Now the work of Christmas begins

January 11, 2019
Marita Concepcion Castro Guevara

One of my favorite New Year poems is Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Ring Out, Wild Bells.” Though published 169 years ago in 1850, this poem has resonances for us today—living in a time of great achievement and strong passions on the one hand, but also of complex problems and high anxiety on the other.

As the old year ends and the new one begins, Tennyson enjoins us to “Ring Out”— “the false,” “the grief that saps the mind,” “the feud of rich and poor,” “a slowly dying cause, and ancient forms of party strife,” “the want, the care, the sin,” “the faithless coldness of the times,” “false pride in place and blood,” “the civic slander and the spite,” “old shapes of foul disease,” “the narrowing lust of gold,” “the thousand wars of old,” and “the darkness of the land.”

Reflecting on the year 2018, we must “Ring Out experiences and developments that brought our country and its people untold suffering, deeper poverty, death, shame, and a loss of trust in our political and social institutions. We recall—with sorrow, regret, and yes, righteous indignation—the plight of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) like Joanna Demafelis, whose corpse was found in a freezer in an apartment in Kuwait; deadly bombings and other terrorist activities in Mindanao, and yet another extension of Martial Law in the region until the end of 2019; violent, if not fatal, fraternity and sorority hazing or initiation rites; the arrest, detention, and subsequent deportation to Melbourne of Australian missionary and human rights activist Sister Patricia Fox; the continued detention of Senator Leila de Lima in Camp Crame; the ouster of Supreme Court Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno; the revocation by President Rodrigo Duterte of the 2011 amnesty granted to Senator and former LTSG Antonio Trillanes IV; the increase in self-rated poverty of Filipino households from 42 to 52 percent from the first to the third quarter of 2018, according to SWS National Surveys; the hundreds buried in massive landslides in Benguet and the Mountain Province after Category-5 Super Typhoons like Ompong and Rosita; and the thousands who have been killed (5,000 based on the PDEA’s tally; over 20,000, according to human rights groups) from July 1, 2016 until the close of 2018 under the Drug War of President Duterte’s administration; among other sorrows.
In taking stock of the year that has just passed, Tennyson, however, bids us as well to Ring In
“the true,” “redress to all [hu]mankind,” “the nobler modes of life, with sweeter manners, purer laws,” “the fuller minstrel,” “the love of truth and right,” “the common love of good,” “the thousand years of peace,” “the valiant man [and woman] free,” “the larger heart, the kindlier hand,” and “the Christ that is to be.”

Let us therefore also remember and celebrate events and initiatives in 2018 that will redound to the betterment of the lives of Filipinos, and that shone a light on our creativity, resilience, courage, strong faith in God/an Almighty, and sense of solidarity and pakikipagkapwa-tao. We call to mind with gratitude, renewed hope, and even joy and pride the return of the Balangiga bells last November 2018; Boracay’s re-opening after a six-month rehabilitation; Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and other journalists like Jamal Khashoggi being named Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” “for taking great risks in pursuit of greater truths”; and many Filipinos’ achievements in different arenas or competitions, be these in political governance, the arts, sports, business, and others. Let us also welcome the passage into law in 2018 of significant social and economic legislation: the “Free Irrigation Service Act” (Republic Act 10969), providing free water for local farmers who own eight hectares of land or less; the “Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act” (RA 11032), an anti-corruption measure that establishes a unified business application form to facilitate the setting up or renewal of businesses; the “Mental Health Act” (RA 11036), which secures the rights of persons with mental health needs, and integrates mental health care into the Philippine public health care system; the “Masustansyang Pagkain para sa Batang Pilipino Act” (RA 11037), creating a school-based National Feeding Program to combat hunger and malnutrition among Filipino children; the “Anti-Hazing Act” (RA 11053), amending the 1995 version of this law, and banning hazing in all forms and regulating initiation rites of fraternities, sororities, and other organizations; and the “Organic Law for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao” (RA 11054), with the plebiscite on it scheduled this January 21 and February 6, 2019; among other important legislation.
In the Ateneo de Manila University, despite some crises which rocked our campus, we had gains and accomplishments in 2018 to rejoice in: the grant by the Philippine Accrediting Association of Schools, Colleges and Universities (PAASCU) of Level III re-accreditation for a three-year period of programs in the Loyola Schools under the disciplines of the Arts and Sciences, Management, and Computer Science and Information Systems; the agreement forged between the Ateneo Employees and Workers Union (AEWU) and the University Administration, which brought a resolution to the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) deadlock and an end to the AEWU’s strike; increased attention to gender issues through the conduct of gender-sensitivity orientation workshops, the installation of gender-neutral restrooms, and the efforts to draft and approve a Loyola Schools Policy for a Gender-Responsive Community and its accompanying Code of Practice; the establishment of the Loyola Schools Childcare Place (LSCCP); the opening of classrooms, offices, theaters, and workspaces in Areté and all the creative events and projects this hub has made possible; the implementation of a Continuing Development Program for Faculty Mentors; the conduct of The Ateneo College Student Survey (TACSS) 2018 for us to  better understand our students and respond more effectively to their concerns; the rollout of the new Core Curriculum and revised Academic Programs aligned with the shift of the Philippines to the K to 12 Basic Education Program; and our ongoing programs for the integral formation of our students as persons-for-and-with-others, who will contribute to the transformation of Philippine society if not other regions of the world. Let us also celebrate our and our students’ accomplishments in research, in creative endeavors, and in outstanding service to the University and the nation.
According to the Fourth Quarter 2018 Social Weather Stations (SWS) National Survey, when asked “Ang darating na taon ba ay inyong sasalubungin nang may pag-asa o may pangamba?” (“Is it with hope or with fear that you enter the coming year?”), 92 percent of adult Filipinos answered that they are welcoming 2019 with hope rather than with fear. Indeed, since 2010, hope for the new year of Filipinos has always been high—at the 90s level—peaking at 97 percent in 2017. This is surely indicative of the strong sense of optimism of Filipinos, especially for new beginnings, despite vicissitudes that visited them in the previous year. If the majority of our people, who rate their households as “poor,” have reason to face 2019 with renewed hope, optimism, and vigor, shouldn’t we, who presumably have greater advantages and resources than the poor, do likewise?
In conclusion, as we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany, and as the Christmas season draws to a close, let us take to heart another poem, The Work of Christmas,” by educator, theologian, and civil rights leader Howard Thurman, who reminds us that the work of Christmas has just begun:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
Isang mapayapang at mapagpalayang Bagong Taon 2019 sa ating lahat!

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of School of Humanities or the Ateneo de Manila University.