It is Christmas time no doubt. The traffic is Metro Manila reflects the almost manic style of shopping that Filipinos can indulge in at this time of the year. Frankly, I would be very much into it if only other matters have been competing for, and winning, my attention. Shopping during Christmas, or for Christmas, is not really about what I buy, it is what I experience. Nor far but inside the maddening crowd, I get to sense what kind of Christmas it is. There are years when shopping is slow until the very last week. One knows then that there is not much money available then. Some start really early, signs of prosperity of the times.
I believe that I would have seen an upsurge of buying and selling this December if not for Typhoon ‘Pablo’. I think I would have added to the traffic and the herd of shoppers if there had not been so much death and destruction in Mindanao, especially in Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley. I could not help it but be pulled towards monitoring the calamity and the relief work that co-workers and volunteers in Gawad Kalinga had immediately begun to do. Even as the typhoon has just landed in Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley, we have already been receiving calls about how severe Typhoon ‘Pablo’s’ impact was. The decision and preparation to intervene with food and relief items was made at that moment.
As I write this, the total effort to help the surviving victims would be finishing its second week. Our ground forces are still there, GK workers and volunteers who know the drill from previous disasters, from Typhoon ‘Sendong’ primarily, and also from floods and landslides that have hit the Visayas and Bicol. The pattern is becoming very familiar – one of the first to arrive in the battlefield, one of the last to leave – if at all. Gawad Kalinga may begin with relief work but often continues to the rehabilitation stage where new homes and communities are established if funds are available. It will be no different here.
Constant reports are sent from the field by our teams on the ground, mostly through stories, pictures and the occasional video clips. The impact of the typhoon has been horrible, now with over a thousand confirmed dead and hundreds still missing. The destruction to property and crops has not been less shocking, especially the banana industry which supports so many workers and secondary businesses. The typhoon hit everyone without exception, rich and poor and all in between. Yet, there is that continuing reality of the poor getting the brunt of it in terms of deaths, lost homes, and illnesses following natural calamities. Typhoon ‘Pablo’ was so powerful and hit places that never remembered experiencing even just storms that it destroyed almost everything in its path. But the deaths remained largely the franchise of the poor, the homelessness and hunger all the more dominant, almost exclusive, among them.
There were moments when I experienced momentary distraction from the focus we were giving the relief and medical missions we were supporting from Metro Manila and coordinating even with allies from abroad. There was that Pacquiao knockout, then the voting which passed the RH Bill in Congress and the Senate. Yet, even with these distractions, they just managed to make more obvious the pitiful plight of the poor. One bishop implied that Typhoon ‘Pablo’ was a sign of God’s wrath because of the RH Bill. He mindlessly painted a God who keeps choosing to kill and maim the poor every time He sent a typhoon to the Philippines. Another bishop said that those who voted for the RH Bill are not Catholics anymore. What about those who thought and felt the same way as the senators who voted for the RH Bill? Are they still Catholic for sharing the same perspective and sentiments – these tens of millions of Filipinos?
All the time the RH Bill was debated over the years, culminating in the last two weeks, poverty and those enslaved by it were made the reason for going for or against the proposed law. Pro and Anti RH Bill advocates kept mentioning the poor – that the population is a major concern because the poor cannot take care of their families, and on the other side, that children are a blessing no matter how poorly they will be taken care of or how many they would be. Everybody just kept claiming that they had the interest of the poor when going for or against the RH Bill. Really?
I particularly like the preamble describing what the RH Bill was all about, especially the part about “to guarantee universal access to methods on contraception, fertility control, sexual education, and maternal care.” I like it because it shows how convoluted, if not hypocritical, values on both sides can be. I heard the arguments for and the arguments against the bill but I heard NO mention of universal access, for or against, to land or security of tenure, decent homes and food security for the poor.
It is as if we are using contraception, fertility control, sexual education and maternal care as diversionary tactics so we do not have to confront why tens of millions of Filipinos are forced to live like beasts with no habitat that is legally theirs, no homes fit for human beings, and threatened with hunger every day. Yet, we can afford to debate for years on universal access to condoms with no one arguing to give poor Filipinos what life intended for them in the first place? Wow, naman.
Lastly, the other serious distraction was the killing of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut. It made me sick to my stomach to know that such evil can exist. At the same time, I wondered what kind of evil exists so normally and comfortably in our midst, the kind of evil that kills hundreds and thousands of children every time there are floods and landslides, year after year, decade after decade. And we are Catholic? And we are Christian? And we are Muslim?
Maybe, we can just all sing an old refrain, “Bless the beasts and the children. Keep them safe. Keep them warm.”