Christmas Star Lanterns

by Juan L. Mercado

“Yes, they should have been up by now. But  there are no Christmas parols here yet”,”our friend from Loboc in Bohol emailed.  The  7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit October 15 reduced their four century old church to  rubble.

“Perhaps, this Christmas, we should  look for those star  lanterns elsewhere,” he  suggested.   Where? “In  thousands – from students to executives —  who responded to needs of  those traumatized by typhoon “Yolanda.”

“Never before have I seen our nation come together in such a determined way to face a common task”, Inquirer’s Randy David wrote.  “Instead of being paralyzed by the enormity of this calamity, we  summoned all our remaining strength—each one of us in his/her own way—to assist our countrymen”.

The  gale  passed by Iloilo briefly and my parents are fine, emailed Angioline Loredo,  a UP mass communication graduate now in the US.  However, some towns in northern Iloilo were slammed. My nieces and nephews are gathering relief assistance for their kasimanwas.

We’re  trying, meanwhile, not to add screaming  in the social media. Help  the victims.  “But everyone should just shut up”, she added.  Let the government, NGOs, foreign relief assistance, etc. do the best they could.

“If we have to listen to voices amidst the din, let them be voices of calm, and perspective. There is enough blame to spread around – but later.  Really, what good does ranting accomplish at this time?  

The blame game however, is intensifying, Sun Star’s Bong Wenceslao wrote. Critics of President Noynoy Aquino scour reports on government’s response to the crisis, especially in Yolanda and storm surge-hit Tacloban City. “They feast  on every sign of the incompetence that they have long accused him of possessing”.

“All rules of decency are being jettisoned. And profanities are thrown at will (“asshole,” “gago”). Admittedly, government response especially in Tacloban has been inadequate. So there are materials for critics to  lambast  their pet peeve. But to be PNoy-centric is to distort reality. It smudges  the complexity of the events.”

Crisis management experts note  disasters  hit at the local level. The stress is on the word “local”, Wenceslao adds. That’s the key to an effective disaster response: local governments and voluntary agencies, together with the residents are the first to cope with the damage.

“But we do not live in an ideal world, so some factors hamper its effective use”. Among these factors are politicking and incompetence.”

Cut it out, incoming president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines Archbishop Socrates Villegas snapped.   “Finger-pointing, and blame-passing will just increase the damage and add to the confusion. This the last thing  we need” .

Hunger and sickness cannot wait. Do not wait for government “Let us not allow the crisis to overwhelm us. Help one at a time. Villegas suggested church groups adopt one parish each. The  Diocese of Borongan, Samar, has 32 parishes, and the Archdiocese of Palo, Leyte, 64. “We can directly help them with relief now and rehabilitation later”.

These should not blind us to heartening efforts by ordinary folk. Mother Teresa nuns  care for elderly poor and ailing children in hospices in Tacloban and Calbayog. The storm  wrecked their place They ensured safety of everyone — and took in scores of the dazed survivors in the street.
Although short of food, the Calbayog sisters shared with those in Tacloban. That hews to what their foundress  Blessed Teresa of Calcutta stressed:   “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed just one.”

The stream of activities at  Konsum  Technologies an IT  firm based in  Cebu City,  has no doubt replicated itself   countless times in the country. These   IT. professionals, most only a few years out of college, didn’t wait for government. They  sourced funds from a foundation. They then proceeded to identify areas to target.                                          

Software developers and artists morphed into purchasers of food items, packers and logistics experts.  In four days, they churned out and delivered to various barangays in northern Cebu and Leyte 1,200 packets from 120 sacks of rice, 1,200 ten liter bottles of water, plus countless boxes of sardines and noodles.

These coders and hackers did all this outside of company time.. Lost  sleep and exhausted muscles were part of the price.”One can pay back the loan of gold”, a Malaysian proverb says. “But one dies forever in debt to those who are kind.” 

The storm flattened huts of  sugarcane workers in mountainside barangays outside Bogo, Cebu. My people were starving, said Father D, a  newly ordained priest just assigned to the remote post early this year.

Anonymous donors trucked up 100 food packs, plus cash to bridge the gap between starving now  and  starting life anew tomorrow. “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give,” Winston Churchill once said.

The  Christmas  star appears only in the  gospel of Matthew.   “We saw His star rise in the East and come to honor Him,” travel-weary men of regal bearing told the paranoid Herod: “(Then) the star… went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the Child was with Mary His mother.”

“Were we led all that way for/Birth or Death?,”  wonder the magi years  later, after they’ve left the Child, the poet TS Eliot wrote in 1927.  Here, they  were. “No longer at ease here, in the old dispensation/ With an alien people clutching their gods.”

A   2013 version of the Christmas star could read: The magi  offered Him gifts — not of gold, frankincense and myrrh – but rice, medicine and staples. That is where those real  star parols are.

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