Saturday, February 04, 2006

Like Sheep Without a Shepherd

Like Sheep Without a Shepherd
Reflections after the ULTRA Stampede

One cannot be a Filipino today and not be affected by images of the tragedy that struck the supposed First Anniversary celebration of a popular TV show on ABS-CBN, “Wowowee”. Thousands of people came to the ULTRA stadium, some of them having camped there as early as Wednesday (three days ago), just to be assured of seats. The show has been garnering viewership because it gives away money, in pesos and dollars (usually from balikbayan Filipinos or those who returned home, either permanently or temporarily, after working abroad and earning dollars). It also features a charismatic but controversial host who is favored by the masses, Willie Revillame, and some sexy dancers.

Seventy-six people (as of the last time I checked on TV) died because of the stampede that occurred a little past 6:00 o’clock in the morning of Saturday, February 04, 2006. Two hundred people were injured. We who woke up to the news could not believe what we saw on TV. Several of our countrymen who went because of the chance to be given money died in just one instant. To their credit, ABS-CBN is doing everything to support the victims’ families. They even cancelled the show, with Vice President Noli de Castro (a part of their ABS-CBN family), ABS-CBN executive Ms. Charo Santos-Concio and Willie himself appearing before the crowd that was left at the ULTRA and explaining that the celebration could not go on while others were suffering. They also cancelled the premiere of Pinoy Celebrity Big Brother, which was another reason why people flocked to the ULTRA.

It was the talk of the town. Everyone was deeply saddened. I had several appointments today and everywhere I went, people were recounting what happened with sadness and disbelief. ABS-CBN has to live up to its marketing strategy of claiming to be the people’s Kapamilya, or part of the Filipino family. Already, the people who were being interviewed on TV were mad at the organizers and the ones who told them to form a line, which incident seemed to have triggered the stampede. Too many people wanted to be in the stadium to watch the show, get hold of the cash, and maybe even catch a glimpse of their favorite stars. A young man who was interviewed said that he still wanted to be an actor. That, after a major tragedy occurred and he was within the vicinity.

Poverty drove our people to subject themselves to hunger for three days just to wait in line for a chance to be a little better off. Poverty drove people to still think of being in show business in the midst of a tragedy in which they were involved.

But poverty is an effect and not a cause. As was highlighted in the orientation I attended this afternoon given by Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan at the Cardinal Sin Center, Loyola School of Theology at the Ateneo De Manila campus, our country is very rich in natural resources. But we are giving them away, and we are being stripped of our birthright as Filipinos because of corruption and greed that has so permeated our society. One of the speakers said that corruption may not actually be rising, but the people’s consciousness of it is, and so more cases are reported. The political and economic crisis that we are in right now should serve as an impetus, as in Edsa I, for us to wake up. But we are not simply taking to the streets again as a grand solution.

Edsa Revolution, the original, celebrates its 20th year on February 24. I was there. My parents brought all five of us with them and we donated food for the soldiers. We came back a year later to celebrate the first anniversary near Camp Crame. During Edsa Dos, I was there as well with the Lingkod QC brothers and sisters. Both “revolutions” were characterized by unity, peace, and prayer. Apparently, however, they are not enough to effect change in the Philippines.

Everything about me is affected by the tragedy and the underlying crisis that this news brings. As a Christian, a Filipino, a lawyer, an economics graduate, a participant of Edsa I and II, a Lingkod member, an SLB volunteer, and a student of the University of the Philippines for eight years, I sit here in front of my computer and wonder, what can I do?

Because of the busyness of the day, I was only able to read the Mass readings tonight after I got home. I opened my Scripture guide and read words that pierced my heart, for I felt Jesus’ heart pierced even more deeply at the sight of those who died and were hurt today:

From Mark 6:30-34

30 The apostles returned to Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a lonely place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going, and knew them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns, and got there ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore he saw a great throng, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

I was able to connect with Jesus intimately as I read the Gospel for today. If we, sinners that we are, could feel such passion for others, what more the Source of Living Water Himself, who alone could quench our thirst? We are not alone in our fight against poverty, corruption, and hunger in all its forms. Jesus never gets tired of tending after us Filipinos, for we ARE sheep without a shepherd. He has great compassion for us. I felt His compassion for the victims of the ULTRA tragedy. I do not feel helpless anymore. I know that in Christ, there is hope.

The Good News does not end with death, but with life. Jesus teaches us how.

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