I WAS RECENTLY occupied with gathering donations for the AFP’s #OGOPMarawi project. My meager ambition was to send a small gift to our troops and bakwit schoolkids, but I soon saw that this was a serious underestimation. The response to my appeal was astounding. In the end, we needed a small truck to deliver the goods, which included 400 care packages, various types of medicine and vitamins, 100 packs of diapers, cartons of milk, huge sacks of clothes, and bundles of sundry basic items. This happened in just a week. I was struck by the donors’ generosity and thanked them profusely. All of them – I mean all of them – replied by thanking me for the opportunity to help. That was not what I expected.
The past year has been toxic for many Pinoys and a fatal one for at least 12,000. Many of us grieve the rending of our social fabric which, just a while ago, was a resilient, reliable national asset. What hurts is that it was damaged on purpose: the resentments of a sector were maliciously tapped and inflamed to generate votes; to maintain that support after the victory, those wounds were methodically prodded to keep them festering.
The social climate is fervid. Battles rage online, insults are traded, expletives hurled, factions strengthened; the chasm widens daily. How ironic it is that Duterte rues the Pinoy on Pinoy fighting in Mindanao but thinks nothing of the wars he and his lieutenants have sparked among close friends, peers, colleagues, even families. It seems that this administration’s expertise is disintegration, for certainly it has done very little to bind us.
Marawi is the nadir of this national tragedy; but in that darkness, light glimmers.
GOOD FROM EVIL
Joseph, as the premier of Egypt, told his conniving brothers who had kidnapped him and plotted his death, “…you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).
I have seen many netizens ask in frustration whether God is punishing the Philippines by bringing us to this pass. Those familiar with the Christian scriptures know that while God’s discipline can be severe, its aim is always benevolent. Significantly, we are assured that it is meted out to those whom “He loves, as a father the son he delights in” (Proverbs 3:12). His discipline jolts us with an acute realization of our misdeeds, which hopefully triggers repentance. It is when we understand our faults that we are able to seek forgiveness and change track.
As a nation, we have made many serious mistakes lately. Among the worst of them is that we are increasingly refusing to take responsibility for each other. Duterte and his narcissistic cohorts have made self-love trend to such a magnitude that it is almost the norm. Decency is now wimpy; bullying is now hailed as strength. Even Leni Robredo’s maternal care and prudence were vilified! This is the depth to which we have descended. Many netizens fail to speak out against bashing for fear of getting it themselves. They fall silent, they choose not to act. As in cyberspace so in real life: people will ignore those in dire need to avoid trouble. I recall that CCTV clip of the young man who was attacked by muggers and stabbed multiple times; a witness emerged from the shadows, saw him on the street and left him there. The lad died eventually. Clearly, indifference can do as much damage as hatred.
We used to care more than this. The Bayanihan spirit used to animate us. Now, we care mostly only for ourselves. We would rather not look at those dropping dead around us; it is easier to look away. There is a sector which even believes those killed deserve their fate. Sylvia E. Claudio’s Facebook status message says it well:
Duterte calls us “bleeding hearts,” those of us who insist on human rights and are alarmed about the staggering rate of those liquidated in the past year and the devastation of their families. When we bemoan the elongating death list, his supporters hit back, “E bakit di niyo iniiyak yung mga pinatay ng mga rapist at adik na yan?” They don’t get it. Of course we do. Of course we count them. We are protesting the unnecessary, violent loss of each of these lives. Every life matters. This is what we are struggling to say. This is what they fail to hear. We are all connected. We each make an impact on our world.
What is happening in Marawi is monstrous, but through it God is restoring our sense of community. Stories abound: Muslims shield Christians. Neighbors look out for each other. Families hang tight in calamity. Folks from all over are sending goods, food, prayers and love to people they will never meet. Slowly, we are remembering that we should have each others’ back.
Knowing this, we must adamantly reject all further attempts to fragment us. That we Pinoys are connected is incontrovertible. Even if we blind ourselves to the pain that irks us, we will feel it.
If we embrace this truth, we can trounce evil. Only God knows what we may accomplish together.
He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.