Friday, October 16, 2015

I haven't shaved my head yet and here's why...

It's October, the month for the Global Awareness of Breast Cancer and support for the advancement of its medical research. I usually shave my head around this time to show solidarity for those suffering (or have suffered) the illness. However, I have intentionally put it off until the week is over because I do not want to be mistaken as a supporter of Rodrigo Duterte's candidacy for the Philippine presidency. I do not condone summary executions and human rights violations and I am NOT sorry.

Politics is about choosing lesser evils, I know. And I further acknowledge that Duterte has major plus points for me because he supports progressive ideas such as divorce, mandatory reproductive health education and same-sex marriage. However, I draw the line at killing people. In my book, that qualifies neither as a progressive idea nor a lesser evil--most especially without fair trial. I was and still am a staunch advocate of the abolition of the death penalty and I am not about to passively recant my position by voting for someone who delivers capital punishment on a whim.

I have many good friends and family members who support him and if you, dear reader, are one of them, I still have FULL RESPECT for you and your choices. I do not intend to create a rift between us just because of our differences in political opinion. Just don't push me to adopt your views because the chances of pigs growing wings and taking flight is much fatter than me shading that ring next to Duterte's name.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Two Years Since 7.2

Today in 2013, while I was enjoying what was supposed to be a 2-hour extension to my usual 8-hour slumber, silently thanking the Muslims for affording the rest of us Filipinos another day of relaxation as they celebrated the Feast of the Sacrifice, I was awakened by a violent tremor. For nearly half a minute, right after discovering that walking or standing up was not possible, I held on to my bed post as images of the ground swallowing the house and ending my 23-year Earthly existence flashed through my mind. Thankfully, my whole family lived through the disaster and our home in the city was left intact. Others were not as fortunate. During its 34-second stint, the quake claimed homes, bridges, churches and 222 human lives, leaving some of us survivors to literally eat dust before we could begin to pick ourselves up. It has been two years since then and Bohol has largely recovered but some things may never return to the way they were. Bridges and homes have had to be demolished and rebuilt from scratch. And goodness knows you can't put coral rocks back together if they've been pulverised. A billion sacks of rice and the whites of two million chicken eggs will do us no good this time. We have all had to live with changes--some more difficult to accept than others--but at least our spirits are strong. That has been proven true. The earthquake and the subsequent Super Typhoon Haiyan, which happened less than a month later, were stark reminders of the sheer impermanence of Earthly existence and the utter futility of the identities and labels we carry around and destroy each other over. In the end, we are all just people. Yesterday, we were born; now, we live; tomorrow, we die. Whether you believe in anything beyond death, why should we say we are more important than another person when our skulls are just as easily pierced by a spade as any other man or woman walking this Earth? Why raise our sense of value over our fellow human beings'? We are all of the same substance, anyway.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Your Attention, Please!

In a largely globalised world shaped by a myriad of different and constantly changing opinions fed to us by mass media’s various manifestations, it still comes as a surprise to me how certain indubitably significant events and places could possibly be overlooked.  I went to the Indonesian provinces of North Sumatra and Aceh a little over two years ago and bore witness to the effects of both past and on-going conflict between civilians, armed militant groups and the government, and it baffled me how something as globally attention-worthy as that could possibly have escaped me for the last 23 years of my life.  The only time Aceh was ever in my face on a news item was after it was levelled by a devastating tsunami back in 2004, but that was it.  In part, I could probably be blamed for not digging into the world of global concerns enough, but, in my defence, not enough people and media are talking about it.  And while I didn’t have any qualms about learning of the stampede that happened in a temple in India or Iraq’s first free parliamentary elections since 1958, it just struck me painfully how a struggling place that could have used a little more attention from the world was only afforded it when the worst possible thing happened and yet again deprived of it when the world thought it was over.

I recently visited the southern terrestrial lump of the Philippines called Mindanao to visit the United Religions Initiative’s (URI) cooperation circles (CC) there and to witness a culmination activity for the International Peace Advocacy Month of September.  Mindanao is another place that has so much global attention-worthy on-goings yet is constantly overlooked unless another American or European disappears there.  I’m over giving analogies like “Aceh is to Indonesia as Mindanao is to the Philippines.”  The two may have certain parallels but one can only derive so much information by relying on them. Besides, they both lack attention on the international stage, anyway.

Now, admittedly, one can’t grasp what’s going on in an area unless they go there and listen to locals' stories and immerse in local life, but wouldn’t it at least be helpful if more people were to give the place a little more attention?  I admit that I, too, was largely ignorant about Mindanao.  I live in the Philippines and yet I know very little more than my foreign friends who only ever hear or read the word “Mindanao” on their governments’ list of places to avoid.  It’s sad but true.  And I think this lack of understanding is the reason why it’s so easy to make assumptions about the place.  There’s a saying that goes, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing” and it’s true.  This little knowledge is what causes presidents to declare all-out wars, armed independence fighters to be branded as terrorists, and certain people to be collectively perceived as inherently violent simply because they profess a particular faith that is different from that of the country’s majority.  It’s sad, really.