Uncanny coincidence
FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa () - April 2, 2005 - 12:00am
These are interesting times. With Terri Schiavo dead and Pope John Paul nearing death, the uncanny coincidence is drawing lines of battle between liberals and conservatives on life and death in the church itself. I think we will see religious tumult in the coming days with the Pope declaring that ‘Catholics can no longer make such decisions even in extreme cases.’

In the past Vatican teaching allowed doctors and families to end artificial means to extend life in good conscience, if the patient’s case is hopeless. But with the Pope saying that he wants to remain plugged until there is life (even if only in a vegetative state) we face the dim prospect of a Pope plugged into machines for an indefinite time. The plot of such an event cannot be less sensational or more byzantine than Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Moreover, this time it will be for real.

Imagine the intrigue and the power play that will ensue among the members of the clique closest to Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. If and when it comes it will fuel wild speculations on who will succeed the Pope while others machinate to stop such aspirations. It may be about the Pope but it is still about human beings caught in a frenzy of power and wealth.

Last month, an article in the Financial Times speculated that among those who will be in a position to grab power will be the Opus Dei or at least those who are sympathetic to it. It named names of persons close to the Pope who were linked to the movement. Among those mentioned were Cardinal Herranz, the Spanish born president of the pontifical council for legislative texts, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, John Paul’s ultra loyal spokesman and prominent Opus Dei layman, and Spanish-born Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo, the Vatican’s Chamberlain. This is regarded as the most powerful position after the Pope. Opus Dei was founded in Spain and quite active here in the Philippines.

In theory, it is the 118 cardinals who will decide the Pope’s successor but as the Catholics for a Free Choice based in Washington said, ‘it is one of the most powerful and reactionary organizations in the Roman Catholic Church.’ It may be too soon to read how far the group will influence the Vatican succession but there is enough reason for the liberal wing of the Church to be fitful.

There is no doubt about Opus Dei’s support for Pope John Paul’s theological conservatism and his hard line on sexual ethics but accusation that they would subvert the Vatican authority may be stretching the issue too far. They insist despite widespread criticism against them that the group is about spirituality and commitment to work and duty.

Its founder, Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer was made a saint by Pope John Paul in October 2002. It is said that his sainthood was unusually fast, a mere 27 years after his death. Moreover, John Paul gave the movement special canonical status directly under him, bypassing bishops. According to John Allen, who works for the liberal National Catholic Reporter, hostility towards the group did not begin with Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code, which will soon be a movie. In an interview Allen explains, "In the 1930s and ’40s [Opus Dei] experienced some enormous, extremely bitter rivalries with the Jesuits [because] some young Spanish men were deciding not to become Jesuits and signed up with Opus Dei instead. And this was, I think, the initial source of tension, that there was this perception that Opus Dei was kind of poaching ... Some Jesuits began circulating, from my point of view, really outlandish charges against Opus Dei, things like they had secret tunnels under their centers, they were engaging themselves in bizarre rituals like crucifying themselves on crosses in Opus Dei centers."
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LIFE WITHOUT OIL. If we are to be able to cope with our economic problems, the first stop is to be informed. Sometimes it happens that those who have the information are not eager to share this with others because it would not help their own agenda. VAT may be an important issue in the President’s fiscal reform program but we should give attention also to the even more pressing issue of the rising price of oil. It would be a pyrrhic victory if we had a tax program in place but we would not be ready for the consequences of an oil crunch.

If you still have any doubt on the gravity of the problem, here’s what OPEC’s acting Secretary General and Director of Research, Dr. Adnan Shihab-Eldin, a Berkeley-trained nuclear physicist said. He is described as the most dynamic personality to emerge at OPEC since Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani. "In the current scenario of heightened political uncertainty in the Middle East, it is widely recognized that there is a premium on current crude prices, related to these events, of as high as $4-$5/b, rather than any basic lack of supply. . . . Our projections, derived from the OPEC World Energy Model, show world oil demand growing from 76 million barrels per day in 2000 to 89 million barrels per day by 2010, and by over 106 million barrels per day by 2020. Two-thirds of the increase in demand over that 20-year period will come from China and developing countries.

This highlights the relevance of such projects as the new multi-billion dollar pipeline which will stretch from Eastern Siberia in Russia to Northeast China with construction due to start in 2003. . . . Non-OPEC production is expected to increase throughout the entire period, with the expected decline in North Sea output more than compensated by increases in developing countries, the CIS and the Caspian region [which he says will add an additional 4 million barrels a day to world supply by 2015 and believes that new discoveries will get a boost from newer technologies].

Some reporters from international media who cover oil would have wanted to interview the Saudi Minister on Oil Al Naimi when he was in Manila to get it straight from the horse’s. Whatever it was he said to Malacanang, the fact is it is the central worry in the world economic scene.

But an oil analyst claims the crisis has more to do with speculation than it has with the availability of oil. According to a Dow Jones report the market fundamentals seem to have gone out of the window with the new record-high oil prices and wild volatility. It’s not about the barrels or the BTUs anymore," says John Hill of Broadway Futures, in an e-mail message. "It’s all about the ‘Benjamins,’ massive amounts of capital chasing yield in the commodity markets and succeeding. OPEC can’t produce enough crude. They can produce enough crude to feed the world’s refineries, but not enough to meet the demand from speculative capital."

If you ask me, it is time we consider life without oil or very little oil. We will be ready when the time of difficulty comes. It may be deja vu but I would recommend bicycle lanes (cycling is good for the health) and car-less days (it would ease the traffic as well as the pollution). Some hard thinking must be done along these lines before it is too late. I remember an advocacy group tried to promote car-less days by voluntarily giving up their cars for a day, but no one paid attention. I read it as a small printed press release in some feature pages. Make that the headline.
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E-mail: cpedrosa@edsamail.com.ph

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