To spread the real ‘Good news’

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva -
The National Bible Week ends this Sunday. The celebration of this event in the country is, in fact, mandated by Presidential Proclamations issued by no less than four Presidents of the Republic, namely, the late Ferdinand Marcos, Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, and incumbent President Gloria M. Arroyo. The celebration of the National Bible Week always responds to the current national issues. For this year, the focus is "God’s Word: Power for National Renewal."

Its annual celebration in our country has always been spearheaded by the Philippine Bible Society (PBS), a private organization that has been in the frontline of the promotion and dissemination of the "Good news" to all who would care to read, listen or share the message from the Lord through the Holy Scriptures.

The PBS recalled, during the Spanish times in the Philippines, the Bible and reading the Bible were prohibited. In one of their reports in 1898, Bible Society agents mentioned that there were two things missionaries were not allowed to take ashore: a pistol and a Bible. So during those dark times in the country, owning a copy of the Bible meant risking one’s life.

It was in my elementary days when I had my first reading of the Bible during our catechism classes. Through the years, I have collected Bibles from pocket size to big ones. My latest copy is the one that PBS sent to me last Christmas, with a pink cover and aptly titled "Biblia Para Sa Makabagong Filipina" which is a Tagalog popular version. The PBS also has come out with other Bible translations in Ilocano and some other local dialects.

My mother, who is the devout Catholic in my family, first told us about stories lifted from the Bible. She was after all convent-educated as a young girl. I am not really a very spiritual or a religious person. But I try though to the best of my efforts to perform simple duties of a Catholic like attending Sunday Masses, observing Lent, and reading the Bible once in a while as my mother would always religiously tell us her children.

It was more of disbelief than awe when former President Joseph Estrada disclosed he has been into Bible reading since a few months after he was thrown into hospital detention at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City. Estrada points to his Bible reading as what led him to submit to the fate that has befallen to him and accept it as God’s will.

Estrada was brought into Bible reading by Luisito "Sito" Beltran Jr., the namesake son of our late Philippine STAR columnist Luis "Louie" Beltran. Sito, who like his late father, is also a tri-media personality, has been into Bible-reading since he became a Born-Again Christian in 1991.

It was also by twist of fate that Sito came to bringing Estrada into Bible reading when he was sent, sometime in 2002 by ABS-CBN to interview the detained President at the Veterans Hospital, with the permission of the Sandiganbayan. It was a difficult situation for Sito who had been an Estrada-basher before but he could not shirk his assignment given by his office, along with his then "Isyu" TV talk show co-anchor Korina Sanchez, to interview the former President.

While making some reflections on the eve of their scheduled interview with the detained President, Sito recalled, a Bible that was once used by his father, who was a very close friend of Estrada, came into view while he was rummaging through a drawer. The Bible was given to Ka Louie by his late grandmother when he was one of the many journalists incarcerated following the imposition of martial law rule in the country. Browsing through the highlighted verses in that Bible, Sito said, he heard the "voice" of the Lord through his Bible reading telling him "to humble your self and apologize." He took the Bible with him the next day to Veterans Hospital and gave it to Estrada and offered his apology.

"Forget it. I have forgiven many of my detractors. From President, I’m now a mere prisoner," Sito quoted Estrada telling him. It was at this point, Sito remembers, that he offered Bible-reading sessions to Estrada who readily accepted. From then on, Sito along with his fellow non-denominational Bible preachers from the Victory Christian Fellowship, visited Estrada for at least two hours of Bible reading and sharing sessions. They continued this Bible reading sessions with Estrada even after the detained President was transferred to his far away rest house in Tanay, Rizal.

Although it takes almost three hour travel time to go to Tanay, Sito and his group visited Estrada for their regular Bible reading. In one of their initial Bible reading sessions with him, Sito fondly recalls how Estrada decried "Why me Lord?" on the fate that befell him. And as if God replied to Estrada, the Bible passage that day told them "a lesser man would not have survived it." Sito noted with sincere admiration how Estrada tried to derive guidance and wisdom from the Bible on how he should view and act about national issues and concerns in the country and how to reach out with the Filipino people even while being restrained and detained.

This was until four months ago when Sito and his group were stopped from their Bible reading visits in Tanay by the custodial authorities guarding the detained President. Estrada’s custodial authorities instructed Sito and his group to seek permission from the Sandiganbayan before they would be allowed to resume their Bible reading with the detained President. As far as he knew, Sito said, Estrada’s lawyers have already filed the necessary petition for this. To date though, no word has yet have come from the authorities on this petition.

For someone who publicly claims she talks to the Lord in her prayers and Bible reading, I would like to think President Arroyo did not have anything to do with the restriction that disallowed Sito and his fellow Bible group to do their usual Bible reading with the former President. But she should undo what her overzealous supporters and allies apparently have done on their own just to get back at Estrada.

May I just remind President Arroyo of her very own words declared in her Proclamation in last year’s National Bible Week: "The Holy Bible is the most beautifully written book in the world. God’s love lives in its pages. As we celebrate National Bible Week, let God’s Words be our sanctuary, especially in this year of urgent change and fervent hope. Let’s work for national solidarity through prayer and hard work."

Let the real "Good News" be spread unrestrained by politics.
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