saying: “Peace, sister. I consider you my sister since your brother and I belong to the same family, and by extension you are family, too.”
After the Mass, our small congregation, joined by some evangelicals, marched a short distance to the Supreme Court gates. There, we prayed and listened to some exhortations before the “exorcism” rites, suffusing the air with incense and even sprinkling vehicles leaving the Supreme Court compound with holy water.
Thus are social and political “evils” confronted these days in our land of tropical baroque: with incense vapors, prayers and incantations, and the physical and spiritual sacrifices of folks like an elderly nun.
Another bonus of being part of the “Dasal at Ayuno” was meeting Jover Laurio, the feisty and witty woman behind the popular Pinoy Ako Blog. Jover wore a T-shirt she boasted she had helped design, which proclaimed: “Inhale Courage, Exhale Fear.”
And indeed, that’s what she’s had to do. In her talk on media freedom which was the day’s theme, Jover revealed how, since some critics gleefully released her identity and photo for the public to feast on, she had been subjected to online abuse and bashing. Some men, apparently with an inflated sense of their own importance and manhood, even sent photos of their penises, saying these would be the instrument by which they would punish her. “And how would you describe these penises?” I asked her. “Nothing much,” she said. “Ah, so they revealed their shortcomings,” I commented. We both laughed at this, realizing that, at times like these, humor can also be a potent weapon.
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