It was a stormy Sunday morning. Lando was currently pummelling parts of Northern Luzon. I was about to say mass when I received this powerful text message from a young lady, daughter of former parishioners in Project 4, Quezon City:
“Woke up to disturbing news of a Tita asking for prayers. Her husband who is running in the coming elections just lost his campaign manager (Noli Rosal) who was shot three times until the lights went out. In a previous trip to a far-flung barangay, my tito and his entourage were fired at—“niratratan”—using a full range of ammunitions. All of this to either scare him or prevent him from running completely by returning him to God’s good earth. I’m told this is the nature of elections in the Philippines. National polls are a circus and local ones render the country into a Wild West where anything goes. Well meaning people have told me not to travel during this period to keep away from the line of fire. It’s as if they’re saying, “It’s dangerous but it’s not our problem.” But I just have to know: How much more impunity can we really stomach? Election violence is made small and reduced to the local so that we assume that these are isolated cases—but are they really? When a candidate dies, yes their opponents win but, we the people, we lose. We make a mockery of the freedom and democracy we are so fierce to defend on Facebook. Maybe it’s time we traced the trail of guns? Maybe, as a voting public, we could speak up more clearly about why violence has no place in elections? We complain about the lack of good people running but with a gun to one’s head, I’m a bit hard-pressed to judge. Rest assured though that I will keep travelling. We should not be made to live in fear, especially of the institutions that are duty-bound to protect our liberties.” Nash Tysman.
Earlier today, before I sat down to write this reflection, a fellow Franciscan commented about the devastation left by storm Lando: “It is the parousia (the end times) already but are people doing anything?” Are people making the necessary change of lifestyle to abate the relentless march towards the abyss of irreversible environmental destruction? Are we witnessing pathetic resignation and apathy in both cases of political violence and environmental destruction? Let us just accept the given, the unchangeable. And let us be careful to stay away from trouble by keeping a very safe distance from whatever and wherever trouble may come.
In his last encyclical on the Environment, Pope Francis urges everyone to undergo “Ecological Conversion.” We need to change our relationship with both the earth and the poor who are often the first and most affected victims of disaster. Clearly, ecological conversion presupposes another, deeply related and necessary conversion. The text message from Nash clearly and urgently calls for Political Conversion. Both the culture of Philippine Politics and its bearers need to change. Political culture marked by the persistence of dynasties, nepotism and the violence and corruption that sustains it should be changed. But can elections change our political culture if those who dominate the polls are members of the very dynasties who are hell bent to stay in power? Elections are like storms that come and go. Like Lando, which came and left behind destruction resulting in the loss of lives, property and livelihood, Philippine elections have a very similar impact on people and the environment. After storm Lando, what should we do? After the murder of Nilo, what should we do?
Nash laments the convenient and self-preserving apathy of so many who warn her to avoid traveling in these dangerous times. Yes so many do acknowledge the danger but do nothing more so long as they are not affected. Media seems hostaged as well by certain invisible forces that “encourage” them to maintain the “keep it local and isolated” syndrome of news reporting. Having said this, Nash asks, “Maybe it’s time to trace the trail of guns?” And she adds, “Maybe as a voting public, we could speak up more clearly why violence which has no place in elections?
Nash disturbed me last Sunday or rather she added to the disturbance constantly roiling within me. The nepotism, corruption, violence and other not too palatable features of Filipino Political Culture feeds on the apathy, vulnerability and even shallowness and gullibility of so many conditioned to accept things out of fear. Poverty makes many more susceptible to fear and intimidation. Who then will speak up more clearly against violence? I am sure Nash is not referring to particular persons, institutions and groups. I am sure she hopes that every single Filipino will one day stand and speak up against violence. But that will take awhile though. For now those who can and should must pick up the cudgels for Noli Rosal. Nash has begun the ball rolling. I am supporting her. I am sure my friend Bishop Jose Bantolo of Masbate and his priests and many more will do the same. I heard that relatives and friends of Noli have plans of holding a peaceful protest soon. What is important is the desire and decision to act. A writer quoting Annie Dillard reminds us, “Without action, without decision, you remain in possibility, which is safe and beautiful but eventually enervating and boring.” (cf. Jennifer Louden, the Life Organizer,p.9)
A few weeks ago, I did a run called Clean Run Run Clean from Quezon Circle to Club Filipino. The run launched what we called Tipanang Walis. The campaign has a two-pronged call. To candidates, “Malinis Ka Ba? Takbo Na!” To citizens, including candidates, “Kalooban Linisin, Trapo Walisin.” Perhaps I should find a way to go to Masbate to do a similar run there. Perhaps the challenge that we can sound while we run may be, “Malinis at Mapayapa ka Ba? Takbo Na!!!”
We can all speak and act together and take courage both from our solidarity and our faith. Last Friday’s reading (October 16, 2015) is both a stern warning and a powerful encouragement from Jesus:
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more. I shall show you whom to fear. Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna; yes I tell you, be afraid of that one.” ( Luke 12:1-7)
Fr. Roberto P. Reyes OFM
October 20, 2015
Our Lady of the Angels Seminary