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Bacolod City, Philippines Saturday, June 16, 2018
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with Matè Espina


Rock & Refuge

Two weeks in Europe for a Rotary Friendship Exchange (RFE) program that covered the countries of Latvia and Sweden and a side trip to Amsterdam, I never had a chance to peep into what’s been happening in our country, much less write my columns.

With a long layover in China, we ironically spent our Independence Day in Shanghai’s airport where you can’t connect to Facebook or Google. And so when we finally reached Manila, I was shocked at the barrage of news that entered my feed on the goings-on in our country in just two weeks.

Topping the news was the peso sinking to its lowest in 12 years and the harassment of our fisherfolk by the Chinese in Scarborough Shoal and how the presidential spokesperson shrugged it off and cut short the interview of those fishermen.

It’s quite maddening to see what’s been happening as I scanned the news upon my arrival and the only fresh breath of hope was the dignity that our Vice President, Leni Robredo, manifested when she came to town the other day.

I can’t help but note the difference between our people and that of Latvia who are also preparing to celebrate their Centennial Independence Day soon and sad to say, our pride as a people has sunk so low compared to them.

When we got to Latvia, a country which frankly I had never heard of until I was tasked to head the RFE team, we saw flags flying all over the capital city of Riga and not just on highways and buildings but in their homes as well.

We were hosted by Rotarians in their homes and it was clear how proud they are as a people with evident bitterness about Russia’s occupation during the USSR regime that only got them back their freedom in 1991.

But they sure did rise up to the challenge and except for a few tenement buildings that remained as evidenced of Russian occupation and the communal lifestyle imposed on their people, the Latvians have moved on to make sure that they regained their identity back.

In fact, their RFE Team Leader, Maija Line, who happens to be a senior officer in their Ministry of Culture made sure Latvia will leave its mark in Negros which they visited a few months back. She sent back a gift of Latvian dolls for the Negros Museum in the hope that when displayed with other dolls collected from other countries, people will get to know that Latvia exists.

It may be a small gesture but it sure is something to show how they are proud of their country, their culture and their people.

This is in stark contrast with what’s happening in our country with the perception that this administration is giving up our sovereignty so easily to China under an excuse that there is no way we can wage battle against the Chinese.

I certainly agree with that for how else can we fend off a super power who has armaments and people 100 times more than ours. But is that reason enough to just allow them and welcome their occupation with open arms?

Latvia with a population of just two million is not taking things sitting down and they sure are making headway to ensure that they would not allow themselves to be occupied anymore. Of course it doesn’t mean that they would be able to fend off Russians who are again showing their muscles in Eastern Europe, but their demeanour says they would fight and die for it.

We are over 100 million and though reality is we cannot even deflect China, it also should not mean that we just allow them to trample on our rights as a people.

Where is our pride? We have become a society where we only look after our personal interests and shrug off what’s happening in other parts of the country, especially when its miles away from our dwellings.

We have forgotten the dictatorial days of the Marcos regime which is clearly creeping back under this administration and I still cannot, for the life of me, understand how so many continue to applaud the downright disgusting actions and words of our president and find amusement in his uncouth ways.

We had a 12-hour layover in Shanghai and when we attempted to seek permission to take a day tour for a few hours, we were rudely brushed aside and told to go wait in the transit lounge for our next flight. That’s the price we had to pay for choosing a cheap fare to Europe.

Two in our group, Joel Jaranilla and Kendall Ang, had more tenacity to wait for the next shift of immigration officials who finally allowed them to see some of Shanghai but most of us in the group do not envy them that.

We were contented to sleep off our waiting time in their lounge, far away from the chattering of passengers and prayed that our next flight would not be delayed.

It really was ironic that as our country was celebrating Independence Day, we found ourselves trapped in an airport in China where we were definitely treated as next to nothing while our administration on the other hand just bends over at their every whim.

So much for Independence. For the first time in a long time, I felt our freedom has flown the coop.*

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