Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On being Pinoy during the time of calamity

SOME of our kind say that being Pinoy is almost synonymous with ‘calamitous’. And, like it or not, there are tons of reasons behind their saying so.

First, there is the reality of our predictable, permanent, yearly visitors’ program reserved to the most unwelcome tourists, namely, TYPHOONS and their notorious relatives, such as flood-causing rains, life-and-property-devastating winds, diseases, family displacements, unemployment, rise of criminality. I might have missed mentioning their other relatives but I swear Pinoys never miss them one bit. As far as most of us are concerned the only other thing worse than being in the path of typhoons is being unable to relocate the country to, say, somewhere below Hawaii.

Then there is also our calamitous politics that largely runs on our patronage and transactional culture for fuel. For the educated Pinoy this one is among the most frustrating occupants of our National Hall of Shame because it keeps on leaving the hall in order to incessantly ravage and possess our people who transfer its bad spirit on to our politicians. The culprit, we all realize, is less our poverty than our stubborn resistance to change a deeply-ingrained quid-pro-quo cultural mindset. You want my vote? not a few voters seem to say. Then give me my advance share of your lucrative access to our money once in power. Even well-meaning politicians are aghast over this hushed-over disease but eventually succumb to contagion. Money is expected to abound on the way to next year’s elections, our poor could behave like ‘instant millionaires’ destined to be ‘instantly impoverished’ in subsequent days. Could massive, no-nonsense voter education programs such as those being contemplated by many sectors, including the Church, help? Something in me aches to think so. But reality check might dampen our enthusiasm. For a good start, we should collectively pray for a miracle to cure the moral cancer inside our culture that basically wrecks havoc on our spirits.

We should not by-pass our chronically challenged (read: lack of a) sense of discipline. The massive environmental pollution in our urban centers and our ubiquitous traffic mess (“Why are Filipinos unable to obey traffic rules?” many foreign visitors ask in bewilderment) are classic cases in point. I wouldn’t be surprised if, upon honestly assessing the latest flood disaster in various places in Metro Manila, we will simply acknowledge a simple truth: we are mostly the cause of the disastrous effects we see around us. We do not dispose of our garbage properly. We hardly follow building rules for our houses and establishments. We do not observe our own traffic rules. Now we literally reap the whirlwind.

No, I don’t believe in mere self-flagellation. I believe in acknowledging the truth, which is why we need to talk turkey about ourselves, as, I believe, I had tried to above. But there is also so much that is good in being Pinoy. We need not mention how but, especially during the time of calamity, we also show our better selves.

We keep on rediscovering we can be heroes by our simple ‘bayanihan’ spirit, ‘bayani’ meaning hero. Neighbors rescuing, feeding and sheltering neighbors are a staple story in our every disaster experience, not excluding that from ‘Ondoy’. When my sister’s family residing at De Castro, Pasig City, ran out of food as they were battling more than ten-feet flood, their neighbors came to offer a share of the little food they had. Scenes like that were multiplied in many other neighborhoods.

We also happily realize the power of praying together, the living praying together, the living asking the prayer of saints or simply invoking the all-powerful name of ‘Jesus’ to spare fellow Pinoys and the whole country from further suffering born of the much-hyped Super-Typhoon ‘Pepeng’. When my sister panicked on seeing flood waters reaching their house’s second flood (thank God, they have a second floor), with the rains continually pouring, I counseled her to keep calm and to pray with me. After fifteen minutes, she texted back and informed me that just as she finished the rosary, the rains stopped. “Please offer our dawn rosaries specifically for the super typhoon to spare our people in Luzon,” I beseeched some parishioners after morning Mass. I saw most nodding in deep sympathy. Wonder of wonders, ‘Pepeng’ veered away from its feared route, even if Northern Luzon was eventually hard hit. The point is that Pinoys rediscovered the power of praying together, something that even a political phenomenon like Edsa 1 showed them.

Most of all, people like us in Samar Island who think we know most what typhoon victims go through, now could offer our most profound sympathy, for a change. We have been typhoon victims ourselves since time immemorial. As my small barangay parish prepared to send the little aid we can afford to our brothers and sisters in Metro Manila, I remembered, as a child, horrible typhoons that twisted and felled down our coconuts, trees, crops and houses. Yet we simply picked up the pieces the next day. There was very little evidence of government-sponsored rescue operations. And I don’t remember anyone complaining about it. We simply relied on family, neighborhood and community. Recently a true-blooded Eastern Samarnon whose name I wouldn’t wish to mention here in print made a remark: “I used to have a classmate in Manila who kept on asking me a question I often took for an insult: ‘Ano ba ang bagyo?’ (‘What is a typhoon?’). I’m sorry to know his area was recently flooded. But, at least, I see one positive spot here. I don’t need to answer his question anymore.”

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