Sunday, February 26, 2006

EDSAs and the Filipino Nation

I was in Grade 2 when the first EDSA revolt transpired. I saw the huge crowd and the rallying nuns and soldiers on the TV screen. Totally clueless about the situation, I never had any hint what was happening in my country. I only had the chance to meditate on its message in UP when I received my “radical education”. It must be emphasized that EDSA 1 was a political revolution and not a social revolution. It was a change of political leaders. Nonetheless, this change in political leadership failed to permeate the social psyche of the Filipino people.

As the history of Latin American countries would show, it is very easy to topple a government but it is quite difficult to build a new one. The experience of the Nicaraguan revolution led by the Sandinistas in 1970s showcased the inherent weaknesses of the people who revolted to protect the gains of the political revolution. Similarly, while the EDSA Revolution is almost universally acknowledged as a great example of democracy at work, many political scientists and sociologists argue that it has failed to actualize the possible gains from a fresh change in government. Filipinos were applauded by the peoples of the world because of the peaceful revolution which toppled the Marcos administration. The example of EDSA was repeated in Eastern European Countries and many countries of Asia. The principles, however, it once bannered have become an old hat in the face of corruption and political bickering of traditional politicians. The nation, under the Arroyo administration, is currently on the rocks because of public’s lack of confidence to political leaders.

What has changed since EDSA 1? Not much. Twenty years is a long period. But as far as my reading of Philippine history tells me, that part of my nation’s history is much better to be reminisced than to be celebrated. We removed the dictator but we have retained the elite political system. The EDSA uprisings have only made Philippine democracy as the tyranny of the masses a.k.a. mob rule. The country’s volatile political situation has made economic growth unsustainable.

I participated in EDSA 2 because I fully believed that removing former president Estrada from office would resolve the socio-political impasse. I was wrong. There is more than to removing a corrupt leader. The masses must not be blamed for the rise to power of Erap. Estrada betrayed the confidence of his supporters by living an extravagant lifestyle while in office in parallel to numerous illicit affairs he maintained during his presidency. Public officials must serve as role models because they are the ones people look up for inspiration and guidance. Good government rests upon them because public confidence is imperative in the normal functioning of democracy.

As British historian Arnold Joseph Toynbee discovered, nations are often destroyed not by outside forces but by weaknesses within. The failure of a civilization to survive was the result of its inability to respond to moral and religious challenges, rather than to physical or environmental challenges. The Bible declares that "...Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.." (Matthew 12:25).

Saturday, February 18, 2006

God's Benevolence and Natural Disasters

Southern Leyte has been known to be a hotbed of natural disasters since the 1991 Ormoc flashflood tragedy which left more than 3,000 people dead. The early period of 2006 proves to be another disastrous period for the province. For the past two weeks, huge amount of rainfall (four times greater than the average annual rainfall of the province in normal weather patterns) has made mountain areas as danger zones. Series of landslides occurred within a week. The latest blow was the mudslide which caused the demise of at least a thousand residents of Bgy. Guinsaugon. The barrio was erased in the map of the province within five minutes. With the horrors of this event, many claim that natural disasters negate God’s love and benevolence to man. Others even argue that since these things happened, God must not exist. The grand question is: Why does God allow natural disasters to happen? The following thoughts could help resolve the inquiry.

First, disasters must be understood as God’s law of nature at work. The death of many people in Southern Leyte should not be misconstrued as an expression of
the “wrath of God”. Remember that God does not want people to perish but to have a life full of abundance (John 10:10b). Harold Kushner in his book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”, writes that God has ordained preset natural laws that man could not defy. For instance, there is a law of gravity that no one is exempt from. What comes up will always come down. Natural disasters are non-selective.

As a corollary to the first point, we must also understand that Jesus Christ has the authority over the forces of nature (Colossians 1:16-17). He can influence the weather (Deuteronomy 11:17 and James 5:17, Numbers 16:30-34). As such, he can prevent natural disasters. As such, He could also use the force of nature to remind people of their shortcomings and sins against Him. Nonetheless, not every natural disaster should be perceived as a divine punishment. Third, some disasters may be a by-product of something that itself is good. Norman Geisler, Christian apologist and president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina explained that the the physical world operates in ways that could be both beneficial and disastrous. For instance, the purpose of rain is not to flood or drown cities but it could result in disasters if there would heavy downpour. The discovery of fire by man has made things better for him. But the fire he discovered could also destroy forests.

Fourth, when God created the world, it was perfect (Genesis 1:31). But the fallen nature of man has destroyed God’s design for the management of His creations. Hence, the Earth was “cursed” (Genesis 3:17). Apostle Paul wrote that the entire creation was subjected to “vanity” and the “bondage of corruption” as a result of the sinful events that took place since the fall of man at Eden (Romans 8:19-20). We had a once perfect planet but now we live in a flawed and dangerous environment. The proliferation of environmental organizations prove that man has a dire need to protect his life by salvaging the deteriorating ecosystem.

Fifth, natural disasters should remind us that this world was never intended to be our final home (Hebrews 11:13-16). This is our temporal abode (James 4:14). Lastly, and I think the most important of all, we must perceive natural disasters as a wake-up call to everyone. We can escape from them but we can never be assured that they will never haunt us again. The state must ensure that people living in landslide-prone would be safe.Tragedies constantly knock on every household. Hence, we must be assured of the life beyond this earthly life. This assurance can only be found in the person of Jesus Christ. Romans 8:35-39 states "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? [shall] tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Let the Real Love Begin

I recently conducted a seminar on Love, Courtship and Dating among the students of Rizal High School-Pasig. Many of the students who attended were plain curious about the mechanics of courting and wanted to listen to “new truths” that could guide them to better relationships. Many young people often equate infatuation and romantic feelings with love. One of the main reasons for this scenario is the influence of mass media. Movie love teams have exalted hugs, kisses and mushy conversations to the detriment of young lovers. In effect, they mistake the "real love" for something else. I entitled my first seminar, “True Love moves in Mysterious Ways” (from a song by Julia Fordham). The aim of the seminar is to discuss the four types of human love for the students to recognize the true from the counterfeit. The Lord has put into my heart to discuss the difference between the human- and the God-kind of love (the "real love"). I elucidated the five Greek terms for the word "love".

The first word as used in the Scriptures is “Epithumia” which means “a strong desire of any kind, either positive or negative”. It is “passion” in general. For instance, a person may desire to become a showbiz star. Because of his/her love for this dream, she could beat all odds no matter what happens. The problem, though, is that this desire can be out of control and may trample upon the feelings and interest of others. This kind of love is rooted on emotions. Whenever emotions are high, the will to succeed is also at its peak. But if the emotion subsides, the interest may fade.

The second one is called “Eros” or love based on romance and physical attraction. It often connotes sexual love. Eros is the son of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Young people often have difficulty controlling their “hormones”. Adolescence brings with it the problem of changing emotions and feelings. Many of them claim that they are “in love” mainly because they are so enamored with the physical qualities of a person. Hence, physical attraction has become the barometer for the stability of the relationship. It is a fact that expression of love can make the relationship on fire. When physical beauty fades, problems set in. Moreover, sensual expression of love can be very dangerous outside the boundaries of marriage. Unwanted pregnancies could result in broken dreams.

Love based on affection and kindness is called “Storge”. It is the word for familial love as shown in the love of a mother to her child. Whenever a person receives storge, he/she feels secure and comfortable. Our relationship with our parents and loved-ones builds our confidence and personality. We can never survive without the guidance and care of our loved ones. Nonetheless, storge can evaporate in times of conflicts and bertrayal.

Love based on friendship and fraternal attraction is called “phileo”. Our loyalty to friends, family, organization and community reflect this kind of love. As the saying goes, “birds of the same feather flock together”. Commitment to each other is based on mutual interests, goals and thinking. However, phileo is motivated by practical reasons. One or both of the parties must benefit from the relationship. The favor being provided by one must be reciprocated by another. It needs continuous response for the relationship to be more dynamic and alive.

Epithumia, eros, storge and phileo are the kinds of love people often express to each other. But there is a kind of love that is far superior to these. The word is AGAPE--the pure, God-kind of love. 1Corinthians 13:4-7 summarizes its main characteristics: “Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail”. The greatest expression of God’s love to mankind is summarized by the mission verse of Generation 3:16 Ministries: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God’s love is unconditional. It does not have strings attached. It does not require others to be good and acceptable for it to be enjoyed. It does not require reciprocation to be sustained. It is not based on the physical and lustful demands of man because it accepts everything. AGAPE sees everything but it does not mind. Unlike the human-kind of love, it is “others-centered” rather than “me-centered”.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Of Stampede, Power of Media, Human Error and Mendicancy

After the euphoria brought by Manny Pacquiao’s victory, the nation was shocked by a tragedy far worse than any typhoon which visited the country in 2005 in terms of human lives lost. A stampede caused the demise of more than 70 people and injured more than 600. It transpired in lieu of the first anniversary of the popular game show of ABS-CBN, Wowowee.

The disaster was a confluence of three major factors: the media promoting the culture of mendicancy, sheer human error and grave poverty of the people. Left-wing groups have ascribed the ULTRA tragedy to the worsening economic condition of the country. Opposition parties were easy to attribute the event to the shortcomings and weaknesses of the Gloria administration. The rampant graft and corruption, loss of confidence to the president and the increasing price of petroleum products and its domino effect to other commodities have exacerbated the depressing condition of the rural and urban poor. In times of poverty, game shows are a great relief for the ailing masses. But they carry a double-edged sword. Their objectives are indeed noble, that is, to alleviate the emotional and physical poverty of their televiewers. However, their strategy to provide instant money has its own demerits. Foremost, the mechanics of the gameshow make joining the contest more difficult. Unlike with other game show's strategy, Wowowee encouraged long queues outside their studios. This make things harder for aspiring contestants. Although Wowowowee promotes the concept of “bayanihan” or cooperation (e.g. The Filipino Channel (TFC) subscribers can freely give dole-outs and financial aid to studio contestants), it unconsciously stirs the collective pathos of the people and further enflame their need for money. No game show in the history of Philippine television has ever accomplished what Wowowowee has been doing. It reaches out a broader segment of the marginalized sectors by enjoining street sweepers, embalmers, janitors, security guards, firecracker victims, maids, among others to join its contests. The host, Willie Revillame, has been loved by many because of his biased toward indigent contestants.

Lack of coordination between the event organizers and the PNP made the matter worse. Many witnesses blame the security personnel guarding the gates leading to the stadium. The fact-finding committee would release its report on who were indeed responsible for the tragic event. The ABS-CBN management easily passed the buck to local police command for their failure to augment the crowd control force. But as far as the PNP protocols and leadership are concerned, event organizers have the primary responsibility to control the crowd if an occasion is a private affair. They are the ones who should pro-actively coordinate security concerns. It is a fact that the show’s organizers wrote to the city government to secure a permit and request for police assistance, but it was apparent that they fell short of requesting for more crowd-control teams when they witnessed how the mammoth crowd increased days before the anniversary celebration. There was a dearth of First-Aid Teams. Many would have been saved if there were only enough medical volunteers present. Organizers witnessed how the mammoth crowd increased days before the anniversary. The “washing of the hands” press statements of ABS-CBN only showed how desperate its executives are to get rid of any law suits. As the DOJ Secretary suggested, the only way out is to settle things with the families of the victims.

Game shows in the country are enticing because of the message they project—prospects for instant buck. Far worse, people take chances not with their money but with their lives. Many people stayed in their queue even after the stampede. This is because they were so seduced to the promise that the show would give prizes ranging from P20,000 to P50,000 for the first 300 people who can enter the football field outside the stadium. Many of them even slept outside the ULTRA premises for several days to secure their place. These events magnify man’s attitude toward money. The Bible declares that money is not an evil per se. It is the “love of money” that God despises (I Timothy 6:10). The people who went to ULTRA were not all financially-challenged.
Many of them were just lured by promises of event organizers. The writer of Hebrews wrote that "Let your way of life be without the love of money, and be content with such things as you have, for He has said, "Not at all I will leave you, not at all will I forsake you, never!" (Hebrews 13:5).