Pinoy Best Practices at Christmas

Simbang Gabi!

This is a Catholic tradition among Filipinos which has spanned centuries and continues to sustain the integrity of a united community that respects the family as the center of spiritual growth.

Every 16th of December before dawn breaks, fathers and mothers wake the children from their deep slumber to prepare for the 9-day novena masses which will culminate on  December 24th, Christmas eve. With everyone awake in toe, they walk through a cold breeze and a line of barking dogs to the community chapel. At the church, friends nod at one another as they await the Entrance, when the officiating priest enters and walks the aisle with his entourage. During the sermon, the priest sees to it that he keeps the audience from the desire to sleep by cracking a local joke or two before enjoining the community to pray for one another. After the mass, the priest waits at the door to give individual blessings to churchgoers along with handshakes from the adults and Mano Po! from the children. Out in the churchyard after the mass, people gather for breakfast, generously prepared by the assigned sponsors of the day. Here, children look for their ninongs and ninangs for another bout of  Mano Po! to remind them of their obligations,   fathers plan for a special activity, mothers gather for updates,  and foes try to reconcile. The walk home with  neighbors is enjoyed with shared memories of the past year: the disasters, the surprises, the losses as well as the triumphs. Finally, an outburst of laughter over an old joke or an observation at the occasion binds the community spirit before the group breaks for their respective abodes.

Noche Buena

This tradition puts the Filipino family at the center of everyone’s life. The person is nurtured, developed and sustained within the physical, psychological, social and spiritual resources of the family as society’s basic unit of survival.

Cooking the Christmas Eve supper and the meal after the Christmas Mass offers an enjoyable opportunity for family members to stay home, do things together, and eat their favorite food that usually include ham, keso de bola, fruit salad, bread or native cakes. Also, there’s lechon, fried chicken, beef caldereta, and all other favorite meat recipes. And, yes, the wine! If the family resources allow, gift-giving occurs after the grand meal. Otherwise, it’s a long night of just telling stories about one another outside the home.

The rule is: Family First. This could be one of the major reasons why other nationalities wonder at the Filipino’s sense of helping one another through thick and thin, through generations of relatives. And it does sustain the Filipino family in more ways than we could all ponder.

Bagong Taon!

This tradition highlights the community spirit as they welcome another year through a barrage of  celebratory sounds from firecrackers, bells, gongs, and all other possible objects for the purpose.

In celebration of the New Year, neighbors bring out the festive meals and put them on the common table. Again, stories are told of the past year and of plans for the coming year as food is taken any time each one desires. At twelve o’clock midnight, the welcome sounds culminate and everyone takes time to enjoy fireworks in the sky. The human spirit soars to another recharging in preparation for the challenges of another year. Meanwhile, there’s the family and the community to depend on.

Being Poor at Christmas

Thirty million Filipinos were poor three years ago. Now, little children still roam the streets, but this time they take with them their smaller and younger siblings to gather food remnants from a big eatery garbage drum. The adolescents go after pockets or slash bags of the uncanny passers-by. They go home to a shanty that offers nothing but a floor where they all together sleep on. Mothers with infants and pregnant women peddle, if not beg, for the day’s sustenance. Men gather for the early shots of gin.

Poverty is a vicious cycle of deprivation, loss of self-esteem and desperation that sometimes lead to inaction and self-destruction. It is a social malady that, left unattended, corrodes the moral fiber of the community. With international assistance coming in billions of dollars, why was the poor Juan de la Cruz never reached, now that he is poorer and in more need?  When before he had a roof above his head, he now lost it from the floods, or an outburst of fire caused by a faulty wiring, or a demolition team. When before he was overseas and able to earn for his family’s needs, he is now forced to come home jobless and empty-handed, to a household that waits for his remittances in order to eat everyday. When before he had a little, now he has nothing but the clothes on his back.

In this December month, Filipinos look forward to a grand celebration and merry-making, to great family reunions and gift-giving. These things should happen, whether or not one has everything or nothing. One Juan could get friends together to stage a bank robbery. Another could just be content with what will come from the kind- hearted. Yet another thinks the community Christmas party is just fine. Nothing beats Juan when he has nothing but a smile and kind words to give to friends and acquaintances. At this instant, he shares the charity of the poor.

Juan looks at the bright mansions glittering with multi-colored lights and animation. He couldn’t fathom how much riches the owners possess. More often than not, the owners don’t have time for happiness as they watch over their wealth either grow or gradually vanish. Juan doesn’t understand the poverty of the rich.

And Juan looks at the friendly worker who helps him gain other skills that could give him employment, and wonders at how meager the worker’s resources are while the worker has the heart to have much more in order to help a lot more like himself. Juan unknowingly hopes that someday the frozen middle class will be able to have more and move further while taking his hands and the hands of millions more up the ladder of comfort and humane living.

Hear! Hear! The carols are in the air, as we sing “Merry Christmas!”, no matter what.

Maguindanao Martial Law

After the November 23, 2009 election-related violence in Maguindanao where at least fifty seven (57) people were massacred, clocks started ticking to assess how long it would take for the Arroyo administration to bring forth the perpetrators and give justice to the victims. Media is more upfront and aggressive, considering that 15 among the dead were colleagues in the industry. From a state of emergency since the gruesome incident, Martial Law was declared December 4 by virtue of Presidential Proclamation 1959.

The ensuing arrests without warrants as a result of the suspension of habeas corpus created an instant scenario of relief, since it is a known fact that the Ampatuans as primary suspects could easily evade procedures with their enforced influence among the police and the military in the province. However, some political observers think that for the law enforcers to have been shoved to the side as ineffective in performing their duties is another government miscalculation and means of issue evasion.  Another facet of the national reaction is the fear for a forthcoming expansion of martial rule in all areas of the country. Senator Miriam Santiago poses that with escalating incidents of violence in Mindanao, Martial Law covering the entire nation could be possible with government having the least difficulty in making a justification. The Marcos Martial Law regime spanning twenty years is still a fresh, horrific memory for the present generation.

Through the legal process, joint session of Congress has been called to assess the need for the declaration of martial rule in Maguindanao. In spite of surfacing irrelevant side issues, Speaker Prospero Nograles tells reporters the verdict of the votes will be announced publicly by Tuesday, December 15, 2009.

In the mean time, poor Juan de la Cruz, with a grumbling stomach in a personal corner of an evacuation center awaits Christmas Day.

(Picture credits: and Thanks!) 

If PGMA Went to Congress

The community of speculative Filipinos roar at President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, picturing her in Congress making every effort to swing the vote to hold a Constitutional Convention in order to change the form of government from Presidential to one that is Parliamentary. Presently, coming down from being President to seeking to become a Congresswoman in her home province in Pampanga is taken with a “What is that?” attitude. People think that to slowly make hey way up till she becomes Prime Minister is sustaining power in bad taste. Worst, public opinion now holds that the President is doing all these to seek immunity from the corruption charges that are sure to be hurled at her once she ends her term as President.

The Filipinos are a singular critique and a “plural action” people. After this phase of united emotion, we break down into different involvement or non-involvement. One might be in a political position and goes on with a “small time” bribery and justifies: “Don’t worry, it’s just small change compared to what the big names get for favours.” Another might go back to honest work and patiently allots his salary to just the very basic needs of his family. Still another might sit down from morning till night and drink his disappointments away with alcohol till he drops dead.

Yet we cannot erase what PGMA has done in the past and how she symbolized for us women empowerment, economic progress, political reform, and national renewal. For every president that we elect, we put on her/his shoulders all our hopes and dreams for a better life in our own land. She/he has no other good choice than to deliver. However, after disappointments over unmet expectations over time and the corruption allegations, we STOP at supporting and helping to make things turn in the right direction. Our handy alternative is for her/him to STEP DOWN.

Have we made the right choices as a people with these responses to our recurring problems? If yes, why do we still long for the right leaders, why do we keep this form of democracy knowing it doesn’t satisfy our needs? Why can’t we afford to think of the idea of change?

Who knows, things might turn out well if PGMA went to Congress. Or do we really care to be better off?