MY NECK OF THE WOODS: A time for reflection, vision and action

I feel a sense of personal tragedy because that girl lives in a village behind the guarded community where my parents and siblings live.  As a teenager, there were no walls then. I grew up climbing and mountain biking to the top of Davao's Matina shrine hills via Yñiquez Subdivision. I wouldn't be surprised to know if the girl's father was among the neighborhood kids who I spent time with drinking tuba, caroling during Christmas, or just plain hanging out.

During my years in college, the community where Mariannet lived became a violent battleground between armed groups. One armed group owed its allegiance to the reigning dictator and another wanted to replace Marcos with the dictatorship of the proletariat. At the end of the day the armed conflict wrought havoc on infrastructure, and most of all to the women and children. We have been able to enjoy the short-lived dividends of peace after EDSA but we have not enjoyed it long enough.

Our brightest minds have asked the question a million times – and answers have been given more than a million times – when or will the Philippines ever get out of the rut it is in. A rut which becomes more striking in the light of a train of scandals that arise out of a callous administration devoid of conscience. Whether the wielder of the scepter is an Aquino, a Ramos, an Estrada, or an Arroyo, not much has changed – our best and brightest are voting with their feet in greater numbers, the politicians have become more vociferous and rabid, the Philippines’ Catholic hierarchy is still dancing to the beat of the oligarchs, and a large swath of the Philippines is left clutching straws. We thought that the Marcos era was dark – today, the Philippine nation is at its darkest. We raise the proverbial question: "Shall we curse the darkness or shall we bring the light?"

I learned more about the details written in the child's journals and I was struck by the depth of the child's despair – a jeepney fare to school, school supplies, materials for a school project, and lunch money. These are things we take for granted in our adopted country but are treasured in our homeland. There was a time when the lack of these materials would be taken in stride. Today, such is no longer the case. We are literally losing our most precious resource – the children, the future – to apathy, hopelessness, and the breakdown of ethics and morality in the highest levels of the Philippine government.

It is so tempting to rage against the darkness that pervades our homeland but that is the easier path and it fuels more rage, despair, and hopelessness. That does not mean to say that I am not enraged or disgusted but I choose to let that rage fuel my passion of pulling out more of our countrymen from the despair that chokes the life out of them.

Let us choose the road less taken, to take the path of Prometheus and bring light. The path will not be easy, in fact it will be hard. It is a great effort to convince our communities in the diaspora to support a province in Cotabato because of the deep regionalism that exists to this day. I am convinced that you have had your share of anecdotes. Despite that seeming divisiveness, you, my fellow volunteers have overcome and have seen the common bonds that bind us as a nation – a sense of pride in being Filipino despite the shenanigans of the Philippine government, a collective appreciation of our community's achievements in our adopted countries. Yes, there is a sense of being a "Filipino", one that strives to nurture and highlight the good while striking hard at everything that drags the nation down. Yes, apathy also exists in the diaspora. BUT, I have also seen dedication to the greater good, compassion, innovation, integrity in the diaspora, through YOU, my fellow volunteers.

And so today, I ask you, friends and fellow volunteers to march, nay, run on as bearers of the light. No effort or contribution is too small. We are on track with our programs, with our mission, our vision, and the actions we have undertaken thus far. It is unfortunate that we were not able to reach Mariannet Amper on time. But think about this: every time we send an educational resource, or support a school, or a library in the remote and disadvantaged areas of the Philippines, how many more Mariannets are we saving?

No, we are not on a race to save the Philippines, we are in a marathon towards the future. It matters not whether we get to the finish line first or last. The fun lies in getting to the destination. And get there we will. 

(Mindanawon Abroad is MindaNews' effort to link up with Mindanawons overseas who would like to share their experiences in their adopted countries.  Warlito "Bong" Vicente, a Dabawenyo and a volunteer of Move on Philippines [www.moveonphil.org], is now based in Northeast Florida, USA. Email: warlito@warlitovicente.com)

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