We have two weeks to go and then, bang!, it’s Christmas. I feel it not only in the air but in the traffic as well. The mad rush in the malls is not yet there in the mornings, mostly afternoon to early evenings. Work is still preventing the full invasion of malls. And online shopping which has already killed a number of major store chains in the United States.
Even in our traditions, communication technology is drastically changing our lifestyle. Smartphones, internet, and social media combined have triggered the acquiescence of a whole people, even many of the poor, to change traditional forms to more current ones. Nothing can replace togetherness during the holidays and that is why the traffic out of Metro Manila towards the provinces will remain heavy when the time comes. But where there was an absence of one or some of the family members, social media allows their virtual presence in the celebrations.
There continue to be many touchy issues that can trigger quarrels among us. I must say, though, that the general temperature is much cooler, thanks largely to the ambiance of Christmas. Whatever is there that upsets us politically is mitigated by individual preparation for Christmas. No matter who is fighting over this or that issue, the protagonists are not surrendering their personal efforts to bring about a happy Christmas to their respective families. Truly, Christmas and New Year in the Philippines maintains its dominant energy of cheer and goodwill. I hope it never changes.
I do not know if the troubling inflation rate of the last few months has eased up. But I do notice how the exchange rate has moved favorably for the peso versus the US dollar, and how oil prices have been going down steadily. I do not know what to exact levels the exchange rate and oil prices have moved but the direction is positive as if the Christmas spirit has also touched them. The changes are not substantial enough to release the poor from their constant monetary challenges, their capacity to buy food, medicine, and other basic commodities.
Hopefully, though, the positive trend continues. Even more than that, I hope it is not only politics and governance that will bring more substance to future change but our general sympathy for those who have much less than us. A change will surely come when there is a collective demand and an effort to help the poor. It is the temper and the wish of enough Filipinos that will be followed by the government if we find our collective voice and a shared vision. Believe it or not, if the poorest sector is one-third of the population, the active sympathy of the two-thirds will be the greatest voice for them.
This is what Christmas teaches us – our oneness as a human race. From that oneness comes our affinity as one Filipino people. During Christmas, our social and economic inequality is less pronounced. In fact, there is a desire to close the gap, to reach out, to be of one heart and to share. The sense that we Filipinos are one big family is accentuated. Our differences are temporarily diffused. Christmas shows us that we can also choose to live with what is commonly valued by us, like family, like togetherness, like sharing our blessings even beyond our homes. In one magical period, many Filipinos feel they share one home.
Every day, I continue to scan the news over tri-media, news from here and from around the world. Clearly, there is conflict and violence, Clearly, there is discord among nations, among people in each nation. Clearly, the economic reality of greed and exploitation dominates. The Pope recently pointed out the latest Oxfam report on global wealth, how 1% cornered 84% of all the wealth added in the past year. That the rich get richer is not a trite slogan of people simply envious of their wealth; rather, it is a painful reality that must find reform or transformation before it self-destructs.
It is not rosy in the Philippines either. The Mindanao situation remains unstable enough for the military to endorse the extension of martial law in the island. It may not seem so to us because the concerns of the military are not being aired enough. I suspect it is because the military does not want to spell out their more serious challenges and advertise to the enemy and the public just how worrisome terrorism is. The CCP-NPA continues their violent crusade for political control, maybe hoping that this climate will force the government to the negotiating table. The drug trade is not letting up and its worst consequence, the killing of our own, whether in justified drug operations or unexplained executions, is like we Filipinos disemboweling ourselves. All these are ugly, period.
There are positive developments, though, that is undeniable and truly laudable. When I see more billions for health, for education, for hunger mitigation, I am amazed. In the first place, there are huge resources for this humane and empowering intervention. That means governance is making this possible despite whatever instances of inefficiency or corruption there may be. In the second place, these resources are being dedicated to these basic needs instead of less important priorities, meaning the intent to help the poor and the ordinary Filipino is gaining ground.
Christmas is a respite from our own divisiveness driven by partisanship. The energy during this special season wants to go the opposite direction, more giving and more forgiving. What is more beautiful is that no one is orchestrating this cyclical air of fraternity and solidarity, driven by the bonds of family, friends, and neighbors. This is the work of culture, an almost effortless yet irresistible environment. The season simply triggers what is already inside us. How beautiful.
I end this with a thought and a wish. Why can we not have an extended sense of togetherness and goodwill and only a temporary season of acrimonious divisiveness? Has the reality of one people, one nation, become that unthinkable?