Ship In A Storm

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

It used to be murky waters; it is now a storm. The Philippine ship is adrift, not because there is no crew, but because its crew is suspect.

A captain and his crew man a ship so that the vessel can sail towards its destination safely with its passengers and cargo. While captain and crew have the highest authority at sea, authority which is almost absolute, this authority is anchored on the purpose of why there is a ship in the first place. In other words, there is a mission and a destination to accomplish and the ship is the main mechanism for attaining both.

Our ship is the ship of state. Our captain and crew are the political leadership and the government bureaucracy. Our ocean is the world, and the world is encountering a serious storm that could grow to be a hurricane of untold proportions. Our ship and our crew hold our lives and our future in their hands. And they do not know what they are doing.

The passengers are hungry and cold, except those who sup at the captain’s table and the officer’s dining room. Many of the crew themselves are also hungry and cold, and compete with the hungry and cold passengers for the little rations they have. Now, a storm is challenging the stability and safety of the ship and there is no port that can provide not only safe harbor but provisions as well. It is a bad time to be an ordinary passenger, a low-ranking crew.

The leadership itself is in a bind. Going towards its original destination meant a new captain and a new set of officers would take the helm of the ship. Unfortunately, the captain and the ship’s leadership have looted the treasury of the ship and carted off much of the cargo picked up along the way, depositing these in the different countries they had passed along the way. Turning over the leadership of the ship means accounting for everything, and this is a fate seen as worse than death for those who had stolen and lied.

The guilty had long been planning to avoid the inevitable fate of having to surrender the ship to another leadership. They are motivated by both greed for more and fear of paying for their wrongdoing. As the ship was proceeding towards its destination, the captain and his officers were plotting on how to sabotage the vessel so it could not reach home according to schedule. Somewhere along the way, the ship would have to pass by another foreign port, have itself fixed, and time is gained to plan the next stage. Of course, more trade, more goods stolen or filched, more dirty money deposited in unseen accounts can be done.

The plan to sabotage the vessel, enough for it not to sink but for it to stop at another port before going home, was being implemented when the storm came. Now, the ship is not at its best shape, and the captain and officers are not used anymore to working for welfare of passengers and cargo. But the storm demands the best of ship and crew, and fear is gripping the passengers. They are sensing that the storm could wreck the ship and the crew cannot lead them to safety. Fear drives discontent, and the lack of food and the cold are making many of them desperate. It is a bad time for everybody, what with the leadership of the ship both greedy and guilty, and a storm that does not allow anyone an easy way out.

There are bigger ships in the area watching our ship of state floundering and the ship’s leadership. They are all interested in our cargo and our passengers. Most of all, they are interested in the sea lanes we usually use and so close to our ports. While our captain and crew are busy trying to go around the world, the world is busy trying to control ours. The 7th Fleet, the Chinese armada, the British and Malaysians, the Indonesians, they are all interested in our ship and our sea lanes. They think there is a gold mine everywhere in Mindanao, and oil field everywhere in Palawan, other minerals besides, like nickel, copper, silver, and land where anything and everything grows.

Everyone is interested at what we have, not only our captain and the ship’s crew. Everyone. And everyone is getting a slice of the pie, everyone but Juan de la Cruz, everyone but our children and our children’s children if the greed and the betrayal go on. Everyone is interested in getting what is there, and so few are interested in giving, and preserving for tomorrow.

With a ship in distress, what can passengers do? Many recommend that we elect a new captain and a new set of officers. That is, if we get to shore, our shore. We are in a storm, and we may never get anywhere but to the bottom of the ocean. Or, the bigger ships will come to our aid, offer to lighten our load, take some passengers and all the cargo, and make us sign an IOU we can never repay except with our blood and our future.

If the bigger ships cannot be allowed to rescue us because the cost of salvaging our nation is too much to bear, who can do the job? Who can love us and our motherland in a way that sacrifice and heroism are what they can give together with their lives? Who can save us but ourselves?

It is not selecting, or electing, leaders that will save us. It is making leaders, however they attain leadership, follow and pursue the common good. But no leadership will stay the course of the narrow but true and noble unless we, the people, provide them with the motivation and support to do so. We are not leaders but can make leaders follow us. We are only ordinary citizens, but the land belongs to us, our future belongs to us.

We must do what we have to do, and we can do it only in solidarity, enough of us in the spirit of one people determined to build a future full of hope.

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