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Into the light

/ 03:01 AM January 01, 2016

The year began with the frenzied preparations for and a visit from Pope Francis that brought light into the lives of many, Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and nonbelievers.

Inspired, we wanted to hope, to believe in the Pope’s messages about the power of mercy and compassion, but it has not been easy in a year when darkness often seemed to overwhelm the light. 

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Amid celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, we saw continuing armed conflicts throughout the world. Only a few days after the papal visit, an armed clash in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, resulted in the death of 44 members of the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF), 17 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and a still unknown number of civilians. To this day the circumstances around the clash remain unclear, even as the encounter led to renewed hostilities and drove, at one point, some 100,000 civilians into evacuation centers.

Toward the end of the year, a contingent of some 700  lumad  (indigenous peoples) camped out in Metro Manila for more than a month to remind the nation of still another aspect of Mindanao’s fragile peace.  The  lumad  journeyed to the national capital to publicize their situation of assassinated leaders, of schools closed down, of  thousands displaced and sent to evacuation centers amid struggles to control the rich mineral resources in their ancestral lands.

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Overseas, we saw the desperate journeys involving thousands of refugees from northern Africa and the Middle East, fleeing wars in their own countries and trying to make their way into Europe. The world was stunned with the publication of photographs of the body of a three-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, washed ashore in Bodrum, Turkey, after the boat he was in capsized, a long way off from their destination, Greece. A five-year-old brother and the child’s mother also perished. Aid poured in for the refugees, and governments tentatively opened their borders for the refugees to pass through.

Memories fade and border controls have tightened since then.

Over at UP Diliman, our Christmas celebrations played on the theme of light. We had our traditional Pag-iilaw, a lighting up of the campus, described as  dingas, a spark which, if sustained, can bring light,  liwanag  and  tanglaw.

UP’s metaphors of light intrigued me, got me looking into the many terms we have to describe not so much light itself as the lighting process. I was particularly intrigued by  alipato, those flying embers from coal that can be mesmerizing.  They are sparks too, different from  dingas.   Alipato  is the name of the UP Integrated School’s journal, an apt metaphor for the process of teaching and learning.

Alipato  and  dingas remind us that bringing in light can be difficult.  In a speech, UP president Alfredo Pascual  mentioned his hopes that  dingas  would not be  ningas, a reference to the expression  ningas  cogon, brushfires that erupt from dry cogon grass which subside quickly. It is an expression referring to the enthusiasm that accompanies the start of many projects, but which fades away, leaving tasks unfinished. 

Carefully tended, sparks become  siklab, or  liyab, kindled and spreading, sometimes into a furious  lagablab, a term that is used to refer to revolutionary fervor.

Light is different from glitter.  Emilio Jacinto’s essay “Liwanag at Dilim,” written more than a hundred years ago, warns against the worship of  ningning  or mere glitter, so appropriate with national elections coming in 2016—and a nation finds itself assaulted by goons and guns, even as it is seduced by glitter and glamour.

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Mind you, there are times when these terms,  ningning  and  kislap, can be appropriate. Our national anthem has a stanza where both words are used, here focusing on how our flag fires our spirit, a nation never to be overwhelmed by darkness:

Ang kislap ng watawat mo’y tagumpay na nagniningning.  Ang bituin at araw niya kailan pa ma’y di magdidilim. 

Light is associated with knowledge.  Rizal and his comrades called themselves the  ilustrado, the enlightened, not out of deceit but as a way of pledging themselves to the liberal ideals of the Enlightenment.

Rizal played with metaphors of light and darkness in his famous “Letter to the Women of Malolos,” encouraging these young women who dared to ask, maybe to demand, that they have access to more than basic education.

Filipinos are well aware of the constant struggle between light and darkness. Dusk is called  agaw-dilim, the last light attempting to stay on before darkness falls. In places without electricity, that darkness can be full of foreboding, associated with malignant spirits, and humans.

Gentle light

Amid the darkness that engulfed the war, flickers of light become even more important. There was the Facebook posting of Antoine Leiris, widower of one of the victims of terrorist attacks in the Bataclan, Paris, declaring that he and his son would not succumb to hate because this would make them no better than the murderers.

There were the Muslims on a bus in Kenya who shielded fellow Christian passengers when they were attacked by

Islamist terrorists and defied orders to segregate themselves.  The Muslim passengers insisted that they would all be killed together, or released together.

Light can overwhelm darkness, but maybe, too, we should sometimes learn to appreciate the gentle peace of the night. The year 2016 marks the 70th anniversary of “Payapang Daigdig” (Peaceful world), composed by Felipe de Leon Sr. to commemorate the end of World War II and the establishment of the United Nations. The piece has become a popular Christmas carol, but can be used throughout the year with its description of a calming night. 

As the year ended, we of the Inquirer family, and the nation, mourned the death of editor in chief Leticia Jimenez-Magsanoc. We find comfort in Pope Francis’ messages of mercy and compassion and remember LJM and the many times she brought light, through her courage, during the dark years of dictatorship, and the many dark moments of our national life. 

On Sunday, during her wake, mourners noted a distant display of fireworks in the sky, against a full moon, somewhat similar to the stars described in “Payapang Daigdig.”

The fireworks and the moon came together for an unplanned celebration of LJM’s life. She may have passed into the light, but leaves much of  liwanag  and  tanglaw, lighting up the way for future generations of Filipinos.

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TAGS: metaphors of light, Remembering Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc
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