THE Philippines welcomes 2015 with you in mind, and rightfully so. You are coming to a country that does not lack in hope and faith, but ours is a people that could certainly use some compassion and kindness from our leaders.
Your arrival is a promise that compassion and kindness are on the way, and we could not start 2015 any better, no matter our religious diversity, no matter our differences.
But for the wealthy and powerful, including government, your arrival would be an occasion for the pageantry and festivity that Filipinos are famous for, especially when welcoming foreign guests.
Government has declared your visit a 3-day national holiday, which might be premised on the notion that this is a predominantly Catholic country and the faithful would want to be a part of the Papal Itinerary.
But in a country where too many are employed on a contractual basis, this will mean three days (excluding the weekend) of no work, no pay. And for sure this is an injustice that would be familiar to you, Pope Francis. But also it’s an injustice that has become normal in a country like the Philippines.
In 2014 the public became privy to the massive contractualization of our media workers, some of whom have worked for a full decade as contractual workers with our larger profitable TV networks. Under the law, six months of contractual work makes one eligible for regularization and health and social security benefits. But many have no choice but to submit to having their employment renewed on a contractual basis.
Sadly, these contractual workers are not the concern of government. For if they were, then no holidays would be declared unthinkingly. I tend to think that declaring your Papal Visit as public holidays was really about nothing but logistics: they wanted to keep you from experiencing our daily heavy traffic and chaotic streets, dear Pope Francis.
It’s going to be a different city altogether when you get here.
And have you heard about the t-shirts that ABS-CBN, a local TV network, had started selling to commemorate your visit? The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has called the company out for misleading the public about your message of tolerance and diversity: Your statement “I embrace diversity” was falsely contextualized in the statement: “No race, no religion.”
Also offensive and misleading is a t-shirt that says: “Ganito ako, ganyan ka” (translation: “I am this, and you are that”) followed by a quote from you that asks: “Who am I to judge?”
The problem with the latter shirt of course is just as large as the “no race, no religion” shirt, where it is easy to fill in the blanks and come up with a message of tolerance for all things evil about being human: “I am a thief, and you are corrupt: Who am I to judge?”
This is symptomatic of the kind of profit-generating frenzy that your impending visit has created, dear Pope Francis, and I’m sure that it’s the same all over the world. But there is a difference between street vendors selling calendars with your face on it, or a local bakery naming a new kind of bread after you, and the largest media enterprise selling expensive limited edition commemorative t-shirts that misquote and decontextualize your words.
That the latter is done by a media corporation that is in the business of words, is telling of the kind of irresponsibility that a frenzy like this fosters.
One can but apologize in advance for everything else unthinking and insensitive that this frenzy will bring.
There has been an amount of control, of course, with the CBCP making sure that your itinerary remains devoid of pomp and pageantry, imploring those in charge – including those who are lucky enough to meet with you – to keep things simple.
But the simplicity of the décor, the refusal to do decadence in your presence, dear Pope Francis, does not mean that the preparations are simple at all. Because as with the decision to declare your visit a long national holiday – which ensures that you will not experience the horrendous traffic and congested unsafe roads we suffer daily – there are classic Filipino moves to make sure you only see what the powerful would like you to see of nation.
Say, streets cleared of vendors and vagrants during your visit. Part of your itinerary is a trip to Leyte, with activities in Tacloban and Palo. I wish you had more time to spend there, dear Pope Francis, because there is so much more to see than what your Leyte hosts will allow. Into the smaller streets of Tacloban and Palo are the smaller barangays that suffered Haiyan the most, that continue to suffer the inequities of no proper shelter, no food security, no employment a year since the strongest storm to make landfall.
In these barangays, across Leyte and Manila, there live Filipinos who suffer the lack of kindness and compassion, who receive the short end of the stick, who know only of the injustice that is hunger and need and want. In a country where the rich become richer, and the poor become poorer, your message of justice, dear Pope Francis, is one that can only be welcome.
One hopes it is a message that our leaders, the more powerful and wealthy among us, will know to act on. I hope it is a message that they might hear loud and clear from you.