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The road to perdition

Elie Wiesel once said, in his 1986 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech: “Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately.”

The majority of the Filipino people do not only suffer from a lack of imagination—we also suffer from the malady of forgetfulness. This is not to demean ourselves, or to denigrate the great men and women who have come before us, all the great Filipinos who have committed their lives for the common good and sacrificed blood for this country. But sometimes, it defies all logic how a free meal or two can cause some people to easily forget how one man or woman must have stolen from their children a future. Worst, Philippine history points to a perpetual kind of domination that sees no clear end given the present crop of candidates running for office come 2016.

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On the other hand, can we really blame our poor brothers and sisters for all the sufferings that they have to go through and the insufferable life that this country has given them? They, too, are victims. We only have ourselves to blame—all of us.

We have to realize that history is not abstract. History has real victims. Paul Ricoeur is correct in saying that “history is the development of the spirit at the heart of humanity.” We cannot become one nation if we do not rise against the namesakes of all those who have caused irreparable damage to our nation. Every hungry child on the street, the innocent who is in prison, or the poor worker who is dehumanized because of his or her lowly pay, all point to an incurable and malevolent disease that this country is suffering from.

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Bright people love the comfort of a clear conscience. Some people like to look from above, behind a glass window, at the world in which the poor live below. While Paris before the French Revolution smelled of death, our brand of democracy has made the intelligent scholar from steel edifices indifferent to the dying cause of the poor Filipino. Indeed, it is unarguable that we are not responsible for the suffering of others. But we cannot also free ourselves from the accountability of not doing enough. While Nietzsche preached life and love, life for him was never about celebrating the eternal glory of one man. The real message of “The Birth of Tragedy” is that not unless we renounce our all-knowing godlike attribute, we might not be able to understand how and why humans suffer from the cruelty of a mortal existence.

We are not free. We are not really free because we should hold ourselves accountable for the difficult lives the children in the margins have. You cannot really tell personal success stories about changing the world if you have not risen above your insidious pride.

People, admittedly, as correctly pointed out by Fr. Justin Lee of the Congregation of Saint John, sometimes think that they do not see a future because they find no value in the present. People have destroyed the environment, ruining their lives in the process, because we suffer from what he calls a “throwaway” culture. I am afraid it is not only those consumerist goods of no value that Filipinos are easily throwing away. Filipinos are also throwing away a collective moral consciousness that should have determined for us what it all means to value human life. This is because for some of us, only one thing, and nothing else, matters—money. 

Indeed, unless one forgives, one will simply remain in the past, and will never be able to forget. But forgiveness, Ricoeur rightly says, “should remain exceptional and extraordinary, standing the test of the impossible.” Some crimes in history cannot be forgiven—Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and now, Bashar al-Assad. Murder does not only steal a life. Murder takes away from young children their world. Murder takes away from a young woman all the joys that love can bring. Murder takes away everything. So, those murderers cannot be forgiven because it is not for us the living to speak for the dead. While forgiveness is a matter of choice, we have the unequivocal moral duty to let history speak before us and to the next generation so that the passing of the times will not render their pleas meaningless.

Days, years and decades shall come to pass, and yet, all the historical scars of human atrocities and injustices shall remain. To forget who caused them is the road to perdition. You will find these scars in the eternal agony of a mother who cannot be attended to by a public hospital, in the cries of a poor child who has to walk barefoot for five kilometers to school only to find out that his teacher is not there, or in the despair of a young man who will have to spend the whole night after a day’s labor wondering about a future that is actually empty. Wiesel speaks about the true meaning of remembrance: “What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their

voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.”

Christopher Ryan Maboloc is assistant professor of Philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He has a master’s in applied ethics from Linkoping University in Sweden.

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