Showing posts with label Society. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Society. Show all posts

My first reflections on DCBC's Cantata

In the Fullness of Time: A Cantata

Consider this a breaking post. I want to write a longer and more detailed article on the Diliman Campus Bible Church's Christmas Cantata, but I just can't help but share my reflections on the testimony.

This year, Ate Sandra Roldan from the English service shared how she came to know Christ. While listening to her story, I felt as if she was reading parts of my very own testimony. There were several similarities so I was instantly drawn while she spoke before a crowd of about 200 people.

Like Ate Sandra, I also struggled to find a place in the world. I thought that in order to be important, in order for my life to have meaning, I had to fight my way up to the top. I believed in the world's standard that the only important things are fame, glory, honor, power, praise and riches.

I wanted to have all these so I vowed to excel in everything to ensure my success. I studied very hard from elementary to college. Thus, I graduated valedictorian in elementary, high school and even in my college in the University of the Philippines.

Missions Exposure Trip to Marinduque Part 2

The 2010 Missions Exposure Trip team

It’s now a month since the 2010 Missions Exposure Trip to Marinduque. I struggled finding time to write the second part of my post because of the many transition activities I went through these past weeks. I am now working full time for a campus ministry in the University of the Philippines so I had to fix my schedule and work description. Though it’s difficult to explain what I’m actually doing, I figured that people understood my job when I told them I’m a “Church Worker” or a “Campus Missionary.”

But this post is not about my work yet; I’ll write a separate article on that. This is the second installment of our Missions Trip to Marinduque.

We spent roughly three days in Boac, the province’s capital. On our third day, several members from UP bid us farewell. They had to cut their trip short for various reasons. Many of them were working alumni so they had to go back lest they be absent from their jobs. Others were students who still had final or removal exams waiting for them in UP. Still others had flight schedules to catch.

All in all, five members from UP sailed back to Manila on our last night in Boac. Though we’re less in number for our next missions stop, we remained just as enthusiastic. The absence of four UPians gave our brothers and sisters from the Southern Luzon State University a chance to step up in leadership.

God is moving in Burma

God is moving in Burma.
Finally, Aung San Suu Kyi walked out of her detention house a free woman. This after being placed under house arrest by the ruling Burmese junta for 15 of the 21 years since 1990.

Daw Suu, as the local Burmese call the famous democracy icon, had been a suppressed voice for changed in the impoverished Asian nation. Her charisma has not faded, however, as she called on her countrymen to "be patient" while they work out reconciliation and genuine democracy as a people.

"Please do not give up hope, there is no reason to lose heart," she was quoted as saying to thousands of brave supporters who showed up outside the old headquarters of the National League for Democracy in Rangoon.

Prince Caspian: My reflection

Okay. So I'm way too late for Narnia's second installment? You bet I am. But I'm not about to give a critique of the film. I stand by my conviction that every film is beautiful so long as its creators devoted time, strength and love to it. This is my conviction and you can't change it.

Anyway, I was moved to blog about a particular scene that struck a cord in my heart. This was the part when Peter stood at the bridge of the enemy's castle, watching a number of his soldiers behind the iron gates being slaughtered by their foe.

What supposed to be a surprise attack to regain the throne for the rightful heir turned against the Narnians. The plan started out smoothly but several miscalculations led to a devastating defeat at the end of the battle.

Not this world's standards

There is a micro and a macro side to 1 Timothy 2:9-10. Paul has laid out the micro aspect quite explicitly, but we have to dig deeper for the macro principles.

The Maria Clara: Filipino simplicity and modesty are
captured by our national costume for women.
How should women present themselves in public? The conservative context of the Philippines agrees to some degree to what Paul recommends. Ladies must "dress modestly, with decency and propriety." As much as possible, women must be simple in their accessories, hairstyle and clothing.

The traditional "Maria Clara" outfit comes to my mind considering these standards. Our national costume for women promotes simplicity and decency with the long skirt that reaches to the ankles, a blouse that does not emphasize the body's contour and sleeves that hide the elbows.

When God Calls

I had great dreams in the past. I wanted to be a famous writer who could influence minds, big and small. I wanted to be on top, to dominate my chosen field of journalism. Meticulously, I calculated the odds to get there. My eyes were fixed on that day when I’m finally in my ivory tower looking down at people.
I dedicated all my life for that singular goal. Fame and glory were my driving force for excellence. Looking back, I can say that I succeeded. But success in the eyes of men is utter failure in the standards of God. I have achieved what I wanted to achieve and I am on my way to snatching my place in history.
But God had a different plan. He changed me from the time I accepted His gift of salvation. He brought me to my knees and taught me humility and dependence. Slowly, I set aside my selfish dreams and lent my ear to His small still voice. I laid my crown at the foot of His cross and found peace in the abundance that He alone could provide.
His small still voice grew until I can no longer turn a deaf ear to His call. I never planned to tread the path of Christians who gave their entire life for the cause of the Gospel. I never imagined myself taking that bold step of faith.
But like the apostle Paul, my heart now cries out, “Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ…”

On Burning the Qur'an

In the United States today, there is a call by a "pastor" to burn hundreds of Qur'an in remembrance of the Sept. 11 bombing in New York.

In an interview with CNN, "Pastor" Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center said, "We believe that Islam is of the devil, that it's causing billions of people to go to hell. It is a deceptive religion and that is proven many, many times."

I don't know Mr. Jones' motive in starting this crusade. I am careful as I give my comment because I don't want to judge him as well. Thus, I will turn to Jesus' example as I assess this issue.

Jesus came to the world not to condemn it, but to save it (John 3:17). And throughout His ministry, we see Him walking with the poor, the outcast, the sinners , showing them mercy, love and compassion, and above all, directing them to their greatest need-- a true and lasting relationship with God through Him.

Knowing this, I categorically say that Mr. Jones' plan is contrary to the example of Jesus' outreach to the lost. If we adhere to his plan, we end up limiting the Gospel's reach. What we have is a classic example of contradiction between the faith we profess and the life we live.

It is sad that the world will judge Christianity and Christ and Jesus and God because of acts of arrogance and foolishness by individuals who claim to be followers of Christ. What Mr. Jones wants, it appears to me, is the salvation of Muslims by the eradication of Islam. If this is anywhere near God's master plan for evangelism, we should have seen Jesus urging bloody rebellions to destroy Judaism and even Rome. But He did not. In fact, when the people wanted to install Him as king, He refused.

Mr. Jones is forgetting that the battle is not of this world. It is not the physical that God wants to change but the spiritual, the hearts of men and women. Thus, more than attacking institutionalized religions, our concern as followers of Isa is to share the TRUTH and let God work in opening the eyes of those blinded by the world. Afterall, the turning of people from darkness to light is never our working. God calls people. God changes mindsets and attitudes. He does these all for His glory.
When Jesus came to the world, He came with the message of Truth. Listen to His utmost mission: "
In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth (John 18:37)." As His followers, we continue this mission. We testify to the TRUTH. How do we do this? Our lives are our testimonies to the world.
If we claim to have faith in Christ and that we bear the message of Good News, it is but logical that our actions, deeds and life reflect our faith and the Living God we believe in. My challenge to Mr. Jones is this:

If you believe that by burning Qur'ans you will be able to testify to the TRUTH, then, do so. If you believe that burning Qur'ans is reflective of Jesus' actions in the Bible, then, do so. If you believe that burning Qur'ans will help Muslims get to know Jesus more, then do so.
In the face of this issue, we can all go back to a simple question that stirred the world, "What will JESUS do?"

Pray for Kate

Somewhere out there is Kate. She's a little girl of six, battling brain cancer. I stumbled upon her story online and it touched me. Her parents had set up a website asking for prayers for their angel.

Kate's mom has also faithfully blogged about her daughter's progress since they discovered the cancer on June, 2009. Several people are following her posts including Christian author Karen Kingsbury who is well-known for her "Forever in Fiction" program. Karen promised to etch Kate in fiction forever by making her a character in her upcoming novel.

As much as I would like to give and help, I have but prayers for Kate. Even as I write this, however, I am rebuked because I know that prayers are far more valuable than anything I can offer. So, as I listen to the background music playing in Kate's website, I say, "Amen," because truly "God is here...the Lord is here" and He is not blind and deaf to Kate's trials.

Perhaps you also want to pray with me? You can learn more about her through this link.

"But now, this is what the LORD says—

he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
'Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.'"
-Isaiah 43:1-2

Of Christianity and Denominations

It was around two in the afternoon and the class was in a siesta mood. A reporter was explaining the history of the Mindanao conflict but his monotonous voice lulled several students to sleep.

He started with the Arab trades in Southern Philippines down to the “oppressive” Spanish era, and the “materialistic” American Regime. Several times in his report, he talked about the long-standing Christian and Muslim feud in Mindanao. He cited examples like land-ownership, cultural freedom, political autonomy and secession—but always a Christian versus Muslim conflict.

At the end of the report, one of his recommendations was for people to research on Islam to better understand who Muslims are.

As he wheeled to unplug the laptop, applause filling the tiny room, a hand shot into the air. There was a question, or rather, another recommendation.

One of his classmates said they should research not only on Islam but on Christianity as well to understand the complexity of its denominations. The recommendation arose because of the haphazard use of the term “Christian” without regard to the distinctions of the branches of the religion.

Denominations, divisions, distinctions

Strictly speaking, for example, the Philippines is a Roman Catholic country but not necessarily Christian in the standards of mainstream Christianity. South Korea is more of a Christian country when the same mainstream standard is used.

The issue of denominations is a serious blow to the once united church founded by Jesus Christ in the first century A.D. However, it is also an issue seldom discussed primarily because of the lack of knowledge of its existence.

Denomination is the term used by Christians to describe the different divisions or branches of the religion. It is synonymous to the word “sect” but is preferred because of its positive connotation.

At present, there are at least a hundred denominations tracing their roots to the first-century Christian church. But as to how many of these are truly Christian denominations, one must refer once more to the standard of mainstream Christianity.

No compromises

A truly Christian denomination may have a unique set of creeds and rules or emphasize certain truths, but it never compromises on the Biblical teaching on salvation. That is, humanity is saved from the penalty of sin by God’s grace, through faith in Jesus alone.

The implication of this core teaching is immense, but is seldom understood. It is important to stress the word “alone” because this single word shook the foundation of the Christian church.

Everyone who adheres to such belief agrees that humans, in their own capacity, cannot attain salvation. No amount of good work, charity, self-effort, donation, penance or sacrifice can bring a person closer to God.

This Biblical belief also disproves the popular idea of God with a balance, allowing people to enter heaven only if their good deeds outweigh their sins.

On the contrary, mainstream Christianity adheres to the Bible’s teaching that humanity cannot attain freedom from the clout of darkness through self-effort because of the sin nature in them. It is only by placing their faith on Jesus, which in itself is a gift from God, can they be saved.

In a word, the Bible and mainstream Christianity teach that salvation equals grace through faith in Jesus alone, yielding to good works. Salvation is never equal to faith and grace plus good works. Good deeds are products of salvation, not a component.

Denominations under scrutiny

Every denomination that claims roots to Christianity must satisfy this prerequisite before they can be called a Christian denomination. In the same way, a person who professes to be a Christian must agree that salvation is wholly by grace through faith in Christ.

There are three main denominations that claim roots to the early Christian church. Conservative theologians claim that two of the three may be considered Christian, while liberals say only one of the three main branches is Christian.

The two oldest are the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox or the Eastern Orthodox Church. The break between the two, known as the “Great Schism,” happened in 1054 primarily because the Greek Orthodox Church refused to acknowledge the pope, the Bishop of Rome, as the head of Christendom.

The great divide caused two distinct sets of beliefs. The Eastern Orthodox, however, remained more faithful to the teachings of mainstream Christianity. As to the Roman Catholic Church, it is a historical fact that politics, power and wealth corrupted it.

Such corruption introduced extra-Biblical teachings like the purgatory, indulgences, worship of Mary, the infallibility of the pope among others. But this also moved the German theologian Martin Luther to initiate reform inside the Catholic Church.

Unfortunately, his views on the infallibility of the pope, indulgences and salvation which run against the teachings of the Catholic Church were considered heretical. These, however, are Biblical and are parallel to the teachings of mainstream Christianity today.

These “protesters” broke off with the Catholic Church and slowly formed the Protestant Reformation or what Filipinos loosely call the Born-again Church.

Luther emphasized the sole authority of the Bible in matters of faith, thus, all the teachings of Protestants are taken from the Bible. This makes them Fundamentalists, but at the same time staunchly Biblical and at par with the teachings of mainstream Christianity.

A number of theologians like Charles Spurgeon and John Calvin even claim that the Protestant branch is the mainstream Christianity—not in number but in teachings and doctrines.

Unfortunately, this is also the most dispersed branch. Denominations like the Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Anglican, Born-again and Presbyterians belong to this branch. These denominations differ slightly in minor teachings but they all adhere to the standard of mainstream Christianity, making them all Christian denominations.

United but not uniform

Interestingly, Christians agree among themselves that Jesus desires the unity of the church. This shows that denominationalism is unbiblical. The complex tree that sprouted from the once united church baffled people of other faiths and confused even those professing the Christian faith.

A Catholic, for example, is hard-up on distinguishing the differences between a Lutheran and a born-again. A born-again may even doubt other denominations because there are just too many sub-branches sprouting everywhere.

For this very reason, the word “Christian” was diluted and reduced to mean the umbrella group of all churches associating themselves to Jesus Christ. The standard set by mainstream Christianity was utterly disregarded.

The very division was used against Christians. In fact, in one conference, preacher and apologist Ravi Zacharias was asked by a Muslim why Christians had so many “churches” and which one is the “true” church.

His answer was very telling. He admitted that there are many churches or denominations especially in the Protestant tradition, but he stressed that all the Christian denominations shared the same core—that of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus alone.

All other differences they had were but minor. He ended by saying that unity is different from uniformity. The differences of the denominations gave strength to Christianity because these reached a broader spectrum of people.

In the end, however, he conceded that there is still division—irreconcilable ones—especially when the questions deal with salvation and the deity of Jesus Christ.

The need to know

After the second recommendation was raised, the class was silent. It appeared that no one understood the point. The only thing the reporter said was that people must also understand their own faith.

True enough, people must examine the teachings of their faith. This call is not new and was echoed by great men and women in history. In the Philippines, the greatest perhaps is Jose Rizal.

In his work entitled, “The Religiosity of the People of the Philippines,” Rizal rejected blind faith and urged his countrymen to question the very foundation of the religious teachings brought by Spain to the Philippines.

Truly, the word “Christian” is more complicated than it seems. There is a disparity between what popular culture knows and what the Bible teaches. Fortunately, today, one has all the freedom to question and discover.

From this day forth

It takes so much of me to continue to witness homosexual behavior eat into the fellowship. I have prayed about this and I know God will use my blog for His glory.

For almost two years now, I have been immersing myself into the topic. I have been researching, reading, watching and listening. I have heard almost every argument from both sides-- those who say it is okay and those who stand by the Bible and say homosexual lifestyle is sin.

From all my researches, I see a trend which I will not deny bothers me. Proponents and activists of homosexual behavior are getting more and more aggressive. There are now "Christian Churches" saying the Bible perfectly agrees with the behavior. The biggest blow perhaps is in the rift within the Anglican Church on this very topic.

We also have the Metropolitan Churches--gay churches-- preaching that God approves for those with homosexual orientation to live a life of homosexuality. I thought such churches existed only in the United States or in the more industrialized nations. But a quick search through the net revealed that there are already Metropolitan Churches in the country. In fact, they have been administering same-sex unions because Philippine laws neither agree nor disagree with such.

I can feel that in the future, this skirmish will evolve into one of the biggest controversies the Christian Church will have to face. And I wish to lend my blog and my knowledge on those who continuously seek answers on the issue. From this day forth, I will be adding answers on the great debate on Homosexuality.

Some may think I now belong to the throng of bigots condemning homosexuals. I stand my ground and answer, no. We think that those who tolerate the behavior are those who truly love and understand and care for the homosexuals. I dare say this is wrong. Because those who truly love them are men and women who will fearlessly say the Truth about homosexual lifestyle-- those who engage in it will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

My utmost concern is the spiritual well-being of men and women under homosexuality. Take God's Word, it is not the here and now that matters, it is the eternity up ahead. Those who say it is perfectly right and good to indulge in the homosexual lifestyle appear to be guardians of equality, freedom and human dignity. In this world, perhaps, but they unknowingly seal the fate of men and women to eternal separation from God.

You will not tell a child to go and play with a knife when you know it can cut and hurt him. But because many do not know what it entails to surrender to the desires and lusts of homosexuality, they tolerate it and even encourage it. The knife will wound the child but the wounds will heal. Homosexual lifestyle, on the other hand, will bring a person farther away from God, and this, for eternity.

I am here not to add condemnation but to call out, to invite all those who are struggling with homosexuality to consider what God says about it. I am willing to face a barrage of insults because of this decision, but it is out of love for all of those in such disposition that I will continue to blog about homosexuality.

I believe God loves the homosexual and He calls out to them to be free from the lies of the disposition. But God is also clear. He will not tolerate the homosexual lifestyle. He condemns the practice of homosexuality, for it is contrary, in all respects, to the design He has established.

It is my fervent prayer that we Christians will realize that our ministry to the homosexuals, more than anything, means helping them understand what God says of the issue. I disapprove of all those who shout out insults during gay pride marches, or those who wield banners and placards with slurs and offenses.

There are betters ways to address the issue than these. I am firm with my stand against homosexual lifestyle and practice. But as to how we deal with it, I believe God calls us to be compassionate and loving in truth. How do we do that? My share is through this blog. An open forum where views may be raised and opinions shared. A place where the Word of God, the Truth may be preached.


I offer you this ministry. Make of it what pleases and glorifies you. May it be a help to those who are seeking. May it bring understanding to those who are looking for answers.


The Real Meaning of Christmas

What if Christmas means more than what we popularly know? Read on and find out.
This may change your life. I pray that you will finish it to the last word. :)


It is often said that Christmas is all about giving, sharing what we have to those who are less fortunate, the poor, needy and homeless. I will not argue that this is a noble thing to do. But I will argue on our understanding of the "less fortunate, needy, poor and homeless."

We limit this to the material world, forgetting that when we look at the Bible we are all nothing, poor in spirit, separated from God because of Sin. God said it plain and simple, everyone sinned and so everyone falls short of His glory.

We are deprived of the gift of life, and are bound to an eternity of separation from God in hell because of sin. This is worse than any material inadequacy.

CHRISTmas is a wonderful story of grace. More than what we lack here on earth, God's sending of Jesus filled our spiritual emptiness. Christmas means giving, yes. But it is not us who give. Jesus is the one who gave Himself for our salvation.

We also hear that it is better to give than to receive. But I also challenge this when we talk about the gift of God. In this context, God wants us to receive more than anything. God gives us the free gift of eternal life, made possible by the blood of the one sinless man-God, Jesus. This gift is what God wants us to receive, and it is called salvation.

He wants us to recognize our helplessness because of sin. He is a God who abhors sin. In His justice, we must be punished with eternal spiritual death. For the wages of sin is death. But He is also a God of love, and in His grace and mercy, He takes the punishment upon Himself in Jesus Christ.

He declares us righteous, as if we have never sinned because Jesus took sin, past, present and future, and nailed them with Him on the cross. He died but rose again, giving us the assurance of eternal life. He himself conquered death.

This eternal life is what God is giving us. Salvation is what awaits us if we receive Jesus in our hearts by faith alone. It is so important to stress that the only way to receive Jesus is by faith. We may have grown up thinking that God holds a weighing scale, determining salvation by how much good we have done against the bad things we have committed on earth. But God does not work that way.

The Bible is clear when it says it is not by good works that we are saved. We cannot bribe God to let us enter into heaven because His standard is perfection. This means sinlessness. He can allow us to enter only when we are washed clean from sin. Good works will not do that. The blood of Jesus will.

And by faith we receive this cleansing, by faith we receive Jesus, by faith we have eternal life. Faith is not simply intellectual understanding. It is the full surrender of one's life to the Kingship, Lordship and Salvation of Jesus Christ.

This is not easy because this requires turning away from the old life to a life of holiness and obedience to God. But God does not say that He will give Jesus to us only when we have achieved a state of holiness. No. God already gave Jesus while we were still sinners. Thus, though the struggle of turning from darkness to light is difficult on our own, God's grace makes it much bearable.

Come to think of it, when God has filled the emptiness in your heart, you will never turn back to where you were before. This gift of life is free. If it is genuinely received by faith, it remains there even if you fall to sin and fail Jesus again and again. He will work you out, mold you into Christlikeness until the day He comes again.

What is Christmas? It's really about Jesus coming here on earth, ready to fulfill God's promise of salvation. It's not about us. It is about God calling us to be with Him. He changes people. He convicts the heart. You may not be convinced, but you may pray to God. Ask Him to help you understand. And if you are moved by His Spirit, ask Him in prayer to come into your heart. Receive Him by faith and you will live.

Merry Christmas!

Abdulmari Asia Imao in the crossfire of ideologies

Photo from

The legend of the Sarimanok lives on among the Muslim inhabitants of Mindanao in Southern Philippines. To them, this mysterious bird is a messenger, swooping down from the heavens to catch fish which it delivers to the Sultans as words from Allah.

There are many versions of the story. One tells of a beautiful and kind daughter of the Sultan of Lanao who was taken by a majestic bird. According to this version, Sari, a well-loved princess of the Maranaos, won the heart of a deity-prince who transforms into a giant rooster with glittering feathers of varying shades.

Unlike the ordinary fowl, however, the creature rules the sky like an eagle and has magical powers. The prince, in the form of a bird, appeared before Sari and all the people of Lanao on her 18th birthday. Speaking to them in their native tongue he said, “I have come to take the maiden whom I love.” As if in a trance, Sari approached the creature and they disappeared into the skies.

The Sultan missed his daughter so much that he commissioned the best artists of the kingdom to make a replica of the bird. He ordered the people to look at the monument with reverence so that they will never forget Sari. In honor of his daughter and the magnificent creature (which in their local tongue is called a
manok), he called the woodcarving, Sarimanok.

Sari lives on among the Moros, and with her the cultural and artistic symbol that is the Sarimanok. Yet there is an unusually low appreciation of this national heritage.

In fact, even the recognition as National Artist of a sculptor who devoted his art to the Sarimanok took years to happen because of a gulf in perception of what is considered art between the people of the urbanized Christian centers and the Islamic outskirts of Mindanao.

In 2006, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) awarded Dr. Abdulmari Asia Imao the National Artist Award for sculpture, the first Muslim to be given the country’s highest recognition for artistic and cultural achievement and contribution since its creation in 1972.

This happened only after the intervention of Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo which, according to political analysts, was a strategy to gain favor from the Muslims who comprise majority of Southern Philippines. In fact, without the president’s hand, Imao had no chance of the award after he failed to make it in the first shortlist prepared by the NCCA.

As to his skills in sculpture, no doubt Imao is a master. But he is also highly trained in painting—being an apprentice of National Artist Napoleon Abueva— and in metal casting and photography. He graduated Bachelor of Fine Arts in Sculpture in 1959 at the University of the Philippines, and three years after, he earned his Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture at the University of Kansas.

Compared to other sculptors, however, Imao’s fusion of Islamic art, design and culture in his oeuvre make him standout as an artist who employs techniques of the West to make unmistakable Eastern Islamic works.

But the 73-year-old artist admits that his decision to focus on his native culture came only after he has travelled the United States, Columbia and Europe, seeing with his own eyes the works of Picasso, Van Gogh, Matisse and Dali, among others.

Returning to the country in 1963, he determined to master Moro culture and arts, observing and learning from the Maranaos and T’bolis; at the same time, teaching them about modern bronze casting techniques.

Imao describes his art as bearing three distinct motifs—the Sarimanok, the fish, and the okir, or aesthetic curvilinear designs. As an artform, the okir, ukit in Filipino—meaning “to carve” or “make designs upon”—can be feminine or masculine in execution usually on wood which is abundant in Mindanao or in brass.

The overall sculpture takes the form of either the Sarimanok or the fish, or a combination of both and is adorned with elaborate okir patterns and designs. Some of Imao’s works bearing this style are displayed in the Vargas Museum in UP Diliman and at the National Museum.

The artist is also a researcher and a professor, documenting photos of the Sulu people, tribes and art for local universities like UP and the Ateneo de Manila, as well as for international fellowships.

With such contributions to Muslim art through sculpture and paintings, and the Moro people through his researches, why did Imao fail to make it in the NCCA shortlist in the first place?

UP Prof. Felipe de Leon was among the panel of judges at the NCCA on the year Imao was recognized a National Artist, and he offers this simple answer: Majority of those who adjudicate in the National Artist Awards belongs to subcultures with Western orientation that do not appreciate the Moro or Muslim art.

“The lumad, Moro and folk subcultures are the most Asian. They are the least Westernized. Unfortunately, those who run the National artist awards belong to the pop and academic cultures which are the most Westernized!” De Leon said.

Focusing on the academe, he added that the university culture which is undoubtedly a colonial legacy, espoused the concept of “individualistic art” or “art for art’s sake.” This is contrary to indigenous art which is “communal,” “participatory” and “extemporaneous.”

“The indigenous craftsman is not known as an individual artist. He is the community’s artist. That’s how communal Filipino art is. But the more you belong to this culture, the less likely 
you’ll be hailed a National Artist,” he lamented.

De Leon even revealed that the judges’ Western taste goes beyond art and is sometimes directed towards the artists themselves. He says that they are Western in the sense that if the artist is not articulate or fluent in English or if he is not formally educated in an art school, or if he uses unorthodox media, they consider them pseudo-artists and their works inferior.

For Dr. Abraham Sakili, among the authors of Imao’s nomination papers for the National Artist Awards, culture plays a big role in the delay.

“You cannot isolate the judges’ cultural belongingness in their choices…Culture is the primary influence in their decisions,” he said.

Sakili added that because of cultural imprints on people, objectivity is a myth in the entire selection process. And he also believes that one reason has something to do with Imao’s affinity.

“We cannot deny it. There is a negative stereotype against Muslims in the Philippines,” he said.

Because of these attitudes some members of the NCCA have lost hope on the National Artist Award and instead turned to the “Manlilikha ng Bayan Award” which specifically recognizes the contributions of indigenous artists.

If he were to judge, De Leon said Imao is deserving of the National Artist Award, but he said there are also several other Muslim artists who match or even surpass his craft and contributions that will never be called National Artists because they embody an art concept that is foreign to most NCCA judges.

For Dr. Sakili, the variety and the level of expertise in Imao’s works make him very deserving of the award. In addition, peer reviews of his sculptures, a criterion in the National Artist Awards, are overwhelmingly positive, not to mention his several awards like the “Gawad CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines) sa Sining”, and the Presidential Medal of Merit for his contribution to culture and arts.

De Leon said, Imao is fortunate because though he belonged to the Moro subculture, he was exposed to the academic and popular, elevating his status—at least from the point of view of the elite circles of Western-oriented Filipino artists—as more or less “one of them.”

But as to his roots, native worldviews and experiences, Imao is not one of them. He belongs to a league of artists who integrate art in daily life.

Coming from a remote island in Pata, Jolo, Imao has known sculpture since childhood being born into a family of balangay or boat-makers, woodcarvers and entertainers.

He recalled in one of his writings, “Once I caught a fish. I was so fascinated about—its shape, scales, pigment and its glossy snout. I brought it home but as soon as the aroma of cooking drifting from the kitchen skewered my nostrils, fat tears ran down my cheek. I couldn’t bring myself to eat it, and Mother had to comfort me all night long.”

In an island where no other form of leisure or entertainment existed, Imao learned to appreciate the sights, sounds, smell and the texture of nature. His first attempt at serious sculpture was inspired by the vast ocean around their community. He carved trophies for local swimming competitions.

From his hometown, fate brought Imao to UP with the help of several people. Tomas Bernardo was once in charge of a Philippine Navy exhibit in Jolo. He noticed how fascinated Imao was with the paintings on display. Because of that, he offered to help him continue his schooling in Manila.

Upon reaching the metropolis, he sought scholarship from UP but was rejected. His spirit did not waver; instead, he sought the audience of then Pres. Ramon Magsaysay who was giving out scholarships to deserving students.

Though he never got to talk to President Magsaysay, a palace official, Jose Ansaldo, noticed him in Malacanang. Ansaldo was moved by the young boy’s persistence after seeing him coming back to the palace everyday in the hope of securing a scholarship. In exchange of washing his five cars daily, the official financed Imao’s schooling in UP. From then on, the National-Artist-to-be garnered several scholarships and grants, giving him the opportunity to learn art all over the world.

It took three nominations and the intervention of President Arroyo before Imao finally joined the ranks of the likes of Bienvenido Lumbera, Napoleon Abueva, Carlos “Botong” Francisco, among others.

“Imao’s works are enough to make him National Artist. So why do we still need Malacanang to intervene?...I have seen the credentials of the other awardees and Imao can match or even surpass them. So I raise the question, ‘Why just now?’,” Dr. Sakili said.

Imao is a glaring proof of how the monopoly of a dominant worldview and ideology can defeat the development of Filipino culture and the pursuit of national identity which can be described as very diverse.

For an award that supposedly aims to recognize "preeminent achievements that have enhanced the Filipino's cultural heritage," it is puzzling how the truly Filipino art in the lumad, folk and Moro subcultures fail to make it to the top. Instead, the Western notion of fine arts continues to become the standard.

For the sultan who waits for his daughter’s return, hope is embodied in the Sarimanok woodcarving. For a nation that struggles to put together its history, culture, and identity, Imao is a piece of the puzzle representing the Philippine Islamic roots. 

His recognition, though veiled by politics, is one step closer in bridging the gap of art perception between the people of the urbanized Christian centers and the Moros of Islamic Mindanao.

At the same time, his story is a warning that unless Filipino art boldly treads its indigenous past and lineage, it will never find the identity it seeks.

Live out your CHRISTIANITY

When I was in my first grade, our class read a short story for our values subject. If I remember it correctly, the story was, "The two Amelias."

There is nothing so fantastic about its plot. It's a typical short story without subplots or flashbacks or dangling endings. But I cannot forget it because at that time, the message struck me. I was still a non-Christian then so I viewed it from that perspective. But having known Christ, I figured that "The two Amelias" could be a modern parable. 

I'm going to reconstruck it here.

Once there was a child named Amelia. She excels in school and is admired for her kind and jolly peronality.

She volunteers to water the plants in the morning and stays behind to sweep the room in the afternoon. Amelia's teachers, whenever they talk about her in the faculty room, will commend her maturity for a young girl.

Some will joke that they want to adopt her as their daughter. Others say they want their children to befriend her so that they'll also be like her.

Amelia has many friends. She doesn't talk a lot but people gravitate to her because of her pretty dress and smiling face. She is like a celebrity in the school-- loved, cherished, anmired and even envied by her classmates.

Amelia's classes end at around four in the afternoon. After volunteering to sweep their classroom, she goes home always with an old lady wearing a faded dress.

People thought she was Amelia's maid, and whenever they asked who she was, the little girl just keeps quiet, refusing to answer the question.

"Please buy two cans of sardines for me, Amelia," the old lady in faded dress asked Amelia.

"Don't you have eyes? What am I doing?" The angelic girl was busy coloring a book in the sala, her crayons scattered all over the place.

"I'm sorry dear. But mama needs help with our food. If you can only pass by the store to buy--" she wasn't able to finish her sentence.

Before she knew it, Amelia has thrown her book at her, followed by several pieces of crayolas.

"Look! Look! You ruined my assignment! Can't you go buy the sardines yourself!? You're annoying me!"

Without a word, the old lady picked up Amelia's book, now torn and crumpled. She closed it and placed it on the dinning  table. One by one she picked the crayolas and placed them on top of the book.

"How I wish you can be the Amelia that you are in school," she said as she whirled out of the room to buy Sardines.


I modified the story to make it shorter. But essentially, I retained the message. For a non-Christian, this is a story of a child who pretends to be good in school to earn good grades, while at home she disrespects her mother and even refuses to help in the chores.

I guess I was struck by the story then, because I was somewhat like Amelia. But I praise God I was able to overcome such an attitude.

Now that I am a Christian, how do I see the story?

It is a rebuke. I address this message to all Christians. LIVE OUT YOUR CHRISTIANITY!

How often have I heard and seen Christians who chose to forgo fellowship for a night's out with friends, a trip to the mall, movie house or just plain hangouts. I wonder how these Christians can easily trash such a wonderful gift God has given in fellowship.

I do not understand how they can exchange their time for prayer and fellowship with these non-essential things. Where have the salt and light gone?

How can I relate the story to such attitude? They are two Amelias because they seem to be circumstantial Christians. They are Christians only when it's comfortable for them. They are Christians on Sundays, they are Christians in the ministry, they are Christians in the church.

But throughout the week, no hint of Christianity is in them. They hang out with non-Christian friends and they forget who died for them. They cannot profess Jesus because who will believe them? People don't see Jesus in their lives. What do they see? The world.

What pains me more is that they're doing nothing. They're letting circumstances blow them like chaff. They watch as their entire lives crumble, forgetting that He is the answer to everything.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 

but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. 

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. 

The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. 

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 

for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. 
-Psalm 1


My heart bleeds oh Lord as I witness brothers and sisters in the faith get blown away like chaff. I've done all I know to do... Lord, I lift them all up to you.

I also pray for strength Oh God for I do not know how long I can endure the sight. Teach me faith and trust. God of Israel, reveal Yourself to us. Change our hearts! 


BIBAK: The Baguio Trek

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 

And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’” (Romans 10:14-15)
Last May, I joined a missions trek to Baguio. It was different from the usual missions trip of DCF. For one, the Baguio trek was a ministry to the Muslims in the Summer Capital of the Philippines.

Together with Tina, Jet, Del, Mike and Kem, I spent a week in Baguio in what Kuya Dave called a “Cross Local, Cross Cultural and Cross National Mission Trek.”

We were welcomed by the Bibak Church pastored by Kuya Demi Mier, the father of our Churchmate, Ate Jana. The church stood on top of a hill with the perfect view of Baguio in the morning and a charming one at night.
Upon arriving at Bibak, we got to eat, rest and plan for the week-long activity from the 23rd of May to the 29th. The cool Baguio climate and the numerous tourist attractions in the place made me feel at home almost instantly.

Bibak Church
Bibak Church is memorable though we only stayed there for a very short time. The place reminded me of my childhood, a part of which was spent in Baguio.
We slept in dormitories with double-deck beds warmed by the signature blankets of the place. It was a struggle to rise early because the climate was conducive for sleeping. Even bathing is difficult because of the ice-cold water.

Though the experiences were not new to me, they were, nonetheless refreshing because they broke the familiar patterns we got used to in UP Diliman.

Bibak also taught us to be independent. Different from the DCF missions trip, we were really on our own. No one commanded us to do things because leadership rotated among the trekkers. We were responsible of ourselves and of one another.

We took turns cooking breakfast, though Kuya Jing, a friend of Kuya Dave’s, offered to cook lunch and dinner for us.

At the Church, we spent the evenings for preparation, praise and prayer. While we were serving the community, we also made sure that our spiritual health was okay. We checked on one another and prayed for one another.
Bibak was our home away from home.

The Children
We enjoyed the company of two different groups of children in the trek. The first group was in a Muslim Community in Ambiong, and the second, was a group of children we treated for a day of camp in Asin.

Ambiong is our main mission field. It is a community you can reach only by foot after around 20 minutes of hiking. Muslims dominated the community but there were also a number of local Ifugaos living in the area.

Near the entrance of the community was a small daycare center with galvanized iron and plywood for walls. Around 25 children attended the school and they were taught basic reading, writing, coloring and values.

Pastor Demi started his outreach in the community through a medical mission work. Today he is known and loved by the people despite religious differences.

We did two things in Ambiong. One group taught in the daycare center and another visited families in the community. We presented two skits to the children—Noah’s ark and the Parable of the Lost Son. At the same time, we also included a simple message of the Gospel for the children.

Two things I learned. Jesus was Isa Almasi in the Qur’an and the Bible was called the Kitab.

The group which visited the families went around Ambiong just talking to people. They played with their children and spent time listening to their stories and problems. Some of our groupmates from SVCF were able to share the Gospel to some of the families they visited. The others, however, were careful because commando evangelism may offend the Muslims in the place.

The second group of children we spent time with was composed of Muslims, Roman Catholics and local believers. We brought them to Asin, to Ate Jana’s grandparents where we played games, swam in a mini pool, ate, watched a presentation and made arts and crafts.

We all enjoyed. The children especially enjoyed the pool. Mike taught a number of them how to swim. Kem, on the other hand, stayed with a child and taught him how to color and draw.

Near the end of the day-long camp, Kem shared his testimony and shared the Gospel to the children. Before leaving, they gave us bookmarks with thank you letters written on them.

Exhausted but joyful, we rode a jeep back to Bibak amidst a heavy downpour.

Islam Evangelism
The most memorable part of the trek was the visit to a mosque. Pastor Demi was able to schedule us for a tour and to listen to an Imam who will teach about Islam.

Before going to the mosque we all prayed that the Lord will grant us protection from the principalities that may attack us. We also had a couple of seminars just to familiarize us with the most common arguments of Muslims against Christians.

Pastor Demi asked us to be polite when answering or asking, but he never restrained. He said if we are convicted by the Spirit, we must speak out boldly.

Kuya Benejim was the Imam who taught us about Islam. He is also a professor of UP Baguio so he is used to being questioned about his faith and the tenets of Islam. He is very open and entertained our questions. He answered honestly and also spoke out for Islam boldly.

During the lecture, we also witnessed one of the ritual prayers of the Muslims. Kuya Benejim translated the Arabic chants and explained the gestures and movements the men were doing while praying.

During the open forum, among the debated issues were the authenticity of the Bible and the death and resurrection of Jesus. We exchanged ideas and questions. Praise God for the openness of both sides.

The visit to the mosque was cut short because of time constraints. After the experience, however, we were filled with joy for as we all agreed, “The incident only served to strengthen our faith in Jesus more.”

Commando Evangelism
Though our main ministry in Baguio was reaching out to the Muslims, we also went out and shared the Gospel in Burnham Park, the community around Bibak Church and the SM City Baguio. This is classic commando evangelism.

I am more experienced in this activity because we had been doing it in UP and in the Church. It was unfortunate, however, that I was not able to join the Burnham Gospel sharing because I got bed-ridden because of flu. I can still walk and share, but Kuya Dave barred me from joining. He said it was better if I rested.

The rest of the team, however, went to Burnham and shared to people. For around two hours, they shared Jesus to tourists, locals, and foreigners, old and young. In the evening, there were wonderful stories from my fellow trekkers about people who listened to the Gospel. There were also a number who shared about their experiences with closed and reluctant people.

I was able to join in the community Gospel sharing and visitation. The group was divided into around five and we went into the different streets and houses around Bibak. I found out that the area, because of its proximity to SLU, was full of boarding houses. That means, there are a lot of students from different parts of the country.

I was with Bethel from SVCF and a worker of Bibak. We went to several houses following up on people. And one memorable thing for me was my chance to share the Gospel for the first time using my native tongue—Ilocano. It was a different experience and it gave me joy to speak God’s truth in Ilocano.
One of the last things we did in Baguio was to share to the mall-goers in SM. 

This is again a new experience for us and we all agreed that sharing in the mall is more difficult. Everyone was busy and it’s difficult to find people who have the time to listen.

I was partnered with Jet and I praise God that even if the atmosphere was really difficult to penetrate, He led us to people with whom we can share the Gospel with. Once more I found myself sharing Jesus in Ilocano. We even saw a student of UP Baguio and Jet shared to her.

Overall, we might not feel complete without the classic commando evangelism in the trek.

Challenges and Lessons
The urgency of sharing the Gospel struck me in this trek. We were commissioned by Christ so we must not keep quiet but boldly proclaim Him. When we left, that is one challenge we left with the youth of Bibak Church.

Our team is only temporary, but they live in the place. They can do much more if they will keep on proclaiming Jesus.

I went home after the camp with much joy in my heart. The message was really clear:

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28: 19-20)
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