Friday, December 28, 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Scuba Diving in Casabangan Beach, Mansalay

I spent the week of December 10, 2012 in Mansalay. My objective was to continue my underwater survey of Casabangan Beach. On my previous snorkeling surveys up to about 50 meters from the shoreline (reaching depths of about 20 feet), I simply confirmed what was disclosed to me by one of the former vice mayors of Mansalay. That is, based on a scientific survey of the same area conducted by a Japanese group around the year 2000, about 85% of the corals have been destroyed. It doesn't take a genius to reach the same conclusion by way of ocular underwater surveys, such as the ones I have and continue to undertake at increasing depths.

I completed six scuba dives reaching depths just over 100 feet. Based on the knowledge of local fishermen, I confirmed that there are at least two interesting groups of coral structures between 200 to 300 meters from the shoreline of Casabangan Beach. One is located on the northern part of Casabangan Beach (I have named this "Pedring's Rock" after Ka Pedring, who has been my boat man) and the other is located on the southern part of Casabangan Beach, just past the property line of Mangal Estate (I have named this "Gerald's Playground" after Ka Pedring's eldest son, who has been my "virtual" diving buddy). I say "virtual" diving buddy because, to date, I have scuba equipment for myself only; hence, Gerald snorkels at the surface as I descend to the depths. He keeps track of my position to the extent I remain visible, so that he and Ka Pedring (Gerald's dad and my boat man) are not far from my position. My diving instructor will definitely frown when he reads this!

On my second scuba dive at Casabangan Beach, I noticed a leak at the bottom of my pressure gauge. I was very disappointed as my regulator (Poseidon Cyklon) was brand new and this was just its fourth dive. Although I quickly surmised that it was probably just a defective o-ring, the closest possible shop that could repair it was in . . . Puerto Galera--at least a 3-hour drive from Mansalay. And so I proceeded to drive to Puerto Galera that afternoon to repair the leak. I ended up where most of the dive resorts were located in Puerto Galera, which is in Sabang. I was first referred to Aquaventure but the store was closed the whole week. I was informed that the entire Aquaventure team was on some kind of company off-site in Boracay. Then, I was directed to one end of Sabang, where I met a helpful Brit by the name of Andy, who quickly plugged the leak by replacing a tiny o-ring at the base of the pressure gauge. No charge. He just asked me to convey his regards to Alex, the founder of Philtech Divers, where I purchased my regulator.

An important note on the Poseidon Cyklon pressure gauge. Do NOT turn the pressure gauge when it is pressurized as this will grate or scratch the o-ring, which will quickly result in a leak. You may turn and adjust the orientation of the pressure gauge (in a manner that it is easy to read when you are diving) when it is NOT pressurized, prior to your dive.

In conclusion, while the two groups of coral structures at Casabangan Beach (60 to 100 feet deep) were interesting and promising, they were nonetheless as devastated as the corals found at shallower depths closer to shore. I understand that at the height of "compressor" fishing, even corals at depths of 100 feet were subjected to poison. Another compelling reason to proceed with a marine sanctuary fronting Mangal Estate.

A glimmer of hope. A local fisherman by the name of Benazir claims there is a sizeable sea turtle or pawikan (more than 1 meter long) that resides at a coral cave about 50 meters from the "Lalawigan" shore of Mangal Estate. This will be the subject of my next underwater survey, which will probably be undertaken during the summer months of April and May, when this area is particularly calm and clear. If such a resident pawikan has managed to survive in Mansalay, then that would indicate the local community's basic understanding of the value of preserving and conserving marine resources . . . and, therefore, all is not yet lost.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Which way for the Church?

The idea of a humble Church—a Church that respects the authority of politics and of science while insisting on the autonomy of faith and morals—is one that fits the complexities of modern society. It carves out a continuing role for religion in a world that is becoming increasingly differentiated into separate functional spheres, where the meaning of life is supplied not by a single dominant center but by a plurality of angles. Understandably, it is an idea that does not sit well in societies that believe religion’s social purpose is best achieved when it is able to impose its will on every institution in society.

I think the young Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila, expressed this concept very well at a press conference in Rome this year. Explaining the principal message of the recent bishops’ synod on the new evangelization, he said:  “In the message, we find a humble church, admitting that it does not understand everything that’s happening in the world. That it’s confused, that it has suffered, but it also admits its share in the wounds of society…. Humility for the Church is not a strategy; it is the way of Jesus. It is how God manifested himself to us in Jesus, and loved us in the form of Christ crucified.”

This “humble church” cannot be one that imagines itself at war with secular powers.  Neither can it be a Church that expects God to “finish the war for us,” as one bishop recently put it when Congress proceeded to pass the reproductive health bill despite the Church’s strenuous objections. For as long as the Church casts its role in combative terms, I think it is courting defiance. It will be seen as an institution that is so accustomed to wielding total influence that it treats every exercise of autonomy on the part of other institutions as an assault on its authority. But this is just my view as an observer. How the passage of the RH bill will be processed by the bishops themselves when they meet is another matter. It will be worth watching.

I think there will be at least two schools of thought.

One will see the passage of the RH bill in terms of a hostile war against the Church, declared by the state, and led by no less than the President, P-Noy. From this view, this war will be opened on many fronts, and the RH bill is just the beginning. The stance that corresponds to this perspective would be one of militant and critical engagement with the current administration. If this view prevails, it would draw the Church even more into the political arena, binding it more closely than ever to its activist past.

The other school of thought will read this RH episode as but an integral part of the wrenching transition of Philippine society to modernity. Far from being a call to war, the RH bill passage would be received as an invitation to institutional self-reflection, whose starting point is humility. Shedding an arrogance acquired from previous political victories, it sees the secular state not as an enemy but as a friendly neighbor with different concerns, and hopefully a partner in the enterprise of ending the scourge of poverty and violence. This humble Church, serene in the embrace of its faith, may lose some of its temporal privileges in this transition, but it cannot be humbled.

Which way then for the Catholic Church? It is difficult to say. The Church in the Philippines has played a major role in the evolution of the Filipino nation. Its influence survived the anticlericalism that served as one of the major impulses in the war of independence against Spain. To that extent, unlike Mexico, for example, our country did not become a fully secular society. While the modern principle of church-state separation is enshrined in all our constitutions, its enforcement has been minimalist, in deference to the dominant culture permeated by Catholicism. The Church thus never left the public square in the Philippines, where it always occupied a special position among the other institutions of society. But, now and then, it finds itself fighting a rear-guard battle against an increasingly assertive state.

In this regard, it would be useful to revisit the Church’s role in the post-Marcos years. It was the Church’s activism in the two Edsas—first in 1986 against Marcos, and then in 2001 against Estrada—that greatly boosted its political capital and inclined it toward greater encroachment into government territory. A Church like this—which was instrumental in the rise to power of two presidents, and whose intervention during moments of political crisis continues to be desperately sought—can hardly be expected to suddenly become reticent in the use of its influence, particularly in matters that bear directly on its pastoral function. That is why a militant stance will appeal to those who believe that the Church is under attack.  Only a humble Church that can find its way through this moment of disappointment without being burdened by a feeling of betrayal can avert the perils of a protracted conflict.

It is refreshing to see a president rise above his family’s personal affinities with the Church in order to help push a piece of legislation that he believes, rightly or wrongly, will be good for the country. One can imagine the kind of pressures to which he was subjected. But he, too, can do a lot to temper triumphalist noise on the RH side, and reassure resentful voices on the other side, that together depict the passage of the bill as a resounding defeat of the Church.

This is not a war of institutions, but an adjustment in the relations among autonomous spheres.

See more at:

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Road Trip to Tacloban

This has been my longest motorcycle trip to date--nearly 1,000 kilometers from Manila to Tacloban one-way. After exiting the Sto. Tomas exit along the Star Tollway, we traveled on mostly standard two-lane/two-way national roads through some beautiful scenery along forest parks and sea shores. We took only one roll-on, roll-off (RORO) boat ride to cross the San Bernardino Strait between the port towns of Matnog and Allen.

At the RORO Port of Matnog before crossing the San Bernardino Strait

Towards the end of our journey to Tacloban, we crossed Samar to Leyte via the picture-perfect San Juanico Brige--see below.

Many thanks to Kawasaki Leisure Bikes, which organized the road trip as the 1st National Kawasaki Leisure Bike Owners' Meet. Around 12 Kawasaki Leisure Bike owners (including myself) came from Manila/Luzon, 10 from Cebu/Visayas and 10 from Mindanao. Kawasaki sponsored our stay (two nights) at The Oriental Hotel Leyte, a relatively new and well-appointed hotel resort adjacent to the MacArthur Leyte Landing Memorial. I was pleasantly surprised to find a hotel/resort of this quality in this part of the country--a real gem! To learn more about The Oriental Leyte, visit

During the one day that all the Kawasaki Leisure Bike owners were in Tacloban, we rode mostly along the coastline of Leyte and Samar, stopping at a couple of beach resorts to have merienda and lunch. We returned to The Oriental in the afternoon to hang-out at the beautiful hotel resort. We capped-off the evening with a dinner party with live entertainment and a raffle that won me a motocross helmet. Folks, it doesn't get any better than this. Below are pictures of the beach resort in Samar where we had lunch. It's a small version of Vietnam's Halong Bay.

The return trip was more eventful than I would have liked. Somewhere between Catbalogan and Calbayog in Samar Island, my bike slipped and fell as I was banking right on one of the "twisties". Admittedly, I was getting comfortable executing the twists and curves of the road to the point that I pushed my bike to its performance threshold. My bike (now down on its right side, sliding along the asphalt road) hit a wooden cart, which, in turn, hit a bystander. Shortly after picking myself up from the fall, I was grateful for my minor injuries (the worst of which was a sprained left thumb) and was impressed with the patience and helpful support of my co-riders, who took care of attending to the injured individual and securing my damaged bike--maraming salamat guys! This allowed me to focus on bringing the injured individual to the hospital. The doctor at the Samar provincial hospital indicated that the injury was probably not serious but, to be sure, requested an x-ray. This was done the following day and the wife of the injured individual informed me later that, after reviewing the x-ray, the doctor gave her husband a clean bill of health. Thankfully, this accident had a good ending for everyone!

With my damaged bike loaded into the Kawasaki truck that accompanied the group from Manila, I spent the rest of the return trip to Manila inside an air-conditioned vehicle--also courtesy of Kawasaki intended to accommodate at any point in time any rider who may be unable to complete the rest of the road trip. In spite of my accident, I was probably more disappointed in my inability to complete the return trip to Manila. My consolation was the thought of the next Kawasaki sponsored road trip next year, which I have every intention of completing from start to finish.

The next task at hand was to assess the damage to my bike and to repair the same as soon as possible. During my next visit to the Krib a couple of days later, the list of parts that needed to be replaced was already prepared. After a 5 minute ocular review of the same with Obet, I approved and paid for the repairs. Two days later, my bike was like new. Kudos to Kawasaki for the impressive inventory and availability of spare parts. Of course, we all appreciate the prompt and reliable service of Kuya Obet!

Until our next road trip . . . keep on ridin'!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Checking Out New Scuba Gear

Checking out my new equipment--backplate/donut BCD, regulator and dive computer
(Thanks to Bojie Buenafe for the dramatic underwater photo)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Road Trip to Mansalay

On the week of October 29, 2012, I took my Vulcan on a road trip from Manila to Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro. I drove this route using Dad's pick-up a few month ago (May 2012) and determined that the road conditions were adequate for a "big bike". Apart from checking out Dad's farm and continuing my underwater survey of the corals fronting the farm, I suggested to Mayor Joel of Mansalay to establish a second marine sanctuary along the beachfront of Dad's farm, so that the depleted marine resources could recover and eventually provide a decent yield to the local fisherman. Quite by accident, I also came across former Mayor Papasin, who in fact established the first marine sanctuary in Mansalay around 2005, and discussed the same initiative with him. Thankfully, both gentlemen appreciated the benefits to the local community and agreed to support the second marine sanctuary.

When I was around 13 years old, I would tag along with Dad to Mansalay and, among other things, ride bareback on a horse (with no more than a few empty sacks of rice as a saddle and a makeshift nylon rope contraption as a bridle) and snorkel the white sand beach (known as Casabangan Beach) at Dad's farm. I recall the pristine and colorful condition of the corals just a few meters from shore and the abundance of fish everywhere I looked. There was a "resident" school of mature flying fish that, as a matter of course, would regularly (no fail) breach the surface of the water, back and forth and all around Casabangan Bay in full view of anyone who bothered to pause along the shore.

When I visited the farm in May 2012, it had been nearly 32 years since I set foot on the property. I snorkeled the white sand beach and I saw devastation. Dynamite fishing, poison fishing, muro-ami fishing*, among other destructive and unsustainable fishing practices, had nearly wiped out the corals. Fish is scarce. This tragedy at sea reminded me of a similar tragedy on land--at the farm itself. During my 30 plus years absence pursuing my education and career, Dad would mention the lawless state of affairs in Mansalay; particularly, how communist bandits, among other lawless elements, had forcibly taken over our farm and chopped down all the trees he had planted (narra, mahogany, teak, acacia, coconut, etc.) many years ago. Adding insult to injury, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) initiated a case against Dad for illegal logging--after (a) he did all the work to transform the farm (which was a barren and denuded property when my parents purchased it) into a thriving forest reserve at his and my mother's expense and (b) the government / military / police failed to help us secure our most basic right of peaceful ownership of property. You would think it doesn't get any shittier than this. Unfortunately, I have come across many cases in the Philippines with the same theme. Ever wonder why investments into the Philippines are relatively scarce compared to other emerging market countries all over the world?

During my subsequent visit this October 2012, Ka Pedring went out to fish for squids at night so that he could teach Freddy how to do it. Both Ka Pedring and Freddy are Dad's employees at the farm. They spent several hours at sea and caught two pieces of squid, each only a few inches long. Ka Pedring (47 years old) later informed me that when he was about 15 years old (also around 32 years ago), it was common to bring home seven (7) kilos of squid every time he went out to sea at night. Ka Pedring and I also went fishing one early morning for several hours. We caught one (1) galunggong about 5 inches long--not even enough to feed the belly of a small child.

This environmental catastrophe, which is unfortunately commonplace along coastal towns all over the Philippines, is screaming for help. It is now up to the local legislature (Sangguniang Bayan of Mansalay) to pass the ordinance for the second marine sanctuary in Mansalay, which is the next step to address (at least partially) this dire situation.

Not all is gloomy in Mansalay. Over 30 years ago, it used to take 5 to 6 hours by car to travel from Calapan to Mansalay. The same route takes 2 to 3 hours by car due to the mostly cemented roads. The road between Mansalay and San Jose (where there is an airport with regular flights to Manila) has recently been completed, which reduces the travel time by car on this road to less than 2 hours. The Mayor of Mansalay today, Joel Maliwanag, is young and dynamic. His heart is in the right place and Mansalay is fortunate to have him. Of course, there is the prospect of a second marine sanctuary in town that would help to conserve the priceless corals and to increase the yield of fish to the local fisherman.

Below is an illustration of the proposed marine protected area and a draft of the ordinance:

Republic of the Philippines
Province of Oriental Mindoro
Municipality of Mansalay
Office of the Sangguniang Bayan

Excerpts from the minutes of the regular session of the Sangguniang Bayan of the Municipality of Mansalay, held in its Session Hall on [date].


         Hon.                                         , Vice-Mayor and Presiding Officer
         Hon.                                         , Member, Sangguniang Bayan
         Hon.                                         , Member, Sangguniang Bayan
         Hon.                                         , Member, Sangguniang Bayan
         Hon.                                         , Member, Sangguniang Bayan
         Hon.                                         , Member, Sangguniang Bayan
         Hon.                                         , Member, Sangguniang Bayan
         Hon.                                         , Member, Sangguniang Bayan
         Hon.                                         , Member, Sangguniang Bayan
         Hon.                                         , Member, Sangguniang Bayan
         Hon.                                         , Member, Sangguniang Bayan

Absent: None.

Ordinance No.              Series of 2014

An ordinance establishing a No-Take Marine Protected Area (“MPA”)
in the Municipal Waters of Mansalay

WHEREAS based on underwater surveys of the area of the proposed MPA conducted since May 2012, the owner (“Manuel O. Gallego Jr.” or “Mangal” or “Land Owner”) of the land fronting the said area has observed the severe depletion and the extensive damage of the coral and marine resources due to the indiscriminate and unsustainable fishing practices in the area over the past thirty (30) years,

WHEREAS the proposed MPA is a known refuge for a diverse variety of fish and other marine resources (including the critically endangered sea turtle), which should be allowed to resuscitate and regenerate in a sustainable manner, so that said resources would have a fighting chance of survival for future generations,

WHEREAS Mangal has suggested to the Municipal Government of Mansalay to establish the proposed MPA in the Municipal Waters of Mansalay in front of Mangal’s property, which will complement Mangal’s nearly half-century of environmental conservation efforts to establish a forest reserve on its property (i.e., contiguous forest reserve on land and MPA on water), increase the fish biomass and improve the livelihood of the local fishermen in as little as three (3) to five (5) years, resuscitate the devastated corals over several decades and improve the chances of substantial investments and job creation in the tourism sector in Mansalay,

PURSUANT to Republic Act No. 8550 or the Philippines Fisheries Code of 1998 requiring 15% of coastal municipal waters to be protected within no-take marine protected areas or MPA’s, and the Philippine Marine Sanctuary Strategy of 2004 aiming to protect 10% of coral reef areas in no-take MPA’s by 2020,

BE IT ORDAINED by the Sangguniang Bayan of the Municipality of Mansalay, Province of Oriental Mindoro, That

SECTION I. TITLE. This ordinance shall be known as the Mangal Marine Protected Area Ordinance of 2014, in recognition of the lifelong persevering and tenacious environmental conservation efforts of Manuel O. Gallego Jr. in his beloved Mansalay.

SECTION II.  DEFINITION OF TERMS. As used in this ordinance, the following terms and phrases shall mean as follows:

1.            Mangal Marine Protected Area—a designated area in the Municipal Waters of Mansalay located at Barangay Don Pedro and/or Barangay Cabalwa, which has been characterized as having high marine biodiversity and productivity until it has been indiscriminately exploited by unsustainable fishing practices, and where fishing, fisheries activities and other marine resource extraction and exploitation are henceforth prohibited, and human access is likewise restricted—see Exhibit A.

2.            MFARMC—shall mean Municipal Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Management Council, which shall be comprised of four (4) members; namely, the Mayor of Mansalay, the Barangay Captain of Barangay Don Pedro, Barangay Captain of Barangay Cabalwa and the Land Owner or its authorized representative. The MFARMC shall meet at least twice a year to report the status of the Mangal MPA and to recommend reasonable measures to continually improve the marine biodiversity and productivity therein.

3.            Municipal Waters—include not only streams, lakes, inland bodies of water and tidal waters within the municipality which are not the subject of private ownership and not included within the national parks, brackish water fishponds leased by the government, and national fishery reserves, refuge and sanctuaries but also marine waters included between two lines drawn perpendicular to the general coastline from points where the boundary lines of the municipality touch the sea at low tide and a third line parallel with the general coastline including offshore islands and 15 kilometers from such coastline. Where two municipalities are so situated on opposite shores such that there is less than thirty (30) kilometers of marine waters between them, the third line shall be a line equidistant from the opposite shores of the respective municipalities.

SECTION III. BOUNDARIES OF THE MANGAL MPA. There shall be a Marine Protected Area or MPA in the Municipal Waters of Mansalay within the following geographic coordinates, which is illustrated in the attached Exhibit A (“Mangal Marine Protected Area”):

            From    Pt. 1                12°28'19.2867" N, 121°25'45.6354" E
            To        Pt. 2                 12°28'31.1664" N, 121°25'57.5095" E
            To        Pt. 3                 12°28'33.2444" N, 121°26'15.7014" E
            To        Pt. 4                 12°28'21.0317" N, 121°26'27.9327" E
            To        Pt. 5                 12°28'38.1070" N, 121°26'42.8828" E
            To        Pt. 6                 12°28'47.3413" N, 121°26'31.8880" E
            To        Pt. 7                 12°29'00.2141" N, 121°26'42.1444" E
            To        Pt. 8                 12°28'40.0846" N, 121°26'59.2128" E
            To        Pt. 9                 12°28'25.5055" N, 121°26'55.1865" E
            To        Pt.10                12°28'09.7660" N, 121°26'40.6132" E
            To        Pt. 11               12°28'04.2103" N, 121°26'27.6984" E
            To        Pt. 12               12°28'06.5163" N, 121°25'56.7665" E
            To        Pt. 1                 12°28'19.2867" N, 121°25'45.6354" E

Provided that, except for scientific, educational and tourism activities (including but not limited to, yacht docking/parking, snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, parasailing, jet-skiing, kite-boarding, wind-surfing, fly-boarding and legitimate underwater hotel accommodations) which do not involve any resource extraction whatsoever (“Permitted Activities”), fishing activities, fisheries, other marine resource extraction and exploitation and other human activities, including but not limited to, any and all forms of line fishing, net fishing, spear fishing, fish traps, dropping anchor, loitering, meandering, littering and/or parking of fishing vessels and/or any form of vessels in the Mangal MPA are strictly prohibited; for the avoidance of doubt and for effective enforcement, the only vessels, boats, bangkas, and/or floating/underwater vessels/devices/structures allowed within the Mangal MPA are scuba diving boats, patrol vessels, patrol boats, patrol bangkas, patrol aircrafts and/or legitimate scientific, educational and tourism vessels, devices and/or structures authorized in writing by the Mayor and the Land Owner;

Provided further that, except for Land Owner, any other person or party may be allowed to conduct said Permitted Activities only if written permission is obtained from both the Mayor of Mansalay and Mangal;

SECTION IV. MANAGEMENT OF THE MANGAL MPA. The municipal government, in coordination with the MFARMC, shall be responsible for the management, protection, conservation and development of the Mangal MPA:

Provided that the MFARMC, in coordination with the municipal government, shall formulate a management plan for the operation of the Mangal MPA;

Provided further that the Land Owner and/or its representatives are hereby empowered to enforce this Ordinance and its rules and regulations;

SECTION V. PENALTY. Violators of this ordinance shall be penalized and prosecuted under Section 96 of the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998.

SECTION VI. REPEALING CLAUSE. All previous ordinances, executive orders, rules and regulations or parts thereof which are inconsistent with this ordinance are hereby repealed and modified accordingly.

SECTION VII. SEPARABILITY CLAUSE. If, for any reason or reasons, any part or provision of this ordinance shall be held unconstitutional or invalid, other parts or provisions hereof which are not affected thereby shall continue to be in full force and in effect.

SECTION VIII. EFFECTIVITY CLAUSE. This ordinance shall take effect ten (10) days after a copy thereof is posted in a bulletin board at the entrance and in at least two (2) other conspicuous places of the municipal building and the ordinance has been published once in a local newspaper of general circulation in the municipality.


APPROVED this [date], 2014 at the Municipality of Mansalay, Oriental Mindoro.

I HEREBY CERTIFY the correctness of the foregoing Ordinance.

ATTESTED:                 Secretary of the Sangguniang Bayan

Presiding Officer, Sangguniang Bayan

                        Kagawad                                                          Kagawad

                        Kagawad                                                          Kagawad

                        Kagawad                                                          Kagawad

                        Kagawad                                                          Kagawad

                        Kagawad                                                          Kagawad


                        Mayor           Date of Approval:                                        

*Uses an encircling net together with pounding devices. These devices usually comprise large stones fitted on ropes that are pounded into the coral reefs. The pounding devices are repeatedly and violently lowered into the area encircled by the net, literally smashing the coral in that area into small fragments in order to scare the fish out of their coral refuges. The "crushing" effect of the pounding process on the coral heads has been described as having longlasting and practically totally destructive effects.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Priest who had sex with boys now tells how to smuggle ivory

Unfortunately, I am no longer shocked at the grievousness of the organizational shenanigans of the Roman Catholic Church. My own cousin, a lawyer of the Church, once told me about a Bishop in Bulacan (Philippines), who was responsible for a seminary and treated it like a personal brothel (sexually abusing young male seminarians). In this case, the offender no longer has a position in the Church--although he remains a free man, which is a terrible anomaly in itself. I have to admit, this case of Monsignor Garcia (pedophile cum prime mover of the illegal ivory trade) takes the cake. These terrible infractions of the Church have surely resulted in unspeakable trauma to our youth--not to mention massacred elephants. The Vatican, including the Roman Catholic hierarchy in the Philippines, should get rid of this pervert immediately (no more sweeping the dirt under the rug), regardless of how much he or his family has bequeathed to the Church.

Read the full article below.

Monsignor Cristobal Garcia was supposed to be kept away from children -- but we found him working with a squad of altar boys.

National Geographic‘s new issue exposes the ivory business, which has been hiding in plain sight since a worldwide trade ban was enacted in 1989. And a major player in the magazine’s story is a priest in the Philippines whom I wrote about in 2005 when investigating another global-trafficking phenomenon — the Catholic Church’s movement of sexual abuse suspects across international borders to escape justice.

The priest, Monsignor Cristobal Garcia, is now quoted as explaining how to smuggle ivory into the United States: “Wrap it in old, stinky underwear and pour ketchup on it.” And if an icon won’t fit in a suitcase? Here’s how National Geographic‘s Bryan Christy summarizes Garcia’s advice: “I might get a certificate from the National Museum of the Philippines declaring my image to be antique, or I could get a carver to issue a paper declaring it to be imitation or alter the carving date to before the ivory ban.”

Garcia also made provocative comments when I interviewed him about why he fled the U.S. in 1985. He admitted having sex with altar boys and supplying them with drugs — but said he did it because they threatened to accuse him of abuse. One boy “not only seduced me, he also raped me,” Garcia told me.
My story was part of a Dallas Morning News series called “Runaway Priests: Hiding in Plain Sight.” Reese Dunklin, Brendan Case and I documented more than 200 cases in which Catholic clergymen had gone abroad and stayed in ministry.

Most of our project disappeared from our website during a redesign years ago, so I’m republishing the Garcia story on the continuation of this post. It originally ran on March 16, 2005, under the headline: “Priest accused of rapes finds prominence; Filipino church leaders welcome Garcia despite incidents with altar boys.”

CEBU, Philippines – Here in the cradle of Asia’s lone Catholic
stronghold, the Rev. Cristobal Garcia is one of the most prominent
faces of the church.

He oversees worship practices for an archdiocese of 3 million
believers. He bears the baby Jesus’ image during annual ceremonies
that draw throngs into the streets. He led his cardinal’s advance
team in Rome five years ago when Pope John Paul II declared a
Filipino sainthood candidate to be blessed.

It’s a far cry from his despair of 20 years ago, when the Dominican
religious order expelled him after a nun told police that an altar
boy had been found in his bed in a Los Angeles rectory. The priest
fled to his hometown Cebu Archdiocese – which, despite a warning
from the Dominicans, put him to work anyway, with children, and
persuaded the Vatican to honor him with the title “monsignor.”

Respected leader
Cebu Cardinal Ricardo Vidal also has allowed Monsignor Garcia to
form a monastic religious society, whose young male recruits call
him their “supreme motivator.” The Society of the Angel of Peace is
based in a village outside Cebu, where the priest also oversees a
chapel, a children’s Sunday school program and a squad of altar

“I don’t think they [Filipino Catholic leaders] have the same
standards or concerns we do,” said lawyer Lynne Goodwin, who
defended the Dominicans in a 1988 lawsuit filed by one of Monsignor
Garcia’s former altar boys. “I don’t think there’s any consequence
for bad action.”

Paul Corral, who was the plaintiff in that case and obtained a
financial settlement, said he was stunned to learn of the
monsignor’s high-profile ministry. “I never thought he would
continue that charade,” he said.

Cardinal Vidal is not available for interviews, aides said. He has
not responded to written questions.

Monsignor Garcia, in an interview at his religious compound,
acknowledged having sex with Mr. Corral and another Los Angeles
altar boy when they were in their early teens.

One of them “not only seduced me, he also raped me,” the priest

The boys, he said, obtained sex, cocaine, marijuana and money from
him by threatening to accuse him of abuse.

“Who would believe me?” said Monsignor Garcia, who is in his early
to mid-50s. “What can a foreigner do?”

His accusers call that defense absurd.

Monsignor Garcia questioned whether U.S. bishops’ 2002 “zero
tolerance” policy was an overreaction.

“I wonder if some of it is a face-saving mechanism” or “damage
control,” he said. “In the Third World, the damage is done. Too
bad. Live with it.”

Filipino bishops apologized in 2003, as their U.S. counterparts had
a year earlier, for past secrecy in dealing with sexual misconduct.
They acknowledged that this “created the impression of cover-up”
and “could have enabled abusive behavior to be repeated.”

The Filipinos steered clear of U.S.-style zero tolerance, under
which a single confirmed incident of child abuse leads to permanent
removal from ministry. Their policy is more flexible: “The bishop
will limit the ministry of the individual or even prohibit it, if
warranted. No ministry with minors or unsupervised contact with
them will be allowed.”

Still works with kids
Long before that policy was adopted, the Dominicans’ attorney said,
the Cebu Archdiocese assured her that Monsignor Garcia would not
work with youths.

Yet he began doing so immediately, said a man who worked with him
as a priest in Cebu.

The man, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared
retaliation, said Monsignor Garcia is nearly untouchable because
his family is one of the richest in the Philippines. The family
owns the country’s second-largest electric utility.

Monsignor Garcia said he has been a target because of his family
wealth. He said the cardinal “gave me clemency” after reviewing a
psychological report on him and material from the Dominicans.
Officials of the religious order said their records don’t show why
they did not ask the Vatican to defrock him.

“They washed their hands of him,” said the other former altar boy
with whom Monsignor Garcia admits having had sexual contact. “It’s
as if no one wants to face what happened.”

That man, who is suing the Dominicans and the Los Angeles
Archdiocese, said Monsignor Garcia used to have him act out scenes
from pornographic videos in exchange for drugs. He said he remains
deeply traumatized.

Carla Hass, a spokeswoman for the Dominicans, said the order has
learned in the last year of the priest’s prominence in the

‘Distressing’ situation
“I can’t overstate how distressing that is to us,” she said. “He’s
a bad actor in every conceivable way.”

Monsignor Garcia was never criminally charged.

Jane Levikow, who served as a nun at his parish in Los Angeles,
said she called police after a priest told her he had found Mr.
Corral in Monsignor Garcia’s bedroom on a Sunday morning in 1985.

Mr. Corral and his parents said they later spoke at length to
police. The parents said officers told them there was nothing they
could do because Monsignor Garcia had left the country, and their
son didn’t want to detail the abuse.

Police said they have no record of the matter.

Ms. Levikow, who is no longer a nun, said she’s not surprised. The
officer she spoke to, she said, seemed eager to protect the
church’s image and promised to “bury” the report.

“It was a different climate then,” Ms. Levikow said.