Jose Ma. Montelibano
It may simply be a game for China. After all, who is the Philippines to fight back? Pushing us away from the sea, water-hosing our fishermen in Scarborough Shoal, blocking our supply ships at Second Thomas Shoal (Ayuningin Reef), China ups the ante in its bullying of the Philippines. And it seems that most Filipinos are not aware how close we are to war.
It is not unusual for war to begin with a single shot. The American Civil War started with a single shot from a mortar. History also says that a Serbian assassin shot an Austrian Archduke Ferdinand and triggered World War I. It is not so much that shots were fired, but that they were fired when there was already tension between countries.
The presidential elections are two years away, yet it is beginning to seem like we already are in an early campaign mode. It must be that the great powers given to the Office of the President and the Executive Branch can actually make the head spin, or the mouth salivate – even from onlookers.
I remember how it was in 2008, two years before the 2010 presidential elections. It was not much different. Already at that time were lots of speculation and chismis. The more interesting and sane deductions came from those whose lives were almost totally dedicated to politics, not as candidates themselves, but as secondary players in campaigns and elections. Depending on the level of politics they were used to being part of, so would be the strength of their prognosis.
All this talk about Charter Change, especially to amend economic provisions of the Constitution, fills me with dread. Strangely enough, though I had actively joined all sorts of protests to change the political provisions of the Constitution, it is the change of economic provisions that I am more afraid of. Or, to be more accurate, of one provision in particular.
Land. Mother. Motherland. Please, let us never sell the Motherland, let us never sell our land. There is no Motherland without the land. There is no Philippines without the land. There is no Filipino if there is no land on earth that is meant for Filipinos.
Land defines us. Maybe, it is because we are human beings, not fish living in the seas, not birds flying in the sky. We are human beings, people of the land.
I have Chinese blood. More than 200 years ago, a Chinaman married a native from Iloilo City. From that union, a whole clan was born – that that clan keeps growing and growing. I am not against the Chinese. How can I be when we have shared blood?
But I cannot say the same thing of the Chinese government. I have no blood ties with China the government, only with one Chinese native who came here to become Filipino by choice and be an ancestor to new Filipinos by blood. My clan, though, from that first union, has become predominantly Filipino by intermarriage with more Filipino natives than Chinese over the last two centuries.
My claim to fame in writing is grounded on the fact that I remember a lot of things, this despite increasing senior moments. One of my favorite topics, corruption, has long threads throughout post WWII Philippine history. These threads provide context, something that unfortunately many columnists would rather not refer to as context makes hot issues old issues. Context puts substance, too, and substance often makes sensationalism look trashy.
I remember Ramon Magsaysay. He was our hero, he arrested some untouchables, including our governor then, for the murder of Moises Padilla, a journalist. I had only started going to Grade School but remember my family campaigned for him in 1953 against a president accused of corruption. !953 was 61 years ago.
I remember the Garcia presidency, the Filipino First policy, and lost his reelection bid, presumably with the Americas helping his opponent, Diosdado Macapagal. I remember the reelection bid of Macapagal, his administration accused of corruption, and the victory of Ferdinand Marcos.
Without much attention from those not directly affected, tropical depression Agaton kills over 40 in Mindanao. And because the storm that has been bringing heavy rains hardly moves and has not yet exited, it can cause more deaths. I wrote last week that 2014 will not be a walk in the park, and Agaton is a precursor of things to come.
Climate change kills. A country with so many coastal areas will bear the brunt of rising water levels. Areas by the seashores will be inundated even without typhoons. These calamities will force Philippine society to confront a touchy issue. It is less about climate change killing people but that it unavoidably kills the poor first. Whether climate change will express itself through typhoons, floods, or landslides, the poor are most vulnerable and the first victims.
I start the year with a greater resolve to build in tune with people of like-spirit who see 2014 as the year of reconstruction. There will be serious distractions, I am sure, as Filipinos have finally found the impetus for change long evaded. My distractions will be somebody else’s advocacy, and change demands both dismantling and rebuilding. I will fasten my seat belts, tightly.
To those who care to listen, strengthen your resolve, too. 2014 will not be a walk in the park. The political upheaval that began in social media will be fed by more of the same. Corruption of decades that had never been effectively uprooted will expose more of its ugly transactions in every branch of government, in almost all departments. Many forget that there are two former Filipino presidents among the list of world’s most corrupt, and one more may soon be added as the most greedy. Their thievery was possible because they infected the whole system, making corruption the standard of government rather than its curse.
I was finally able to make it to Tacloban after almost two months of wanting to. Someone asked me what the difference was between Tacloban and other towns in Western Visayas that I had visited last November. After all, the sight of broken coconut trees were common, as were destroyed homes that littered the sides of highways, or electric poles that were either down or a grotesque version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Obviously, the key difference is death, the number of those killed, the grief of those they left behind, and the collective trauma of residents who went through hell and not yet back. Death has a look that is not easily forgotten. Death has a smell, too, that offends when left unattended beyond a day or two. Death leaves a memory that is almost impossible to bury. And Tacloban experienced death at abnormal levels.
Tacloban is not just one city, it is also a de facto metropolis of Leyte. Lesser known municipalities, Palo and Tanuaun, contributed substantially to the death toll that people outside think is only Tacloban’s. There might be a few other towns, but I am certain of Tacloban, Palo and Tanuaun, all of which I visited earlier this week. The look, the smell, and the memory from the stories told me by survivors of the death experience struck me even after two months after Typhoon Yolanda.
It has been tumultuous year, 2013 was, full of so much drama. And Yolanda was a tragic year ender with its impact setting the pace for the new year. It seems to me that 2014 cannot but reflect a continuing catharsis. Too many firsts had begun in 2013, too radical have been the beginning of great changes, that to simply fade away would mean that the changes, too, would then be ningas cogon. I do not believe so.
The investment for change has been massive, maybe more emotional than physical so far, but that can shift pretty fast. The nature of change that has begun a journey of no return is that it can be exponential with little warning. Look at the PDAF issue. It may seem on the surface that the Napoles controversy caused the societal uproar about corruption at the highest level. But after Marcos, Estrada, Corona and Gloria, the PDAF is but the tip of the dirty cesspool.
We are celebrating the Christmas Season still, Christmas Day has come and gone, but not the spirit, not at all the spirit. Most Filipinos are Christian, and even the Muslim minority, and the Communist Left, have traditionally accepted this season as very special to Christians.
Pope Francis, too, gives Christmas and the Catholic faith a renewed spark. His personal actuation that has consistently translated to Papal action and exhortation may be shocking to some Talibans in the Church hierarchy but is causing many more Catholics more than just a sigh of relief. I personally believe that it is the authentic love for humanity, and especially for the poor, that serves as an armor for Pope Francis, that keeps him largely irreproachable by rightists and fundamentalists in the Church.
And as Pope, Francis does not pretend that he can understand and speak for the limitless of God’s love for the mankind He created. By putting no boundaries, or partisanship, in God’s love, Pope Francis veers away from judging, and being judgmental. Accepting his own sinful state (in other words, his humanity), Pope Francis places on a pedestal the importance of forgiveness, God’s forgiveness of man, and man’s forgiveness towards one another.