FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Peace on Earth and goodwill to all. That is the theme of this time. The context makes this all the more fervent.

It is nearly cliché to say this has been a terrible year. The months ahead will continue to be dark. The greater number of our people told pollsters they are worse off now than at the beginning of this year.

Unemployment and poverty rates have spiked. The economy is badly scarred. Any recovery of what the pandemic wiped out so quickly will likely take years. Meanwhile, we make do with what we have.

Our celebrations this year will be subdued – by the dictate of public health protocols. The guidance says no more than five people should gather on a night when by tradition we collect in large numbers, embracing all we love. That will require some adjustment.

In addition to the canons of whatever faith we hold, we look to the vaccine as the bearer of redemption. But that will not become available until about the middle of the next year – a little too late to save Christmas. From that time on, it will take up to five years to administer the vaccine to most of our people. We will likely be masked for all that time.

Clearly, redemption from this pandemic will be slow to unfold. It will be a grind. The lords of the public health protocols will dictate what we can and cannot do.

Fortunately, most of us embrace these protocols like we do articles of faith. There is little whining and certainly no boisterous protests like we see in some other countries where public health protocols are stupidly interpreted as infringements on freedom.

We are a lot wiser than them. Our students may rank poorly in math and science, but we all acknowledge the protocols to be guided by reason. There is no partisanship in our observance of health mandates. To our benefit, 91 percent of Filipinos approve of what the political leadership is doing.

The intrepid from the research group Octa, however, bring us some bad news. The slow descent of new infections and new deaths has already reversed. We are now seeing the beginnings of a new spike in COVID-19 cases.

We expected this spike, given the flamboyance with which we celebrate the Christmas holidays. It is now up to each of us to help moderate that spike. There is no sense in being suicidal about Christmas. Restraint is the virtue of the day.

This season is different from the ones before in another way. We will not have the usual ceasefire between the armed forces and the communist rebels. President Duterte decided the rebellion no longer deserves a respite.

Therefore, expect some skirmishes to happen, especially in the days after Christmas when the communists traditionally commemorate their party’s founding anniversary with violence. They are not prepared to accept the obsolescence of their cause.

There is a specific act of violence that will haunt our conversations tonight: that of a policeman in Tarlac unflinchingly shooting a mother and her son in their heads – and with his own daughter nearby, watching the murders unfold. It was a chilling event captured on video and widely circulated on social media.

A whole range of commentaries has been made about this shocking incident. I will not add to them. This shocking incident diminished even more the meager cheer we have left. That is unforgivable.

This has been a most stressful year. All of us deserve a moment of quiet, a few hours of rest.

Let us not waste this precious time ruing what we will miss from pre-pandemic times. The quiet, and possibly the solitude, will help us collect ourselves, reimagine our lives and prepare for more challenges ahead.

We are all exhausted. We need this time to recharge and regroup. We have to emerge from this terrible year with much more tenacity. The times demand it.

Of course, we have to be hopeful. But hope is not a strategy. We have to plan and gather our energies to execute it.

The world has changed. We need to discover our place in the new scheme of things. We have to change as drastically as the circumstances around us.

The slow days have, in fact, passed too quickly. We were unready when the pandemic struck us like a thunderbolt. We must be ready for the tasks we need to perform to help us out of the hole the virus dug.

Beyond that, we need to think about the things we have to do to achieve the prosperous and peaceful country we have always dreamt of. Each one has a role to play in this. We each must uncover the role we are suited to play.

We will have a quieter Christmas this year. Quieter than any we have gone through ever. We can use this opportunity to reevaluate our priorities and reexamine our values.

The next year will be better. It has to be. The only way it could get worse is if we allow a surge in infections to happen. Should that happen we all return to quarantine. The right choices are hard but necessary.

Grim as this year might have been, there should always be space for joy in our hearts. Amid the devastation, there are so many good things to celebrate and so many good people to admire. Our friends have become more valuable and our loved ones dearer.

A blessed Christmas to everyone!

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