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A tragedy shared virtually

Easter Sunday is supposed to be a day filled with joy, hope, optimism and faith that there is life beyond the end of our earthly existence.

But as I write this, my heart is heavy and sodden, filled with unshed tears for the children in Russia who died in a mall fire last week, many trapped in a movie house where one class had gathered to watch a movie.

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“We are burning, perhaps this is goodbye,” Maria, 13, posted on her social media account. The story, broadcast by Rossiya-24 television channel and as quoted from the Washington Post, says Maria’s heart-rending farewell was one of about 30 goodbyes posted by children “who would not log into their accounts again.”

One woman spoke of conversing with her niece Vika right after the fire broke out. “She told me that everything was on fire, that all the doors were blocked,” the woman recalled. Then Vika told her that she couldn’t breathe, begging her to “please tell Mom that I loved her. Please tell everyone that I loved them.”

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Thus are tragedies shared in this age of instant messaging and social media. Technology brings us to the site of tragedy at the moment it is occurring. But there is nothing one can do on the other side of the line or the cloud. Instead, we are left with searing memories, at once immediate and removed, all the more painful because we are “there” virtually.

At least 64 people are estimated to have died in the blaze, though dozens more remain missing. The fire in the Winter Cherry Mall in the Siberian city of Kemerovo is said to be but the latest in a “long list of accidents, fires and sinkings in Russia marked by apparent negligence beforehand and inept or insufficient response by emergency services.” While officials are quick to assign blame and rapidly move to go after the guilty, said the Post, “subsequent promises to step up safety measures often prove to be halfhearted.”

It gives us scant comfort to know — indeed, it simply fuels our rage — that things are no better in our country. We are in the middle of what commentators call “fire season,” when the searing summer heat combines with neglect and ineptitude to produce fire after fire. Indeed, even with the hot season just starting, we have had a string of fires, mostly in congested informal settlements.

So, while we are still in a prayerful mood, let us pray for all those who died in Russia, but especially for all the schoolchildren who perished in the fire simply because they wanted to watch a movie, “eat ice cream and jump on a trampoline.”

Now on to pleasant matters, especially for the thousands of surviving veterans, their families, and the survivors of those who died in defense of our country.

A bill granting greater incentives for war veterans—those who fought during World War II and as part of the Philippine Expeditionary Forces during the Korean War — has just been approved by the House appropriations committee headed by Rep. (and apparent “senatoriable”) Karlo Nograles. The bill seeks to increase the current P5,000 monthly pension to a more realistic P20,000 a month.

“The surviving war veterans are in the twilight of their lives. It is the government’s duty to assure each of them a decent lifestyle. The current pension cannot take care of their food and health  care needs,” Nograles said in justifying the fourfold increase.

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The amount involved is not all that enormous. Of the tens of thousands of soldiers and guerrillas who fought in World War II, only 5,655 are still alive, along with 37,067 spouses and children. Of the small contingent who traveled to South Korea to repel the invading North Koreans and Chinese, only 40 remain along with 205 spouses and children.

Bataan Rep. Geraldine Roman was the principal author of the bill that was immediately acted upon by the appropriations committee “in time for the celebration of Bataan Day on April 9.”

Nograles said the amount involved in the increased pension would be around P10 billion—not small potatoes, but as Nograles pointed out, “we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.” This daughter of a Korean war vet heartily shares the sentiment.

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TAGS: At Large, Easter Sunday, holy week, Lent 2018, Rina Jimenez-David, Russia mall fire, war veterans
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