A Holy Week gone wrong

As I recall, the Catholic Holy Week is a time of remembrance, contemplation and joy at the re-birth of a messiah who will save the world from inequality, injustice and destruction. I used to imagine fire, hail and brimstone raining down on all sinners who did not ask for forgiveness.

Many of my friends chose to spend the Holy Week on vacations, it being a four-day long weekend. I saw pictures of beaches, mountains, happy faces all around. One friend even spent the Holy Week overseas, to hell that she was alone and all when she went there (she’s still there, by the way; here’s hoping she makes it home okay).

In a text message to Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., President Benigno Aquino described how he spent his Holy Week. “I went to two wakes and will go to a birthday tomorrow. Stayed in Manila to monitor everything. I am also monitoring developments in Libya. I spent quality time with my family. Last night I watched an old film on the life of Archbishop Romero of El Salvador. It reminded me of the church and its pro-active preference for the poor.” Oscar Romero was the Archbishop of San Salvador when he was murdered by government assassins in 1980. He was a staunch critic of social inequality, poverty and human rights violations. I think he’s on his way to sainthood, with the Vatican beatifying him last year.

However, I also read of a quite different kind of Holy Week. Eight tractors plowed about 20 hectares of land collectively farmed by peasants in Baranggay Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita, Tarlac province. Most of the land was planted with monggo (mung beans) and other vegetables. The tractors were accompanied by policemen and guards under the the auspices of the Cojuangco-Aquino owned Tarlac Develoment Corporation (Tadeco) and Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI), while Tadeco and HLI administrators looked on and told the farmers that they had no right to the land their ancestors tilled. The peasants of Hacienda Luisita have been living and farming the land for decades before the Cojuangco family “borrowed” the land with the “help” of the Philippine government in the 1950’s (for a handsome fee, of course). I got a chance to visit the Hacienda Luisita farmers’ strike in 2004 a few days before the massacre that claimed the lives of thirteen people, including two children (eight more people, one of them a Protestant bishop, were killed by suspected government agents after the Luisita massacre). There I learned that the farmers only receive a salary of PhP9.50 per week (or PhP1.35 per day), certainly not enough to support one’s self, let alone a whole family.

I find it quite ironic that Aquino watched the life of Romero while he remained deaf to the social injustice happening right at his doorstep, the same social injustice that Romero fought against. I find it funny that he monitored the situation in Libya, yet kept his silence about what was happening right at his own family’s hacienda. I find it laughable that he can think of the Church’s pro-poor preference while his government implements policies that are everything but pro-poor.  I find it incredible that he can go to the wakes of his political friends yet has never visited the graves of those who fought for the land where they were eventually buried under, right at his very own backyard. I find it frightening that he can turn a blind eye away from the plight of his own constituents yet at the same time mouth the empty promises his Daang Matuwid program would supposedly bring about.

The president of a country who can turn a blind eye away from the inequality being experienced by his countrymen has no business being a president. I am thankful his term will expire this year. I am grateful there will be no more movie nights with Aquino during Holy Week, no more Holy Weeks with Aquino sitting in a chair, monitoring Libya or some other country while his own house is in shambles.

There will be more Holy Weeks, however. Let’s hope they’re not as bad as this one was.