Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Is patriotism hip?

I WAS not in the Philippines during Pinoy People Power in 1986. I received news of it through television and a first-hand account from my brother, who was a law student then and was in the frontlines of the said event. It was impossible to contain one’s emotions.

Many events have happened since those momentous days in February 1986. Is Pinoy People Power still alive? Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa, who was also in the frontlines of People Power I as rector of San Carlos seminary in Makati, said during the Pwede Pala Pinoy! launch in Cebu last 29 November 2008 that since EDSA I or People Power is a spirit, it will never die. Judging from the experience of the launch, I would concur with the good bishop.

I am no optimist. If mere optimism was the fuel for planning Pwede Pala Pinoy!, I would have given up right from the start. As people more experienced in organizing similar events had pointed out, we were starting out with too little, too late. A month before the launch, funds were still negligible. While we were dreaming big in terms of participants and promotions, there were still too many loose ends. The launch could have easily unraveled even before it began; we would have fallen flat on our faces.

Pwede Pala Pinoy! is the telling, sharing, and retelling of largely untold, inspiring stories of faith-impelled work promoting the common good. These stories are about unlikely collaborations with a twist, going beyond well-defined boundaries that often stifle the spirit of unity. One effect of corruption has been a nation characterized by mutual suspicions between individuals and sectors. Such fragmentation can be bridged if people and sectors learn to exchange places. After all, didn’t God start this whole dynamics of exchanging places by sending us his only Son?
While not an optimist neither am I a pessimist. I do not see a half full or a half empty glass. For me, a half full (or empty) glass is really a glass that is waiting to be filled to the brim. This incorrigible hope of mine is a gift from God.

The process leading to the launch—as well as the launch itself—was really an exercise in and a blossoming of hope. It all started out with a desire to communicate a simple message: a good Christian is also a good citizen and a good leader. What better way to communicate this message than asking people who embody these realities to give their testimonies before people?
The motif of the launch is the analogy of the Philippines and a 90-million piece jigsaw puzzle. Each Filipino holds a piece of this puzzle, and we can only see the beautiful big picture if we go out in faith and see how the pieces fit. Sometimes, we see pieces falling into place as if by an unseen Hand, showing us that we are instruments of what God is doing in the life of our nation. It is a continuing journey and each piece is indispensable.

A few days before the launch several banners appeared in public: “Can Anything Good Come out of the PNP?” – “Can One Man and One Family Make a Difference?” – “Can We Go Beyond Traditional Politics?” – “Is People Power Still Alive?” – and “Is There Still Hope for the Country?”

Around 3,000 people representing nearly 60 different groups came for the launch at the Jesuits’ Sacred Heart School at Gen. Maxilom (Cebu City) from 4 to 9 pm, starting with a Mass, then listening to storytellers and interacting with them and with one another. Participants from outside Cebu came, including Dir. Gen. Jesus Verzosa and Chair. Koni de Guzman, and an 8-person group from the Diocese of Cabanatuan.

The festive occasion witnessed the sharing of talents as rock bands, drama guilds, a rondalla, a mini youth orchestra, and other artists entertained with a message, igniting spaces of hope for ordinary citizens.

Many young people sat down for more than four hours. Some police trainees proudly stood in their uniforms. They gave ear to Among Ed Panlilio of Pampanga who shared his efforts at moral and transparent governance. They listened intently as Archbishop Ramon Arguelles mentioned People Power not as an action against someone as it was an event bringing Filipinos together in faith, preventing our disintegration as a nation. The participants showed keen interest at the humble testimonies of three police officers, Ret. PNP CSupt. Samson R. Tucay, PSSupt. Cesar H. Binag, and PSupt. Romy Palgue, who recounted various personal experiences and how their Christian faith enabled them to wear a badge of blessing for others. They were struck by what they heard from Raddy Diola on how a single family can help a public elementary school and its ripple effect on the local community.

After the storytelling, a “Meet and Greet” moment allowed people to get up close to the storytellers. Quite unexpectedly, a swirl of humanity came to life as young people enthusiastically sought to have their pictures taken with the storytellers. The energetic smiles on the youth revealed the release of positive energies. They had found their heroes.
Fittingly, the whole event ended with the mass singing of Nasud Ko (“My Nation”) accompanied by an MTV of the song while the remaining participants raised and waved their hands in unrehearsed unison.

In the gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent, we are told of a voice crying out in the wilderness and how people were attracted to the message of John the Baptist (Mark 1:1-8). Can the storytellers be some sort of modern-day prophets calling on us to prepare the way of the Lord? I would think so.

That night patriotism impelled by Christian faith was hip.