Let The New Year Bear Witness

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

The end of a year and the advent of a new one always trigger a reflective process in me. It starts with a review of the last twelve months and often does not stop there. It is at a moment like now when I am strongly drawn to points of history I find so relevant to my present priorities.

The plight of the Filipino in his journey from a period of colonization to the current times is deeply colored with exploitation and the classic consequence of a few rich and the many rich. Poverty and corruption are lingering evidence of an old mindset that refuses to let go. Violent revolutions have come and gone, some of them giving birth to progress while others have plunged their people into more horror and terror.

I have read bits and pieces of recorded human history, primarily that of Europe, and note the journey from totalitarianism in governance and religion to a grand, ongoing struggle for individual freedom and human rights. In religion, the progress is less visible from historical superstition and blind obedience to the more active participation of free will and religious freedom. The fundamentalism that is rocking the world and causing travel security to become paranoid is born from the narrowest of definition of what is holy and seeks to eliminate the unholy in their view.

The world will move according to the sum total of human intention, passion and behavior. Once in a while, nature rocks mankind in ways unimaginable and changes the course of history. In the whole scheme of things, I accept how puny one person can be. Yet, history offers great accounts of individual performances with awesome influence on societies. I temper my expectations, but I do not rein in my idealism. I just learn to discern what is possible and when it is do-able.

As a human being, there are many things I would like to see happen. The world can, indeed, do with many changes that will make life easier for most. But as one individual, I must do what one individual can do yet influence change beyond just my life. And as a Filipino assigned by birth to my motherland, I must do what one Filipino can do with impact on more than just my life.

A New Year calls for resolutions, the higher the better, the more challenging, the greater the good they promise, the greater the fulfillment they can generate in my heart. I have chosen my priorities. My life in the last three decades have set and intensified patterns that point to what are truly important to me. My family is aware of these, and my wife and children have been accepting, and supportive.

I choose my motherland, her sons and daughters of which I am one, and especially those who have been blessed the least – the landless, homeless and the hungry, those we call the poor. I choose the motherland because I am among those blessed the most, not landless, not homeless, not hungry and have never been. It is not just a matter of giving back; it is a matter of having to give back for my life and to give forward for the young lives of those I love.

It is history that pointed out to me the great injustice inflicted on a whole people. It is history that documented the story of wholesale land-grabbing, when every Filipino was not only robbed of land but of capacity – the capacity to plan, organize, implement, harvest, preserve, trade and prosper as producer, manufacturer, and entrepreneur. The greater raw power of the conqueror subdued and enslaved a peaceful, prayerful and gifted people. In human history, might has been right more often than right is might.

Filipinos had been not singled out by life. Practically all societies had found defeat and enslavement by others before they themselves defeated and enslaved others. Many among those colonized have had their process wherein they rose above their losses to become the masters of those who once were their conquerors. Yet, the experience of others does little to ease the pain of our present poverty. What can is security of tenure from land ownership or control, what can is a decent home safe from the elements, what can is food and the capacity to grow it.

One person cannot change the social status of millions, unless that individual has it in his hands to cause such a magnificent development. That is what presidents of countries usually have under their control – the power to truly change the course of history. This is so because the power of one is derived from the power of many – or the power of the military willing to follow the orders of their only commander-in-chief. I am not president and will never be, but I must strive for the results that even presidents would be proud to tuck in their resumes.

Let the New Year bear witness to a wish that must be a conviction as well, that one man, one Filipino, will strive to keep the fate of his race and the plight of the poor as the primary audience of his attention and efforts. Let one man bring others to the same cause, let our work be our offering to the god we worship, our contribution to the motherland we love, and our gift to the people we serve.

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