Meditation for the new year
“Ursula” didn’t just dampen the Christmas spirit, it also left a trail of devastation in places that had earlier known the frightening fury of wind and rain and whose residents were then still treading the tortuous road to full recovery.
The stunning blow was doubly cruel for its timing, no matter that in these parts December is not always sweetness and light.
Occasionally, December descends or departs accompanied by a typhoon in full orchestra, so that, weather-wise, somewhere in this unhappy archipelago, there is terror even on Christmas Eve, inflicted by the unforgiving elements.
The new year—a constant symbol of hope, made more significant in that this one ushers in a new decade—thus begins on a sobering fact: Ursula has set the nation back once more, and not exclusively in physical terms: lost lives and property, a new level of homelessness, damaged infrastructure, ruined agriculture.
The psychological state of its people, strained close to breaking by various disasters that leave them with unfilled needs—existing as well as newly formed—is now even more fragile.
It’s uncertain if there are still inner reserves with which to brace for yet another pummelling by earth, wind or fire, which invariably exposes the frailties of structures due to official corruption and greed (for example, a building that crumbled in an earthquake yields the grim discovery of substandard steel) or the brutal exigencies of impoverishment (coastal dwellings “made of light materials” are easily demolished by a storm surge).
After a lifetime of typhoons that grow fiercer by the year, those displaced by such calamities invariably seek shelter in schoolhouses.
A poignant question now haunts survivors in Eastern Visayas unable to quickly rebuild their dwellings: Where will they go when classes resume in 2020?
And yet, it is the disaster-weary that provide a heartening glimpse of never-say-die: television footage of six men fording chest-high floodwaters, bearing on their shoulders a prostrate neighbor requiring medical attention.
The footage, although all too brief, offers a shot in the arm for the new year, illustrating in fresh and vivid detail that Filipino trait, resilience, which politicians like to trot out in claiming credit for the survival of their constituents, even if these same constituents remain trapped in a primitive state.
Resilience is toughness—the ability to cope with and not snap in critical conditions. Survivors of the apocalyptic “Yolanda” displayed it when they picked up the pieces of their lives and carried on in the face of the realization that long-term government succor would not go beyond the customary food packs, money doles and grand promises of better housing.
For the moment, the survivors of Ursula in the Visayas and in the Mindoro provinces need help, including the most basic: food, water, clothing.
The other urgency is housing materials, so they can put a roof over their heads. Now as in the aftermath of Yolanda, long-term planning is essential.
Assistance is sure to be forthcoming from the public, here and elsewhere; what is crucial is how it’s handled to the best advantage of target beneficiaries in the long term.
But apart from the necessity of giving, there are grim issues to address in this celebration of new beginnings.
Now more than ever, there is no room for indifference to the injustice that prevails—from the continuing escape of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ heirs from accountability to the continuing detention of prisoners of conscience; from the stalled trials of accused plunderers to the brazen refusal of powerful thieves to return purloined money despite official orders for them to do so; from the impunity with which fake news is manufactured and the law is violated in the highest places, to the barefaced attempts of lawmakers in the House to perpetuate themselves in power, to the unrelenting campaign against truth-tellers…
Once more into the fray then, with 2020 vision marking the resistance to disempowerment, mindful of Nadine Gordimer’s sharp reminder: “When people are deprived over years of any recourse to the provisions of civil society as a means of seeking redress for their material and spiritual deprivations, they lose the faculty of using the law when, at last, such recourse is open to them.
The result of this conditioning now is fashionably called ‘the culture of violence’; an oxymoron, for culture implies enlightenment, to aim towards attaining the fullness of life, not its destruction.”
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