Earlier this year, roads were closed, flights were cancelled, and schools and businesses were shuttered. It was all for one old man all dressed in white, who brought his prayers and well wishes.
This last week, the same thing happened. Roads were closed. Flights were cancelled. Schools, businesses, and agencies were shuttered. But instead of a man with spiritual gifts, now it’s world and economic leaders visiting who could potentially give more jobs, more infrastructure, and more economic help to the country. An objective, dare I say, reasonable man could identify which of the two sounds more welcoming to society, but when was Philippines ever reasonable?
The last few days, I’ve seen nothing but nonstop complaints about traffic, about closed agencies, and all the half-baked issues they heard on TV Patrol. Yet where were these same complaints during the Pope’s visit? We experienced the same “difficulties” and “challenges” as we did last January, but there was next to no complaints back then. We even lauded the government and civil society for their treatment of the Pope but now that same treatment to global leaders is coming into question. Why? Was it because our January guest was a man of God? Were we too scared to hit the church? It can’t possibly be because of the same problems of traffic and cancelled flights or the brief pause of day-to-day life?
Or is it merely because of the audience we are welcoming now? Sure, the Pope preaches respect and compassion and cares for the poor. That is all well and good, but that shouldn’t discount what those who attended the APEC summit did here. Because these last few days could potentially do more for the country then what the pope’s visit ever did. That’s not blasphemous nor is it ignorant. It’s just plain logic. There was good to be done this past week even if our guests weren’t wearing white or riding cute little mobiles.
The cliche of the Philippines rising from being the sick man of Asia to now becoming an up and coming economic nation wasn’t done through sheer faith and prayer. It was done through business, economics, and political will. Which all led to the world recognizing us after years of avoiding or dismissing the Philippines. And if we could not only survive but rise from decades of bullsh*t and decline, what’s a week of what we already faced last January? Because last I checked no one seemed to mind then.
When the pope came here last January, we gave him the ultimate Pinoy hospitality treatment. Because isn’t that we do? Whenever we have guests be it in our country or in our own homes, we spare no resource to give our guests the very best. We bring out our fine China, we clean our rooms and shine our floors, we wear our Sunday’s best. It’s what we do as Filipinos and it’s what was expected for the pope. So why should any of that be different now? I’m pretty sure if you ask any local industry leader which one they’re more excited for, it’s going to be the APEC summit. But since most of us don’t know anything about or even bother to Google what happened this week, we’d rather resort to these short term problems of traffic and cancelled flights instead of focusing on the potential long term benefits of the summit.
Deep down this isn’t an argument about religion versus politics or church against state. It isn’t even strictly about complaining. This is about our own selves and what we do or do not know. Everybody loves the pope. They know him well and wait for every word he has to say. So it was only natural that they welcomed and gave way to him. But when faced with things we don’t really know, we choose to step back and defend ourselves against it. We shout louder and hit harder than we have reason to, complaining and ranting to anyone who would listen about our irritations. And out of those complaining, I’m betting not even half know what APEC stands for.