May 7, 2011. It was approximately 9:30 a.m. when our special guest speaker was ushered into the fully packed Negros Oriental Provincial Convention Center in Dumaguete City. The atmosphere was relaxed and slightly charged, as three BCBP members had already delivered powerful breakfast testimonies about their personal change and conversion to Christ’s teachings, and their struggles to instill Christian values in their respective marketplaces. The occasion was the 31st BCBP National Anniversary Celebration (NAC) Grand Breakfast with more than 2,600 members attending.
The speaker, Ms. Heidi Mendoza, was known to me only through the news as the feisty Commission on Audit (COA) government auditor who had bravely challenged the AFP status quo of alleged bribery, illegal commissions and blatant thievery of AFP funds with her earthshaking audit results. What was to be unleashed that morning was Typhoon Heidi, a signal No. 7 hurricane force, exhibiting the face, character, fortitude and faith that should probably topple the well-entrenched fortress of magnitude 10 corruption that has devastated our country.
Newly promoted COA -Commissioner Heidi Mendoza started off in a folksy chatter with some personal background and the early beginnings of her principles in life. Most significant was her story about how her father, an honest policeman, managed their student allowances from day to day. She related how her father put a lot of loose change in an empty biscuit can. The children (6 of them I believe) were to draw their daily allowance from the can every day. Heidi simply knew that her allowance was 40 centavos and that she should draw the exact amount daily.
Was she ever tempted to draw more than 40 centavos on other days? Did her father actually count the coins in that can daily? It was simply instilled in her that if she drew out more than her allotted amount, one or more siblings would receive less of their allowance and suffer the consequences that day.
She then pointed out that the government coffers work the same way. If a government worker or department takes more than his/its allotted share or, what is worse, steal or misuse that budget, many of our countrymen will go hungry. Very simply she had learned her professional and moral principles from that empty biscuit can.
Heidi went on to relate the travails of being a witness for the prosecution against Maj. Gen. Garcia, AFP comptroller accused of plunder to the tune of P300 million. How, after many months of presenting 10 “Balikbayan “ boxes of evidence, her testimony was deemed weak by the presentation of other government witnesses. In disgust she had resigned and found better employment at the Asian Development Bank.
This was a crucial decision on her part because she changed her ‘world’ situation as it were – from night into day. From a lowly government auditor who received an audit allowance of P800 daily, willing to sleep on table tops in the government offices she would audit in order to bring home at least P400, she experienced the perks of an ADB officer, being billeted in a 5-star hotel at P8000 per night. This started several weeks of soul-searching leading to what I call her “Good Samaritan’ moment.
Fr. Daniel Mahan S.T.L., in his book “More Than Silver or Gold”, shares the following reflection about the parable of the Good Samaritan.
“Charity, in fact, has been the defining quality of a Christian. The Christian is recognized not by a distinctive garb, but by his or her love. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we have the love of Christ in our hearts. We are equipped to love as Christ loves, as exemplified in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Let’s go a step further with this parable of the Good Samaritan. I’m going to make a guess about the priest and the Levite in the parable. I’m going to guess that as each of them passed the man in the ditch they each said a prayer for him. They were, after all, very religious men.
And I’ll guess that when they reached their destination they shook their heads and complained to all their friends about how dangerous it is on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho, and how it wasn’t that way when they were up. “Surely that man in the ditch is just one more sign of the decline of society and the collapse of civilization, “ they said eloquently and convincingly.
What was the matter with the priest and the Levite, these two intelligent and religious men? What kept them from stopping to help that man in the ditch? What prompted them to cross to the other side of the road when they saw that poor man?
They had compartmentalized their faith. They were religious men, but their faith was kept in a compartment, as it were, isolated from their daily living. They had faith, but they were content allowing their faith to remain a personal matter, distant and aloof from everyday life.
Jesus is very clear about this ‘compartmentalized faith” of the priest and the Levite. He says that it doesn’t cut it. It just won’t do: “How can you say you love the God you cannot see if you do not show concern for the neighbor you do see?” (John 4:20) “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:17) Our faith in Jesus Christ is a precious gift, a gift that moth and rust cannot destroy nor thief and brigand carry away.(Matt 6:19-20) But our faith is not meant to be kept within. It is meant to be shared, to be put into action.
As for Heidi, she decided to forego her comfort zone, as well as her family’s as her new job had just resulted in acquiring a new car and new home. She chose the ‘Road Less Travelled’ and opted for the process of resigning from the ADB, to continue fighting, even just on a personal basis, the giant of case. Under immense pressure from loved ones and enemies alike she opted not to cross to the other side of the road and went down into the ditch to help the poor man, who actually personifies our country beaten and bloodied and mired in the mud of corruption. She took it upon herself, her own resources and time to take up the cudgels to bring this poor man to his feet at great cost to herself and family.
From where does she derive her strength and courage? She simply said that it is her faith. And I do not even think she had ever met Fr. Mahan. But she firmly stated that what is wrong with our countrymen is we tend to love only our families and ourselves. We should and must learn to love others and our country! What solid and well-grounded faith!
I would like to close my report with Fr. Mahan’s reference to another parable, the parable of the loaves and the fishes.
“The needs of the people were considerable. Evening was rapidly approaching; the people hadn’t taken a break to eat all day. And the disciples of Jesus were worried.
They proposed to Jesus a solution: Send the people away and let them find something to eat. When Jesus counter proposed that the disciples feed the people themselves, the disciples protested, “We have so little- hardly enough for ourselves- just five loaves and two fish.’
The disciples were in the process of learning an invaluable lesson: even though what they had to give was seemingly very little, with Jesus their resources were more than enough. It’s a lesson we need to be reminded of time and time again.
What is to be our stance as Christians in our society today? What do we have to give that will make a difference? Seemingly very little. It’s a hopeless case we might say. But the Lord wants to assure us today that if we are united with him, what little we have to give- our prayer, our witness, our commitment to truth, our faithful stewardship- will be more than enough and will, in fact make a considerable difference in this troubled world of ours.”
For just as Jesus transformed five loaves and two fish into a banquet that fed a multitude, so does Jesus work through us. Weak and limited though we are, He does on earth the work He wants to accomplish. As expressed so beautifully in words often ascribed to St. Teresa of Avila: “Christ has no body now on earth but yours. No hands but yours. No feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.”
Jesus threw down the gauntlet for living out honesty and loving our neighbor in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Heidi Mendoza threw down that same gauntlet on Saturday, May 7, during the 31st NAC, for the BCBP to pick up and continue the fight. And from the standing and emotionally charged ovation that rocked the rafters of the convention center after her talk, the BCBP has committed their efforts to the cause of honesty in the fight against corruption.
What remains for us now is to rely on the Spirit to change us into men and women who not only bear the Kingdom values in our hearts but who are courageous enough to stand up and act on these principles and values. We cannot just mix our shifting ephemeral values and the firmly anchored Kingdom values together. We have to value the kingdom that is not of this earth much more.
Heidi Mendoza clearly demonstrated that it is only when we have a heart filled by the Holy Spirit with a faith that can move mountains, can we step out into the water and walk toward Jesus without sinking, and fully live the challenging, courageous life of loving God and neighbor as ourselves. –Ronnie Caballero, BCBP Makati