Faith and Culture

Here is a letter I wrote to the Inquirer and which they editors printed on May 27, 2015.

I wish to commend the May 21, 2015 Inquirer editorial for expressing a positive stance towards the plight of the Rohingya boat people. Its salient remarks are worth quoting:

“The latest word from Malacañang is that Asian ‘boat people’ who might wash up on Philippine shores will not be turned away…. This is the humane, compassionate thing to do when it comes to treating a people who are in supreme, desperate need of immediate aid. So far, with this pronouncement, the Philippines stands as the only nation in Southeast Asia to indicate that it is open to granting some form of refuge and succor to the Rohingya boat people…. We are a poor country, with scant resources for our own people, but we have never been known as less than compassionate…. Welcoming a brutalized, traumatized people to our shores is the right thing to do. It’s the Filipino way. For all our faults, we are a kind people. Let us stay that way.”

The “Filipino way” is the way of compassion even when the Filipino is poor. Being poor does not deprive us the ability to help others while helping ourselves too. I recall a young girl selling sampaguita leis at a road intersection. It was her last set and she was selling it to me for P10. Unfortunately I did not have that amount at the time and so I told her. When she saw I was wearing a cassock she asked if I was a priest. I said yes. Right away she offered the sampaguitas for free. Even the poor can give.

The editorial pointed out that we are the only nation in Southeast Asia that is willing to receive these afflicted people. I think it will not be far from the truth to make a connection to this other fact that we are the only predominantly Christian nation in the region. When we act compassionately, we are living out our Christian tradition. I wish that we recognize that our Christianity is a major part of our Filipino culture. It has given our culture its defining contours. Our Christian faith has been the driving force behind our history as a people, and the strength for our ascending from great crises like the Edsa 1 People Power Revolution and the devastation brought by Supertyphoon “Yolanda.”

It would do us much good to remain true to our Filipino identity—of which a leading component is our Christian faith—as we develop as a nation. As the editorial stated: Let us stay that way.

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