When you are away from home, any news brings you closer to family and friends. Good news is refreshing, like a cold drink on a hot summer day. Bad news is as torturous as unquenchable thirst on a desert wasteland.
I received some news from home this week. Honestly, I do not know whether they were good or bad. I am emotionally torn.
The first news I heard was that my dad’s younger brother, Dodong, has passed away after a year of battling liver cancer. The second news was that my home island of Mindanao is now on martial law.
In both cases, I have gained two perspectives. I can view them as bad news, a reason to despair and grieve. But I can also see them as an opportunity to trust and hope.
Uncle Dodong or Papa Doods to some of my cousins, was in so much pain on his last two months on earth. Morphine was snatching away his conscious moments that he opted not to be given his usual dose. He wanted to be aware of what was happening around him. The last time I saw him was during the Holy Week, before I left the country for a series of tours hosted by our travel agency. He passed away on the first day of my tour this week. I could not go home and leave my guests because I am the tour leader.
While the family grieves, we take comfort in the fact that my uncle was able to settle things with his Maker before he breathed his last. Being a pastor, my dad spent considerable time with his younger brother helping him to see the Divine amidst his illness. My dad would read the Bible to Uncle Dodong and pray with him. My uncle would grasp my dad’s arm so tight. I thought, that was a visual picture of what was in his heart: holding on to Hope. With tears in his eyes, body wreathing from pain, my uncle would whisper a prayer with my dad as much as he could.
Uncle Dodong was a member of the Special Action Forces (SAF) of the Philippine National Police. It was during some of his training away from the field that he would attend spiritual gatherings. Those few meetings got him onto a season of personal reflection. He did not talk much about his job, at least not to us. But I am sure it must have been difficult for the most parts because he took to alcohol even in his younger years as a cop during his off duty days, until signs of liver cancer set in. Before he passed on, my dad was also able to affirm him that he did well and that he served his country the best he could.
It is cliché to say that Uncle Dodong is now in a better place. But that is the truth. He is no longer in pain. He is no longer in need of morphine. He is now finally reunited with his Creator for all eternity. We grieve yet we rejoice. Such is the paradox of life. On one hand his death was bad news. On the other it was good.
All of Mindanao is now on martial law. My home city of Davao is on a “hold and secure” state, according to friends there. Sixty days is all it will take, according to the Philippine constitution. But Congress has the option to extend it. Groups claiming allegiance to ISIS is breeding havoc in Marawi City. Non-Muslims are threatened. Civilians are feeling trapped. These are among the news I am reading and receiving from home. I am too far to be able to make any judgments. I am getting mixed signals to say the least. Some analyses are saying that President Duterte’s declaration of martial law was an act to protect the whole island. Some are skeptic that this will be the same as the martial rule of the ‘70s, especially since there are declarations that martial law can be declared in Luzon and Visayas as well.
I am not a lawyer and am unable to fully fathom or explain the legal implications of the situation. But one perspective I am gaining from this is that we can choose our response. We can be introspective and vigilant. We can be alert and prayerful. We can be law abiding and proactive. We can be watchful and courageous. We can be wise in our speech and decisive in our rhetoric for justice.
Threats loom everywhere and they come in different forms. There will always be something that will pose a threat to our way of life. The crucial thing is how we respond to the situation. Will we cower in fear and be paralyzed with anxiety? Will we be bold and wise? Will threats be a path to triumph or to tragedy? The choice is ours.
Mindanao is home to so many of us. It has faced so many threats in the past, both natural and man-made. It has stood in resilience amidst the worst situations. It will rise above this one. As Mindanawons we must protect our home. As Filipinos we must pray for our homeland.
News of death and martial law reminds me that uncertainty is indeed part and parcel of being human. And so are resilience, faith, and hope.