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‘After the sun goes out’

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The Year 2012 is now almost out the door. Was it an undiluted “Annus Horribilis” or “Year of Horrors”?

Queen Elizabeth II dusted off that phrase in a 1992 address. Fire had gutted parts of Windsor Palace, and family scandals were  capped by the Prince of Wales separating from Princess Diana.

This year, Typhoon “Pablo” inflicted Annus Horribilis on Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley. Until then, Mindanaoans coasted on storm-free status. “There is no ‘normal’ to return to,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon cautioned. Climate change shattered old complacencies.

By Christmas Eve, Pablo’s death toll crested at 1,067. And 834 are still missing. More than 959,000 returned to wrecked homes, leaving 13,940 people huddled in evacuation centers, with short rations and little power. A “Christmas gift” of  500 coffins came from a Metro Manila donor.

The storm killed 150 in Cateel town, Davao Oriental. Survivors, however, held the traditional nine  Misa  de  Gallo  in the only standing building: their chapel. “We’re celebrating Christmas,” said Alejandro Tabino, shortly before he led the choir in singing carols. “We are grateful to be alive.”

Christmas dawned on ordinary citizens and private groups caring for traumatized victims. Identification of bodies and burial proceeded. In devastated areas, the Nativity feast was stripped of tinsel, colored lights, let alone  queso  de  bola.  Sheer need anchored the season to the values that “endure even after the sun goes out.”

Are we seeing an “Annus Mirabilis,” to borrow poet John Dryden’s title? Will this be a “Year of Marvels” for the human spirit?

Not if you ask the 23rd Supreme Court chief justice. On May 29, the Senate found Renato Corona guilty of fudging dollar funds in his statement of assets and liabilities. Two days after the 2010 elections, Corona had accepted a “midnight appointment.” Corona’s capacity to lead the Court died then. It was inevitable that his Annus Horribilis would follow.

Unlike Corona, President Gloria Arroyo’s hairdresser refused a midnight appointment. GMA herself  left Malacañang a month later—and slammed into Annus Horribilis, in tandem.

Government blocked GMA from leaving for Singapore, scrubbing an OK by the Corona Supreme Court. Police served an arrest warrant on Arroyo at St. Luke’s Medical Center. This  October, the court entered a not guilty plea on her behalf, after GMA stayed mum on charges of plundering P366 million in sweepstakes funds. The Sandiganbayan refused a Christmas furlough.

For Imelda and Ferdinand  Marcos Jr., Annus Horribilis 2012 came packaged in a US federal court’s $353.6 million contempt fine. They tried to secretly ship out of the United States paintings and other artworks, from court-contested holdings.

In September, Imelda wailed over government plans to auction off confiscated jewelry, notably the “Roumeliotes Collection.” Customs nailed Greek national Demetriou Roumeliotes when smuggling out 60 gems, two weeks after the Marcoses fled People Power. A 37-carat diamond, crafted by Bulgari, is the centerpiece. “These are all mine,” she stressed in a court petition.

But 2012 did see beginnings of Annus Mirabilis.

On Oct. 15, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the national government signed the “Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.” This is a first step in beating swords into ploughshares for a  decades-long rebellion. By November, both sides were threshing out the nitty-gritty of three annexes on power and wealth sharing, plus “normalization.” In December, the MILF named four of its nominees to the Transition Commission. “We must learn to live together as brothers,” Martin Luther King wrote. “Or we are all going to perish together as fools.”

Five days before Christmas, President Aquino signed the sin tax bill into law, shepherded by Sen. Frank Drilon—in the teeth of a tobacco lobby that bent legislators to its will. Stiffer taxes on tobacco and alcohol products could bring in P34 billion in additional revenue.

The windfall will bankroll a universal healthcare program and tobacco farmers’ livelihood, Mr. Aquino said. “Many believed it was impossible to pass the sin tax bill. Those who opposed it were strong, noisy and organized. And they have deep pockets.” Sen. Ralph Recto resigned, over raps, that he batted  to raise only P15 billion, on lobby bidding.

“Passing the measure is a milestone for Aquino, who succeeded in what his predecessors tried but failed to do,” Rappler noted. “Efforts to restructure the excise tax system never made it out of committee level in Congress in nearly 16 years.”

President Aquino also signed, before Christmas, what is “the first national law in Asia that makes enforced disappearance a distinct criminal offense.” Mothers of  desaparecidos   cheered.

RA 10350 treats abduction by the state or agents as a separate crime. It penalizes those who conceal information on the missing. Instead, it ensures free access to updated registers of detained or confined people. The law cannot be suspended even during public emergencies.

This would “end impunity of offenders,” says Rep. Edcel Lagman, whose activist brother Hermon disappeared in 1977. “It envisions a better breed of military, police and civilian officials who respect and defend human rights and civil liberties.”

These measures point to an Annus Mirabilis as curtains come down on 2012. As T.S. Eliot wrote: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language./ And next year’s words await another voice./ And to make an end is to make a beginning.”

(Email: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com)


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Tags: bangsamoro deal , Christmas , column , Gloria Macapagal Arroyo , Imelda Marcos , Juan L. Mercado , Renato corona , Reproductive Health Bill , Sin Tax Bill , typhoon Pablo



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