Hope is mostly what keeps Filipinos going

POSTSCRIPT - Federico D. Pascual Jr. - The Philippine Star

Somehow we made it to the new year, staggering up to the finish line where 2021 was waiting for the Filipino, the eternal optimist brimming with hope.

Looking back at the past year’s tribulations that President Duterte blames on the pandemic and natural calamities, we wonder at his saying in his yearend message: “We also learned so much…we realized the value of human life and our relationships with each other.”

Does Duterte’s reference to “the value of human life” include victims of state brutality and human rights violations, as well as the collateral damage wrought by the creeping culture of violence under his watch?

It may be our acquired Christian values, reinforcing our ancestral memory of a benevolent Bathala ready to set things right, that keep us hoping that we will eventually overcome oppression, corruption and misgovernment.

It is uncanny that the element of hope (pag-asa) is a common thread running through the messages of thought leaders at this juncture when the outgoing year segues to the next. Samples:

• President Duterte: Today is a joyful day, a time for new beginnings and a time to be hopeful. We ended the previous year with so much difficulties and trials, but with much gratitude. I am confident all of us will see brighter days ahead because we believe in the indomitable spirit of the Filipino.

• Vice President Leni Robredo: Paalala sa atin ng petsang ito na laging may bagong simula; laging may pagkakataong bumangon; na kaya natin itong gawing mas maginhawa, mas masagana, mas makatao kaysa sa kahapon. Hiling ko ang pag-asang ito para sa bawat pamilyang Pilipino.

• Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle: I wish that people would have the strength, the hope, the faith and the joy to make the New Year brighter. We cannot wait for outside factors to change. But we can change our outlook and make (things) brighter: our hope, our solidarity, our joy.

A nationwide “Ulat ng Bayan” survey from Nov. 23 to Dec. 2 showed, meanwhile, that 91 percent of a representative polling sample of 2,400 Filipino adults said they welcomed the new year “with hope.” Only one percent said they faced 2021 “without hope.”

We hark back to the lyrics of the carol, “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” But the hopeful message hanging in the stillness grows fainter with every silent night that slips by.

Perhaps some nights should not be silent at all. Some nights must be punctuated by noisy outrage, especially when, as our elders say, “ginagago na tayo” (somebody’s making a fool of us).

As of the other day, more than 10.3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in 29 countries, but billions more are needed to inoculate some 70 percent of the world’s 7.594 billion population to stop the spread of the contagion.

The Philippines has not taken delivery of any vaccine while some of its neighbors have started rolling out their vaccination. The turtle-paced administration failed to place firm early orders, relying on the unreliable assurances of China and Russia to share what they have by December (last month).

Now the administration has resorted to using smuggled Chinese vaccines to inoculate at least the soldiers securing the President. Discovery of the illegal entry of vaccines that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration has raised a stink.

The development of several vaccines can help show the way to a new normal. We’re hoping that in choosing the right vaccines the administration will be guided by the public good and not by political or personal gain.

The people are watching if Duterte’s professed enlightened regard for human lives and human rights – departing from the documented brutality of his police inflicted on defenseless civilians – will become policy and then translated into practice.

The President claims to have an independent foreign policy, yet his infatuation with China has made him vulnerable to Beijing’s use of the pandemic and the frantic search for safe and effective vaccines as political weapons and diplomatic levers.

With the coronavirus and its variants expected to continue taking lives despite the mass vaccination and quarantine measures, will Duterte insist on his draconian attitude that the smuggling and use of unauthorized vaccines can be selectively allowed?

The ambivalence of law enforcement (it’s OK if it’s us doing it) under Duterte must be stopped. The system of compartmentalized justice should have exited with the old year.

Only resolute control from the very top can stop his police and his military from trifling with human lives. Having been coddled by their chief, abusive behavior has developed into a kind of second nature to many of them.

Let’s hope we don’t wake up later and see the year 2021 as just a remastered rerun, a record of more of the same sloppy and bloody governance that characterized 2020.

In the new year, we would like to see the wiping away of the culture that has made too easy and without qualms of conscience the physical elimination of anybody who happens to stand in the way, and the harassment of critics and perceived enemies.

If, as he purports to claim, Duterte has realized “the value of human life” with the advent of “new beginnings,” he must ensure that the killers of defenseless citizens in non-combat situations – and their enablers – are meted the appropriate punishments under the law.

If he as the most powerful man in the country cannot do that, the President might as well retract his hypocritical New Year message.

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NB: All Postscripts are also archived at manilamail.com. Author is on Twitter as @FDPascual. Email: [email protected]

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