Happy New Year, Manay! May 2019 be a good year. What’s a good year, she says?
Manay lives in Daraga, Albay, at the foot of the beautiful Mount Mayon in Bicol, where the lush landscape is filigreed with so many coconut trees. The people of Albay are gentle and smiling, careful not to cross the “Daragang Magayon,” the folkloric beautiful lady of the volcano — for she hides herself in clouds to show displeasure when things are not right.
Last year, 2018, started with Mayon being most unhappy. From mid-January to end February, the Philippines’ most active of 22 active volcanoes had six major and many minor eruptions. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology reported that at that time, Mt. Mayon was erupting fountains of lava and plumes of ash rising up to 10 km into the air at its angriest. Nearby towns were choked with ash thick enough to turn the daytime sky dark, according to frantic news reports.
The volcano is geographically shared by the eight cities and municipalities of Legazpi City, Daraga, Camalig, Guinobatan, Ligao City, Tabaco City, Malilipot and Santo Domingo. An estimated 90,000 residents fled their homes for safer locations while local authorities shut down some government operations and schools, amidst a shortage of emergency funds (Forbes magazine, Feb. 6, 2018). On Jan. 16, 2018, the province of Albay declared a state of calamity as lava flows reached the limits of the 6-kilometer evacuation zone (Reuters, Jan. 16, 2018).
Please God, that the feared major eruption of the angry Mayon is not provoked by the pervading culture of hate and distrust in our country, and the too-ready violence that is cast on Filipinos by Filipinos.
One local newspaper tallied 11 mayors and six vice mayors killed since June 2016, when President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office, until September 2018, two years into his anti-drug campaign (Business Insider, Sept. 6, 2018). Human Rights Watch says Duterte, a former mayor elected on an anti-crime platform, is using the drug war as a cover to crack down on political opponents. “The earlier you do away with your mayor, the earlier you become the mayor also,” he told an audience in Bohol province (Time magazine, July 5, 2018).
“Police say 4,410 alleged drug dealers or users have been killed as part of the anti-drug campaign that Mr. Duterte launched since winning the elections in mid-2016, while rights groups charge that the actual death toll is three times higher and that the police and shadowy vigilantes are murdering people even without proof that they are linked to drugs,” the Agence France-Press said.
“My only sin is the extrajudicial killings.” Duterte said in a televised speech in September (telegraph.co.uk, Sept 28, 2018). While then presidential spokesman Harry Roque quickly said it was only a joke, the Social Weather Stations (SWS) surveyed that the drug campaign still had the backing of 78% of Filipinos, but 96% opposed the killings, saying the suspects should be taken alive (ABS-CBN, Oct. 14, 2018).
And on Dec. 22, Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Rodel Batocabe, candidate for Mayor of Daraga in the coming November (2019) local elections, and his security escort, SPO2 Orlando Diaz, were killed in cold blood by unidentified assailants in Daraga, in plain sight of the already-disturbed Mt. Mayon. Batocabe was one of three local election candidates killed in other provinces the same week before Christmas. Was the killing drug-related or election-related? Evidently power-related. On Dec. 26, angry Mayon caused two more phreatic explosions.
Manay, dear friend, please seriously think of leaving Daraga before Mayon’s wrath explodes in Nature’s subliminal reaction to the human violence For we can feel it coming: at yearend and into the first days of 2019, typhoon “Usman,” one of the deadliest storms of 2018 after Super typhoon Ompong, whipped and lashed Bicol and Samar, causing destructive landslides and flooding (ANS-CBN, Jan. 2, 2019). The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) reported 122 deaths caused by “Usman” as of Jan. 3.
So you suggest that I move to Metro Manila, and live in a high-rise condo that is insulated from the vicissitudes of Nature, like typhoons and the volcano, Manay asks? Will I not be nearer to man-made disasters in the economy and politics? Manay wants to “do a Thoreau,” like Henry David Thoreau, an early 1800s American writer who isolated himself from society in protest against corrupt and coercive government. “I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government,” he said in his now-famous book Civil Disobedience that has guided socio-political reformists like Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. (Rosenwald, Lawrence, The Theory, Practice and Influence of Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, 2006).
But Thoreau eventually had to leave his idyllic Walden Pond, his physical and introspective retreat from the crass and unjust world that coerced him to subservience by having to pay taxes to the government. Manay, you cannot hack it alone, like Thoreau could not do it by living like a hermit himself.
Like Thoreau, if you have to pay taxes anyway, you might as well know, and be concerned about where your taxes are being spent. To start, you have to think with us all how we will live 2019 with a government expenditure program that has not been approved by the House and the Senate, and signed into effect by President Duterte.
Allegations of insertions and diversions of allocations in the pending 2019 government expenditure program has exposed the major graft and corruption in government, perhaps second only in criminality to the extrajudicial killings accused of political leaders and uniformed officials. There is something terribly wrong when those influential in preparing and approving the budget are “caught with their hands in the cookie jar,” with their own party-mates and political allies telling on them and on each other in classic Star Wars betrayals for personal power and dominance. Billions of pesos are allegedly tucked into this most controversial budget of all times for the easy picking of unashamedly greedy public officials, some through their alleged dummy contractors, as gleaned from news reports (ABS-CBN News, Jan 3, 2019).
“Let us greet the new year with gratitude to God for all His blessings and hope for a peaceful and prosperous Philippines,” House Speaker and former President Gloria Arroyo said in her message sent to the media on Sunday, Dec. 30. Arroyo certainly has a lot to be thankful for in 2018, the year of her political comeback, Rappler acidly pointed out (Dec. 31, 2019).
Manay is now seriously thinking of moving back to Manila. May 2019 be a good year.
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.