On Thursday, January 8, 46-year-old Nerlita Ledesma was waiting for a ride in her hometown Balanga, Bataan that would take her to her workplace. Two people aboard a motorcycle stopped near her and fired four shots to her chest. Ledesma, a reporter for the tabloid Abante, died on the spot.
She is the 31st journalist killed under the present administration and the 172nd since 1986 when the incumbent President’s mother became leader of the country, according to numbers from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.
Of course, by then, everybody’s attention was focused on the terror attack on the newsroom of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Twelve cartoonists,magazine staff and policemen were killed after two gunmen stormed into a lunchtime editorial meeting and opened fire.
The magazine is known internationally as an irreverent publication which does not mask its opinion on different religions and religious leaders as well as global personalities. It has on several instances been said to offend Muslims around the world by its depictions of the prophet Muhammad. In fact, its editor was on the Wanted list of al Qaeda; the offices were bombed in 2011.
The support from all over the world was instant and overwhelming. Indeed the pen remains mighty, enough to bring terrorists and religious extremists to desperation. People vowed they wold not be cowed by the attack as they mourned the French journalists who were executed for expressing themselves through their illustrations.
It was easy to get caught up in the sentiment of the moment. All around the Internet, many expressed solidarity with the slain cartoonists and the assailed principle of freedom of expression. We can certainly relate to that; expression is a basic right that must be upheld at all costs.
But the killing of Ledesma, if shown to be work-related, was an affront to expression, too. And so are the other killings of media people, not just in the Philippines, not just in France, but in many other places and against numerous other victims we have not even heard about.
So yes, we may say we are Charlie, but we are also Nerlita and Mike and Richard and Gerry and Marlina and X and Y and Z who lost their lives to cowards who want to silence them.
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The same goes for the victims of disasters.
Yolanda is a name we will probably never see in the same light—or never remember fondly—again after the events of November 8, 2013. Thousands of Filipinos died; millions were displaced and are still struggling to rehabilitate their drastically altered lives.
But just because Yolanda affected the most number of people and generated the most amount of publicity does not mean we should not think of the victims of other typhoons and other disasters in other parts of the country.
In fact, that little or no attention is given them is a reason why they must be remembered consciously. They may not have access to any help that would put them back on track.
For example, have there been any reviews on how the victims of Pablo, Sendong, Santi, Glenda and others we may no longer recall are doing? How have their local governments been able to support their rehabilitation, if at all? Just because we don’t hear or read anything from their end does not mean that nothing is happening.
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And then, there is the Pope who is arriving on Thursday. Millions are expected to hear his mass at the Quirino Grandstand and to wait for his Pope mobile to pass various streets of Metro Manila.
Add to the fact that Jose Mari Bergoglio is pope is his extraordinary reputation for being compassionate, simple and open-minded. This is why his presence is expected to have a profound effect especially on those who experienced losses from the great typhoon.
A few days before he is due to arrive, however, there are observations that we Filipinos are going overboard again, if not in the preparations, then in our attempts to make the pope seem larger than life.
Of course Pope Francis is a great man with fascinating beginnings, including being a night club bouncer and high school teacher. His humility is inspiring as when he pays his own bills, prefers to ride a simple car or live in a simple house. He communes with those many lower-ranked religious may deem unworthy. He has been known to say: “Who am I to judge?” —heartwarming,reassuring words for Catholics who may not follow the “upright” path but who want to remain in the fold, anyway.
And yet we must remember that the Pope is not coming because he wants to remind us of what a great guy he is. Ultimately, he wants to act in representation of Christ here on earth. Let us not focus on the pope but on whom he represents, and on what kind of believer his visit may mold us into.
Yes, we are humans, and our emotions may be swayed by what we see, hear and read. It will not hurt to step back, though, and appreciate each reality according to how it fits the grander scheme.