Knocking, singing, hoping | Inquirer Opinion

Knocking, singing, hoping

/ 05:03 AM November 30, 2022

Last week, fake news circulated about a junior lawmaker doing the equivalent of Marie Antoinette’s “let them eat cake” in answer to the exorbitant price of white onions. Just pick another color for your onion needs, the lawmaker supposedly said.

People fell for it because this same lawmaker, and many of his ilk, have a record of saying the most inane, ridiculous things. Fake news or not, many of these so-called elected leaders pride themselves on providing people with “solutions”—and we’ve seen it happen long before this inflation debacle.


Here are lots of options for transportation, but you’ll still sit in traffic and waste your day (and wages) away. Here are lots of options for vegetables, but you can’t afford any of them. Here are relief packages in all the sizes of canned goods that your local government can buy, and you’ll probably wreck your kidneys consuming them—but we won’t have enough doctors and nurses to help you when that happens.

These leaders are not providing choices. They are voices of privilege providing the illusion of options.


These ruminations came to the fore on Monday, as the Ateneo Loyola Schools held its annual “Panunuluyan.” The Panunuluyan is one of many Filipino Christmas traditions: It is a sung procession depicting the journey of St. Joseph and the Virgin Mary, on the eve of Jesus’ birth.

The procession consists of the Holy Family stopping at houses, knocking, and begging for entry. Each time, they are turned away: The house is full, the owner is busy, the Holy Family doesn’t deserve shelter because it was too irresponsible to find room at the inn much earlier. In the end, the Holy Family is granted space amongst farm animals, in the dirt and mud and filth.

A cursory examination of the Panunuluyan might prompt one to say that the Holy Family should be thankful. At least they had options. At least they got the stables.

A closer look tells us that this story is no simple house-hopping trip. It is the journey that we all take in a society whose structures force us into choices made out of desperation. A job? Only if you have a college education. A college education? Only if you have connections. Connections? Only if you’re willing to sell your dignity.

It is the father who has no money in his pocket and decides to work a sleepless night so that his children can continue going to school, or the mother who was not given her wages and goes hungry for a meal so that her children can eat. It is the Father who cares for a Son who is not his own, a Mother whose heart is breaking at the thought that she might have no space to welcome the Son of God.

It is the Holy Family forced to take what it can, so that it can bring into the world He who can make all things possible.

This year’s Panunuluyan was a special one for me. I last played the Virgin Mary in 2016; this time, I had to sing her lines. I’ve never sung solo before, so I had to study the songs, hit every note, listen to the meanings that lived beneath the verses.


There’s something about music that unearths the emotions within us. I suddenly felt the Holy Family’s desperation, and their search for hope. The Panunuluyan was in the educators who strive to teach what is right, only to be laughed at, ridiculed, and scorned. It was in the professors that do everything required of them, who beg for someone, anyone to understand the rigor and pain of their duties, who feel next to nothing in their pockets at the end of every payday.

It was in our lives this year, when we tried to knock on the doors of millions of hearts, begging for them to welcome real change, to vote for a leader who truly listened to the people. In the end, millions of hearts turned us away.

So, on Monday, I sang. As we closed our “visit” to one of the houses, I felt a pang in my heart, and it echoed into a break in my voice. I had to stop myself from crying.

Maybe it was the emotions of the song finally coming to the surface. Maybe it was the Virgin Mary lending me a tenth of the heartbreak that she would later experience as she cradled her Son’s mangled body at the foot of the cross.

Maybe it was the thought that our country is poor, not because it has no money. It is poor because it allows itself to be drawn to the illusion of choice, at the price of its true freedom.


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TAGS: fake news, Filipino Christmas, Panunuluyan
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