Saturday, December 22, 2007

Perished Poinsettias, Dying Holidays

(Or was it only me who’s in the horrid mood? A holiday survey showed that there is slight increase in people- across all socioeconomic classes-, compared to the previous year perceiving that their respective Christmases will not be spoiled by Scrooges.)

Last year my boss called me to pick up several potted poinsettias to make livid a seemingly lackluster office that’s being run by a non-disciple of the school of embellishment. Those poinsettias whose lush bracts were flaming red decadently lost their beauty until what are left of them are the desiccated stems and the cracked soil; the vestiges of a past, ephemeral celebration of Christmas. The Christmas shrubs were easily forgotten as soon as the season ended, that was after Epiphany, but I guess it ended much earlier than that. Their beauty actually lost charisma right after the office party last year. Right after the office party, the potted poinsettias lie there at the veranda together with immensely accumulated rubbish. The potted poinsettias are dead by now, so I guess. They’re gone. Their flaming red bracts dwindled fast post-Christmas like blossom petals torn apart by a demented beau seeking instant answers on love. In reality, they were feasted upon by hungry worms.

Or just, it is an all-wise scheme of shadowing the gripes of the worst experiences and painful realizations in life. In pure attempt of ratiocination, I tried to gather as much information to understand a festive and supposedly jovial mood that is required of Christmas and Christmas per se and this is what I found.

Christmas developed from paganism. Early Europeans celebrate during winter solstice to alleviate their longing for longer days and extended hours of sunlight. They slaughter as much cattle which they can’t feed and have oversupply of fresh meat at the end of the day. The Norse does it by burning large logs and feast until the fire die down with the belief that each spark created represents a pig or a calf that would be born the next year. The Christians adopted this tradition and approximated that Christ was probably born at such point although many skeptics believe that He was probably born early in spring because shepherding could not be possible during winter. And so it is believed that the birth of Christ is probably between the months March and April. Traditionally, Christmas has been celebrated every December 25th.

In the early 17th century, the celebration of Christmas was changed in Europe because of major religious reforms. The Church particularly was said to be the cause of the decadence in its celebration because it allowed varied ways of celebrating it. For instance, the existence of such “lords of misrule” (mostly beggars) leads to pandemonium when they terrorize members of the upperclass who fail to give them the best food and drink upon demand. Christmas was cancelled by the Puritans when they took England because of this. It was only restored during the time of Charles II by popular demand.

Because of the entry of religion particularly Christianity, values were infused in the celebration of Christmas. The Christmas upshot came to the extent of pacifying the mood in 1914 when German and British troops declared a truce among themselves on the dawn of Christmas day. In the Philippines, the first Christmas mass was celebrated in Pangasinan by an Italian monk at around 1280 to 1320. The Italians back then planted the first Christmas tree. Experiences of Christmas during the Early Hispanic period is not that quite documented, so I guess again. An article of Ambeth Ocampo details the experience of an American woman during her first Christmas in the Philippines. Although quite ordinary as I see, the account was rather an outline extant of local tradition and only vibrates the festive mood of the expatriates who brought with them nostalgia of homegrown tradition. How about the Indios?

Hah. Well, it came late to my senses that it is already 9 o’clock in the evening and I’m still here at the office alone typing on the keyboard, having occasional goosebumps. I haven’t bought gifts yet maybe will join the rush tomorrow. Looking back, the past eleven months were quite easy on the way to look at because they’re shredded and still here in the box right at my corner. But, realistically, they’ve been a truckload of yoke I don’t want to commit to memory. Early in the week, I came upon this article by Fallows, the parachute journalist who got a bird’s eye view of the country with a damaged culture. He was writing post-EDSA and from there assessed the renewed vigor of democracy which mirrored hopes for social change and progress. My initial reaction was: “I want slit this vein and die!” because, in my opinion, the essay taken as a whole was bitterly true. It was written in 1987, but I was like reading fresh from the page of the daily I bought from the newsstand on that day.

Last December while walking down Session Road I nearly collided with a young girl whose begging late in the night from penny-pinching passers-by. She gave out a smile and wished me a Merry Christmas. I asked her to go with me inside the store where we nearly banged but she was reluctant and said that she will wait outside instead. She watched and leaned on the glass wall while I buy the box of Donuts for her. I remember her while I hand a 20-peso bill to a bunch of kids who sang carols for us in the office late in the night. I remember that experience when I witnessed this person yelling at a mendicant who’s asking for a peso or two. I can’t find the wisdom of help in its truest sense when you refuse to give the monetized value of a minute of your labor and adding insult to the injury by telling the poor person that she/he must work rather than beg. I can’t find the wisdom in rebuking street charity and all in all vilifying the dignity of a beggar whose suffering is overwhelmingly cruel than yours.

I realize as I write these thoughts that Christmas celebrated since childhood by me was unutterably unhappy. And it grows unhappier through the passing of years. Nonetheless, when the season strikes, I try to pretend to be jolly and all but never being pretentious in living its spirit even just for a week or so. Even just for a week or so, other people should be the Ebenezer Scrooge depicted at the last stave.

Finally, I want to tell the world that I’d be finally quitting my job for God’s sake, I mean for school’s sake. My job for three years in an NGO had been full of learnings and realizations but time has come when you just have had enough of bleak and false realities haha but I’m happy to enter a new industry which has grown promising for me so opined by a good friend who’s based in Shanghai, CN.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Still a Long Walk for the Farmers. . .

After convening in Baguio, summer of 1997, the Second Division of the Supreme Court finally decided on the controversy brought before it regarding the validity of the “Win-win resolution” which originated from the Office of the President through Deputy Executive Secretary Renato Corona (settling the issues posed by the biased decision of Executive Secretary Ruben Torres) by allowing the farmer-beneficiaries of Sumilao, Bukidnon a share of the 144-hectare land allegedly owned by Norberto Quisumbing. In that win-win resolution, the Office of the President ordered the distribution of the 100 hectares to the farmer-beneficiaries and the remaining 44 hectares to be devoted to the conversion plan proposed by Quisumbing and approved by Torres.

After a long and arduous wait, the Sumilao farmers who have long been fighting over the ownership of their ancestral land finally had the attention of the nation after taking their pleas before the streets of Manila. On October 9, 1996, these farmers staged a hunger strike in front of the DAR office, supposedly in charged of implementing the CARP which is supposedly aimed at redistributing the vast lands of hacienderos to tenant-farmers. That hunger strike was devastating to the government as it was boasting the fruits of economic growth back then. Thus, it intervened, albeit harshly against the farmers, at first, when it issued an order approving the conversion plan applied for by Quisumbing which covered the entire area of 144-hectares. It modified subsequently its own order upon pressures from the church and civic groups. Corona issued the so-called win-win resolution granting the 100 hectares to the farmers and the 44 hectares to Quisumbing. . .a little too late.

A little too late because back in the province of Bukidnon, the local government units have been in haste adopting the first order issued by Torres; a bitter betrayal for their own constituents.

And as if to validate the fact that justice does not come easily for the underprivileged, the Second Division held that the first order issued by the Office of the President is already final and executory, thus, could no longer be assailed. To quote the ponente, Justice Martinez:

Now to the main issue of whether the final and executory Decision dated March 29, 1996 (Torres’) can still be substantially modified by the "Win-Win" Resolution.

We rule in the negative.

The rules and regulations governing appeals to the Office of the President of the Philippines are embodied in Administrative Order No. 18. Section 7 thereof provides:

Sec. 7. Decisions/resolutions/orders of the Office of the President shall, except as otherwise provided for by special laws, become final after the lapse of fifteen (15) days from receipt of a copy thereof by the parties, unless a motion for reconsideration thereof is filed within such period.

Only one motion for reconsideration by any one party shall be allowed and entertained, save in exceptionally meritorious cases. (Emphasis ours).

The Supreme Court ruled out based on technicalities. But in the same ruling, the Second Division apparently misquoted how equity is weighed in controversies affecting the marginalized sectors of society.

Be it remembered that rules of procedure are but mere tools designed to facilitate the attainment of justice. Their strict and rigid application, which would result in technicalities that tend to frustrate rather than promote substantial justice, must always be avoided. Time and again, this Court has suspended its own rules and excepted a particular case from their operation whenever the higher interests of justice so require.

As if to castigate further the petitioners on the misavoidance of the rules , the Supreme Court added:

In the instant petition, we forego a lengthy disquisition of the proper procedure that should have been taken by the parties involved and proceed directly to the merits of the case.

Supreme of all, the Supreme Court erased any silver lining that should supposedly be gleaned upon from this sad plight of the farmers. It ruled no less that the MAPALAD farmers are not real parties-in-interest. In its own words:

The rule in this jurisdiction is that a real party in interest is a party who would be benefited or injured by the judgment or is the party entitled to the avails of the suit. Real interest means a present substantial Undoubtedly, movants' interest over the land in question is a mere expectancy. Ergo, they are not real parties in interest. interest, as distinguished from a mere expectancy or a future, contingent, subordinate or consequential interest.

And so Norberto Quisumbing really had his day in court without even stepping into the hall of justice. The petitioners were peculiarly the local government units of Bukidnon and the Corporation owned by Quisumbing. The defendants were Corona and the DAR defending the validity of the win-win resolution the former issued. The MAPALAD farmers filed a motion to intervene, but the Supreme Court denied the same. Few years after, the conversion plan approved by Torres did not materialize instead Quisumbing conveyed the questioned land to the SMFI. SMFI is now claiming ownership over the land and is now developing it into an agro-industrial estate divesting further the claims of the farmers. And so the long and arduous walk. . . Protesting to suffer or to suffer in protest?

The long walk by the Sumilao farmers from their lands to Malacanang to press the government to order SMFI to return their lands which were subject to CLOAs previously could never be a shooting for the moon even at this stage where legal ownership has already been vested to SMFI. It is a continuing struggle that transcends any legality constituted improperly and based on wrong and malicious political favors. However, it is very distressing that the suffering of the farmers for relentlessly invoking a right has gone this far. The long walk is pregnant with symbolism. It no less than confirms that the government was too far for the South. It was unable to reach out for centuries even at this point of time. Not even a Senator who’s born from Mindanao could disprove the fact that services are too controlled to trickle down south. Really, if the Honorable Senator has the balls to mediate and reach out to the farmers, at the least to assuage them because of their torn lives right there at their homeland, he won’t be waiting for that photo-ops outside the Senate: he, extending his right hand to one of the protesters who was squatted there under the blistering heat of the sun. Disgusting!

I still have the faith that the struggle of the farmers would end with the farmers reclaiming the lands taken from them. But I’m sure there’s still a long walk to take with the current administration’s disregard for even the most basic of human rights. There’s this news, for instance, which reported that the government would finally intervene before the Left gets into the picture. Imagine!