Jose Ma. Montelibano
It is Christmas time no doubt. The traffic is Metro Manila reflects the almost manic style of shopping that Filipinos can indulge in at this time of the year. Frankly, I would be very much into it if only other matters have been competing for, and winning, my attention. Shopping during Christmas, or for Christmas, is not really about what I buy, it is what I experience. Nor far but inside the maddening crowd, I get to sense what kind of Christmas it is. There are years when shopping is slow until the very last week. One knows then that there is not much money available then. Some start really early, signs of prosperity of the times.
It would have just been one of those ridiculous incidents that deserved no more than a momentary smirk if it did not have serious implication to an issue of great importance. I refer to a statement of a Catholic bishop who tried to put a connection between Typhoon Pablo and the effort to pass the RH Bill in Congress. He wondered out loud if the storm was not a sign of the wrath of God.
While this audible mumbling may have upset the more intelligent and sensitive among Filipinos, it is also a good reminder for us that the Catholic Church continues to be populated with religious elders who are an embarrassment to her Founder and teachings. The self-righteousness and bigotry that have been a scourge of Catholicism throughout the centuries, manifesting its worst in the Inquisition and wars waged in the name of God, remain in their more subtle form in some bishops. That these same bishops fumble and blurt out their perverted attitudes every so often allows the many good ones among them to work all the more to defend the true spirit of Christianity from extended blemish.
Typhoon Pablo came like a raging bull and is now exiting the Philippine Area of Responsibility via Palawan. It spared the Visayas, especially Negros and Panay islands, after it pounded a few Mindanao provinces. A great effort to prepare for the worst in areas considered endangered actually rewarded those who cooperated. Hardly any deaths were reported in these areas where their residents went to evacuation centers. But Typhoon Pablo caused more than two hundred deaths with a few hundred more missing despite all the preparations. Landslides were the main culprit, and these landslides were never anticipated where they happened because they had no history of landslides.
Always, the journey to home is an eagerly anticipated one. This one is no exception. Home is where the heart is, they say. True, but to me, home is first family and motherland, and I am finally on my way.
The long plane ride from New York to Tokyo, the usual and only stopover of Delta en route to Manila, gives me quiet time to reflect on the highlights experienced and insights gathered. Arriving in time for the US elections gave me a feel of the dynamics on the ground – both operational and emotional. I was fortunate to have been given access to witness and monitor the effort of a small group of Filipino-Americans to get more of their community to register, vote, support underdog, outspent candidates in their areas – and then bring them to victory. I witnessed the last day hustle, the intense suspense of monitoring the results of the presidential contest, and the counting of votes for the cities and counties.
I am preparing to fly to Washington DC where the Filipino Ambassador to the United States is graciously hosting an event for Ramon Magsaysay Awardee and Gawad Kalinga Founder, Antonio Meloto. Tony or TM as he is fondly called by so many, has won so many international awards, especially in the field of social enterprise, that we who work with him can hardly remember them all. It is a great affirmation to have the Philippine Ambassador honor the man who in Reader’s Digest commissioned research for Asia in 2009 – 2010 was declared by Filipinos as their most trusted male (after three most trusted females took the top spots), followed by then presidential candidate Noynoy Aquino. The global empowerment of Filipinos is part and parcel of nation building that prioritizes a ground-up approach as what Gawad Kalinga espouses.
I arrived in San Diego a few days ago and was able to have my first live experience with elections in America. Partisan politics in the United States was never of great interest until Obama ran and won in 2008. I felt then, as I still do now, that Barack Obama is a specially destined person signaling a new phase in US and global politics. It was not so much about his qualifications and skills, it was more about what he represented and the new directions that he could take America – and the world it influences.
It is that special time of the year again when Filipino families show their attachment to relatives and friends who have passed away. Truly, the dichotomy between life and death is somewhat blurred in the culture of the Filipino. We are forced by physical reality to accept that loved ones are gone. Death creates the separation of touch but does not immediately create the separation of emotion. It will take a much longer time to make us fully accept that. The almost twin feasts of All Saints and All Souls are mechanisms that further prevent our ever forgetting totally. And while we celebrate the memory of our dead, we are actually preparing ourselves and the next generation for our own inevitable experience.
From the mouth of babes, or from a hero’s son, is revealed another facet of a great man from a personal conversation with his son. It was martial law, and their family was undergoing severe trials. Democracy was imprisoned by the dictator, and the son asked his father why there were not greater numbers of Filipinos fighting with them to regain freedom. The father answered, ” The very first freedom that has to be won is freedom from hunger. When you are always concerned about where the next meal will come from, everything else becomes irrelevant.”
This exchange of words, worthy as they are, take on an even keener meaning because these were between Ninoy and Noynoy Aquino. Ninoy is a national hero, and Noynoy is P-Noy, President of the Republic of the Philippines. Because of who the father and the son are, the hungry among Filipinos, despite numbering in the tens of millions, may have found champions who can rescue them.
It was quite an unexpected experience. I never thought that going to Perth, Australia, would be so meaningful to me for reasons other than what I expected. I had been invited by the outgoing president of FILCCA, an umbrella group of several Fil-Australian associations in the seven states of Australia. Perth belonged to one of them, the state of Western Australia.
FILCCA has been around for 24 years and was hosting its 12th Conference that is held once every two years. This year, Perth hosted the Conference and I was invited to attend it and make a presentation to the youth about volunteerism. An Undersecretary from the Presidential Communications & Operations Office was originally invited to keynote the affair but schedule and budget limitations made him unavailable. Without him, I had two roles – presentor and keynote speaker.
Yes, it has truly been an exciting week that has been tackling key issues that can change the course of our history. Three major concerns have been happening simultaneously that can set the tone of our immediate future and change the flavor of national life way beyond that.
First is Scarborough Shoal, also known as the Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc. This is just a reef, but it has rich fishing grounds around it, and has long been used for shelter during inclement weather by Filipino fishermen. It would not matter so much except that the reef is so near Philippine shores but being claimed by China who is so much farther. Scarborough has been a bone of contention for six months and threatens to be a spark for more than just diplomatic confrontation. China has cordoned it off and has stationed three ships to make sure that Filipino fishermen cannot enter and fish there. In the words of one former Foreign Affairs official, China has de facto control over Scarborough Shoal.