Saturday, October 19, 2013

Reading crowds

WHAT is Eid’l Adha? I made a note to Google this last Tuesday, a task that got lost after an 8 a.m. chat with my younger son abruptly ended with much shouting and barking in the background.

Minutes later, my older son called about the earthquake.

Thus began a chain that strings these past days into accounts and images that burn memory. Oct. 15, 2013 marked us.

Then I remembered the task left undone. I Googled Eid’l Adha.

It is one of the two major feasts of Islam. On the Feast of Sacrifice, Muslims honor the obedience of Ibrahim (or Abraham, according to the Christian and Jewish traditions) to God by sacrificing his own son. As he was about to kill Ishmael (Ismail or Ismael), an angel appeared and gave him a ram to take his son’s place.

This year, the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos recommended that Eid’l Adha be observed on Oct. 15.

This choice made all the difference for residents in Visayas, specially Bohol and Cebu. Following the TV reports and footages of schools, churches, markets and other buildings leveled to the ground during the earthquake and aftershocks, I find it impossible to be unemotional.

If it had been a regular Tuesday, more people would have died or been injured. What prevented more tragedies was a little-understood feast observed by believers of a much misunderstood religion.

Also known as Eid al-Adha or Eid-ul-Adha, the feast gathers families and communities in “qurbani,” the sacrificing of livestock to symbolize the ram that Ibrahim offered in place of his son. Some families eat a third of the sacrificed “udhiya,” share a third with friends, and donate the rest to the poor. Others give money to enable the poor to have a meat-based meal.

What took place in Bohol was far different. Three days after the Oct. 15 earthquake, it was apparent that a lack of system and resources hobbles the rescue and succor urgently needed by Boholanos.

The extensive damage to roads and bridges and the remoteness of villages frustrate rescue teams and volunteers bringing aid. But also rearing its ugly head is the politics and corruption that many victims and local officials blame as being responsible for the rationing and siphoning of necessities needed by survivors.

Compare the footages of Boholanos scrambling over a few bags of provision or reduced to eating rice and “kamay (brown sugar)” with the documentation of the mass of people choking Metro Manila during the Oct. 14 medical and charity mission sponsored by the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC).

Conducted in five sites, the “evangelical mission” snarled traffic from morning till evening, as well as caused the whole-day suspension of classes and afternoon work in the courts. Some businesses even closed.

For its critics, the INC event was slammed as a “show of force” to demonstrate the sect’s clout with politicians, a charge that INC officials denied.

While commuters and motorists ranted on social media and TV, the footages of people at the INC mission sites told a different story.

Several fainted and were carried away on stretchers. To enjoy free dental and medical services, people “lined up” although, viewed from above, there were no queues, just a sea of heads. Many in the crowd were women, children and the elderly of Manila and nearby provinces.

Cameras caught the triumph and jubilation of people walking away with “relief packs” and “goodwill bags”. In a metropolis swarming with wealth, progress and power, the expression created by an armful of grains and canned goods is a rebuke.

“Can the Subaltern Speak?” asks Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in an essay. She says that even if subaltern individuals attempt to speak “outside the lines” laid down by institutions, we cannot hear them because we do not recognize their language.

“The struggle to ‘speak for oneself’ cannot be separated from a history of being spoken for, from the struggle to speak and be heard,” adds Ella Shohat.

Yet, in every evacuation center, community devastated by war and calamity, even mighty metropolises, the crowds gather: do we need an interpreter to hear them?

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Oct. 20, 2013 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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