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Resiliency or survival?

Another storm on its way. When this article comes out of Friday, the storm would have passed< I believe. And I pray now that as few and as little harm can come out of the passing of Typhoon Ulysses. It is not only fear and a deep concern that grips me now, but also a sense of exhaustion. Storm after storm does that to us, and most especially for those who involve themselves with helping storm victims.

Let me clarify. Storms are not only the typhoons we know. Storms are the serious challenges that we encounter, the more-difficult-than-usual trials that give drama to our hearts and our daily lives. Typhoon Ulysses is not visiting the Philippines alone. Covid-19 is still here, somewhat contained if we can call it that but with a threat to spike again as in Europe and the United States. Hunger is still here at its highest level ever in recorded Philippine history.

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Added to the list of continuing storms buffeting us are loss of jobs and incomes, business closures, restricted travel and general movement, quarantined senior citizens separated from many of their family members, disrupted schooling, Others may have a longer list.

The point is that the last eight months have gathered so many storms to ravage us all at the same time. Never have we been tested by collective storms as much as what we have been going through. Talking about resiliency – are we resilient? Or is this more a matter of simply surviving?

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It seems that many of us are resilient but just as many, if not more, are simply clinging on to life from primal human instincts. Resiliency is the virtue of those with choices. Survival is the default of those who have little or no choices.

Resiliency carries in it a strong desire not only to survive but to endure, and to rebuild. It is an act of the will to rise however great the fall, and to rise again when another fall comes. Rising is not a mere standing up, it is standing up when there is a choice to stay down, to give up, to pity oneself – it is standing up with a decision to recover and build back better.

Survival is simpler. It does not take much will because it is the default programming of life – that those with life cling to it. Survival may be understood more clearly when we compare it to our immune system. Without much intervention on our part, our immune system is designed to protect the body against all attackers. It may not succeed if our immune system has been weakened by a less than ideal lifestyle, but it will fight as much as it can before succumbing.

Filipinos face that double situation, the challenge to be resilient, the raw strength to survive, depending on your economic and social status. Many are in-between, having been resilient before but crippled by a pandemic they never saw coming. They had conquered their poverty and had become providers. They are fast slipping back into poverty and even occasional hunger.

It is a moment in our history that we are discovering how individual resiliency is so coupled with the spirit of community. This is the time when we can better realize through a painful experience, and not through the books, how the lack of community engagement has left many of us just waiting for news, for instructions, and even for assistance from government functionaries. It is as though we are being thrown back to a time when societies were simply ruled, when democracy could not even be understood.

It might truly be that we are not ready for democracy. Democracy means people ruling themselves, their community, their country. What do we rule when we are not even sure of the next step? Worse, when we are not even ready for the next meal?

Before Typhoon Rolly, I was totally immersed in the shocking hunger condition of millions in Metro Manila. While I knew that the pandemic was the main cause for a most disruptive situation, I still marveled at the way hunger was almost dismissed as a topic not worthy of catching urgent attention. Every day, we have been fed reports of how many people contract the virus but no report whatsoever about how many people were hungry that same day.

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At the same time, in a democracy, are we citizens not supposed to handle our share of the responsibility? It does not seem the main concern of individual citizens to feed other citizens because democracy assumes a certain minimum of capacity and accountability from every able-bodied citizen. Yet, that same democracy assumes a certain minimum of availability of resources and opportunities for all. If many do not have these, there will be no capacity, no accountability, and only dependency from their part.

And so, this is where we are, forced to confront the inequality of things, not little inequality but more the extreme kind. The few with much and the many with little or none. Mine is not a political comment, just a comment on what I see and have seen all my life. I have been lucky but many others have been downright unlucky.

If we are to pursue a path of democracy, I know we did begin with a rather lopsided equation of resources and knowledge in abundance with an extreme minority and the rest almost coming from serfdom. That is history and our forefathers in this pursuit of democracy knew they had to set a path for more equality. Much has changed since then but much has remained the same as well.

Thus, while democracy and its intended benefits have not reached the mass of Filipinos, it will have to be those ones in power and the ones with wealth who have to take care of the many who are their opposite – powerless and poor. I pray they do, with dispatch, with generosity. Else, really, why should we deserve democracy?

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