Christmas in the Philippines

Amid hardships, bishop says focus on ‘what should we do for our neighbor this Christmas’

Ryan Macasero
Amid hardships, bishop says focus on ‘what should we do for our neighbor this Christmas’

BISHOP. San Carlos, Negros Occidental Bishop Gerardo Alminaza.

Gerry Alminaza's Facebook page

Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma also tells Cebuanos to see Christ as guiding light as they celebrate Christmas a year after Typhoon Odette devastated the region

MANILA, Philippines – As COVID-19 restrictions have been almost completely lifted in the Philippines, many families may be tempted to have more extravagant Christmas celebrations this 2022.

But amid economic and political struggles, Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos, Negros Occidental, is encouraging the faithful to keep celebrations simple.

“After two years of being apart from one another due to COVID19 restrictions, it is quite tempting to be more lavish and extravagant this Christmas. For many of us, this will be our first Christmas back home, and our first Christmas back with our families,” Alminaza said in a statement on Christmas Eve, Saturday, December 24.

“True to our Filipino culture, we want to make the most of our celebrations, and what else could be more worthy of our celebration than the day our Savior is born?” the Negros bishop added.

Alminaza pointed out that many families in the country are still suffering due to the pandemic, among other factors.

“As many of us already know, this year saw a drastic increase in (prices of) basic commodities. The price of rice, garlic, onions, fish, chicken, and pork, among others, have drastically increased since 2019. Sugar, notably, has doubled in price since last year. This undeniable trend is felt in all households across the nation. Inflation rate is the highest since December 2008 which greatly affected the purchasing power of minimum wage earners,” he said.

Despite economic challenges, according to recent Pulse Asia and SWS surveys, most Filipinos are expecting a happy Christmas and are optimistic about the New Year.

Alminaza, one of the most outspoken Catholic leaders in the Philippines, also talked about how thousands of workers have lost jobs in the Visayas region, as well as the political oppression of land rights defenders in Negros Island.

“Sadly, things are even worse for those who have lost jobs this year,” he said, citing the loss of 4,485 jobs at the Mactan Export Processing Zone and Cebu Light Industrial Park in Cebu.

“This is after five companies, all owned by the Taiwan-based Sports Center International, issued joint notices of retrenchment on September 26, 2022. This comes after more than 9,400 workers have already been laid off or placed on forced leave, according to the Confederation of Wearable Exporters of the Philippines (CONWEP). Even Shopee, one of the more successful tech companies in the past two years, laid off hundreds of workers this year in order to ‘optimize’ operations,” the Negros bishop added.

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Citing statistics from KAISAHAN, Alminaza said from June 2021 to November 2022, there were a reported 269 land-related human rights violations where eight land rights defenders were killed.

“These conditions, together with the increasing prices, stagnating wages, and massive unemployment all translate to more hunger and chronic poverty among the rural and urban poor,” Alminaza said. “While our reason for celebration remains relevant and intact – the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ – these realities should cause us to reflect on what our focus must be this Christmas, and what we should do for our neighbor this Christmas,” he added.

Recognize Christ as ‘light’

Meanwhile, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma told Cebuanos to look at life more positively this Christmas, a year after the island was devastated by Typhoon Odette.

Sa atong pagsaulog sa atong ginoong hesukristo, ato siyang giila isip kahayag nga maoy nagdan-ag sa atong kinabuhi. Tungod may mga higayon nga makasinati kita sa kangitngit sa kalisod, sa kabalaka ug sa mga pagsulay. Gani, atong mahinumdoman nga sa miaging tuig pananglit ang pagagi sa bagyong Odette daw dakong dag-um nga misulay,” Palma said in a video message posted on Christmas Eve.

(By celebrating our Lord Jesus Christ, we remember Him as the light that has illuminated our lives. Because there are many times we experienced darkness and struggle, worries and tribulations. This is why, when we remember that time when Odette hit us and brought the darkness, it was a big challenge.)

Over 400 were killed in the storm that destroyed hundreds of communities across the Visayas and Mindanao region last December 2021. “Siya mao ang kahayag, ug wa’y bisan unsa’y gahum nga makapalong nga makalupig niini. Ug busa giingnan kita, katong lakaw sa kangitngit, nakakita nasad akong kahayag. Mga hinigugma, Niining pasko, atong gisaulog kining kahayag. Busa, atong kining puy-an. Nakita pud usab nato, ang usa’g usa mga isip kauban niining paglakaw,” Palma said.

(He is the light, and there is nothing more powerful than this. And I tell you, while we were walking in darkness, we now see the light. My beloved, this Christmas, let’s celebrate the light. Therefore, we should live by this. We should unite in this journey.)

Palma told the faithful of the Philippines’ largest archdiocese to be there for each other in these challenging times.

Maglakaw pud unta kita sa pagtinabangay, uban sa pagsinabtanay, uban sa paghigugmaay, diha sa kahayag. dili lamang isip kauban, kung dili isip igsoon. Hinaot ang kahayag ni Kristo kanunay ang mag dan-ag kaninyo ug sa inyong kabanayan karon ug sa tuig nga muabot. Malipayong Pasko kaninyong tanan,” the Cebu archbishop said.

(Let us walk together in a spirit of community, together with understanding, with love, there, in the light. Not only as companions, but also as brothers. I hope that the light of Christ will always serve as the guide to you all and your families this Christmas and the year to Come. Merry Christmas to you all.) – Rappler.com

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Ryan Macasero

Ryan covers social welfare for Rappler. He started at Rappler as social media producer in 2013, and later took on various roles for the company: editor for the #BalikBayan section, correspondent in Cebu, and general assignments reporter in the Visayas region. He graduated from California State University, East Bay, with a degree in international studies and a minor in political science. Outside of work, Ryan performs spoken word poetry and loves attending local music gigs. Follow him on Twitter @ryanmacasero or drop him leads for stories at ryan.macasero@rappler.com