The list is long, that thread of dark issues that plagued us in 2013. From the top of my head, I remember the Sabah controversy, the Zamboanga fiasco, the Napoles scandal, PDAF, DAP, the Bohol earthquake, Yolanda and its relief aftermath. Truly, this list is not only long, it is deadly.
But as I write this article, I do not have mixed feelings, I am upbeat beyond belief. It is not as though I have sidestepped the controversial and belligerent issues. When one is as wired to cyberspace as I am, and frequently on the ground with fellow Filipinos in the city, in the provinces and abroad, it is simply not possible to avoid the darker side of Philippine politics and society.
It is made more intense by the Internet where traditional media tries to expand their reach, especially those whose lack of credibility cannot make their desired readership or audience spend money and time on them. Through social media, many newspapers who are profitable invest heavily on their online editions. Others can only survive, not as a normal business, but as paid outlets for hidden agenda and the negativity of spirit that we are all tempted to indulge every so often. They actually are able to attract additional audience, issue by issue, by simply being haters.
Controversy or conflict is not a strange bedfellow for me. I never avoided them, not in the last 27 years, not since the Edsa Revolution. It became clear to me then that democracy’s sustainable path is people power, and only people power. The dramatic shift from dictatorship to democracy demanded not just good leaders, it demanded good citizenship as well. Only an empowered and responsible citizenry can be a firm foundation for democracy.
Democracy is a journey, not an academic subject, not even participation in politics or elections. It is all that, and more. It is a way of life, and a crucial one for a country with massive poverty, with extreme vulnerability to natural calamities, and societal leaderships that too often resist the idea of losing control or advantage. Democracy is the great shift away from authoritarian governance which the world has known from the very beginning. It will take time to achieve the opposite, of the people actually in control rather than just being governed. It cannot be done by the State or the Church, only by the citizens themselves.
The political skirmishes, and those pitting the State and Church against each other on crucial issues, they are part of the journey. Though they can sometimes be as destructive, or more, than what they are complaining about, they can also get lucky and shake the tree of power. Changing wrong to right, though, is the challenge and territory of those who build, especially those who build from the rubble.
And that is why I am upbeat beyond belief. Whatever darkness and animosity the naysayers can generate, it is always the effort of the positive agents that will get things done.
Take for example the recent typhoon, Yolanda. It was supposed to be the most powerful hurricane in recorded human history. And it slammed into the Philippines where poverty always offers the lives of the poor in the altar of sacrifice. The human destruction was terrible, shocking, and depressing.
But what happened? A counterforce of sympathy, generosity and bravery confronted the depression and devastation. Filipinos all over the world felt the wound, the pain, the grief, and the despair of the millions who were affected. In solidarity, that elusive solidarity, Filipinos reached out to the typhoon victims, raised funds and sent food, wept with them, prayed with them, and until, now keep sending the message, “Don’t give up, we are here, don’t give up!”
As the storm was approaching, Gawad Kalinga leaders in the islands of Leyte and Samar prepared the whole group for the worst, especially the poor residents of GK villages in the path of the typhoon. From days before Yolanda struck, I had monitored the preparations via calls, text messages, email and social media. As the super typhoon was battering Leyte and Southern Leyte, I was in frequent communication with some GK leaders. Until I could reach only our people based in Maasin, Leyte.
The second day after the typhoon, our relief work began, and it began by near desperate efforts to find our people from Leyte and Samar, bringing whatever food and medicine was available from Southern Leyte. For three weeks straight, I maintained 20-hour days online that stretched to way past midnight because that was the active time zone of our work in the United States, Canada, Australia and Western Europe. All the time, too, when communications were possible, I kept getting updates from the ground in Leyte, Samar, Cebu, Negros and Panay Island.
At my age, sustaining 20-hour days of online work is not easy anymore, but I managed because my heart was filled with joy at the generosity and nobility of Filipinos worldwide, plus friends of Filipinos. If many nations helped, I can tell you that these had Filipinos residing and working there – and the host countries sympathized with them. Though today global media has stopped focusing on the Philippines and Yolanda, Filipinos everywhere and several countries continue to actively help.
We were in darkness from the wrath of Yolanda coupled with the shrill voices of negativity jumping on the shortcoming of relief operations. But miracles provide the light that keeps burning more brightly by the day, miracles of generosity, miracles of courage, miracles of hope. Truly, those among us lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness are slowly but surely lifting many from despair towards hope.
It is the power of the people who pray, who smile, who lend a hand, who build and rebuild that will make the Philippine phoenix rise. People power was there all along, in the spirit of bayanihan, in the courage to care, in faith and patriotism. It is not simply about waiting for miracles, it is about us becoming the miracles.