"‘Bahala na ang Diyos’ cannot be a way of life. But in this country, it is."


The Bisaya have a better word for Undas or Undras as we in San Pablo call those first two days of November.

Kalag means skeleton. When you repeat the Visayan word, it signifies “make-believe skeletons.” Kunwari kalansay, kung baga.

The Mexicans are more to the point. They say “Dia de los Muertos.” Araw ng mga patay. What could be more direct to the point than that?

But they have made a tourist attraction of it, something similar to what Rio does to its carnival in February. The difference lies in Rio’s parade of half-naked women while Mexico parades giant mock-ups of skeletons and ghosts, with an army of macabre and ghoulishly-painted parade participants. Neighboring Americans who are so unlike Donald Trump, the kill-joy, travel to their land down under to revel in the parade of kalag-kalag’s.

At least the Mexican economy makes money out of their commemoration of the dead. In the Philippines, only the flower merchants and the candle-makers make money, but leave the cemetery caretakers and the police with such a mess to clean up.

Which is probably why our irreverent president finds it difficult to understand why his constituents adore saints in the Roman Catholic tradition, and lump these “adorable” saints with their ancestors lying six feet underground, skull and bones intact.

It could also be his way of mocking the uber-traditional numerous church of his forefathers, whose friars once upon a time thought that super-imposing the Italian and Spanish “saints” on the natives’ worship of anito’s and bathala would hasten their conversion to the faith.

As the frailes did in Mexico and the rest of Latin America, so they did in these Islas del Oriente. With amazing success.

Now Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel is beginning to look at las islas Filipinas as a potential “mercado” for their cocaine imported from Colombia. If Madre España lorded it over the indios orientes through the Viceroy of Mexico in those days, why Sinaloa should also have a place in this benighted land. And por eso, if the galleon trade between Manila and Mexico replaced the trade between pre-Hispanic tribes and Amoy (now Fujian), why not cocaine replacing shabu?

But seriously, Duterte plays enfant terrible to the Roman Catholic traditions, not to our faith, which is why I find Bishop David’s insult about “praying for a sick man” so very un-Christian.

The president knows, as many of the better-educated among us, that one of the main reasons why we are where we are and where we shouldn’t be is because we have been following our faith to the “letter” and not in spirit.

Just like our democracy, which has all the forms, but lacks the substance of equal opportunity and social justice. So too our religion, which is more form, ritual, ceremony, than the substance of charity and spirituality.

Our poor blindly accept the papal admonition against any form of “artificial” birth control, calling it “pro-life,” without weighing the consequences of having to rear children in a life of unjust poverty and deprivation. Choosing a better life and a more secure future than giving untold births to a “life” of abject misery.

“Bahala na ang Diyos” cannot be a way of life. But in this country, it is.

And so I understand why the president keeps coming up with “mal mot’s” at the traditions and practices of our numerous church. It is not out of disrespect for the faith but a judgment call against its often illogical and outmoded prescriptions on the conduct of our mortal lives.

And he did not hide his disdain for these practices even during the campaign of 2015-16. Despite having “blasphemed” the santo papa, Filipinos voted him overwhelmingly as their leader for these troubled times.

He defined his terms even then: “Do not get me wrong. I have nothing against religion, for after all it is the anchor of our faith, the moorings of our conduct as human beings…”

And so he continues to this day, asking questions with characteristic satire, mocking traditions, irreverently defying age-old practices that do not contribute to nation-building, or constitute obstacles to good governance.

Just imagine: If we had practiced population management as the Thais did from the 80’s (without taming their libido) using condoms and pills, instead of blindly accepting Cardinal Sin’s prescriptions, we would not have as large an army of the poor as we now have.

In 1978, there were 43-million Thais and 44-million Filipinos. Today, there are 66-million Thais and 106-million Filipinos.

There is more to that simple arithmetic: Thailand is all of 51 million hectares in one contiguous whole territory with a sprinkling of islands; our territory is just 30 million hectares of land separated into 7,100 islands.

Yet we keep wondering why we import our staple grain from them. And our arithmetically-challenged media keep chiding our government because the Thais “only learned farming at Los Baños.”

And so back to kalag-kalag of the Bisaya, undas to media, undras to the Tagalogs.

I have always wondered: why don’t we do away with this practice of commemorating our dearly departed on Nov. 1 and 2, sprucing up their tombs on the last days of October, so we could gorge ourselves on picnics beside these tombs in merry reunion of extended family with skeletons six feet under?

And in the process, creating monstrous traffic, logistical nightmares, tons and tons of garbage, and so many other vexations of life and spirit?

Why don’t we just visit our dead where they lie entombed or in cremated ashes inside niches during their birthdays, or death anniversaries?

This way we commemorate in relative peace and quiet, in the serenity of relative solitude, instead of the madness of multitudinal cacophony?

A postscript: My youngest daughter, with whom I discussed this proposal once over the dinner table, sheepishly made a comment—“But pa, that’s removing more fun out of the Philippines!”

Oh well…more fun but more poor.

Topics: Lito Banayo , ‘Kalag-kalag’ , Mexican economy , Mexico , Sinaloa cartel
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