Lost, or Stolen!

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Crime indeed does not pay, but the Philippine government really meant business when it made the thieves pay. Their crime: The systematical pilfering of priceless historical documents at the National Library, selling these to antique shops and collectors.

On May 29, a Manila Regional Trial Court judge will decide on the case, so says ABS-CBN Online. This will put to a close the 18-year saga of retrieving thousands of stolen Philippine historical documents and bringing the thieves to justice.

A sting operation in 1993 had led to the arrest of Rolando Bayhon, a researcher of National Historical Institute. He was caught with 42 historical documents in his possession. He was planning to sell these documents at P1,000 each to a Manila antique store but justice caught up with him. Seven hundred other documents were also recovered from that antique store.

Following Bayhon’s arrest, National Library director Adoracion Bolos made a public appeal for the voluntary return of other historical documents by anyone who might have unwittingly bought them, vowing not to press charges, so says ABS-CBN Online. This resulted to the retrieval of 8,183 documents, mostly classified papers relating to the Philippine Revolution. A UP professor returned more than 6,000. NBI probe also showed there was a network of “mediators” and interested buyers of antique documents, and as always, Bayhon’s hand was the one caught dipping in the cookie jar. Some documents he had sold in the range of P30,000 to P50,000. The man really made much money out of the pains and anguish of the Philippine Revolution!

Inventory shows that there are still hundreds of Rizaliana papers missing. When the heat was on beginning with the 1993 arrest of Bayhon and amidst the deeper investigation into the status of documents still unaccounted for, in May 1994 Moral turned over to the NBI hundreds of documents declared missing, claiming plain oversight. The investigators did not buy it; in a resolution dated May 29, 1995, the assistant chief prosecutor rejected Moral’s defense. Moral’s act still qualifies as theft, since there was “intent to gain [as] inferred from the deliberate failure to deliver the lost property,” so says ABS-CBN Online. The resolution found there was probable cause to indict Moral. She was dismissed from her job in 1995. A case was filed against her.

On the 29th of this month, that is, 13 years after she was indicted of the crime, Maria Luisa Moral, former chief of the National Library’s Filipiniana and Asia Division (FAD), will have to face the consequences of her act. Earlier, Manila judge David Nitafan has convicted Rolando Bayhon, her accomplice. Sentenced in absentia, Bayhon, remains at-large.

In this country as well as in all the world, not every case of theft or loss that happens gets the attention of the public. The loss of Rizal’s romantic missive to Josephine Bracken may be big news. The loss of a costly laptop or a high-priced cellular phone may be reported but it is the thief and the victim of theft that gets to the headlines.

I once lost my low-end low-priced low-performance cellular phone; I called my SIM, the thief did not want to return my phone. For reason that you will soon realize, I did not report it to the police: I was well into a lecture and I would be talking about forgiveness. So I had that cell phone replaced—with a much better one. That gets the sting out of loss.

This also must be how the youthful Rizal felt when he threw away his sandal, since he had already lost the other pair. It could help the finders who, by nature of their being finders with motives, are also keepers of the loot.

Some looting looks like legal. I once paid a lady teller P300 for the cellphone e-load that I never received. It was a sin I overlooked. See my post titled A Cause Worth Dying For?

IMG_1403Five years ago, I preached to Mandaue church a sermon revolving around the concepts of loving your enemies, forgiving your enemies, making no list of wrongs, forgiving more than seventy times seventy times seventy, etc. That is a big order. And while I was preaching up there, someone was stealing my Yamaha Crypton’s CDI assembly down there.

Well, it was a sermon that moved them and moved me. When I got down to start my Yamaha, it wouldn’t move.

So for a month I made do without my Yamaha. The CDI cost P7,000; much money in those days and even now.

You understand now why this forgiveness thing is a very costly doctrine to teach?

I learn to forgive the thieves. Click and read my post Enemies. I already lost many things to thieves, and so nowadays my purpose and my aim before I retire for the night and get me down to sleep is to make it almost impossible for the thieves to steal from me. Lock my doors and windows, and never mind if we suffocate. Since I can’t afford high tech alarms, I make do with low cost ones: Bottles, cans, glass plates, spoons and forks stacked on a chair that guards the door. The purpose is to create a noisy avalanche that could disturb me from sleep and so catch the thief. Right? Right. And the things that could easily be picked up by a thief get exiled from sight and kept in some secret corner. Things that thieves can’t uproot or steal are not my worries; for example, my house. Nobody will steal a house.

I once lost my Moffat New Testament in Divisoria. That was back then when I was younger and more naïve when talking to strangers. The thief must have thought it was a purse. Because it looked like a purse! If he knew it was a Bible, would he still get it? I once left my Cebuano Bible on one of the benches fronting Babag Uno village playground, and it was returned to me. A little girl found it. “Brother Ed, I saw your drawing book.” She saw maps at the back cover, colored with crayons. I thanked her.

That sets me to wonder why people won’t steal a Bible. Well, here are the answers:

The devil would steal the word from a man’s heart (he always does that) but I think he won’t move people to steal Bibles. If a thief steals a Bible and reads it and gets converted as a result, “gets religion,” as they in the denominations are wont to say, chances are, he will return that book to you—a useless exercise in thievery that benefits his soul, so to speak. So the devil won’t do it.

The Bible is still the undefeated when it comes to changing people’s lives, and the devil knows that. It had converted Jeffry Dahmer, the serial killer. Read this blog about Dahmer, from the pen of one who is an enemy of truth (surely). And I have met countless others who with joy told me that they met Christ in the prison cells. The devil must be shaking his head. So the devil will steal the Word, but won’t encourage men to steal it. That is a dilemma of sorts for one who reigns as king among the damned.

But the Bible can still be lost without someone stealing it.

The book of God had been lost in the temple of God in olden times. That true? Yes, it had happened. And the Bible still could be lost in the temple of God in these modern times– today— if we neglect to proclaim it, or if the people neglect to heed its precepts.

The favorite hangout of the lost Bible is under stacks of books that have caught much of your time and attention. In a way you too could lose your Bible in your pocket if something becomes your priority as you go through life.

I once had a conversation with a man who with great pride showed me his heritage Bible, the costliest one I have ever known. Its shiny cover and smooth edges make me think it is one Book that suffers through non-use and disuse. The only verse the man knows is John 8:35 – “Jesus wept.” He cannot even grapple with the meaning of Jesus’ weeping.

And the Bible can be lost if a man does not allow it to live in his heart. Too many words, too many sentences wasted by a preacher who proclaims it to those who don’t listen. It is a great loss, because they have lost the message. The message of the Book is about Someone from heaven who because of His great love came down and died for those who did not love Him, for those who could not love Him, for those who were yet to love Him. It is a great message that should not fall on deaf ears.

But the message of that great salvation– the major thing, I would say—could also be lost if we allow the minor ones – hobbyism, nitpicking, etc. — to take its place.

So, if you find someone who will dare you, who is eager to argue with you saying that God the Father cannot be addressed as “Lord,” tell him to go fly his kite somewhere, because you are in the business more serious than just splitting hairs.

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