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Opinion

Christmas for the poor, Christmas for the rich

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez - The Freeman

Equality or even equity is just a political theory. There is no equality in reality. In life, the poor can never be equal to the rich. Even in death, they are buried in entirely different places and in very different ways. And so, on Christmas, they celebrate in entirely opposite ways too.

I have a super-wealthy client, and once, he invited me to spend Christmas in Paris, France. He has a mansion somewhere in the enclave of the super-rich, along the Baron Haussmann Grand Boulevard, but we did not stay there. We were brought by his private jet to an island resort I cannot tell you where. It is the secret hiding place of celebrities, actors, actresses, billionaires, and powerful politicians. The peso equivalent of the cost per night is a staggering ?1.37 million and I could not seem to enjoy it because I kept on computing the cost of caviar and champagne. And I felt so guilty while thinking of my poor relatives in Cebu and Manila.

We were served by gorgeous women in bikinis and men in skimpiest clothing. I kept on counting the hours and wanted just to get out of that seemingly unnatural situation. But I was trapped in the paradise of hedonism and sins of the flesh. I could not see the meaning of Christmas. I kept on remembering how Joseph (the saint in whose honor I was named having been born on March 19), was looking for a small place for Mary to deliver the Messiah. But there was no room in the inns. And there I was inside a super-luxurious yacht, drinking super-expensive wine and enjoying the women and everything that went with the package. I felt I was committing a social sin and by that experience I was betraying my people in Cebu.

The best Christmas I ever spent was when I lived in a squatter area (the politicians call it urban poor settlement) in B. Rodriguez, in a piece of land supposedly owned by the government but under litigation. The original settlers in B. Rodriguez were employees of what was called before the Southern Islands Hospital, now called the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center. I happened to have one distant cousin who lived there. And so, I built a small shack made of nipa and discarded plywood I picked up somewhere. I enjoyed B. Rodriguez, I loved the people. They even elected me president of BRUPA or the B. Rodriguez United People Association. I also founded a youth group I called Bidlisiw.

The best Christmas I spent there was when we all gathered together around a small chapel, and we ate our noche buena together. We did not have caviar or champagne but a gallon of tuba and plenty of sinugbang isda. I could feel the genuine bond that united us, the poor people of B. Rodriguez. There were no pretensions, no self-righteousness. We were all humans sharing our simple joys and small successes and welcoming the Lord into our hearts. That was when I realized that Christmas is really in the hearts of men and women of goodwill. The joys of the shepherds who shared in the merriment of a world that has found its savior. So unlike that sinful Christmas in Paris and in that secret island resort of hedonism and sin.

Today, I have made a promise to myself that I shall go back to B. Rodriguez and look for the people whom I missed for many, many years. The last time I went there was in 1975 after I took my oath as a lawyer. Today, almost 50 years later, I want to experience a real beautiful Christmas again. Not in Paris, no, no, no., but right there in B. Rodriguez where the heart is. There, equality is not a theory but a warm reality.

CHRISTMAS

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