A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: A defiant hope for 2019

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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/ 01 Jan) – Just for the fun of it, I googled Chinese astrology’s predictions for 2019. The posting I managed to search indicated that “2019 is a great year to make money, and a good year to invest!” It also indicated that it is “going to be full of joy, a year of friendship and love for all the zodiac signs; an auspicious year because the Pig attracts success in all the spheres of life.”

I was born in 1947 making me a person under the zodiac sign of the Pig. I checked out what are the prospects of those under this sign during this Year of the Pig and these do not bring much optimism as this year for us is “traditionally the most unlucky year with trouble and danger lurking at every corner.” It adds: “Similar to the previous year, Pigs may find luck in some areas of their life, but others will require hard work to avoid potential pitfalls. Pigs will most likely experience many emotional ups and downs, making them feel frustrated and sad at times.”

If I were to take these predictions seriously, I naturally would wonder why the contradiction: on one hand, the year promises to be a good year (for making money and deepening friendships) but for some of us born in the year of the Pig, there will be frustrations and sadness.

Even as I have tried my best to wear a mantle of hope over the Christmas-New Year holidays, I cannot deny that lurking inside my heart is a deep sense of frustration and sadness. And I am afraid from day one of 2019 and beyond, these feelings may persist. I know I am not the only one, but then I also have to admit that the few of us in this troubled land faced with such pessimism will need to brace ourselves for a worsening scenario. Consider the following:

Despite the crises that the country faced in the past year, we can’t help but wonder how come the President’s popularity rating according to the Third Quarter 2018 Social Weather Survey remains very good with 70% of adult Filipinos satisfied, 14% undecided, and 16% dissatisfied with the performance of Rodrigo R. Duterte as President. There have been various theories explaining this phenomenon ranging from the appeal of populism in the world today to the charisma that this President exudes through his words and actions. Those critical of the administration are left scratching their head why this is so despite the continuing EJKs, the blatant corruption in many government institutions, the economic woes faced by our people,  the continuing martial law in Mindanao, the manner that China is allowed to take control of our territory in the West Philippine Sea, how the three branches of government have now been made subservient to Malacaňang, the impunity that rules across the land and so many other problems.

Then there is the May electoral exercise. Already those with heavy pockets have – in a blatant and brazen manner – began to campaign as their tarpaulins appear along our streets and are now making TV appearances. Unfortunately, the COMELEC seem powerless to come up with strict guidelines regarding early electioneering. With the elections coming up, there are all kinds of shenanigans in Congress to make sure the honorable Gentlemen and Ladies of the House can raise funds to foot the high cost of running for an office. And despite the high percentage of those opposed to Charter Change and despite the lack of popular debate on the merits of federalism, those in power are doing their best to railroad these political agenda. With the possibility that the new set of Senators elected can easily be cowed by Malacaňang, both Upper and Lower Houses could easily joined forces to get the Charter changed and then set up the federal government.

With the perceived full support of the majority of the population, who will now get in the way of the rise of a fascist government? Those who dare oppose the rise of totalitarianism can then face the brunt of a dictatorial State aggressively crushing all kinds of dissent. A total war could be waged against those of the CPP-NPA and “blood will flow”. All those who are perceived to have links to and/or are favorable to the agenda of  the CPP-NPA will either be eliminated or dragged to prison. Top of the list are the Lumad leaders and their tribal members perceived to back up the communist rebels. Their schools will all be padlocked. Even those who do not share the CPP-NPA’s ideology will all be lumped together as enemies of the State and their human rights be damned.

How about the economic landscape? As the world galloped towards the end of 2018, many Western countries faced all sort of economic difficulties. In France, the violent clashes between the police and the “yellow vests”, England’s Brexit issue, the failed economies of countries like Greece, and especially the shutdown of the U.S.A.’s government even  as stocks slide further down with no immediate end in sight – all these have brought to the world’s attention that all is not well with the neo-liberalism model characterizing most economies.  And with China asserting its economic might, those countries that look up to this giant for assistance – and in our case it is the desire to build! build! build! – will need to be ready for the fallout in the years to come when we will realize that we have big debts to pay!  And if the world’s economy worsens, what will be the consequences for the millions of OFWs and the millions back home who depend on them?

Meanwhile, there can be no escaping the wrath of nature! The new normal in the past years – and 2018 was no exception – has been the series of natural calamities hitting the islands including typhoons, floods, landslides, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and even the threat of tsunamis. With our disregard of the delicate ecosystems of our islands we have severely polluted spaces that could provide livelihood for our people like Boracay. Man-made calamities remain in place as the threat of the ISIS and their local counterparts (Abu Sayaff, BIFF) threaten our security, if the military are to be believed. As the Ebola health scare has again made its presence felt, will this threat reach our shores?

With all these appearing across the horizon as 2019 unfolds, it is no surprise that some of us can feel frustrated and sad. However, we cannot allow ourselves to wallow in the dark waters of our frustrations and sadness for it could lead us to depression. And that mental state could paralyze us into inaction. It could then be easy to rationalize that as many people don’t care anyway, so why should I? And if more and more of us will join the three monkeys who do not see, hear or speak, what then is the future of this Republic?

No, we have to once more retrieve the memory of all those who managed to rage and resist even if their ranks were few: the Confradias of the days of Hermano Pule, the ranks of the Katipunan, Macario Sakay’s anti-American forces, the Huks who fought the Japanese imperial forces, the anti-Marcos forces of the 1970s-80s, those who massed along EDSA in 1986 among others. At one point, they, too, were frustrated but they found the courage to embrace a defiant hope. They defied those in power even as they retained a hope in their hearts that they would overcome!  And they did!

Let 2019 then be a year of defiant hope!

[Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is Academic Dean of the Redemptorists’ St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books, including “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations” and two books on Davao history launched in December 2015. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw).]

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