Calendars, Torn And New

by Juan L. Mercado

“Tomorrow is only found in the calendar of fools.” Writer Og Mandino’s line comes to mind on New Year’s Eve, as we rip down the 2013 calendar. Where did those 522,600 minutes go? we wonder when tacking up the 2014 edition.

Many moons ago we walked through San Francisco’s financial district in the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. At 5 p.m., a blizzard of torn calendars rained down from offices. Drivers honked their horns and whistles blew. “Don’t be fooled by the calendar,” our grandmother said. “You have only as many days as you make use of.”

Various stories are woven around the advent of a new year. “On New Year’s Eve, the Kitchen God’s lips are rubbed with pork,” an ancient Chinese fable says. “That’d prod the deity to report favorably on one’s household to the Jade Emperor.”

Isn’t that the Filipino version of Bong, Johnny, Jinggoy & Co. splurging their pork barrel allocations like there was no calendar? Nonetheless, the drill to glimpse ahead usually reaches fever pitch on New Year’s Eve. “If you could look into the seeds of time/And say which will grow and which will not,” Shakespeare wrote.

Antonio Leviste, ex-governor of Batangas and ex-jailbird, may yet lose his recent parole after police seized P420 million worth of shabu during a raid on the LPL Ranch in Lipa. Leviste’s family denied that the ranch had been used by alleged members of a Mexican drug cartel.

Leviste will not get a second more than Raul, our neighborhood beggar. “Time is the one thing given to everyone in equal measure,” Seneca wrote.

Instead of crystal balls, many prefer scientific surveys. At year’s end, for example, the Social Weather Survey found “resiliency of expectations about the Christmas season and steadiness” despite the havoc inflicted by Supertyphoon “Yolanda.”

Six out of 10 Filipinos expected their Christmas to be happy, but 9 percent said it’d be sad—almost similar to the previous year. Yolanda dampened Christmas “everywhere north of Mindanao.”

President Aquino emerged practically unscathed by Yolanda criticism. Was that dramatized by Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez, weeping on TV, to pin  blame on the President? SWS found 69 percent satisfied with the President’s track record. There were 21 percent who thumbed him down. The bottom line: net satisfaction rating of +49.

Satisfaction with the President slumped from “good” to “moderate” in the National Capital Region. “This geographical pattern is typical for all presidents. Metro Manilans have always been the hardest to please.”

“There is hardly any change in the satisfaction of Visayans, in particular, with P-Noy’s performance, from pre-Yolanda to post-Yolanda. Neither is there much change in the satisfaction of Mindanaoans with him, despite the suffering from the Zamboanga standoff between the government and the Moro National Liberation Front.”

Discerning the future has never been one of man’s special strengths. Crystal-balling is about making educated guesses of what lies beyond the horizon. From today’s realities, one sifts the trends likely to endure and reshape tomorrow. “In today, tomorrow already walks.”

In the new year, how will the “Francis Effect” spill over into the Philippines where eight out of 10 are Catholics?

Pope Francis upended his Church on issues from fixation on sexual morality to support for the poor in just nine months. Time magazine named him Person of the Year. And across what once seemed an unbridgeable gap, so did The Advocate, the oldest US gay rights magazine.

“Along comes a man with no army or weapons,” Time said. (“How many divisions has the Pope?” the dictator Josef Stalin once scoffed.)

Yet, when he kisses the face of a disfigured man or washes a Muslim woman’s feet, the image resonates beyond his 1.2-billion flock.
Francis is taking pruning shears to the ossified power of the Vatican Curia. And he is filling back the pews: Italy’s Center for the Study of New Religions reported a significant boost in attendance numbers. In a smaller survey of 22 British cathedrals, 65 percent of the respondents said they had noticed a rise in numbers, the Guardian reported.

In the United States, you can “almost hear the ice cracking around a generation of disillusioned Christians who have a hard time finding Jesus frozen under ostentatious ecclesial trappings and hypocritical moralizing.”

Here, Cardinal Luis Tagle and Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, among others, lead by seeking out the poorest. Example is contagious. We shall see by 2016. That’s when Francis flies to Cebu to attend the International Eucharistic Congress.

This is a country of few closures. Among the issues that 2013 leaves unresolved are:  desaparecidos Jonas Burgos, Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño; murders such as those of publicist Bubby Dacer and his driver Emman Corbito, and Fr. Franciskus Madhu, SVD; scores rubbed out by vigilantes in Davao and Cebu; the coconut levy; the still-on-the-lam former general Jovito Palparan; etc.

One reason is witnesses who scram. Two days after Whistle-blower No. 11 testified that she received huge sums from Janet Napoles, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile’s former chief of staff, Jessica “Gigi” Reyes, left the country. She never used her return ticket (if she did, she risks being called to testify).

Shriveling from chronic hunger is not the stuff of headlines. Emergencies uncoil below the radar screen. Maternal death rates here are triple that of China. Under-five children’s death rates are down to 29 today, from 59 two decades ago. That’s still behind Malaysia’s 12. Many will not “comb grey hair,” as William Butler Yeats wrote.

As bells ring in 2014, T.S. Eliot’s words resound: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language/And next year’s words await another voice.”


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