Thursday, October 19, 2017
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Just one day

opinion / Columnists
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Glimpses

Just one day

Today is Wednesday, and by early tomorrow, this article will have been finalized and submitted. One ordinary day in my life, but it is very special for many reasons.
There is continued fighting in Marawi City where remaining terrorists have dug in, not in trenches, but in homes. That is the greatest difficulty for our military despite having superior force, that superior force cannot unleash its potential because the terrorists are inside houses of the innocent. There must be at least several hundreds of innocent Filipinos who are now hostages, many of whom will die from bullets of both sides.

It is hard not to feel pain at the thought that innocent lives are being sacrificed on the altar of politics gone mad, now called terrorism. It remains a continuing lesson for me to learn, but actual witnessing, how partisanship and lack of respect for the freedom of others. I have seen how narrow-mindedness, bigotry, and arrogance have led to violence. It is always only a matter of time and provocation. I have seen so much, and I have listened or heard about much more. Even today, beyond Marawi City, in many parts of the world, an orgy of violence persists, not so much different from the past where there were more wars than years.

I am in attendance of an emotional but inspiring event. The eldest son of a very good friend had just been ordained as a deacon of the Catholic Church as part of a missionary order. It is his last step in his journey to be a priest which should come within the year. I have stopped being religion-centric a long time ago although I remain in mine, by my choice this time and not because my parents just said so. But my own relationship with my faith is not anymore what it used to be, narrowly conditioned into me without my permission, and somewhat blind yet fanatical. My religion now lives in freedom.

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While I do not recruit for the Catholic Church, I feel very appreciative and inspired when young people find it in themselves, in the exercise of their own free will, offer their lives to their religious vocation. I feel even more so when the priest-candidate has a deep longing to serve his God by serving the poor and the victims of social injustice. Those whom I know that entered the priesthood while carrying this personal advocacy for the poor invariably think and live simply, many times as missionaries, even if they had come from rich families. Today, I was inspired because the newly ordained deacon is one great example of that.

As I was witnessing the ordination, though, my phone continued to vibrate with urgent text messages from another friend who was so devastated with what was happening in Marawi City. She kept asking me why the military could not quickly and totally subdue the terrorists. I shared what I knew, that the terrorists were inside houses with families as hostages, and our military was trying their best not to waste any innocent life unnecessarily. I said, too, that hundreds, if not more, of innocent men, women, and children were being used as body and psychological cover. I told her to pray. And to cry. Because many of the innocent will die.

Just one day in the life of a Filipino yet so much is happening. Tens of millions remain very poor, at least half of them hungry, and maybe all malnourished. If they are not in the areas around Marawi City, they remain busy on their own battle against their inherited poverty. Many of them will not live as long as many other Filipinos. The poorest among us lower out average life span because life and Philippine society are not at all kind to them. I am sorry, but I feel the Church has not been kind to them either. That is why a priest candidate that wants to dedicate his life to his God with a predisposition to focus on the poor is, to me, the salvation of a Church that has largely forgotten them. Why else would Pope Francis be so expressive in exhorting, in admonishing, in pushing the religious to go to the peripheries?

It is not easy to be both being a patriot and an optimist. It is difficult to love one’s country when one sees what is going on, and what has been going on for so long. Loving one’s country means loving one’s people and loving one’s land. I can do that, or at least try with reasonable probability of success. I am surrounded by good people who have given their lives to a cause of helping the needy and building our nation. I am blessed that way, especially since they are mostly younger than me and will influence society beyond my lifetime.

Many, though, and I talk of the majority of Filipinos when they were born, cannot love a land they have been told was never theirs. By their poverty, too, they know that the chances are slim for their ever owning a piece of their own motherland. If the government and our societal leaders cannot find a way to connect Filipinos with their own land, by ownership, by stewardship or security of tenure, they can never have a deep relationship with the land – and mostly only a resentful relationship with people. But if country or nation is both the land and our people, we will always remain weak.

Beneath the external calm of our daily collective live, there boils an unrest inside. Never have I felt a need for bayanihan, for the togetherness of a people, for a turning away of partisanship and divisiveness. I fear that pursuing that path will soon bring us to a breaking point that will also be externally exploited and provoked. So much in just one day. ###

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TAGS: hostages, marawi city, Mindanao, terrorism, terrorists
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