Let our light shine in 2017

Dear friends and relatives,

It is the time of the year again to share my annual family letter, the 41st since the tradition started in 1975. This comes with my family’s warmest wishes for a meaningful, safe and productive 2017. May God’s mantle of protection cover us all with love, health, peace and joy.

Donald Trump won the US presidency and the Philippines elected Rodrigo Roa Duterte as 16th president. Democracy watchers say both wins are a backlash against the failures of liberal democracy of the past 30 years. But despite its many limitations and failures in being a government of the people, for the people and by the people, I firmly believe that there’s no other choice but embrace the democratic form in all its imperfections.

Duterte is the first president to come from Mindanao, known as the land of promise since I was in grade school. Mindanao is rich in human and natural resources and typhoons rarely hit the area (though this is changing fast).

Sadly, the unfulfilled promises to develop the region far outnumber the achievements. Mindanao has moved backward from the time Sulu and Maguindanao were busy trading ports in the 16th century maritime networks beyond China’s empire.

It was then a vital link between the Philippines and China to the rest of the world.

Sulu and Basilan are now known as the land of the Abu Sayyaf bandits. The empty trading ports are reduced to being mute witnesses to the earliest global trade that brought China’s goods to the Philippines, onward to Mexico and then to Europe and all parts of the world.

If Duterte can accomplish even just one thing, develop Mindanao and delist the southern provinces from among the poorest in the country, then he would have accomplished something. Alas, the energies of the first six months were spent on the war on drugs, truly a much needed campaign, but at what cost? Abusive policemen are now given so much power and blanket authority to kill in the guise of an anti-drugs war. Rule of law and basic human decency are missing in the celebration of the number of extrajudicial killings on a daily basis. The serious drug proliferation is a testament to the colossal failure of both the Arroyo and Aquino governments to stop the drugs manufacture and trading in the last dozen years.

In the Tsinoy community, so far it is the Chinese nationals who fall victim to large-scale extortion by policemen who threaten them with drug cases unless they pay up – and pay up they do. They make it so easy for policemen to get away with lucrative income, making up for what they used to get from drug deals.

Media and civil society are relatively quiet and seemingly acquiescent to what’s happening, for now. Threats against Duterte’s critics and opponents as well as organized shaming and bullying of people found critical of him seem to be working, for now. The attacks against former justice secretary now Senator Leila de Lima are warnings that dissuade braver souls. Even former president Fidel V. Ramos, who was instrumental in Duterte’s election, found himself in unfriendly waters after he dispensed caution and constructive reminders.

Likewise, Vice President Leni Robredo was deprived of her Cabinet position, as head of the Housing and Urban Development Coordination Council, and Commission on Higher Education chairperson Patricia Licuanan came under attack for opposing Duterte’s policy of extrajudicial killings. Fortunately, Licuanan’s appointment is not coterminous with former president Aquino and is good until 2018, but the trolls that keep attacking her show no respect for exemplary performance and qualifications.

For more positive news: My son, Sean, 31, came home last August with his Ph.D. in Chemistry (field of inorganic chemistry, metals) from the University of Houston. After a public presentation of his dissertation at the U.P., he also got a Ph.D. from his alma mater. He now teaches full time at the U.P. Daughter Meah teaches Education at De La Salle University and spends time in training and conferences outside Manila and abroad. She was elected president of our organization, Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran, also last August as we launched the start of our 30th anniversary celebration (to culminate in August 2017). It is a full-fledged passing of the torch from me, as founding president in 1987, to Meah as we celebrate Kaisa’s 30th year and she celebrates her 40th birthday in 2017.

It is not easy being president of Kaisa because of the perennial lack of resources. We have minimal staff and depend on volunteers to help out in our myriad activities. During my time, board members were mostly business owners who can afford to shell out funds for the many expenses of the organization, and leave their office anytime to be present in Kaisa’s activities. Meah’s board are mostly young professionals and employees. It is more difficult for them to devote time and resources for the organization compared to us founders.

Son-in-law Orvin, 41, continues to be busy with his IT business dealing with human resources needs of corporations and government offices. The two granddaughters, Mayim, 9, and Ziya, 7, are doing well in their progressive school and many other extracurricular activities, mainly ballet for Mayim and violin for Ziya, their own choices. I started teaching them to speak Hokkien a few months ago and they learn fast. I try to talk to them mainly in Hokkien and hope to teach them Mandarin after they have internalized Hokkien.

2016 has again been a very busy one for me, though I’ve tried so much to take it easier and turn down a number of invitations for talks and conferences. Preparing for speaking engagements and conferences is not difficult but it’s writing the full paper after the conference that brings a lot of stress. I’ve been in many conferences here and in Hawaii, Vancouver, Kuala Lumpur, Guangzhou, Taipei and Chiayi in Taiwan.

The 9th ISSCO international conference in Vancouver went well; I retired from my position as officer and board member of ISSCO, one I have held for 24 years, since we started in 1992. Nov. 17-19, 2017 will be ISSCO’s regional conference in Nagasaki, Japan.

The anti-crime front continues to demand a lot of my time and attention. Recent pleas for help are from victims of extortion activities by policemen. Policemen do observe social class differentiation. Victims in Tondo wearing slippers and undershirt report policemen asking for P50,000 in exchange for dropping cases against them. Chinese victims from Binondo living in high rise condos report P5 million payoffs to policemen in exchange for their freedom.

I have turned down their pleas for help since I have no way of validating if they are involved in drugs or not. It is heartbreaking to hear stories and witness their helplessness against a system that is now so tolerant of such abuses.

We don’t know what the future or the next five and a half years will bring. Duterte’s bad mouth against virtually everyone has made the headlines abroad. The status of his health (physical and mental) is being questioned. At this point, we can only hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

The Tsinoy community and the general Filipino populace are largely approving of Duterte for supposedly making our streets safe. He enjoys one of the highest popularity ratings among past presidents. Let’s hope that this popularity works in our favor, so that more people will work together to keep the nation’s ship afloat. The economy continues to do well and improve and we hope growth and development will benefit not just the elite but trickle down to the poor. The population is set to hit 105 million!

I’ve always believed that what’s meant to happen will, and not everyone is given the privilege to be of help to others. Those of us given that chance should seize it for it may not come our way again. May we all light our little candles instead of cursing the darkness.

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