Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A week of bad news

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

A major earthquake struck Japan and unleashed a tsunami that wrought more devastation on its northeastern coast and sent the rest of the countries in the Pacific basin in panic.

The conflict in Libya reached fever pitch over the weekend as the United Nations Security Council , after expressing “grave concern at the deteriorating situation, the escalation of violence, and the heavy civilian casualties” voted to authorize member states to “act as required to prevent harm to Libyan citizens.” The resolution declared Libyan air space a no-fly zone, strengthened the arms embargo against Libya, and reiterated the freeze on Libyan assets in foreign banks.

Although Libyan despot Muammar Gadhafi promised to abide by the UN Security Council resolution, he nevertheless dashed off angry letters to the Council and the Presidents of the United States of America and France. He denounced the foreign intervention in what he called a purely internal affair. In a move eerily reminiscent of Ferdinand Marcos’ machinations before he was ousted from power by a mass-based uprising, the Libyan dictator blamed everyone else but himself including the international terrorist network Al Qaeda for Libya’s current woes. At least most of our overseas Filipino workers are already home safe except for a few thousands, mostly nurses, who continue to courageously man hospitals.

What has become an even bigger cause of concern is that the internal conflict that besieged Egypt and then Libya has spilled over to other Middle Eastern countries as well. Also last week, forces from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia staged a military intervention in Bahrain in an effort to keep the ruling group in power. The potential fallout from the power struggle between the Sunni Muslims (the ruling power in Saudi Arabia and UAE) and the Shiite Muslims (the ruling power in Iran and Lebanon) has graver consequence to the world, and to the Philippines in particular.

Saudi Arabia, for instance, is one of the world’s strategic supplier of oil. We all know what happens every single time the supply of oil is impeded somehow – the world is sent into a tailspin of debacles as prices of commodities go haywire. Already, the prophets of doom have been having a field day issuing various doomsday scenarios. One such scenario is that prices of oil in the Philippines will jump dramatically overnight and will hover around the P100-200 per liter range. I dread the thought of what this would mean to a country such as ours, which is heavily dependent on oil for practically everything - from electricity to transportation.

Skyrocketing prices are one thing; massive unemployment is another thing. If the unrest in the Middle East escalates into a full-scale conflict we will have a major headache in our hands as millions of overseas Filipino workers in these countries start trooping back home. Obviously we don’t have enough jobs for everyone as yet. If remittances start running dry, which, in case we have forgotten has been what has kept the Philippine economy afloat in the last two decades, then we are clearly in big, big trouble.

As if these were not enough, we were dealt yet another blow in the gut when our neighborhood bully flexed its political muscle yet again.

The Chinese Ambassador to Manila announced also last week that the three Filipinos on death row in China will be executed “sooner or later” despite the reprieve granted a couple of weeks ago after Vice President Jejomar Binay personally made an appeal to the Chinese authorities to spare the lives of the Filipino drug mules. “The verdict is a final verdict,” the ambassador said stoically. Thereupon, the Philippine government made known its intent to prostrate itself once again upon the Chinese authorities. I hate to sound like an insensitive clod, but really, this cycle has got to stop. The reason why we are treated like doormats is precisely because we allow ourselves to be treated like such.

I’ve said this before but I will say it again: I know that it’s impossible to put a price on human lives, but at a certain point we have got to learn how to draw the line between saving lines and saving national pride and honor.

I know what many of you are thinking: Well at least most of the dreadful things that happened last week were warning signs, forebodings in the horizon that may or may not come to pass. Not really. Last week also saw the worst flooding ever in many parts of the Visayas. My home province of Leyte was inundated by heavy rains; so heavy in fact that areas that have never seen flooding suddenly found themselves submerged in several feet of floodwaters.

Our farm in my hometown of Abuyog, for instance, has never been submerged in floodwaters because it rests in relatively higher ground beside a hill. My parents were frantic last week to see floodwaters quickly inundate the area submerging hectares of rice crop. What was heartbreaking, which send a sister into tears, was that the crop was due for harvesting in a few weeks. This sad development was replicated across the whole province as the floodwaters destroyed millions of pesos of crops. My sister sent me a plaintive text message bewailing the tragedy and wondering how farmers would be able to recover from the loss.

In times like these, we can take comfort from the fact that we still have families and friends, that the tragedies may have destroyed material things but have hopefully not broken the spirit. We can definitely learn from the resilience of the Japanese people. There is hope even in the midst of the most abject circumstances.

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