“I die without seeing dawn’s light shining on my country… You, who will see it, welcome it for me…don’t forget those who fell during the nighttime.”
― José Rizal
It is no secret that the Philippines has retained a culture of political corruption. In the last three decades, two presidents have been ousted from power. From cheating, murder, corruption, it is a tragic fact that most Filipinos believe their own government cannot be trusted.
It is times like these that I wonder, what if our national hero, Jose Rizal, had been president? I find it ironic that the most beloved and revered of our country’s founding fathers was never really in a seat of power. Rizal was a freethinker. His writing and outspoken opinions of overthrowing Spanish colonial rule were the very thing that put him in exile, then in jail, and ultimately in front of a firing squad. Despite the violence inflicted on Rizal, he never saw war as the answer. He sought peaceful means of revolution and did not completely agree with the Katipunan’s military agenda.
And yet, Rizal was made an example of. His sacrifice and valor in dying for the cause of freedom only further incited the Katipunan to carry out its attacks against the Spanish. His execution was the stuff of legend, an incendiary beginning to the Philippine revolution that culminated in the independence from Spain. But I wonder, if he had lived to see the end of the revolution, would he have been put in a seat of power? And if he had been our first president, what kind of leader would he have been to our young government?
Perhaps we revere Rizal as we do because his love for our homeland was pure and untainted by the greed of political power.
Fast forward to present day. In 1983, Benigno Aquino, Jr., a staunch political opponent to then president Ferdinand Marcos, is assassinated on the tarmac of our international airport. Though there is no concrete evidence that Marcos was to blame, popular sentiment would have it that Marcos felt threatened by Aquino’s rising influence with the people and thus had him eliminated. His murder, like Rizal’s, fueled the People Power Revolution, which sought to take Marcos out of office, abolish his 20-year authoritarian rule and reinstate a democratic government. This time around this was a peaceful demonstration of civil disobedience.
My parents were revolutionaries in their own right and actively took part in this rebellion; my mom perfected her famous pancit, by cooking and bagging the food for hundreds of demonstrators at sit-ins, while running from teargas explosions. My dad was a freethinker and had in his possession, a Red Book, containing communist ideas of Chairman Mao. Fearing for his life, he fled from the capital and spent a year in hiding back the province.
Years later, after Marcos was removed from power, it was discovered that he and his wife, Imelda, moved billions of dollars of embezzled public funds to accounts and investments in the US, Switzerland and other countries. His widow, Imelda, still faces these charges today.
Fast forward to 2013. In July of this year, President Benigno Aquino, III (son of the assassinated Aquino), and his allies are accused of stealing up to half the money allocated toward local projects from government discretionary funds. As a result, his approval rating tanked a couple months later.
Shortly thereafter, super typhoon Haiyan slams into the eastern Philippines, ravaging Tacloban, my hometown, leaving thousands dead and millions displaced. Aquino is slow to respond and gets on the defensive. He blames the media for exaggerated reports of death tolls and the inefficiency of the local Tacloban government to respond. Alfred Romualdez, the mayor of Tacloban, is nephew to Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.
The two major TV networks, GMA and ABS-CBN, also have conflicting coverage of the typhoon and relief efforts. Radio broadcaster, Korina Sanchez of ABS-CBN, (also Aquino aligned) accuses renowned CNN reporter, Anderson Cooper, of saying that there was no presence of Philippine government in Tacloban. Watch Cooper’s reaction to her accusation below.
Sanchez’s husband is Director of Interior and is overseeing the relief effort on the ground. Current buzz states that Sanchez has been suspended from ABS-CBN for one year, though Sanchez claims she had a vacation planned, long in advance.
We can argue all day about whether you are Marcos or Aquino aligned, these families can continue to feud, but one indisputable fact remains: People are starving. People are dying. There are people in Tacloban that need help. It angers me that nepotism, corruption, political alliances, rivalries and dynasties have sullied the vision of what I think our country could be. I believe we are a nation of power and promise.
Let me tell you the story of Harriet Olmida. Harriet and her husband Veltor have 4 children and live in Palo, Leyte, a few kilometers from Tacloban. The night before the typhoon made landfall, she and her husband brought her three younger children on their small motorcycle to the evacuation center to be with her parents. Their plan was to return home to retrieve their eldest son and go back to the evacuation center, but the weather had gotten so bad, with debris flying everywhere, that they decided to wait it out at home. The next morning it was too late, they woke up to their kitchen knee-deep in water. Moments later, the water surge hit and it was too late. They were neck deep in water and had no way to get out.
For 8 hours, they clung onto the railing of the staircase of their home and waited for the water to recede. Every time a wave came crashing in, they clung tighter to the railing to keep from being swept away, and ducked their heads underwater to avoid the debris. Veltor, her husband, bore the brunt of each wave and tried to clear any debris that was coming their way and even lost his grip on the railing twice. That staircase is the one thing that saved their lives and the only thing that remains of their destroyed home. Harriet’s hands are calloused and will always have the scars of that terrifying night, but she and her family are alive.
Harriet is my cousin and one of many courageous survivors of Tacloban.
A good friend of mine and active member of the Fil-Am community once said, “Our country will always be third world if our help is second rate.” No government is perfect, the rivalries may always exist, and the disparity between the have and have-nots may deepen. But all it takes is one person, one leader to carry that torch and bury these differences and truly bring to light the motto of our country, “Maka-Diyos, Maka-Tao, Makakalikasan at Makabansa” For God, People, Nature and Country.” It is our responsibility- our social, national, moral, Filipino and human imperative to do what we can from wherever we are.
Last week, thousands of people flocked to ruined churches for mass to find comfort amid the tragedy. One of the churches that was destroyed was Santo Nino Church in Tacloban, a special place I used to frequent with my family. Rev. Amadero Alvero noted, “The church may have been destroyed, but our faith is intact. As believers, as a people of God, our faith has not been destroyed.”
My dear kababayan, neither has mine.
Want to help the relief effort? Donate to the Philippine Red Cross today. Use the #StrongerPH hashtag to keep the conversation going. Newspaper versions here from Philippine News and Filipino Express.