MANILA, January 13, 2004 (STAR) DE RERUM NATURA by Maria Isabel Garcia - I suggest that whoever wants to run for any kind of public office spend some time underwater but forego the photo opportunity to keep it honest. The sea is always a good place for reflection since one’s thoughts can ebb and flow with the tides. Underwater, the stunning diversity would make them rethink their own humanity.

Coral reefs are one of the most diverse habitats in the world. It is probably the most diverse, except that we do not know enough about them as much as we do about terrestrial habitats such as forests, that is why we reserve so much more to future discoveries and rediscoveries. The country’s coral reefs rank among the highest in terms of diversity, which means we have more kinds of corals than most spots on the planet! I have always heard first-timers learning to dive or snorkel being told just to be "cool" among their peers but later on, I notice that these people’s view of the world and of themselves are transformed after their experience. I can guess why. It is because once there, Nature provides us with clues on the nature of being alive, if we pay attention. I can think of a few from which the candidate and the society he/she purports to serve could benefit.

I think it has to do first with the physical humbling forced on you by the fact that you need devices to be able to breathe and see in the water. The weight and encumbrances on your senses, ironically worn in order to extend them, make you suddenly aware that there is a world where humans are not the center and where in fact you are the intruder! I see this sense all the time in the characters of traditional fishermen. I can think of particular celebrities who can benefit from these de-centering. (If the sea is not enough to let them realize that they are not the center of creation, I have a list of other sites where they would feel they amount to "nothing" which can do wonders to their spirit as well as yield space to more intelligent or at least sensible newspaper headlines.)

Second, I think the quality of silence underwater is so unique in that it mutes your ever-so-terrestrial self so you can listen to the sound of the sea and the lives that inhabit it. In the process, it makes you feel expansive without inflating your ego because this occurs through sensory and factual understanding which emphasizes your connections and relationships with the world rather than your isolation.

Third, the sea is where all life on Earth began. We are all sea-borne. Look at your hands, they evolved from webbed hands and feet of creatures long ago. Your bodies remember even if your minds refuse to do so. For those who have come across this fact in an academic way before, being in the water soaks the academic fact and makes it living reality. We regain a sense of unity with creation in time seared on to your senses in a visual scale that can beat any IMAX screen.

Lastly, the details in terms of color, motions, shapes and interdependence observed underwater scream of no less than Nature’s supreme imagination as the concept of "what is alive" and "how life thrives" change before and after an underwater experience. I am a glorious failure in species identification that my peers automatically get me on their ecological study teams to have fun with the idiotic ways I identify creatures. (I am the same with humans.) I can only observe patterns of marine life and still emerge from my observations stunned by the elegance of the complexity of life forms. I will be scared of any candidate who is not curious about the world and his or her connections with it in a real intelligent way, beyond rhetoric. I want a candidate to have a searing sense of place.

For myself, when I emerge from the water back into the society of marauding bipeds that we are, I cannot help but note our impoverished imagination in human affairs, and wonder how dull we must look to fish or birds. What will other creatures probably think of us Filipinos so lacking in imagination that we do not take a cue from this diversity in Nature, as we all seem to think that the only way to serve is to be president of this nation or be in some other public office? For those in the arts to whom society looks for transcendent and sublime imagination to transcend the pedestrian way our own politics and economics have shoved us, whatever happened to your unflinching dedication and devotion to reinvent the world through your art? Are you abandoning your craft, a craft that real artists swear they need more than a multitude of lifetimes to learn, express and share? What does that say about your attention span or dedication to a noble craft? There are scientists who have devoted their entire lives to snails, fruit flies and bacteria and still swear at the end of their lives or after the receipt of their Nobel Prizes that they still do not know what makes these creatures tick and lament that their own lifetimes are not enough to pursue their science. Could it be that the arts in this country are not worthy of our artists’ lifetime dedication that they argue the fullness of their humanity in terms of their election to public office? Perhaps, instead of asking what is wrong with our politics, perhaps we should really be asking what is wrong with the way we have been doing our arts and our sciences, the two greatest human endeavors, that we have neglected both in shameful levels, to serve our politics.

But there were/are real artists and scientists who knew the power of their science and their art to transform and elevate lives, and dedicated their entire lives, undivided, to honing it. One in particular was a composer, who during World War II when found by a Japanese soldier and asked "Guerrilla?", replied with pride and dignity, "No, musician." The Japanese soldier let him go, not realizing that either way meant the same thing then. The musician was Maestro Levi Celerio. His inspiring memory and art has served our character’s growth in making us realize why we reach out for intangible beauty. He served his art, from the first notes of his boyhood to the last leaf he played near that piano at Mario’s. In terms of science, a scientist can teach you about endless wonder, and the nature and practice of quests of being human, that we are all stardust and that we are connected to all of life with beautiful, elegant proofs! Real artists and scientists do all these without needing or asking for your vote. Can you imagine our national character if we have more real artists and scientists than politicians? We, as a society, no longer know what the two greatest marks of intelligent civilization – the arts and sciences – really mean and what it takes to truly engage in them to enrich the quality of our national imagination and understanding of ourselves and of the world. We are not only poor now because most of us live below the poverty line. I have witnessed Ecuadorian peasants who are as economically poor but are willing to shell out a peso a day to rent a book to read on Sundays in the park. We are far poorer because we, as a people, do not collectively seek the artists and scientists anymore and have unconditionally equated their existence with a certain level of economics we think we must first achieve. To not seek the arts and the sciences as vigorously as we do our politics is a sign we have lost the imagination and the power of what it means to be human and fully alive. I am not sure if that is a society worth living in.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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