Saturday, August 08, 2015

Of gods and aliens

Dear God,

How are you? I marvel at your patience. It is beyond me to speculate why you ever chose us. These days, we seem to be even harder to understand, let alone accept.

Last Sunday, the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) celebrated its 101st anniversary. Learning from last year’s horrendous traffic choking areas in Manila where the INC gave away food packs, we stayed home.

I’m a Catholic but am apt to forget this when I am stewing inside public transport for hours because authorities would rather sacrifice the general welfare than turn down a request to hold public assembly on a weekday in key flow points by a group that counts 2.25 million members in 104 ecclesiastical districts all over the country.

However, there was no way to avoid the numerous, large newspaper ads placed by politicians over the weekend. By definition, a politician is a creature that will take a selfie with you and hire a team to make it “viral” on social media.

Falling short of this goal, a politician will pose with religious leaders. Or pay for advertisements that congratulate a religious group that practices unity or bloc voting. If I were running for public office, I might also be a little more pleasant to the INC, whose 2.25 million followers believe “working together for one purpose” expresses your will.

An old, cranky reader, I want to see grey columns of text when I flip newspaper pages, not ads that use a whole page or full colors as a social pretext for a political end to curry personal favors with a religious group. Too many adjectives spoil a sentence, Ernest Hemingway said, a lot more elegantly.

And the artwork makes this cross even heavier to bear. Some ads display a collage of Felix Y. Manalo, first INC leader, Eduardo V. Manalo, current INC executive minister, and “Yours Truly” (the politician placing the ad). The Unholy Trinity: Is the religious symbolism supposed to work as a political anointing or an artistic irony?

If the Tolentinos, Estradas and Revillas used their own money, I might just close my eyes and read news features about alien-sightings. But nearly all the ads displayed the official seals of government. Is that right to use thousands of public funds to greet your powerful friends while taxpayers line up for clean water, cheap rice, daily rides, subsidized hospitalization, public toilets, free coffins, and packs of “Lucky Me” noodles and sardine cans given after calamities?

“Hay, Ginoo ko (Oh, my God),” Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was quoted as replying to talks that he will run with Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in 2016. OMG, too, I said when I first saw the large billboard showing “Rody” posing beside a motorbike and cautioning Cavite motorists to drive carefully. When Rody showed up everywhere, a billboard saint for safe travel, I close my eyes, infantile avoidance but at least not adding to my considerable transgressions against Christian patience and charity.

I wish I could experience the visions of Jejomar Binay. After giving away rosary bracelets with his name at the back of the cross, Binay told reporters he will win the presidency, relying on “99-percent prayer”. He prays in the morning and in the evening. A mist gathers in front of his eyes when he talks to you. Lord, why is it that when I close my eyes at every politician’s foible, I just see a dark, dark hole?

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s August 2, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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