by NORMA HENNESSY
THOUGHTS TO END THE YEAR
The end of the year 2013 bears a sobering moroseness. A review of the previous months lays open a range of thought-provoking matters that challenge the mind and the spirit. Earlier in the year I got caught up in sublime longing for days gone past. There was a yearning to return. And I did. This was my second visit from when I left in 1997. The first time that I went back to the Philippines was last year. It was a trip that whetted the appetite to return. And to keep returning. This time, it was not so much to re-live moments long buried but to confront a part of me that never quite departed from long ago – some part of me that was once so recognizable but now, is an alien part of me.
Going around the city that used to be my frolicking grounds, I was struck by a sensitivity that I’ve never felt before. Years ago, we used to live within walls of privilege, separate from a different reality of people who were not as fortunate. There was a sense of misgiving at the thought. People were on bare survival mode outside the gates of my old residential ‘village’. While inside our walled areas of residence, we basked in luxury. That was a lifetime ago. During my visit there this year, I saw things from a different light. I felt an odd sense of detachment from the very trait that used to define me-my ego. It was a sense of having metamorphosed. Back home in Australia after the few-weeks of going around and re-living the culture, I found that even in metamorphosis, there is something that will not change. It is the heart’s belonging to one’s origins.
I am, at heart, of a mould of a blessed people that’s graced to live in a bountiful world – a Cordilleran and a northerner. And while I also find essence in the faith of my friend - Halle, a Bahai follower friend in Australia – which promulgates that everyone is a citizen of the world, I find myself drawn intensely towards the Philippines. I am still a Filipino at heart.
Keen to tune into its affairs, I became fully engrossed with the May 2013 local government election issues. Election time was most intriguing. In the Philippines, it was played out fiercely with competitive passion by the rivals. It was a race that reeked of amoral toxicity where rivalry for elective position was enmeshed with election vote trading. In many places suffrage-buy-and-sell operation was in a flea-market-mode. It was a disgracefully blatant display of corruption. Standing by an old-school mindset about individuals standing up for principle, I found myself in an alienable position, writing openly about my utter disappointment and revulsion.
The voting public was a disappointment. With the right of suffrage having been achieved at the cost of tears and blood through history, it was utterly devastating that it was cheaply regarded and marketed by the very generation that this costly civil right has been dedicated to. Members of the electorate sold their rights. Some did so on the premise that they were pressured or threatened to do so. Where the heck has the courage to stand for moral principle gone? Sadly, we are first and foremost poor victims of our failure to stand up for our principle against any threat to it, be it the bullying of those who muscled their way into domination in government positions or heckling from the financially powerful. We are poor in status and in principle. And we are so because we lack respect for ourselves. Perhaps history failed in obtaining for us the true grit that make us a people of courage so that what we have come to possess is superficial trust in our capabilities. We succumbed to the miniaturisation of ourselves by aping our colonialists. Our confidence as a people is a farce. We do not fully accept who we are. Or if we do, we refuse to embrace our originality as indigenous people who have our own unique culture and natural relationship with our land. We would rather be carbon copies of our colonizers and enslavers. It is why until now, the colonial mentality is well alive in our culture. It is why we continue to nurture a disguised cultural inferiority complex. And it is why when confronted with what appears to be hard-to-surmount circumstances, the first thing we do is cry out for HELP to our neighbours and to our ‘Big Brothers’ and get them to solve the problems for us!
Played out in the local scenario, our propensity to be ‘slack’ and indifferent is condoned, if not embraced by the community we belong. Therefore, those who dare to do anything that’s different, or even slightly more than the usual thing, they inevitably turn arrogant. They become power-dazed and, in order to perpetuate a dominance that they have come to acquire, they graduate to being bullies who shit on their kind. Meanwhile, those of us who are content for life to pass us by under the pretext of ‘God will provide!’ we allow our fear to control us. When intimidated, it is an easy way out to put everything down to fate. We accept everything that is as a matter of course. We live life in survival mode. We cede our right to be to these people that create fear in us and in the process we cease to act on our dreams. Instead, we convince ourselves to have someone to depend on or that, it’s okay to opt for ‘Come what may’. In the absence of a dole-out, we go for the basics: three meals a day, rotten clothes on our backs and four walls to protect us from nature’s elements. Until someone picks up the tab for us. And then, we play upon the heartstrings of others. If sympathy is not forthcoming, perfidy takes control.
Most of our fellow Filipinos back home have a superficial concept about what kind of life it is that’s beyond and above ‘poverty’ level. They are estranged from the concept of ‘quality life’. They regard anything that’s materially more than a ‘hand-to-mouth’ existence as a better life. But is it? Materialism is embedded in the culture for the wrong reasons. It has become the pursuit to live for instead of it being an element to make life comfortable. It is why when they have access to what is more than enough - they get crazed and confused.
We lack life’s refinement and the grace of reason. Perhaps it is because of us having the wrong notion and miscomprehension about what ‘being’ is relative to humanity. We are crude with our beliefs, discordant in our faith and confused in our comprehension of morals. We are for the most part dazzled by glittering face value of things. We are drawn to superficial façade even while what is hidden underneath is rot and grime. We confine our thought of growth in our acquisition of material assets. We are indifferent to the polishing of our internal make-up and we are clueless about the essence of taming our primeval behaviour. We are alien to finer sensitivities. It is no wonder that our politicos and most of our government officials, being from the same pot-pourri of roughly-grounded personas as ours, they are not exempt from the grip of barbaric psyche or primitive mindset. And this is so, however much they disguise that mindset with emulated sophistication.
Corruption is visible at every level of our Filipino society. It is a corrosive weakness and is a disease of human-character that does not discriminate who it preys upon. Corruption in high places is no more or less than corruption among low level practitioners. Corruption is corruption. Whether you are a corrupt official of a government or a private person cheating on your private associates, your corruption and treachery is bane to society. In the wake of the massive corruption scandal that the Philippines is entrenched in, a tragic disaster lays in wait – and it’s the danger of usurpation of the Filipino homeland by a dominant neighbour. And as the year ends, we stare ahead without knowing what to anticipate. But with a prayer in our hearts, we look ahead anyway…. hoping… wishing…