Tuesday, July 1, 2008



I write as I listen to the soothing music and the soul-stirring lyrics of an Il Divo hit entitled “Nella Fantasia.” They sing of a dream, very much like the dream of Martin Luther King of yore. They dream of souls who live together in peace and in honesty, and who are always free (sono sempre libere) like the clouds in the sky (come le nuvole che volano).

Even as I write, I share the growing anger and frustration of so many people, hapless and helpless victims – as much of nature’s wrath shown in typhoon Fenshen (Frank in our local nomenclature) – as of a culture of greed, selfishness, corruption, and a sore lack of professionalism in many, many aspects of our communal lives, in and out of government. People grow angry and desperate even as the owners and management of Sulpicio lines keep on doing what they are best at (having become experts in it as three other ships they owned figured in almost identical accidents over the two past decades) – deflecting responsibility and dumping it on others every step along the way, to the total disregard of the suffering and the grief of thousands of relatives of the more than 700 people that perished in the capsized so called unsinkable ferry (which by the way is all of 24 years old!), the M/V Princess of the Stars.

How very true the gently lilting tune and lyrics of this Il Divo masterpiece do ring for us now! Io sogno d’anime chi vivono in pace e onesta come le nuvole che volano, pien d’umanita, in fondo all’anima … I dream of souls who live in peace and sincerity like the clouds in the sky, full of humanity deep within!

I take it the writer of the song expresses what we all need to be reminded of in our times – the pressing need for hope – at a time when we are enveloped by what Robinson (2004) refers to as “contours of hopelessness.”

Hopelessness and cynicism takes many and varied forms and disguises in this country and beyond. It shows in the desperation of so many who peg all their hopes on the lotto, whether the illegal (jueteng) or the legal variety (STL or small town lottery). It shows in the way so many are now willing to make a fool of themselves by submitting to the antics of TV hosts during noontime shows, doing as they are told, gamely trying to keep up with the pace just to get a lucky break somehow. It shows, too, in the many ways just about everybody tries to cut corners just to make a few more bucks on the sly, capitalizing on the ignorance and desperation of so many who don’t and won’t know any better. It shows in how traffic aides and policemen everywhere try to show a semblance of being hard at work, safeguarding the common good, by inventing traffic violations at every turn, every corner, and every intersection.

The latest tragedy of M/V Princess of the Stars highlights the growing menace of this lack of dedication to the call of professionalism in our basic services like mass transport. Whilst it was immediately attributable on the short haul to the fury of typhoon Fenshen (Frank), a whole lot of other potential and real factors surely came into play that made it a tragedy that, on the long haul, could have been preventable – if all the needed safeguards, safety procedures, and a great dose of good, old prudence were applied.

For one, prudence would ordinarily dictate that in a country of more than 7,000 islands, surrounded by open seas and turbulent straits in between islands, setting sail while knowing that they were on the path of a raging typhoon would be inadvisable. Secondly, cutting corners on maintenance seems to be the run of the day all over the country. Two big trucks stalled two days in a row at EDSA in Makati, thus slowing down the already chaotic and stalled traffic even more. The culprit? … poor maintenance of vehicles … overloading … and similar tales that happen once too often everywhere in the whole archipelago.

Pagadian City, A Clear Case in Point

Last June 17-19, I was in Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur to solemnize a wedding of a former student. It was my first time in that part of northern Mindanao. Whilst the lush vegetation of Mindanao struck me, along with its rich and verdant mountains and hills surrounding a picturesque bay that separated Occidental and Oriental Misamis provinces, I felt sad that the same story of lack of city planning, lack of foresight and forward looking vision that is wholistic and integral, that takes into consideration the need for development that is sustainable, and at the same time aesthetically and environmentally sound, seem to be the same unfolding reality in the last frontier of the Philippines.

The reception was held in the main road of Pagadian, at a third floor restaurant that could be reached via a very narrow staircase, and an equally narrow main – and only – door. Apart from being narrow, the door opened in, not out. Given the number of guests that easily could have been 150 to 200, that staircase, and that narrow doorway simply jutted out like a sore thumb, when one looks back at the repeated tragedies that befell similar establishments in Quezon City – fires that gutted every burnable material and killed scores of people who were trapped in narrow doors that also opened in.

One would think that given the experience, and given the fact that the city is not yet that crowded, city planners and city authorities would be a little more armed with lessons well learned from experience. But no! … One contour of hopelessness in this country is just to raise up one’s hands in surrender, and follow the bandwagon called “kahit ano, puede na” mentality (anything goes).

Cynicism: Tell-tale Sign of Desperation

We’ve heard it before … all the hand wringing and the finger-pointing … all the blaming and the brazen denials of people from both sides of the fence. No one seems to admit responsibility to anything. For the next two or three months, I expect a lot more of the same in the frenzied media. There will be a lot of post-mortem analyses of the tragedy. There will be a lot more of accusations and counter accusations. But unless I got it wrong in the past 52 years of my life, literally nothing will come out of all this “sound and fury.” When the tears of the sorrowing have dried, and enough telenovela shows have been shown to wet viewers’ eyes again, and more showbiz personalities hug the center stage of people’s attention, the tragedy will most likely lie buried together with the hundreds of those who died uselessly, needlessly, and quite preventably.

Given the reality of an election-crazed nation gearing up for national elections, already with so many wannabes campaigning without really trying too hard (nor admitting that they do, what with all the billboards and commercial advertisements that hog the airlanes and the humongous commercial towers all over the country), the Filipino people with such short memories will most likely forget sooner than we can reasonably expect.

The miners and loggers, in the meantime, have all the reasons and the data to deflect responsibility for the flooding and all the topsoil that came cascading down valleys that used to be high and dry in decades past. Owners and operators of all the floating coffins in the archipelago are having a heyday trying to parry every imaginable blow from all fronts. National leaders and politicians who fiddled while Rome burned, figuratively – while watching the bout of the only pride the Philippines can reasonably boast of – Pacquiao, will be very busy talking of “national interest” when they get back to their constituents. It will all be a similar story of something “full of sound and fury, yet signifying nothing.”

In the end, it is poor Juan de la Cruz, who is left holding an empty bag. It is he who still has to nurture the last vestiges of an eroding hope for a country that seems to have successfully earned the moniker (for the nth time), of being the most corrupt nation in southeast Asia. In the end, it is he – not those who give privilege speeches – who will move this country forward, albeit so slowly, but definitely surely. It is Juan de la Cruz - the likes of Manny Pacquiao, and so many nameless individuals who, by their dedication to work and family, have consistently saved the whole country from total bankruptcy. The gambling lords, jueteng lords, and all those who lord it over others in this status-conscious country, who surrounded Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas have only themselves to blame if the adulation of people all go to Manny Pacquiao. He comes home with hard-earned and honestly earned money. And what he has promised to dole out in charity for the typhoon victims, is money that did not come from pork barrels and other perks that come with lofty offices that in the Philippines we all love to refer to as “public service.”

In the final analysis, it is each one of us nameless and faceless individuals in the stage called life that has to keep the music playing, and the flag of hope flying. It is each one of us who, in the long run, can keep more than just the music playing, in and through our performative hope, that runs deep … in fondo all’anima!

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