Unity for SEA Games and ‘Tisoy’

"It will be severely tested in the next few days."


With the Southeast Asian Games properly launched last Sunday, the next two weeks could be unifying for the country. The opening ceremony was fantastic—though the lighting of the cauldron was underwhelming given especially its cost—and the performance of our athletes have so far been electrifying.

I actually liked the opening speech of Speaker Alan Cayetano; knowing personally that he values his Christian faith, I did not see politics in his words calling for unity: “Today, we put our faith in your hands but we put actions into our faith. Today, we gather as brothers and sisters, as a community of Southeast Asian nations. We gather as children of God seeking to build a better world...Today, we stand tall to tell the world that in Southeast Asia, there is so much diversity, but we do not fear because we have faith, because we have hope, because we put actions into our faith, and why? Because we love God, we love our community, we love our Southeast Asian brothers and sisters and through that love, we pray as one, we build as one, we work as one, and we win as one.”

President Duterte swaying to the beat of “Manila” also set a right tone for the games. As a Mindanawon and especially as a former overseas Filipino worker, I have always loved that song. Anywhere I have lived and worked and visited in the world, when Filipinos gather, this Hotdog classic never fails to make us sing along and dance to its rhythm.

Mayor Sara Duterte of course is entitled to her opinion. And of course she is right about the need to be inclusive. For sure, Yoyoy Villame’s song “Philippine Geography”, also a classic, is more inclusive as it mentions also most provinces (it has to be updated to included the newer ones) but that song would not resonate with our neighbors in the region. I also cannot imagine “Philippine Geography” making us dance as “Manila” always does.

The criticism over the choice of a song aside, the tweet of Mayor Sara belies the conventional thinking that the criticism against the alleged anomalies and early blunders of our hosting is coming from the anti-Duterte people or from media. In fact, the Duterte coalition is crumbling as factions divide and unite to position themselves for the post-Digong era.

The opposition, exemplified by Vice President Leni Robredo and the political prisoner Senator Leila De Lima, has been unqualified in its support for the athletes.

I am with our athletes, too. Like our student activists and the young social entrepreneurs I know and like many of the students I teach, they are the best the country has to offer. I give them my unqualified support.

This is not to whitewash wrongdoing that might have tainted the hosting of the SEA games. Investigation must be conducted thoroughly and transparently and charges filed if evidence is there to support allegations of corruption. As for incompetence, there are lessons to be learned in giving great responsibilities to unqualified and inexperienced people.

Going back to the opening ceremony, I laud its celebration of Filipino culture and in particular its recognition of our diversity. I was happy to see the colors, garments, and dances of many of our indigenous peoples from Aparri to Jolo represented in the ceremony. It was, for sure, impressive.

But it would be more impressive if we actually do right by our indigenous peoples, including the Dumagat, whose homeland will be destroyed by the Kaliwa Dam, the Lumad in Mindanao that is constantly red-tagged and attacked for defending their territory from mining and agriculture companies, and the Maranaos who cannot rebuild their ancestral homes in Marawi and now has the added burden of fighting an unwelcome military camp in that city.

Above, all we should not forget the Aetas who are being evicted from their ancestral domains in the Clark and Subic areas, both hosting some of the SEA Games events. This is unforgivable as these are our first peoples. What makes this doubly abhorrent is that the development in Clark and Subic is financially able to accommodate the needs of the Aetas. That we are not doing that and instead driving the Aetas to extinction and extreme poverty is evil and must be corrected. Only then can we truly celebrate our unity in diversity.

More than the SEA Games, our unity will be severely tested in the next few days as Typhoon Tisoy (international name: Kammuri) passes over our islands.

Tisoy comes as the annual climate change conference, the 25th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, opens in Madrid, Spain. I will be attending this meeting, originally to be hosted in Chile but cancelled because of the protests there. I will be going as an academic and civil society observer, and will follow especially the discussions on loss and damage and how the new scientific information on climate change has increased the danger for all of us. As I travel to Spain, I recall that some of the worst climate events in the Philippines—Ondoy in 2009, Sendong in 2011, Pablo in 2012, Yolanda in 2013, and Ruby in 2014—happened during these climate conferences. I was there in Bangkok, Durban, Doha, Warsaw, and Lima during those conferences and it is not a good experience watching your country suffer over an issue you are negotiating on in a foreign land. My support goes to the Philippine delegation in Madrid as they do their work.

The priority now is to prepare for the worst in all the places this super typhoon is expected to visit. For a few days, the SEA Games must be put in the sidelines (although we must secure and make sure our guests are safe) and all eyes and hands must be on deck for what could be a major disaster.

Let us be united for the SEA Games and in responding effectively to Tisoy and its aftermath.

Facebook: Dean Tony La Vina 

Twitter: tonylavs

Topics: Southeast Asian Games , Leni Robredo , Sara Duterte , Alan Cayetano , United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
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