Anticipating Christmas in a time of killing
Undas is over, bazaars are everywhere, and reunions are filling up our calendar. The cold breeze is picking up too. Traffic in Manila is building up, which can only get worse before it gets better (if it ever does). Christmas is surely around the corner.
Filipinos' anticipation of the season is unparalleled. It is, in fact, incomprehensible to foreigners, for whom decorations can only be put up a week or two before Christmas. To sing Jose Mari Chan's songs as early as September 1 is an abomination for them.
But it doesn't matter to us. For many Filipinos Christmas trumps Easter in importance, even if the latter is considered most important in the Christian calendar. Last year, 72% of adult Filipinos expected their Christmas to be happy. Only 7% expected otherwise.
Christmas is most beautiful for many Filipinos because it is a festive season into which love, generosity, and acceptance are woven as timeless virtues. 77% of Filipinos agree that it is better to give than to receive. The songs we sing and the lessons we tell each other about Christmas all speak of these lessons.
Above all, Christmas revolves around the family. For OFWs, being reunited with their families can wipe away the struggles of working abroad. Indeed, the celebrations could only be meaningful if done with the people we cherish.
No doubt people are looking forward to the joys of Christmas: Simbang Gabi, reunions, gifts, and its songs. It will be merry and if experience has taught us anything, not even disasters can dampen our spirits. That is quite noble, a testament to the coping capacity of Filipinos. In sociology, coping mechanisms, alongside adaptive and transformative capacities, are key to the social resilience of a community.
Christmas, in this light, affords us a creative disruption to the tragedies of the year.
There is, however, a backdrop to all these that compels us to pause and rethink the memories we are to create this Christmas. If the season were about joy and life, how can we square it with all the killings that now happen around us?
The numbers keep changing on a daily basis. But recent reports show that more than 4,700 deaths linked to the war on drugs have been reported – 1,790 of which took place during police operations. According to the Philippine National Police, there are at least 2,766 unexplained killings.
To be sure, the public willingly approves of the government's crackdown on illegal drugs as a whole. Such acceptance is not surprising given that more than 750,000 around the country have surrendered and more than 33,000 arrested. These numbers are making an impact on the public for whom criminality and substance abuse are tangible concerns in their neighborhood. Given these figures, General Bato claims that people feel safer now.
The numbers do not immediately include innocent individuals killed in the line of fire. These accidental deaths are readily dismissed as "collateral damage".
And yet at the same time, at least 71% of Filipinos believe that it is "very important" that drug suspects are caught alive. Only 2% say it is not important at all.
No public uproar
In this light, while many people approve of the war on drugs, not many are happy with the killings. But if this were the case, how come public uproar is not readily palpable? Even the response of the Catholic Church has been subdued and fragmented.
Worse, people who fight for life and due process – we sometimes call them human rights activists – have been recast as enemies of peace and progress.
Furthermore, the move to revive the death penalty is gaining traction. No less than House Speaker Alvarez has committed to accomplish it before Christmas. He does not care whether it is by hanging convicts or shooting them by firing squad.
There is no public uproar over these killings because it's either people have accepted the promise of security as a fact or they are afraid of the backlash. But if the surveys were to be believed, people are not afraid. They have accepted the war on drugs as a necessary move to root out social evil. In so doing, they have given consent to the collateral damage in the name of social order.
Christmas this year comes at a time of killing. One does not need to lose someone at Christmas to realize the difficulty of the experience. But those who have know how it crushes the soul. For them, no celebration can take away the pain and deep sadness.
But alas, it is not difficult to drown out cries of injustice in the midst of Yuletide chaos.
Christmas is coming. And it continues to offer joy. Why not? Beneath the incarnational narrative is a message of hope by Emmanuel, the one who declares that God is with us.
But the soul of our society is now up for grabs. The Lord's voice has become a joke. And life has become cheap. If this is what Christmas is now about, could it still be merry? – Rappler.com
Jayeel Serrano Cornelio, PhD, is a sociologist of religion and the director of the Development Studies Program at the Ateneo de Manila University. His book about Filipino Catholic youth was recently published by Routledge. Follow him on Twitter @jayeel_cornelio.