Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Kapayapaan

As a volunteer, I’m supposed to stay out of Philippine politics; and as this is a public blog, I’ll refrain from getting too deeply into the specifics of the current political situation in the country.

That said, it’s impossible to live here and not feel affected (or afflicted) by the state of affairs in Philippine politics. My center receives two national newspapers, the Manila Bulletin and the Philippine Daily Inquirer. (I prefer the latter, although the former gets points for including a weekly photography insert.) The presidential election, along with many lesser elections, is scheduled for May 10, less than two months away, and every day the front pages of these newspapers are plastered with articles on the latest antics of the candidates, worries about election scandals, and updates on political violence. According to an article yesterday, over ninety people have already been killed in connection with politics since the November Maguindanao massacre.

Iloilo province is not a political hotbed.Peace Corps keeps a list of provinces that may be risky for volunteers during the election season, and Iloilo isn’t on it. (Nearby Antique province is.) Aside from the sporadic politicking of candidates in Iloilo City – just a couple weeks ago I caught a glimpse of vice-presidential hopeful Loren Legarda in Jaro – things have been pretty quiet.

So why I am even writing about politics? Because it’s important to know how things are here. Before I came, I couldn’t have written the first word about the political scene in the Philippines. I couldn’t have named a single president or political figure – not Corazon Aquino, Jose Rizal, even Ferdinand (or Imelda) Marcos. I had no idea. Even after living here over a year and a half, I’m still discovering new things. And to be blunt, most of these things aren’t good.

Revolutions and uprisings always grab the public’s ear. Last year it was Honduras and Sri Lanka; for the past seven years there have been daily stories about Iraq. Violence in African nations and especially the Middle East is regular fodder.

But it seems – and this is only my view – that the Philippines keeps a lower profile on the world politics stage. That doesn’t mean the Philippines has fewer political problems; what it perhaps does mean is that these problems are more embedded. More insitutitionalized. The state of affairs might not be always changing or publicized, but that doesn’t mean the state of affairs is solid.

I encourage everyone to read up on the Philippine elections – and for that matter, the politics that have steered this country for the past thirty-five years. Read about the current candidates, their reasons for running, their platforms (if you can find them). This is a decent short overview of the country, and there should be an increasing number of Philippines-related articles here in the lead-up to the election. I don’t expect most people to be deeply affected by the presidential election in a small Asian archipelago, but the reading should raise some global Big Questions: about democracy, international relations and accountability, and that most vital and urgent ideal, kapayapaan.

There’s a popular Filipino song that one of my kids helped me translate from the Tagalog. It runs roughly thus:

Maghawak-hawak ng kamay (Hold hands)
Isigaw ng sabay-sabay (Altogether shout)
"Kapayapaan, kapayapaan." ("Peace, peace.")

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