Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Celebrating courage and resilience

This is my column today, July 1, 2014.


Tacloban City celebrated its annual fiesta over the weekend.  As can be expected, it was a bittersweet moment as the city valiantly tried to rise to the occasion notwithstanding the many limitations and difficulties.  Taclobanons, as do most of the Waray people, are known for merrymaking; we are a people known for pulling all the stops to ensure that a fun time is had by all during special occasions, a trait taken to extremes by a former First Lady who during her reign was referred to as the favorite daughter of the province. 
This year was the first time the city tried to celebrate its fiesta after the supertyphoon leveled practically everything that stood at its path as it barrelled across the Visayas.  
The city tried to dress itself up and Taclobanons all joined in the effort as if to prove that nothing, not even the strongest supertyphoon, could vanquish the soul of the city.  The usual buntings and flags were strewn across streets, the usual streamers greeting visitors and well-wishers were put up, and the many smells and sights of a fiesta became evident as the weekend progressed.  Of course the scars left by the supertyphoon could not be covered up.  The Santo Nino Church where the Teniente, the revered image of the holy child resides, still brandished the signs of the horror that swept the city on November 8 last year—whole sections of the roof of the church as well as windows of the belfry were still bare.  In many sections of the city piles of ruble and the wreckage remained mute witnesses to the fury of Mother Nature.
But if the fiesta over the weekend was any indication, there is overwhelming desire to rise above the ruins and rebuild Tacloban, if not physically yet, then at least, in spirit.  And the pulsating spirit could be felt all over the city during the weekend; the air was electric with determination.  People walked out into the streets, households put together whatever little they had in order to celebrate, and communities joined in many poignant ways to remember what happened to the city and its people last year.  
There are many ways to celebrate a fiesta.  Over the weekend I learned that a fiesta can also be manifestation of resolve and a palpable expression of a people’s courage to rise again.  Tears welled up in remembrance of the sad state of the city immediately after Yolanda struck; but also in great pride at the way Taclobanons have defeated overwhelming odds in the last eight months.
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But two other events that happened over the weekend were less uplifting. 
A student at the De La Salle —College of Saint Benilde, the college where I taught for more than 10 years, lost his life in what was apparently another hazing incident.  Yet another promising life was snuffed out senselessly in the name of brotherhood.  As can be expected, there was lots of screaming and headshaking; once again, our leaders promised that heads will roll.  Unfortunately, we’re still not addressing the roots of the problem, which is that fraternities and hazing exist because there is institutionalized support for their activities from their senior members, most of whom are influential people in government and business.  In fact, what is clear based on reports is that it would be difficult to trace the identities and whereabouts of the perpetrators of the hazing last week because fraternities have now become wiser and have taken steps to ensure that their activities are deeply cloaked in secrecy.  The code of silence has been invoked by the other victims.  You think college kids thought up all these measures?  If we want to ensure that we stop losing lives to fraternity violence, it’s time we exposed the roots that feed the whole system.  I certainly would want to know the list of illustrious people that make up the alumni of the fraternity that perpetrated the hazing last week.
And then there was that news item about a major cache of endangered species as well as stalactites, corals and stalagmites being discovered in a southern city.  It is clear that the underground trade of endangered species as well as natural treasures continue to flourish.  It has also become apparent that the activities of the syndicate were known to many as the perpetrators even used social networking sites and Internet sites for marketing purposes.  Once again, it might help to remind people that criminal acts like the trade of endangered species can only be stopped if everyone lends a hand in the effort.  Closing our eyes and looking the other way when we come across similar incidents will not stop the trade of endangered species.

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