For me 2016 started with a lot of excitement. Philippine International Aid (PIA), the foundation I started and continue to run, celebrated its 30th anniversary. Yes, it is quite an achievement considering that for the first 25 years, there was only one full time volunteer in the office (me), part time volunteers on the Board and event volunteers when we had our fundraisers. Even I was astounded. So to celebrate our special year, we embarked on four fundraisers: golf tournament in June; movie screening in August; concert in October; pilgrimage to the Holy Land in November. Each one was successful. We would be able to send more disadvantaged children to school in the Philippines. I must admit though that by September I was already drained of energy and contacts and probably even lost some friends with my constant requests; but I told myself that this was a special year and it would soon be over.
Working on something you believe in, even how difficult it may be, brings joy and pride not only to yourself, but also to the people who are beneficiaries of your gifts. Perhaps that is why we have lasted 30 years and will probably go on for many more years.
It wasn’t all the fundraising activities though that caused me so much anxiety. It was also the elections in the Philippines and here in the U.S. Never before have I seen so much polarization – right and left, and hardly any middle. The Philippines and the U.S. have new presidents who promised to bring changes – radical changes – and people bought those promises, even if they were expressed in messages that were untrue, vulgar, insensitive, immoral and downright crazy. All of a sudden I saw a different kind of society, one that made me uncomfortable and afraid. I had to explain to my granddaughters that they should never accept being treated derogatorily by any man, regardless of his stature. I also shockingly discovered that some relatives and friends, people I thought were “like me” were actually from another, hidden world. Where were they all this time? Why didn’t they speak up before they became related to me or became my friends?
I’ve done a lot of soul-searching recently. I listed all my relatives and friends who didn’t share my political views, noting down all the qualities I liked about each one and how they became my friends. I found that most were intelligent, fun and funny, compassionate, sensitive, sensible and down-to-earth, talented, creative, smart, caring. Even if I could not totally comprehend why they voted the way they did, my feelings for them as friends or relatives have not diminished. They are still smart and funny, talented and compassionate. Most of them will continue to be my relatives and friends, but I will simply let peace reign between us by avoiding the minefield of politics, as much as I can help it.
Many of us, more than half of this country, were depressed after the elections. The other half was elated. For liberal-minded Filipinos, it was a double whammy with the Trump and Duterte victories. The elections are long over, so it’s time to stop whining and talking of what ifs. Instead, it’s time to turn anger and frustration into positive action. It’s time to get up from the couch and take on the responsibility of protecting and safeguarding democracy here and in the Philippines.
We have to remain vigilant against violations of civil rights, contempt for the rule of law and threats to our families and communities. Democratic values and respect for all human beings, regardless of skin color, religion or sexual orientation must be upheld and passed on to the next generation.
Today is a season for courage because it will take courage to challenge assaults on democratic rights here and in the homeland. It is a time of resistance to the proposition that unabashed racism and all forms of bigotry are “normal” features of human society. It’s a time for speaking up for what is right, because silence is complicity.