SHE TALKS PEACE: Wishes for 2022

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 26 December) — For those who escaped the wrath of Typhoon Odette which made landfall on December 16,  I hope you had a safe holiday with family and friends.  For our beleaguered kababayans who suffered the brunt of the typhoon – the strongest to hit the Philippines this year, I hope and pray that national government has reached you.  It seems that the prediction about the strength of the typhoon was off.  Siargao (Surigao del Norte) was devastated by maximum sustained winds of 195km/h, then Dinagat Island),Southern Leyte (Liloan and Padre Burgos), President Carlos P. Garcia and Bien Unido  in Bohol, Carcar (Cebu), La Libertad (Negros Oriental) and Roxas (Palawan). Odette is the strongest storm to hit Mindanao in nine years.

Caraga, the Visayas regions and MIMAROPA are the most affected.  The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 16 million people live in the severely affected areas and 2.4 million need assistance. I read somewhere that there was no notice to evacuate in places like Siargao.  How is that possible?

Many friends have messaged about the devastation they faced.  The poor have become poorer still.  Middle income families have become poor.  Surfing paradise Siargao is no more, looting has required the military to step in.   A sanctuary in Bohol has lost most of their tarsiers (only two out of 150 were seen alive).  Clean potable water is still scarce.  As usual, civil society organizations have stepped in quickly.  OCHA is helping, too.

Power and telecommunications will take a while to restore and this will be another drag on an economy struggling with the obstacles posed by the pandemic.  I wonder what the politicians seeking the nation’s highest offices will do to recalibrate their agenda to improve our lives, their promises for the future?

Two years of COVID-19 with an inefficient public health system; loss of remittances and tourism incomes as the Philippines locked down and OFWs could not go abroad or lost their jobs; reduced economic growth as factories and service sectors shut down.  High incidence of social problems, mental health, violence (especially against women) as we were forced to stay at home for months and months and months. For those of us lucky enough to have savings, how long can we last without income?  Not long.

The Philippine Institute For Development Studies (PIDS) released a study in August 2020, “Poverty, the Middle Class, and Income Distribution amid COVID-19”.  Basically, PIDS predicted “declines of incomes by 10 percent across the entire income distribution”.  Worse,  “the number of poor Filipinos can increase by 5.5 million,”.  PIDS did state that “the emergency financial subsidies (i.e., the social amelioration program and the small business wage subsidy in. place) that targeted 90 percent of households, the worsening of poverty conditions has been managed so that only 1.5 million would fall into poverty.”  But these are predictions, best guesses based on certain assumptions (like the subsidies did go to the intended beneficiaries and not some lucky people’s pockets).

When I witness the political circus that has started in preparation for the 2022 elections, I wonder how the electorate will act.  Will the majority be mesmerized by promises, temporary fixes like the “ayuda”?  Will they be swayed by jingles and endorsements by good-looking stars and influencers?  Will most of us shrug our shoulders and believe we can survive whatever political future is ahead?  Will we act in our best interest and, for once, choose committed leaders who have track records of walking their talk?

I have had a lot of time these past two years to think about my future, my family’s future, my community’s future.  I thank some government leaders who have worked hard to keep the Philippine ship of state on an even keel amidst the storms, literal and figurative.  As we near the end of 2021, I believe we should express our gratitude that they are in position to stabilize our situation.  Leaders like Finance Secretary Carlos “Sonny” Dominguez, a Mindanaoan,  who should be credited for steering the economy in the turbulent financial sea; Peace Adviser Carlito “Charlie” Galvez, who has spent decades of his professional life securing peace in Mindanao, for whatever success government has had with the National Task Force (NTF) against Covid-19.  Sec Charlie is optimistic that the government will be able to hit its target to fully inoculate at least 54 million Filipinos by year-end. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who gives us faith that our security sector will protect us from threats external and internal, and defend the Constitution. Education Secretary Leonor “Liling” Magtolis Briones who has quietly and efficiently managed one of the largest departments of government.

As I sat and contemplated what 2022 will bring, I remembered a line from T.S. Eliot: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.”

May we all find some respite from the storm with family and friends.  May 2022 be kinder to the Filipinos.  May the voices of our future leaders be sincere and truly caring.

Thank you all for listening to “She Talks Peace,” available on Spotify, Apple and Google podcasts.  Come and listen to all the episodes and be inspired and encouraged by peacebuilders from Mindanao to Yemen, Myanmar to Palestine, Indonesia to London.  They never give up hope.  Neither should we.  May we all, as Albert Einstein said, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.”

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Amina Rasul is the President of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, an advocate for Mindanao and the Bangsamoro, peace, human rights and democracy)