Could that be the Christmas before the political storm?
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo 2005-01-03
I waited for the Christmas and New Year holidays to be over before writing this. I did not want to add to the already bleak outlook painted by the SWS survey released last December 23 that depicted Filipinos as having the worst ever pessimistic feelings towards having a happy Christmas.

The SWS reports that this pessimism is felt by one out of three Filipinos. Taken from a social and historical perspective, the numbers reveal a more chilling reality – the fact that this is hardly the season and time when Christian Filipinos are expected to feel cynical. “Dominance of pessimism is rare, and previously occurred only in March 2003 (the Iraq War), September/October 2000 (Juetenggate) and in 1984 (post-Aquino assassination)”, says the SWS report.
Public pessimism during the height of the Iraq War, an external event with devastating international consequences, is expected and cannot be helped. The two other local events were forerunners of People Power upheavals that marked historical turning points. But today’s public pessimism is set against the backdrop of a presidency regarded as illegitimate by 55% of Filipinos (per another SWS survey) coupled by a people misery index that far exceeds conditions that prevailed in the period preceding the first and second People Power events. This leaves us with but one logical conclusion – a more turbulent turnover of power is in the horizon.

One must understand that among Filipinos, Christmas is a very special event unlike no other. It is a time when class divides are blurred by the spirit of giving and sharing. Filipino homes celebrate Christmas as best as they can afford, from the humblest shanty to the most opulent of mansions. It is a time to be happy and a time to be together with kith and kin. For a Filipino, Christmas provides a catharsis for the pains and aches of the past 12 months.

The SWS findings which reveal that one of three Filipinos does not even see this Christmas as a much-awaited respite from the drudgery of his impoverished existence is certainly cause for alarm. They do not see any ‘joy to the world’ nor find reason to raise their hearts up in this ‘season of hope’. This is even made worse by the fact that such people tend to blame it all on the greed and callousness of their public officials. This can only mean one thing: left with precious little to rejoice about, there is also precious little to lose for people stuck in the pits. Surely, preserving the oppressive status quo would be the least in these people’s minds!

A Filipino who pictures himself having a sad Christmas is like a child feeling dysfunctionally depressed amid all the glitter and sounds of Disneyland. One of three Filipinos, around 28 million of the 84 million or so, is now shrouded with a pall of gloom – what Shakespeare described in the opening line of Richard III as the ‘winter of our discontent’.

The collective negative energy of 28 million desolate Filipinos should be enough cause for panic for the Macapagal-Arroyo regime. This is even more than ten times the multitude that made up the funeral entourage at the burial of Fernando Poe, Jr. Furthermore, the remaining two-thirds of Filipinos who did not share the pessimism of the one-third over enjoying Christmas do not even approve of the Macapagal-Arroyo regime. The earlier SWS survey released last December 17 showed Macapagal-Arroyo sliding even further in net satisfaction ratings – the only incumbent president polled by SWS to have slid into negative net satisfaction ratings.

The -5% net satisfaction ratings of Macapagal-Arroyo last December 17, immediately followed by the projection of a “sad Christmas” five days later, do not make good ingredients for happy days ahead, specially for one who is blamed for messing up the economy and whose regime is largely-perceived as illegitimate. Quite unsettling when one also considers that our two People Power events have both occurred during the first quarter of 1986 and 2001.

Sometime in the late 70’s when I was having lunch at the MOPC (Manila Overseas Press Club), then located near my office in Makati City, one of the members brought sad news about somebody who committed suicide. Most of us did not know the suicide, but the news was very disturbing, more so because it happened a few days before Christmas. Nobody knew what prodded the person to do it and there was no evidence of a severe financial or romantic setback – common causes of suicides – to suggest why it happened. That it happened days before Christmas made it a conversation piece for the next two hours around the MOPC round table.

Who would feel like ending one’s life during a happy time like Christmas?

I think it was former President Diosdado Macapagal’s press secretary and now Philippine ambassador to Palau Leo Parungao who gave the most plausible explanation why there is a high incidence of suicides during the Christmas season: Christmas is a season of love and happy times so that when an individual finds himself unduly depressed at this time, the discrepancy drives a painful contrast that can only exacerbate despair and self-pity.

I tend to believe that it is in the context of this dark sense of despair and foreboding that one-third of Filipinos see only a sad Christmas in the offing. And it is going to be illogical to think that so many Filipinos will commit suicide either. A few of them might and that has been a common scene these days – desperate parents opting to end their lives with their children in tow. Many of us saw some of these on primetime television news.

The extent of desperation and cynicism that now stalks the Philippine landscape is not new. There was a time when the people of France during the 18th century and the people of Tsarist Russia in the early 20th century underwent the same desperation and the hunger that found their people competing with rats in scavenging for food in trash bins. Those social conditions caused two of the greatest and bloodiest political upheavals in history. The French and the Russian revolutions proved that extreme hunger awakens the primal instinct of people to embrace the law of the jungle, driving them to take a last ditch gamble to safeguard their survival.

Steal all you want but make sure that the people are properly fed. When one man’s desperation reaches starvation level, reason is sidelined and instinct takes over. But when whole families and communities go hungry, collective instinct takes over. The desperation of those who have nothing and those others who have little to lose is a tsunami waiting to be activated by the slightest jolt of a singular act of injustice or inhumanity.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should not delude herself that her co-opted and pampered military and police generals can protect and preserve her regime when the equation reaches this level of desperation. The deposed French and Russian monarchies commanded better respect, fealty and loyalty from their generals but to no avail. Their generals, like ours, commanded soldiers and junior officers whose families lived under the same pitiful social conditions. In the end, the French and Russian armies joined the ranks of the people and we all know what happened to the families of the Bourbon and Romanov royal houses.

I wish you all a Happy New Year. Under the circumstances that we are in, I hope that is not wishful thinking.

  Previous Columns:

It had to happen on The Ides of March and Holy Week

Suggested guidelines for liability- free Internet posts

Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

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