Sunday, September 23, 2018
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At Large

Nothing to celebrate?

Apart from the fact that the national celebration of Independence Day was a “no work, no classes” occasion, it was observed, at least in my youth, with much fanfare and nationalistic pride.

I can still recall watching on TV coverage of the parade usually held at the Luneta, with an impressive show of military hardware and the heart-tugging sight of veterans of previous wars.

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The celebrations have since moved elsewhere, including the Aguinaldo Shrine in Cavite where the Philippine flag was first hoisted.

But Independence Day these days, at least since the inauguration of President Duterte, has a hollow, false ring to it. For starters, the President hasn’t even bothered to show up at the traditional raising of the flag at the Luneta which takes place early in the morning, much too early for Mr. Duterte.

Second is the reality that our sovereignty, our much fought-for and treasured (so it’s been taught us since childhood) independence, is being traded with almost casual regularity. Our giant neighbor China has been flexing its muscles for many years, but while nearby countries have stoutly defended their territories, our officials seem all-too-eager to bargain these away.

Can we be truly called a sovereign country when our borders are regularly breached by the Chinese navy and, as evidenced by a parked military jet on our airport, its air force? Recently, too, fishermen who regularly plied the waters off Zambales have been subjected to harassment by Chinese naval forces and even private fishing boats, with the poor fishers forced to pay “tong” or bribes to the foreigners by way of “confiscated” catch.

Of course, officials have promised to “protect” the beleaguered fishers. But since they also go out of their way to explain how “helpless” the country is in the face of superior Chinese might, the fishermen are understandably skeptical.

We have not been lacking in outspoken personages who decry this supine attitude vis-à-vis China. Leading the pack is acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, who lent his experience and wisdom in the negotiations that led to a favorable ruling on our arbitration case against China. Which makes the recent passing of former congressman and national security adviser Roilo Golez, who spoke openly about our abject position on the sea dispute, truly a loss for the country. Not much left to celebrate today, unfortunately.

* * *

I was tempted to sub-title this portion “They Shoot Priests, Don’t They?” But the recent shooting of Fr. Richmond Nilo in Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija, seems too tragic for tongue-in-cheek references. This, even as Father Nilo became the third member of the clergy to be shot to death here in the space of seven months.

Shot through a window even as he began getting ready to start Mass at the altar of the Nuestra Señora de la Nieve chapel, Father Nilo was just 40 years old and parish priest of St. Vincent Ferrer parish in Zaragoza. There were speculations that Father Nilo was targeted for his antimining activities.

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I just hope that President Duterte quells his malicious instincts to ascribe other motives for the shooting of Father Nilo, in the same way he linked the slaying of Fr. Mark Ventura of Cagayan last April to alleged affairs the priest had with married women. Before Father Ventura’s brazen shooting, Fr. Marcelito Paez, 72, was killed when a car he was driving was ambushed, coincidentally (or not?) also in Nueva Ecija.

“With great pain and profound sadness,” Cabanatuan Bishop Sofronio Bancud announced the death of Father Nilo. He also condemned the “escalating violence and culture of impunity” in the country and demanded a thorough investigation and swift resolution of the crime. But given how none of the clergy assassinations have been solved, and the seeming nonchalance of the President on these deaths, it seems doubtful that Father

Nilo’s assassination will be given the attention and rigorous response it deserves.

Coming as it does just two days before Independence Day, Father Nilo’s shooting is as eloquent a statement as any on the true state of our nation beneath the gloomy clouds of our threatened democracy and freedom.

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TAGS: At Large, China-Philippines relations, Independence Day, Mark Ventura, Richmond Nilo, Rina Jimenez-David, Rodrigo Duterte, slain priests
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