Black is the new black
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - January 12, 2019 - 12:00am

Wednesday’s fiesta of the Black Nazarene delivered our annual dose of wonder at the sight of millions of Filipinos turning out unshod for a centuries old tradition. The Traslacion is the highlight in Manila of the religious feast. It re-enacts the transfer of the image from its original home at the old St. John the Baptist Church in Luneta to its present home at the Quiapo Minor Basilica. 

Reports of crowd size vary. Some peg it as high as 12 million. Organizers believe that up to five million joined the procession. The tentative figure from the PNP is 2.5 million for the Traslacion, with 1.5 million participating in the run up which included the Luneta mass and rituals like the pahalik. 

Dismissed by critics, even by members of the clergy, as fanaticism, idolatry, animistic, misplaced, bordering on occult, devotees and the less critical among us accept the fervor as a tremendous outpouring of faith. The sacrifice and suffering of the devotees along the 21-hour route mirrors the Christ’s own passion. It is a test of our patience and resilience as we carry our own crosses.  

Black Comedy. For President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, it is an article of faith that priests and bishops are of no use alive. Last week, he sounded the death knell for them, publicly calling for the istambays subject of his round up campaign to rob and kill all the bishops that happen by. God forbid that anyone misinterpret the charge as a free get out of jail pass. 

He insists that it was all in levity, a “pushing the limits of civility” thing. Before that, he called for the “kidnapping and torturing” of yet another one of his hapless, usual targets: COA auditors.

Pushing the limits has its limits. Disparagement humor may cloak its prejudice in fun but studies show that it can lead to serious social consequences in promoting  discrimination. 

Black Sheep. The cries for cleaning up government are as endemic to society as are the dirt in government itself. From the time public administration became the science and the discipline that it is, one of the areas subjected to constant study has been corruption. The usual suspects are the political departments – the elected legislative and executive officials plus the bureaucracy.

It is much more disturbing when the Judiciary is involved. Our judges carry out a more sensitive and noble duty, the dispensation of justice. Only lawyers can be appointed judges, denoting the higher level of education to hold the office. On top of that, there is the constitutional requirement that applicants be of proven honesty, integrity and probity. In criminal law speak, this qualification is an aggravating circumstance that connotes a greater depravity in the perpetrator. 

It is usually the President that speaks the unspeakable (as when President Joseph E. Estrada outed the hoodlums in robes) or we hear of it as volleys from privilege speeches in Congress. Such is expected from these co-equal branches. Par for the course in a regime of checks and balances. 

But few and far between are the episodes where the Chief himself picks up the standard to march against his own men. The last we heard this said was in the time of another Chief Justice. Remember Ma. Lourdes Sereno? In characteristic crusading form, CJ Sereno called for exposure of corrupt judges back in 2013. 

Man from the North. Once again, a Chief rises to the demand for extraordinary leadership in the Judiciary. The cool Luke Bersamin is stamping his class on a branch that has long eluded the magnifying glasses regularly shone on Executive and Legislative co-equals. Where judges are notoriously disinclined to discipline fellow judges, the CJ insists that we start with his own hometown. Bersamin has grabbed the reins of internal leadership emphatically and provided a burst of energy to an institution increasingly comatose. Clearly, PRRD lucked out when he picked a man forged in the crucible of his province’s blood politics.

To be sure, no one is speaking of Court leadership in the exercise of its adjucative function. After the Quo Warranto episode, no one really entertains the illusion that this Court suddenly supplies us with the independence and fortitude necessary to take back lost moral ground.  

Red ribbons of Hope.The signing of the new  HIV and AIDS policy act of 2018, R.A. 11166, evinces the government’s continuing concern for the wellbeing of the afflicted and its valiant effort to manage the spread of the disease. 

With infection levels bottoming out among our ASEAN neighbors, our numbers at home continue to rise. We are now undisputedly the only nation with an increasing incidence of HIV in the Asia Pacific region. Gone are the days when the proudest boast was that Filipino values worked as the prophylactic keeping us impervious to the epidemic. 

With the new law, minors can be assured of confidentiality as parental consent is dispensed with  before testing; there is a stronger initiative to educate both public and private organizations; and we have heightened penalties for unwarranted identity disclosure, among other reforms. This is the first revisit of the landmark HIV and AIDS legislation first enacted in 1998. Good job.

End of the rainbow. When world class talents collaborate, even the ordinary is elevated. National Artist for Music Ryan Cayabyab and National Treasure Lea Salonga have combined their considerable talents to produce for us a marvel of musical heritage. While the Maestro was busy doing what National Artists do and before Lea successfully reprised her role as Erzulie to close out the latest sold out Broadway run of the musical Once on this Island – they teamed up to sing the folk songs of our lives. The result, the 15 track album Bahaghari, in six languages. It was meant as an opus that preserves our traditions for the generations. Sitsiritsit, ating cu pung, matud, leron – and other old friends. Love it! Lets do ourselves and our children a favor and support this worthy project.

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