Holy Week always reminds me of home, the only Christian nation in Asia. Spain is still beaming with pride for the Catholic imprint they left in our lands. American Evangelicals allege that there are now seven million “born again” Christians in the Philippines (Christianmarriage.com). And the 2014 World Fact Book of the Central Intelligence Agency claims that 82.9% of the Filipinos back home are Catholic. As Professor Susan Russell of Cambridge University lectures: “Indeed, like a rule, we can all probably agree to believe that the Philippines is the only predominantly Christian country in Asia (Professor Susan Russell, Cambridge University, 2009).”
Unfortunately, despite all these, the predominance of fetid values in this land of Christians is as ubiquitous as their professed faith, more visible than historical churches, and more prevalent than a tradition. In 1998, the “Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and the Center for Median Freedom and Responsibility” already made a conclusive study stating that “a broad consensus in government, nongovernmental, and international circles endorses that corruption in the public and private sectors of the Philippines is as pervasive and deep-rooted across the board.” Nine out of ten Filipinos I talked to shrug their shoulders when asked about corruption. They respond as if to say that the Philippine situation is beyond repair, that we are hopeless, and that nothing else can be done. They remind me of the tragic cities of Sodom and Gomorrah before they were exhumed and their people turned into salt statues.
Meanwhile, on this forthcoming Sunday of Resurrection we are reminded of an event more important than Christmas. This is not about plastic Easter eggs hanging on trees or an Easter Bunny displayed in restaurants, a commercial stimulant for a Sunday brunch, the fabricated festivity of Capitalistic paganism. I am alluding to a sacred belief that Someone died for us, that Life was offered to delete our wrongdoings, that death was banished for us exists, and that Christ was crucified to redeem us from our “corrupt conditions”. Between the first paragraph and this one, Filipinos are caught in between. On one hand, there are those who make the sign of the Cross. And on the other, there are those whose “obscene fingers” curse and cuss in a traffic jam. Farther in the middle are people who feed the poor and those who recklessly steal from the poor, as those who use the poor for their own wealth. The obesity of greed dwells within the gaunt face of scarcity sheltered in the same bosom of evil and corruption.
While it is true that the Christian Church is an open square for both sinners and saints, sanctity is still emulated and sins are condemned. Back home, the sensitivity against corruption is slowly eroding and gradually accepted as a commonplace daily event. Its persistent prevalence within our day to day culture has numbed the many against its putrid scent. Sad to say, it is difficult to condemn corruption when it is oftentimes the only palliative against hunger. People are torn between voting for the honest candidate who cannot afford to offer a single peso for food to show their gratitude in the ballot polls and choosing those candidate who come with sack loads of cash and send their children to school. In many instances, playing mute as a witness against corruption is the only option left than the dirk risk to one’s life or the life of a loved one. And amongst those who already live a comfortable life, a simple bribery here and there is such an insignificant and common place peccadillo that it is perceived as an act undeserving of hell’s eternal punishment.
Almost every year, when journalists click their lenses around the world in search of attractive images for Holy Week, clips from the Philippines pop up with the regular crucifixion of an anonymous face, replete with rusty nails and a crude piece of wood. The faithful march the streets with rosary beads in their hands. The mendicants line up by the side of the Cathedral soliciting mercy from the faithful who have learned to ignore them. And the high level crooks go on with their regular agenda while they splatter holy water on their foreheads.
How do we explain or defend ourselves from the allegations that the only Christian nation in Asia is also the hubris of corruption? Sure we are not alone, but why would we settle for a negative label? How can we uphold the purity of our faith when the environment that defines it is brimming with hypocritical acts that contradict it? How can we understand this ironical oxymoron that seems to be more mysterious than the dogma of our Catholic beliefs?
Many Christians in the Philippines still cling on to Christianity because it is the only hope that promises a smile against the backdrop of suffering. Many ignore corruption because popular culture has ingrained in them the false notion that it is part of our daily lives. Some are fighting against corruption from the remote areas of foreign employment, too distant to be effective, too far to cause an impact. And then there are those who have remained steadfast fighters against the evils of corruption who are either tragically exterminated or negatively transformed from their moral principles to survive.
On Resurrection Sunday, many of us will be gathered in the festive warmth of our home, in our respective Churches or in the company of friends. Our kids will be hunting Easter eggs as a result of an American Hallmark tradition. The progressive few will try to “mobilize” and “organize” the mass of minority Filipino Americans in an effort to help alleviate the lives of the seven percent poor within the vicinities of Chicago and suburbs. And then back home, while the warmth of the sun equally shines on everyone, corruption and Christian piety will still be patched within the same crowd. The sun will shine on sinners and heroes. The incorrigible felon will dine on the same table as the unheard Saint. And the many will take the role of spectators; regular participants of a mechanical calendar, those who shrug their shoulder, not knowing what to do, not daring how to, and not having the will to do so.
Looking further, there are millions of Filipinos away from home. Our scattered physical existence, our lack of cultural cohesion, our regional tribalism, our own careers and high paying profession have somewhat impeded us from addressing this corruption we all detest and from collectively applying the Christian faith that many of us profess. Yet we will continue our battle against the paradox of what it means to be a Filipino. We will dangle between the shame of systemic corruption in our country, the hubris of Filipino politics, and the relentless passion of the insignificant few whose acts amplify the rare nobility struggling in our culture and our endemic skirmish to prove our identity. And we will be reminded that the Life Christ gave us starts now – here and at this moment. Happy Resurrection Sunday to all my fellow Christians! And for all those observing pagan practices, “Happy Easter” to all of you!