Commentary

What a December!

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It’s been a December that we Filipinos won’t soon forget.

Typhoon “Pablo” wrought utter destruction in Compostela Valley and Davao Oriental. The very controversial and divisive reproductive health bill passed through a needle’s eye in Congress after many months of bitter debate.

In sports, the until-then indestructible Manny Pacquiao was knocked out cold in an unthinkable defeat to Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez. No one will blame Filipinos if they’re still reeling from such earth-shaking events.

But then, just before Christmas, a piece of smiley news came. Rising star Nonito Donaire avenged Pacquiao’s loss by knocking out his own Mexican opponent, Jorge Arce. And Miss Philippines shone in this year’s Miss Universe pageant.

To top it all, we’re still celebrating our usual longest Christmas on Earth.

Pablo ravaged many communities. Even though both national and local government authorities had acted early to warn residents and to move them to safe ground, the typhoon’s devastation was so fierce and widespread that it left more than 1,000 people dead and hundreds more missing. The number of casualties would have been much higher had the government not acted decisively. Still, many people didn’t heed government calls for evacuation promptly, resulting in tragic deaths.

Whole communities were flattened and infrastructure was heavily damaged, with bridges and roads destroyed almost completely. Crops were wasted and many farm animals were killed. Criminal over-logging in the area’s forests exacerbated the damage wrought by the deluge, with cut logs tumbling down on wide swaths of residential zones as well as farmlands. It will take a long time for the survivors to get back on their feet.

In the two chambers of Congress, fierce and bitter debates raged. The debates became so heated and personal, they led to hurt feelings among the legislators. For example, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile returned the Christmas presents sent by the two senators who cosponsored the RH bill—a move seen by many as a breach of parliamentary, or even just common, courtesy. In the House, the debates were equally intense and divisive.

Leaders of the Catholic Church mobilized their forces to pressure legislators to vote against the RH bill. Clerics from across the Church hierarchy openly voiced their opposition, breaching the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state, which prohibits each side from meddling in the other’s business—but nobody seemed to care or mind.

Delaying tactics were employed by the bill’s opponents. But, at the moment of truth, the bill squeaked through with a vote of 113-104 in the House on second reading, and 133-76 on third and final reading, showing that the antis in the end lost some of their supporters. The Senate approved its version of the RH bill 13-8.

A fused version of the House and Senate RH bills has overcome the last hurdle. Two days ago, it was confirmed to have been signed into law by President Aquino.

Another sort of drama further animated the Filipinos’ passions in December. Pacquiao went to Las Vegas with the intention of shutting Marquez’s mouth for claiming that he (Marquez) had won their previous three fights. Alas, Marquez had contrary plans.

Marquez had been the most difficult of all of Pacquiao’s rivals, the former a puzzle to the latter. Their previous fights had been drawn-out battles, thus giving Marquez the notion, or delusion, that he was the winner of those fights.

As we all know so nightmarishly well, Marquez took advantage of a momentary lapse in Pacquiao’s defense and unleashed a short killer right. The whole nation sunk into a collective gasp of disbelief. Pacquiao had been vanquished.

Lucky for us, Donaire avenged Pacquiao’s loss the following week, making our collective pain short and merciful. The revenge was sweet.

Especially for Donaire, who now can command higher purses for his future bouts. He reportedly got $1 million for his effort that evening in Houston, compared to Pacquiao’s usual fee in the eight-digit stratosphere.

Pacquiao came home humbled but still raring to fight some more. The time-stopping motorcades around Manila and other key cities didn’t take place this time for Manny, but most Filipinos still welcomed him wholeheartedly, albeit in a more subdued atmosphere.

In contrast, Donaire seems to be the new darling of the media. He deserves the attention, if not yet the adulation accorded previously to the phenomenal Pacquiao. But Donaire, who is said to be more cerebral as a boxer than the instinctive Pacquiao, will surely have his time.

And yet, the rough-and-tumble of this December wasn’t over, as if we Filipinos needed more angst at Yuletide. Just before Christmas, the Philippines’ Janine Tugonon was adjudged first runner-up in the Miss Universe contest, making her the second most beautiful woman in the world.

What a December it’s been, full of action and excitement! But, sadly, also of devastation, heartache and loss. Good thing we Filipinos still have Christmas, our “mostest” favorite holiday, to save the season.

Leandro “DD” Coronel’s commentaries have appeared in various Manila dailies and are currently published in Fil-Am newspapers in Washington, DC and Toronto.

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