It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.
China exploded early on, or the efforts of the Chinese to claim the whole of China Sea, putting it at odds with several Southeast Asian countries. Not least the Philippines, which was vocal in its protestations. The saber-rattling had been there for some time, but the sabers threatened to be unsheathed sometime in May when Chinese ships surrounded the Spratlys. The girian gave way to aggressive diplomacy toward the end of the year, but it’s far from over.
In an ironic, onli in da Pilipins twist, the threatened war turned into an actual war between Juan Ponce Enrile and Antonio Trillanes IV in the Senate. It began with a territorial dispute of sorts too, Trillanes accusing Enrile of being a Gloria Arroyo tuta by siding with her to divide Camarines Sur. Enrile shot back by accusing Trillanes of being a traitor, negotiating with China behind the back of the Department of Foreign Affairs, and acting as China’s agent. Their war turned into a conflagration, to the vast amusement of China. With enemies like these, they must have thought, who needs guns?
In July, Dolphy went off to meet the Great Comedian in the Sky, which was widely lamented by Filipinos. He was in many ways the Filipino Everyman and his departure, though not unexpected, was deeply felt by every Filipino man and woman. It was a year that decimated the ranks of artists, writers, musicians, actors and directors—sweeping through them like a scythe. Among Dolphy’s comrade-at-arts, Marilou Diaz-Abaya and Celso Ad. Castillo would go too ere the year was out.
In August, Jesse Robredo went. I saw him a week before he did, at somebody else’s wake, and he was full of life, he was full of plans. His plane crashed off the coast of Masbate. His loss was felt by the entire nation, which paused to mark his passing. It was only the second time a government official had gone that way, the first was a president, Ramon Magsaysay, but the depth of grief was comparable. The former Naga City mayor and DILG head was given the nation’s highest awards posthumously, which was nothing compared to the universal recognition he got from the public for setting the template for local governance.
I don’t know which was more tragic, that he died at a relatively young age, depleting Naga City of its best and brightest—Raul Roco had gone ahead seven years before—or that his accomplishments would be glimpsed only after he was gone. Alas, death has a way of revealing what life hides, both the good and the bad. At least his family will have the comfort of knowing he will live on in the hearts of his countrymen, however that would have been cold comfort this Christmas.
Plagiarism became a byword this year, largely because of Tito Sotto. RH disappeared completely from view when it was shown that his privilege speech decrying it lifted huge sections from a blog. Things got worse when he defended it on the ground that blogs were fair game for copying. A little later, he was shown again to have lifted entire passages from a speech by Robert Kennedy. Things also got worse when he defended it by saying that he didn’t know Kennedy spoke Tagalog. I myself said that many things are lost in translation but authorship is not one of them.
Willie Nepomuceno would tell me later that Tito quipped when they met: “Banned na pala tayo, bawal nang mangopya.” Well, there’s a difference. Willie merely tries to copy the original, Tito tries to replace them.
A much-provoked Nature brought grief and devastation to what used to be Eden. What made Typhoon “Pablo” especially catastrophic, a relief worker would tell me, was that Mindanao had never experienced a storm of this scale and fury. Sure the warnings were there, sure the orders to seek higher ground were there, but people never thought it would be this bad. And in any case, many of those who died had gone to higher ground, except that the higher ground was overrun by floodwaters anyway. It was incomprehensible. This was Davao, this was Mindanao, this was a place that God and Nature had declared storm-free.
Alas, no longer so. No place is safe anymore. The abnormal is the new normal, climate-wise, or unwise.
Then, by the end of the year, the happiest time of the year, came the ultimate shocker. Filipinos, here and abroad, had prepared for a mighty celebration. It would be the final battle, the one that would show Manny Pacquiao to be the ultimate Mexecutioner. He would put down Juan Manuel Marquez once and for all as he had vowed, as the nation expected, as legend demanded.
He nearly did. After being knocked down early on, he turned the fight around, turning Marquez’s face into the same one worn by his previous foes. Wanting badly to bring Marquez down, he pressed on to the last second of the sixth round. And then he ran into a wall, or fist.
The punch that sent him crashing to the canvas sent his nation crashing down to earth. It was Lent, the aftermath of a superstorm, and the death of a loved one rolled into one. It was the end of Christmas as we knew it. It might also have been the end of a long and brilliant career.
But there was one even bigger tragedy than that. The 40th anniversary of martial law came, and many Filipinos might as well have asked, “martial what?” The erosion, or erasure, of the past was punctuated by Enrile publishing his memoirs, which sold like hotcakes, making it as people quipped, “the bestselling fiction of all time in the Philippines.” Most buyers of course bought it the way most audiences flock to horror movies, out of morbid fascination. To see to what extent he would lie, to see to what extent he would twist facts, to see to what extent he would mangle history.
As they saw, unrestrainedly. As they saw, shamelessly.
And now for the good news. (To be concluded)