The Power of Christmas

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

There is nipping in the air, not only the shift from habagat to cooler amihan but also the exciting atmosphere of an approaching Christmas. Although it’s five weeks away, Christmas is not a day but a season. And the season has started.

It helps that the latest economic statistics improved their previous levels. I am talking about easing inflation (it’s still objectionable) and a higher growth rate. These are not salvific to a scary environment of the poor getting poorer and the hungry getting hungrier, but it’s better than more bad news. Wherever we are in the political spectrum, we must not only wish for better times but work for them in our own individual capacities. Partisanship must not make our people suffer even more.

The Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF) was launched, then aborted, and is now being rearranged through altered implementing rules and regulations IRR). If it was suspect before, it will be more suspicious now. The president, however, must feel that he is popular and trusted more than his objectors. The new IRR allowed him to appoint the head of the MIF, although he seems to lack the appropriate financial background and credentials. Good luck to the people whose money will be handled or mishandled.

The confidential fund issue, however, is temporarily paused with the VP and concurrent DepEd Secretary deciding not to pursue her request for them. It has been a tumultuous controversy that is best put to rest. Better still, a Constitutional framework should be put in place to stop all confidential fund allocations that cannot be examined and prosecuted when abused. The Office of the President, in fact, should be the prime example of judicious use and justifiable amounts.

Another controversy that may need to lighten up a little is the intramurals of the UNITEAM. The collaboration of the Marcoses and Dutertes is now challenged by the superegos involved and their unbridled ambitions. In fact, it may have reached a point of no return with only Christmas and Imee Marcos, delaying the final cut. Good for the country – who knows? But it is definitely good for a political environment with little opposition to witness the fracturing of old collaborators. Leila de Lima must surely like what’s happening.

This is now the time for the much anticipated 13th-month pay, or 14th and 15th for the more fortunate whose companies did extra well. But even the daily wage earners, the below-the-poverty-line members, too, are preparing for that special day or that one special meal with their families. Nobody wants to miss out on participating in this awesome fiesta called Christmas. Let us look for families with great difficulty and help them enjoy the event like us.

“The collaboration of the Marcoses and Dutertes is now challenged by the superegos involved and their unbridled ambitions. In fact, it may have reached a point of no return with only Christmas and Imee Marcos, delaying the final cut. Good for the country – who knows? “

As we look forward to this buoyant spirit of Christmas, I hope it will not be mostly a routine celebration of tradition. Or worse, an exercise in escapism from the harsh reality of life. We have to find real joy, a real basis for hope, too. We need to rest our weary souls and find revival in the power of family, of togetherness.

It must be the season that pushes me to deliberately look for the seeds of hope from which we can build a brighter tomorrow. And because I am looking, I found some. Invited by a friend who has dedicated time and resources to healing the soil from decades of chemical use, I joined a meeting where he and his partners proudly showed us how bamboo is the center of their exciting universe. Bamboo and its technical and commercial uses are not new at all. Almost 40 years ago, I visited a bamboo farm in Rizal with the sitting president and was amazed at the possibilities.

It is too bad, though, and quite typical when something of great national benefit is concerned, that Filipinos, led by the government, cannot really agree on how best to make plans turn into reality. It is like rice, a national staple with a huge impact on Filipinos’ daily lives. We have had IRRI here teaching everybody, and everybody from other countries learned well – except us. I thought bamboo had gone the same way, and it did.

I was shocked to learn that something new and good was happening. I know the efforts to raise bamboo to become a central figure in construction, design, food, medicine, and carbon sequestration have never stopped. I know a few individuals who have been there forever and are still fighting a difficult battle. But until the recent meeting I was invited to, I saw no hope on a national level. Now, it turns out that I got an early Christmas gift courtesy of native bamboo, nationalistic Filipino advocacy, a combination of foreign and local technology, and, most importantly, poor communities in rural areas are part of the development.

The main difference is that I was not shown a plan or drawn to a discussion or the endless clash of egos. Instead, I was told of an ongoing project, the first of its kind, innovative yet sensitive to people and the environment as much as the economy. I now know that marginalized communities in Bukidnon and North Cotabato are planting, even already harvesting from standing bamboo, earning very well, while the project owners are actively looking for more areas, more community partners, more investors (most foreign because the capital requirements are substantial).

At my age and experience, I know nothing succeeds overnight. This one will not, either. But the ongoing bamboo initiative I was introduced to is the next best thing because it operates, not just dreams. It is only a matter of scale, a matter of time, because the world already has the demand, and we have the pioneers to make this successful.

It’s time to go out and look for more good news for our people. It is Christmas, and I am going to enjoy it.

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