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Terrible times despite Catriona Gray

The days race inexorably to the peak of this merry season but it cannot be stressed often enough: We live in terrible times. Every day in every way the grim situation displays itself, whether in the acquittal of Bong Revilla of plunder, the brazen manner with which lawmakers are bellying up to the pork barrel trough, and the continuing killings related to the war on drugs. And more, including the draft charter stealthily produced by Gloria Arroyo’s House. Yet we endure, falling silent after small explosions of fury.

We cannot let this beloved season make us deaf and dumb to each occurring outrage.

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The truth is we are distracted by the season’s merriment — a distraction lately and cheerily exacerbated by the lovely Catriona Gray. We are comforted by the old familiar rituals of December: lanterns blinking through sudden showers, the darkness that swiftly extinguishes the light at day’s end (like Quasimodo, “transfixed by a beam of sun, and suddenly it is evening”), the early-morning chill that descends like a soothing prayer. Like children, we embrace the solace offered by the ceremony of Christmas.

We must resist this invitation to abject surrender.

It is not being Scrooge-like if, in preparing to deck our holiday tables, we seek to understand why what had seemed sufficient in the past now falls exceedingly short, and why, despite the administration TRAIN law’s announced good intentions, the lower and middle classes are stewing in its wake. To behold the unremitting poverty in, say, Catriona Gray’s Tondo (and elsewhere) and balk at seeing beauty in it is not to detract from her happy victory on the world’s beauty stage; it is to acknowledge that far too many children in Tondo (and elsewhere) are hungry, are stunted, each one’s potential to someday capture the national imagination and move their country forward lost forever.

To educate oneself in the dynamics of prevailing injustice and not devote one’s energies to searching for the often nonexistent silver lining, to recognize unjust policy and official banditry for what they are and not be distracted by the pietistic expressions of plunderers, to refuse to make poverty porn of hunger and homelessness—all these toward becoming aware and active citizens: This is the correct way to celebrate the birth of Jesus, He who railed against profiteers and hypocrites, and who waged revolution against oppressors.

In truth, many of us have become inured to other people’s suffering, or to “the blood of others” spilled like sewage. Corpses on the streets with a few sachets of “shabu” scattered like paltry booty no longer elicit profound horror—and neither do billion-peso drug shipments smuggled onto our shores. The killing even of teenagers in the course of the war of drugs has happened so often that it is now routine, rather like a one-sided blood sport that has lost the capacity to excite.

One can get used to anything, as the former Black Panther Assata Shakur pointed out. “The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it goes. After a while, people just think oppression is the normal state of things.”

And so it is. A rash of drug-related killings — “one time, big time” operations in Bulacan, say, the term sounding perversely like the marketing tag “one town, one product” — still merit coverage in the news, but not much protest beyond a wince. The Duterte administration has succeeded in making the drug killings a matter of routine. And fatigue is such a formidable enemy.

But it must be overcome, and a renewed and clear-eyed sense of purpose found. This season is a difficult time to harness the passion for resistance, yet the hair-raising possibilities offered by next year’s elections should be motivation enough. Much of the fight lies in the vote.

The usual suspects are once more grasping at the immense power and wealth that public office offers to the crafty and crooked. Think of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ heirs flexing muscle. Think of the Cayetanos literally making a family affair of the elections, and barefacedly claiming a moral edge. Think of the Binay siblings unable to give way to one another—a horse opera that is also playing out in large scale in the provinces….

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Think of our taxes landing in the pockets of the shameless, of the accused plunderers still at it, of Revilla winning acquittal and his family and supporters thanking God for the “Christmas gift.”

“What kind of justice is this?” Shakur wrote. “Where the poor go to prison and the rich go free?”

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