[PHOTO AT LEFT - Students from different schools in Obando, Bulacan display their Christmas lanterns during the Christmas Arts Festival yesterday. - Photo By ERNIE PENAREDONDO]

MANILA, DECEMBER 13, 2007  (STAR) BREATHING SPACE By Panjee Tapales - I’m writing this almost a week after Senator Antonio Trillanes and his men walked out of court and gave me hope. It’s been a week since we were once again glued to our cell phones, radios and television sets.

When the news first hit, I was certain the Senator and his men were but a decoy for a greater, grander, totally thought out plan that would mark the beginning of great changes for this country. I could not believe it ended the way it did.

The text messages — at least those that came my way — shared my frustration. How could it have ended like that? Wasn’t there a grander plan? Surely it wasn’t meant to be like that? People Power as we know it is dead. A new power of the people is waiting to be born, but it isn’t here yet and nobody knows its shape and form. Didn’t they see that?

At home, more pressing questions filled the air: “Why, Mama?” And each simple answer was met with more bewildered looks and questions: “But why are the good soldiers going to be put in jail?” Good question (my standard answer to difficult and profound questions from my children) and one that embodies the thread of similar questions in our history. Really. Why?

But there was much more dissonance to come. I turned my TV on in time to hear the director of the Philippine Stock Exchange say that if it were up to her, snipers would be sent to The Pen because Senator Trillanes and his men were upsetting the stock market. “That’s what happens,” she said in disgust, “and all for just a few!” A few? I bet there were more than a few Filipinos praying for him to succeed. I bet there are a lot more Filipinos who want good, upright people in government and business at last. Yes, there are power grabbers who only look out for the needs of a few — theirs — but they were not at The Pen that day. It is their greed that wreaks havoc on the economy. It is their brand of evil that threatens the health and survival of our country.

Seven years ago, also in November, the Philippine Stock Exchange staged their own walkout as they called for Erap’s resignation. These are the words the very same person uttered then: “We will show that we are no longer fence-sitters. This is a spontaneous action. The message is very clear… that we want change.” Does the Philippines today embody that change, so much that she can wish snipers on a group of men who call for the very thing (under worse circumstances) she did not even a decade ago?

I’ve always maintained that the economy will only find health when politics is renewed and corruption removed. That’s what will give this country ultimate stability. The only way to achieve that is a total overhaul. This is the long-term view. Keeping “peace” for its sake by ignoring or covering up the moral sewage that surrounds us does not buy global confidence; it only bolsters uncertainty.

The only sure way to bring health back to the economy is to infuse it with integrity and transparency and begin the much-delayed task of cleaning up the moral muck, especially in government. That’s the reason there is little trust in the Philippine market today. No one knows what will happen next because the law is manipulated daily. Everyone knows corruption rules. There is nothing hard and fast to rely on. Turning our backs on the moral rot and saying life must go on and please maintain the status quo, period, is a cop out. It solves nothing. Isn’t it about time we gathered our resolve to set things right in this country at last? How much more insult and abuse are we willing to take?

Trillanes and his men fight for all the right things, for everything that will make this country whole again. Sure, his ways are radical and impulsive but, really, what ways are left to us when every legitimate avenue has been corrupted? People have called him a brat, stupid (I was guilty of this when he surrendered with a whimper because I could not accept there was no grander plan), spoiled, but I countered that the man stood for what he believes in; he took a stand while we cast judgment from the comfort of our holiday-ready homes.

We are now on the second week of Advent. Christmas is fast approaching. The darkness is closing in. The chill seeps into the tiniest cracks. Everything about the season begs for us to burn and hold the light within. It is a good time to ask ourselves what we really stand for, no matter what our profession or station in life. Who are you? What does all this mean to you? It is no accident we are called to look within this time of year. Indeed it is the only way to make space for other things to come through.

Advent, to me, is a season of grit. It is not about cinematic sleigh rides and gleeful reunions in warm, sweet-smelling kitchens. It is a time of darkness, a time for honest introspection. That is never pleasant or easy but it is the only way to create that path of light that carries us through into the next year. It takes honesty, work and grace to be a carrier of that light.

People rush about buying presents, decorating their homes, simulating that light externally, but few are even aware of what the season means to them. Most of us do it just because, but if we truly asked ourselves what it means — to us, as individuals, adults, Filipinos in this mess of a country we’ve made — I think many would find themselves totally lost. If we took away inherited traditions and habits, what would we really believe about this season? Are our lives today testaments to these beliefs? Are we truly worthy to receive the gifts of the season? Do we even have it in us to receive them? What have we — in thought, word and deed — allowed ourselves to be vessels of in this country?

One of the most profound messages of the season is hope — that even during the darkest time of the year, light can shine within us, if we would only do the work to keep it burning.

There are a few men who have given me that brand of hope this year. They affirm my belief that that there are pockets of light that continue to burn brightly in the darkness, despite the evil and malevolence we have allowed to prevail. They have virtually nailed themselves to the cross to fight for what is true and good, right and just. Does that image even ring a bell?

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved