I have always thought of the name Philippines as a memorial to our painful colonial past and a demeaning vestige of our being diminutive copies of a vile Spanish monarch. To call ourselves Pinoys further emphasizes our not-so-amusing self-wounding tendency. My use then of the above title is more poetic than honorific. (The title actually came to me in a dream; so, what writer can resist an inspiration?) Besides, it adds a slight sarcasm that might help awaken us to finally claim a better nation with bigger dreams and, preferably, a better name (read: reputation, also). Not a bad choice at all.
After Ondoy, Pepeng and a taste of Ramil’s Lupit, we squat on the muddy ground like hungry flood-victims shivering in wet clothes, waiting for some help from generous souls. Dazed and cold, we seem not to know where to go. We eventually stand up and tell people that we must do this and that to rebuild our towns and our homes and to prepare for more disasters.
We go through a disaster and get ready for more! This is how we forget how to live a full life. We have not done what we should have done a long time ago and so we pick ourselves up every time calamity comes around. And yet we do not really improve our lot. We simply live and survive. The cycle is too obvious to miss.
The 1972 flood in Central Luzon brought us down. We built dams afterward — great! But we failed to provide wider channels or protect our forests to prevent future floodwaters. 2009 brings us Ondoy and Pepeng and we blame the dams for the flooding! Then, the July 1990 earthquake struck Luzon and we shuddered with the Earth. The ill-prepared government did its best and the people simply suffered through it all. Laws were passed to limit heights of buildings in Baguio; but, soon, high-rise buildings mushroomed. They might be strong; but they still pose real dangers and deduct from the city’s quaint resort-image as well as its dwindling resources. And gauging from our response to Pepeng, we still are not prepared to face the coming Big One. Landslides and road cuts isolated Baguio as they did in 1990. Earthquakes or rains deliver the same disastrous effects but we fail again to deliver deliverance from them. We must not be learning at all for us to fall into the same rut every time.
Then, Mt. Pinatubo dealt us its near-apocalyptic wrath in 1991. Central Luzon became a wilderness and continues to suffer from lahar flows, if not, faces the danger of the volcano’s crater collapsing. God forbid! In spite of assurance from Phivolcs, we must do what is necessary to prevent a big catastrophe. Who would have thought before 1991 that Mt. Pinatubo would erupt? Who are we to say that its crater lake is as safe as a water tank atop a tall building? Water pressure is not the only natural force that will cause its crater walls to give way. Another strong tremor can bring all that water down. How do we prepare for that eventuality? Who was it who said that anything that can go wrong will go wrong? We can’t go wrong if we do what is right as early as we can.
We need not talk about the many shipping disasters, mudflows and fires that come our way often. Natural or man-made, we have them all. It seems we do not really have a choice but to hunker down and face the howling winds and the rampaging waters.
But we do have a choice! We, Pinoys, definitely have a choice. In spite of the dark picture we paint here (something that TV, radio newscasters and even movies cater ad infinitum), we remain masters of our destiny.
But how do you prevent a typhoon or an earthquake or a volcanic eruption from occurring? We cannot. But we can prepare our lives and our cities to mitigate effects of disasters. Now, we know how to prevent flooding in Metro Manila; but can we do it without so much corruption slowing down the process? We found ways to diminish the danger of lahar flows; but it too became a source of corruption, a disaster of sorts equally draining on our souls. We found ways to alloy fears of structural failures during earthquakes, but people readily violated laws — another disaster waiting to happen?
The point then is not merely to say we know what we must choose to do. It is not even a question of actually doing what needs to be done. The issue requires assuring the next generation that they will receive a priceless heritage from us by our making a disciplined and moral choice now. Without that hope burning in the hearts of the youth, I fear that this country will have lost its chance for greatness.
Discipline covers all aspects that its meaning implies, from military to academic to spiritual. The discipline of soldiers, artists and scientists is the lower limit, while the discipline of saints is the higher limit. Average that and we have a citizenry that is not only trained, creative and aware but also inspired, compassionate and sacrificing. A disciplined choice is one then that tries to encompass the wealth of intellectual, scientific, social, economic, cultural and spiritual wisdom — quite attainable now through our integrative management systems. Our colleges, Universities and public and private corporations have some of the smartest people capable of synergistic thinking. What they may lack as a whole is the capacity to incorporate higher moral values without which plans and decisions turn into nothing but inane or inanimate, lifeless, if not, immoral ventures.
Can we, at least, make these criteria (trained, creative, aware, inspired, compassionate and sacrificing) as among the basic requirements for our elective officials? Never mind if they are college undergrads as long as they have heart and soul to start with. As long as they qualify the next requirement, they should be given a chance to prove their worth as public servants.
Moral choice, of course, refers to right behavior based on certain ethical standards. As a predominantly Christian nation, it would not be presumptuous to make the essential principle of Christianity as our guidepost: Love for God and for others. That should include all faith-systems without causing ill-will or prejudice among any of them. The important thing is that we make the choice to agree that THAT is the only way we can live with one another, nothing else. For if one says he loves God but harms his neighbors then that choice violates the communal peace and stability.
LOVE. As simple as that.
Religious differences have no place in this effort to make disciplined and moral choices in rebuilding our nation. In whatever way an individual or group worships God or practices his or her religion, it should not detract from our common goal of achieving a disciplined and moral society. A biologists goes about his work of studying animals and plants while a geologist, that of understanding the Earth. So why cannot a Christian live his/her life as one, the same way a Muslim can? In any island, province, city or town, this must be possible as long as we keep in mind the common good.
Withholding our tendency to highlight the minor issues that cause divisions among us (whether religious, cultural or political) and nurturing the desire to fulfill the “weightier matters of the law” will go a long way toward patching up the wounds and aches that separate us as a people. Indeed, we can converse and contend to our hearts’ delight, but must end our dialogues with a group-hug or a high-five. Absurd? No, quarreling and fighting are absurd and stupid. As James Wallis stated in his book God’s Politics, “Ideologies have failed us; values can unite us, especially around our most common democratic visions.”
Even as early as now, we already feel the heat of the election fever rising. AH1N1 has nothing compared to the boiling partisan passions that can cause more deaths than any virus can inflict, as seen in our long list of political assassinations and violent conflicts. “All You Need is Love” and “Give Peace a Chance” may be corny themes for this Beatle-fan to bring up; but they simply echo the need of the hour. Under such dire and tragic circumstances as we have, flared up political sentiments are the last things we want our people to hear and see in the news. No matter how sincere one’s thoughts or motives are, no matter how diplomatically phrased our words are, if it involves partisan politics, expect divisiveness to thrust its morbid head.
But in our country, an election seems like a disaster we cannot prevent and find hard to avoid. Hence, we push for a disciplined and moral way of going about choosing our leaders as well. How? Choose those people who truly lead disciplined and moral lives (remember our definitions) and campaign for them (you must) in a disciplined and moral manner. Use your phone, the Internet and your conversations as calm venues to highlight your candidates’ qualities, not the failures of others. This is the least we can do to attain our bigger dreams. Avoid rallies for they are subject to inordinate passions and to mob rule. (To candidates: Use YouTube to campaign or, if you feel the need, to sing or dance.) Watch them on TV if you must, but only as if you were watching a movie, a concert, a documentary or a reality-show and not as a way to glorify anyone. Be a fan but do not be a fanatic. Be a believer but do not be a blind follower or voter. Idolatry is both a political and spiritual mistake. Why adore would-be public servants? The last time people cheered servants was when they fed them to lions. Ironically, it’s you they are feeding to lions. For more often than not, they are the lions!
We can have disciplined and moral elections if we choose to, not the noisy, dirty, violent and shameful ones we have had for so long. If we can hack it this time by electing disciplined and moral leaders, we could have fewer disasters (or, at least, one disaster less). God is not asleep and knows how to care for obedient followers. Ultimately, God’s way is our choice.
Passions, then, must give way to disciplined thinking and living. Know what is true and right and work toward perfecting the craft of living a righteous life. The Japanese Samurais attained perfection in their way of life, albeit violent for common taste; but if we acquired the same discipline in our moral lives, imagine what we can do as a nation. Let other people herald their deeds and their promises. Our common duty is to show everyone that we want a better deal in the way we build our cities and towns and that means a better deal in governance. Let us choose to lead as individuals by having disciplined and moral lives and even our leaders will follow us.
Pinoys – as one — have a choice. Unless and until we make this idealistic and uncomfortable choice, we will end up where we find ourselves today: in a looping, disaster reality-movie. Seeing our country-folk on CNN or National Geographic as real-life actors in tragic events is not only embarrassing and humbling; it is mentally, emotionally and spiritually torturous. For such gentle, God-fearing and self-effacing people to suffer so, there must be something wrong with how we behave and that God does have something to tell us that we fail to heed. For if we did what was right, sin, terror and death would not be right behind our doors knocking every night.
Ours may not be the only country going through the same fate but we have no time to understand others’ lot. Let us make our own choices and chart our own course first before we deal with helping others. We have so much to correct in our own backyard that once we accomplish what needs to be done here, we can have the desire and capacity to extend whatever good influence we may have. For now, we need to look inward and begin a real revolution within us.
We, Pinoys, have a choice! A disciplined and moral choice. This could be our last chance.
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