After The Sun Goes Out

by Juan L. Mercado


Year  2012  is now almost  out the door.  Was  it  an undiluted  “Annus Horribilis” or “Year of Horror” ?

Queen Elizabeth II dusted off  that  phrase in a 1992 address. Fire gutted parts of  Windsor Palac .  And family scandals were capped by  the Prince of Wales separating from Princess Diana. 

Typhoon “Pablo” inflicted “Annus Horribilis” on Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley. Until  then, Mindanaoans coasted on storm-free status. “There is no ‘normal’  to return to,” UN Secretary General  Ban Ki Moon cautioned.  Climate change  shattered old  complacencies.

By  Christmas Eve, “Pablo’s” death toll crested at 1,067. And 834 are  still missing. More than 959,000 returned to wrecked homes, leaving 13,940 people huddled in evacuation centers, with short rations and  little power.  A  “Christmas gift” of  500 coffins came from  a Metro Manila donor.

The storm killed 150 in Cateel town, Davao Oriental. Survivors, however, held the traditional nine Misa de Gallo masses in the only standing building: their chapel. “We’re celebrating Christmas,” said Alejandro Tabino, shortly before he led choir in singing  carols. “We are  grateful  to be  alive.”

Christmas dawned on ordinary citizens and  private groups caring for traumatized victims. Identification of bodies and burial proceeded. In devastated areas, the Nativity feast  was  stripped of tinsel, colored lights, let alone queso-de-bola.  Sheer need anchored the season to the values  that  “endure even after the sun goes out.”

Are we seeing an “Annus Mirabilis”, to borrow  poet John Dryden’s  title?   Will  this be  a  “Year of  Marvels” for the human spirit?

Not  if you ask  the  23rd  Supreme Court chief justice.  On May 29, the Senate found Renato Corona guilty of fudging dollar funds in his statement of assets and liabilities. Two days after  the 2010 elections, Corona accepted a “midnight appointment”.  Corona ’s capacity to lead the Court died then. It was inevitable that “Annus Horribili” would follow.

Unlike Corona , President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s hairdresser refused a midnight appointment.  GMA herself  left Malacanang a month later —-  and slammed into “Annus Horribilis”, in tandem.

Government blocked GMA from leaving for Singapore , scrubbing  an OK by the Corona Supreme Court. Police served an arrest warrant on Arroyo  at St. Luke’s Medical Center.  This  October, the court  entered  a not guilty  plea, on  her behalf,  after GMA stayed mum on charges of  plundering  P366 million in sweepstakes funds.  Sandiganbayan refused  a Christmas furlough.

For Imelda and  Ferdinand  Marcos Jr., “Annus Horribilis”  2012 came packaged in a US federal court  $353.6 million contempt fine. They tried to secretly ship out of the US , paintings and other artworks, from court-contested holdings.

In September,  Imelda  wailed over government  plans to  auction off  confiscated jewelry, notably  the “‘Roumeliotes Collection’.  Customs nailed Greek national Demetriou Roumeliotes when smuggling out 60 gems, two weeks after the Marcoses fled People Power.  A 37 carat diamond, crafted by Bulgari, is centerpiece.  “These are all mine,” she stressed  in a court petition.

But  2012 did see beginnings of “Annus Mirabilis”.

On October 15, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front  and government signed  the “Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro”. This is a  first step in  beating  swords into ploughshares for a  decades-long rebellion. By November, both sides were treshing out nitty-gritty of  three annexes on  power and wealth sharing, plus “normalization.” In December, MILF named four of it’s nominees to Transition Commission.   “We must learn to live together as brothers,”  Marfin Luther King wrote. “Or we are all going to perish together as fools” .

Five days before Christmas, President Benigno Aquino III signed the “Sin Tax bill into law , shephered by Senator Frank Drilon —-  in the teeth of a tobacco lobby that bent legislators to it’s will.  Stiffer taxes on tobacco and alcohol products could bring in P34 billion in additional revenue.

The windfall will bankroll a universal health care program and tobacco farmers’ livelihood, Aquino said.   “Many believed it was impossible to pass the sin tax bill. Those who opposed it  were strong, noisy and organized. And they have deep pockets.”  Senator Ralph Recto resigned, over raps,  that  he batted  to raise  only P15 billion, on lobby bidding.

“Passing the measure is a milestone for Aquino, who succeeded in what his predecessors tried but failed to do”, Rappler noted. “Efforts to restructure the excise tax system never made it out of committee level in Congress in nearly 16 years”.

President Aquino also signed, before Christmas, what is “the  first national law in Asia that makes enforced disappearance a distinct criminal offense”. Mothers of desparecidos cheered.

RA 10350 treats abduction by the state or  agents as a separate crime. It penalizes those who conceal information on the missing. Instead, it ensures  free access to updated registers of detained or confined people.  The  law cannot be suspended even during public emergencies.

This  would “end  impunity of offenders”, says Rep.Edcel  Lagman whose activist  brother Hermon disappeared in 1977. “It envisions a better breed of military, police and civilian officials  who respect and defend human rights and civil liberties. 

These measures point to an “Annus Mirabilis” as  curtains come down on  2012.   As TS  Eliot worte:   “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. /And next year’s words await another voice./ And to make an end is to make a beginning.”


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