I was born at a time and place in which the Internet, television, cell phones and shopping malls were unheard of. Every family had to provide for its own needs. Children had to improvise their own toys from whatever materials were available - tin cans, banana leaves, wood branches and the like. Life then was easy and simple, and the weather was good.
Those were years of abundance and pleasant memories. Food was garden-fresh, and candies were fresh sugarcane peeled by teeth and strong young jaws. Fruits of all kinds were abundant all year round; and red tomatoes were picked from the garden, dipped in salt; and eaten with macho gusto.
My parents being devout Catholics, sent me to a Catholic school in Malaybalay, 30 kilometers away. I was second to the smallest in class. I was assigned to play the snare drum in the Preparatory Military Training Band. The administrator of the school was a formidable nun named Sister Redempta, a disciplinarian.
I hated being a drummer, so I escaped every time we had rehearsals and parades. Later on, I discovered a small hole under the bushes along the school fence. It was big enough for me to crawl under, escape and go home unnoticed. I was getting familiar with this "Ho Chi Minh Trail" of mine and I became reckless. One afternoon as I was about to escape for freedom, I saw Sister Redempta towering over me. With her strong right arm, she tossed me back to the campus. Thus I learned to respect authority - and strong nuns.
Upon the prodding of my parents who happened to be landed, I went to College and took up agriculture at the University of the Philippines in Los Banos. It was a time of idealism, socialism and student activism. I was deeply enthralled by the teachings of Mao Tse Tung's Red Book. But I did not embrace the violent method it espoused for the transformation of society - through a bloody revolution. Although I dreamed of seeing our poor farmers gain freedom and control of their own lives, I did not approve of violence and bloodshed.
All through the farming years of my youth, I had seen peasant farmers being exploited and helplessly forced to remain poor, while landlords and comerciantes grew richer and more powerful - at the expense of the peasant farmers. I just wanted the farmers to enjoy the highest possible price for their produce and get their fair share of the farm income. Yet, even this was easier said than done. So I gravitated to the cooperative principle of economy, especially at the farm level.
I worked with teams of the Xavier University Extension Service in organizing cooperatives in my province, Bukidnon. The Extension Program was under the directorship of Fr. William Masterson, SJ. The prime movers working under him were Anselmo Mercado, Ed Canlas and Ed Chaves, among others. It was in 1974, during my years as an Extension Worker of Xavier University, that I had the chance to go to Israel and study the moschov cooperative settlements. My passion to establish cooperative settlements in the Philippines burned more intensely in my heart.
Upon my return from Israel, I helped a farmer group establish a cooperative farm in the eastern part of my hometown, Valencia. In Barrio Buco, there were 35 farmers who bonded together and secured grants to buy a 12-hectare farm, which they tilled to produce corn and rice. They developed a portion of the cooperative farm into a piggery. Today 33 years later, the pigs are long gone, but the farm is now a flourishing rice land. The farmer-members have eventually been able to buy their own rice mill, thresher, power tiller and other farm equipment.
In 1973, there was a severe drought in the province. The drought lasted for seven months, scorching the current harvest and preventing the planting of the next crop. It was at this time that the Xavier University Extension Service allied with the Social Action Center of the Prelate of Malaybalay.
The head of this Social Action Center was Fr. Arsenio C. Jesena, SJ - a young and energetic priest about 5'9" but with an idealism taller than Goliath. We became natural friends and together poured out our passion and dedication to the upliftment of the poor peasant farmers in Bukidnon.
Three beautiful girls - Raya, Charisse and Reyna were added to my family. Joy and I tried our best to raise them well. During all this time, I was doing all my good work out of love for my people, using all my own strength and all the human resources I could harness. I was getting popular among the masses, and in 1980 I was elected as the youngest member of the Provincial Board of the Province of Bukidnon.
Although I professed to be a Christian, I didn't really know God. Christianity to me was nothing more than the usual Christmas, Holy Week, All Saints' Day, Communion every now and then, and making the Sign of the Cross during lightning storms.
But God by His own absolute and perfect Will, wants to be known to everyone - including unworthy me. He engineered events in my life just so I could meet Him.
It happened this way. My youngest daughter had a freak accident in front of our house - Reyna was run over by a tricycle-for-hire. She was screaming, with the tricycle on top of her and the driver trying to ply her out from beneath the vehicle. My immediate response was to look for my shotgun and execute judgment on the tricycle driver for hurting Reyna, my favorite five-year-old daughter.
But the driver escaped. Reyna, though bloody in the head, turned out to have sustained only a very small wound on the left side of her head. A couple of stitches by the doctor were all that were needed to clean up the mess. No harm done, after all... or so I thought. Five years later she turned epileptic.
A CAT scan revealed that Reyna had a tumor underneath the very areas where she had been wounded in the tricycle accident five years before. The neurosurgeon ordered an immediate operation, but I did not have the funds for it. So the doctors agreed to postpone the operation for a month or two until I was P100,000 richer.
Before this operation could happen, I met a Charismatic Priest named Fr. Joseph de Grandis. He was visiting the Philippines, conducting mass healing sessions among Catholic believers. By a twist of fate, I was able to meet him. I asked him to pray over my daughter, Reyna. He gracefully obliged, and we had a prayer session in a private home in Cebu one evening. Instead of him praying for Reyna, he asked me to pray over my youngest daughter.
I knew nothing about praying, but he said that praying was simply talking with God. "Just say what's in your heart," he said. So, I summoned all my courage and strength, but I couldn't say a better prayer than telling God that I was a sinner and the one who deserved to have the tumor - not my daughter. I even told God to transfer her tumor to my head, multiply it six times if He liked, if only to spare Reyna's life.
At this point, the good Priest interrupted my prayer and cried, "Oh God! Don't listen to this ignorant man!" He then corrected me by saying, "Ask forgiveness, but don't ask for the tumor transfer. It is not God's way."
After that brief prayer session, he told me that I must ready my Bible. I never had a Bible; and even if I had, I didn't have the affinity to read it. At that time, only the Protestants were reading and openly studying their Bibles. He told me to go and get hold of a Bible and a notebook. He instructed me to listen and take note of the verses. He ordered me to verify everything in my Bible; and whatever was found in the Bible, I should believe. Whatever wasn't in the Bible, I must reject.
Also, he asked me to pray every day for the healing of my little Reyna; in six month's time, he said, she would be healed. After hearing that, I said, "I make this vow today that I will pray every day not just for six months, but for the rest of my life, just so God may have mercy on me and heal my daughter."
Six months of prayer passed. I went back to the same doctor and subjected my daughter to another CAT scan. Lo and behold, Reyna's brain was clear! Praise be to God!
No trace of the tumor was found. The doctor asked for another scan to make sure of the accuracy of the findings. I said, "Sure but I'm not paying for it." He said he would take the tab. He proceeded with the scan with the same outcome: no more tumor! God's words were proved to be true, "God is the same yesterday, today and forever."
This encounter with God was so profound that my reaction was a continuous thanksgiving to Him. I started to really devour His Words day and night, until I finished the entire Bible. And then I kept on reading again and again, until I had the habit of underlining the verses that struck me in the course of my reading. Soon enough the prints blurred out with all my notations and underscoring.
The words in the Bible were so sweet and amazing that I even asked myself why there were not taught in school? They were even more profound than the various teachings of the great philosophers I studied in my Humanities classes in the University of the Philippines.
It was in those moments of glimpses into eternity that I understood that, truly, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. Together with Joy - my wife of 38 years - I started sharing all that I had learned, Then I shared with my entire family and household, which I started calling "The Little Church."
Then more miracles happened. My two sons were healed of drug addiction just by our praying and fasting. I did not know that for five years prior to my encounter with God, my two sons had all along been deep into drugs. They were stoned every day of those entire five years. And now by the grace of God, my two sons were healed! They were completely healed of their drug addiction.
And then my wife, Joy, got healed of what the doctors diagnosed as cancer of the breast and cancer of the uterus. And then we started seeing more of the miraculous happen, as God had intervened in the affairs of our lives - whenever we asked Him to do so. Then the truth of Jesus' words dawned on me: He had taught us to literally command the Kingdom of God to come to earth, so that the power and the authority of His Kingdom may be seen on earth.
Up to the time of this writing, the majesty of the presence of God among all men and women amazes me no end. As I look back in retrospect, I am convinced that nothing I had done was enough to buy all these wonderful graces from heaven, I am not worthy. But all these graces are confirmation of His Word - we are all sinners who have fallen short of the Glory of God.
As such, no man can stand reconciled with God through his own good works and deeds. Only by believing and trusting in the finished work at Calvary can we be reconciled with the God of the Universe and call Him OUR FATHER. As this happens, all our good works become a sweet-smelling incense of offering, worthy and pleasing before Him.
How God reveals His majesty is beyond me. He saved me from being a murderer at the time my daughter Reyna figured in the tricycle accident. He blessed me by withdrawing finances from me when the doctors wanted to operate on my daughter's head. Otherwise, I would have defaulted from the chance of encountering God.
Truly, to all who love God and their fellowmen, everything works together for good. I conclude with this prayer for everyone who reads this testimony; "May God show you His wonderful ways of embracing you, that you may also turn and embrace Him, and your brethren."
EMMANUEL (MANNY) L. ALKUINO, SR.
October 29, 2007
Valencia, Bukidnon, Philippines