Thursday, June 24, 2004

Home is a distant place

I remembered Sharbat Gula last Sunday. She with the beautiful face framed by a veil, she with the stunning sea-green eyes with flecks of brown, pupils constricted, gazing out from the National Geographic brochure that circulated around the world for several years. Sharbat Gula was a 1985 NG cover girl with no name. But she gave a face to the plight of war refugees the world over.

She was simply called ``Afghan refugee.’’ No one knew, not even photographer Steve McCurry, what her name was until 17 years later. I did write about her two years ago when this NG poster girl, after a long search, was tracked down somewhere in Afghanistan. With the use of scientific methods, she was identified through the pools of her eyes.

I remembered Sharbat Gula last Sunday, World Refugee Day. This year’s theme is ``A Place Called Home.’’ Note that I didn’t say that it was celebrated. Observed, is more appropriate. For what is there to celebrate? Photos and television footage showed, not people in celebration, but human beings with longing in their eyes.

Commemorated is an appropriate word too, if the courage of those who left home, crossed borders and lost their lives in the process are to be taken into consideration. The quest for freedom--from want, from fear--and to leave home to find a new one in a strange place requires much courage. Brave are those who made the step, even braver are those who chose to lead and serve, putting their own interests aside so that others may live free, or simply survive.

Several brave individual women and men who have dedicated their lives in this way have been honored in the recent years by the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF) and have been written about. It is good that the young get to read about their great deeds.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Gawad for Bishop Labayen

Kagitingan summarizes the best in a human being--nobility, courage, integrity, strength of character, greatness of spirit. It derives from the word magiting.

What does it mean to be magiting? Filipino hero Emilio Jacinto defined it in the cartilla for wanna-be Katipuneros: ``…may magandang asal, may isang pangungusap, may dangal at puri, di nangaapi at di nagpapaapi, marunong magdamdam at ginugugol ang buhay, pagod at talino sa pagiging mabuting anak ng bayan at ng Diyos.’’ (…of good character, has word of honor, integrity and purity, does not oppress and does not allow oppression, sensitive to others and dedicates his/her life, energy and talent toward being a good citizen and child of God.)

Last June 12, 106th anniversary of Philippine Independence, Bishop Julio X. Labayen, retired bishop of the Prelature of Infanta in Quezon received the Gawad Kagitingan Award. The venue couldn’t have been more appropriate—the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City where the names of those who served and died for freedom are etched.

Behind the award was Management and Organization Development for Empowerment, an NGO working for the emancipation of farmers.

This year’s honoree is certainly most deserving. He has served the cause of the poor of Infanta and various sectors in the field of social action. In his response speech at the Gawad rites, the bishop, now in his late 70s, retraced his steps in the battlefields.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

The longest day

Qu’il n’est pas d’avenir sans mémoire. There can be no future without memory. French President Jacques Chirac said this at the D-day 60th anniversary celebration in Normandy a few days ago. The TV camera panned the crowd and focused on a group of aging soldiers from different countries that formed the Allied Forces during World War II. Mostly in their 80s, these men now surely have to live with blurring eyesight, weakened knees and fading memories. One of them tried to suppress a sob but failed. My heart was in pieces.

They were, Chirac said, the enfants du monde jetés si jeunes dans le feu de la guerre, the children of the world thrown so young into the fire of war. Today they are young no more, but the memories, I am sure, continue to burn and blister the core of their beings. What was in the minds of these brave survivors as they sat there, this brilliant morning of June 6, 60 years after they stormed the beaches of Normandy to pave the way for the liberation of Western Europe from the clutches of Hitler?

And what was it like then when, as US Pres. Bush waxed, they set out ``in the half light of a Tuesday morning long ago’’? (Arrgh, I grabbed pen and paper to jot that down.)

Those in my generation weren’t human beings yet at that time. We were born in the half light of the post-war era. Many of the war scenes came to us through the war movies that I watched as a kid--``To Hell and Back’’, ``Tobruk’’. ``Guadalcanal Diary’’, ``Heaven Knows Mr. Allison’’, ``Sink the Bismarck!’’ ``Target Zero’’, ``Back to Bataan’’ to name a few. And, of course, ``The Longest Day’’ (1962) based on the best-selling book of war historian Cornelius Ryan.

Thursday, June 3, 2004

The Noy-pi redux

I was with some friends last Saturday, leisurely driving toward C-5. A car with government plates was ahead of us. When traffic slowed down, the car’s driver tossed an empty plastic cup outside the window. We took note of the car’s plate number and model and the time and place. (SEK214, black Excel Hyundai, Katipunan corner Santolan Road, around 11:15 a.m.)

So why do many Filipinos think the road is their trash can? Why do many Filipino males urinate wherever they please? Why is it that where precisely it says, ``Bawal Omehi Deto’’ (sic), it stinks? (Think of the many versions and spellings of that warning.) And where ``Huwag Tapon Basura Dito, Fine P50, By Order’’ is scrawled, a garbage mound arises?

Are Filipino drivers color blind that while the traffic light remains red, many zoom past it? Why do commuters wait for their ride in the middle of the road and not on the sidewalk? Is it coincidental that many employees in some government offices come from the same family tree, town or barrio?

And why is it that despite the extent of poverty in the Philippines, the suicide rate is low compared to that of economic giants? How could a tragic event, such as Ninoy Aquino’s assassination, unleash so many jokes and so much laughter--directed at his killers, of course--from grieving millions? Why do we spend so much for fiestas then fast the rest of the year? How do we make do with so little? Why do Filipinos generally do well in foreign countries?

Why are we always smiling? And gosh, what are we smiling about?

And what’s wrong with us? Is it cultural, structural, moral, spiritual? What is the problem? Is it the home, the church, the school, the state, the weather, the food and water? Is it our genes?