As I watched the group of Gov. Johnny Pimentel, Vice-Governor Manuel Alameda and Tandag Mayor Alexander Pimentel make their obligatory rounds of the fair booths and stalls, I was suddenly reminded of a news item I had read online several days before wherein the League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) was reported to be considering a plan to mount another challenge to the controversial decision made by the Supreme Court in February of last year which declared constitutional the reclassification in 2007 of 16 municipalities (Tandag included) as new cities. I immediately wondered how Surigao del Sur provincial officials and the top honchos at the Tandag city hall are dealing with this development.
It is undeniable that many all over the country who have been trying to understand the long, tangled and convoluted history of this particular legal controversy have become more than a bit fed up (disgusted would be the more appropriate emotion) with the way the Supreme Court while still under the leadership of the unlamented Renato C. Corona had been flip-flopping in deciding the matter. By reversing itself several times and favoring one party then the other then back again in a series of judicial decisions which if taken together merely served to demonstrate the adroitness with which the law can be easily interpreted (or misinterpreted) to favor one point of view then, just as easily, a diametrically opposing argument, the highest court of the land lost a lot of its credibility with the people and, upon hindsight, helped bring about the sequence of events that made possible the Corona impeachment trial and its aftermath.
I have written at least three blog posts on this issue (here, here and here) and with the last Supreme Court decision issued on February of this year finally favoring the original foisting of city status on Tandag and the 15 other towns embroiled in the controversy, one must wonder, with the LCP contemplating one more attempt to get another judicial reversal at the Supreme Court, when this tedious matter will finally be put to rest for good. Even most of those here who have always felt that Tandag even today is not yet deserving of city status have become rather worn down and fatigued by this contentious issue and would rather let the status quo continue provided that the loopholes in the laws creating cities be removed or the laws themselves corrected so as to prevent the same controversy from troubling would-be cities in the future.
Mayor Pimentel, in a recent news interview, has expressed no little degree of exasperation at the LCP for planning to revive what he may feel to be already a settled controversy. "Why can't they just maintain the status quo for the sake of harmony and reconciliation?" he asked. The LCP, of course, if it may indeed choose to go on with their new appeal will certainly ignore his entreaties in one more bid to correct what it has always considered as a gross mistake and grave abuse of judicial discretion on the part of the highest court in the land.
Tandag, of course, remains at present (until the current laws or the official interpretation thereof changes) a city, if not in fact at least one in the making. If it is to squelch any future questions on its legal right or capacity to truly join the rest of its sister cities all over the country, it will have to prove itself by achieving progress if not quickly and spectacularly then at least steadily and consistently in the near future. Mayor Pimentel and his constituents may have, for now at least, gained the legal right to proudly label Tandag a city but if they are truly determined to erase the nagging suspicion that it became a city more by fiat rather than as a matter of right then what is going to be required of them will not only be the best of intentions but real and sustained maximum effort.
June 12 is Independence Day for this country and essentially commemorates this year the 114 anniversary of the raising of the Philippine flag by Gen Emilio Aquinaldo at the balcony of his ancestral home in Kawit, Cavite in connection with the formal declaration of independence by the Philippines after centuries of colonial rule by the Spaniards.
That morning long of that day almost two weeks ago, I watched on national television the elaborate parades, patriotic speeches and flag raising ceremonies being done all over the country and was suddenly struck by the realization that it was already past nine o'clock and I have not seen or heard the local civic parade pass by our house. I got out of the house and only saw virtually empty streets and a dearth of people in front of the local church and the municipal park just a short distance away where normally a local version of the flag raising events being conducted everywhere in the country on this day should be taking place.
Where the hell were the local officials? Have they simply forgotten the importance of that day or had they deliberately ignored tradition and have in a cavalier manner done away with what many Filipinos would rightly consider a necessary patriotic or nationalistic duty?
Personally I have never been much impressed with local celebrations of the Araw Ng Kalayaan. In recent years, there would be in Lianga the usual and obligatory town parade where troops of bored and rowdy school children, equally blasé high school and college students tailed from behind by elderly municipal hall employees would grudgingly file through the main streets of the town while trying to march in time to the indifferent beat of a marching band.
The final destination would be the municipal park where the current mayor with other municipal officials assisted by the local police force would then raise the national flag on a flag pole in front of the local monument to the great Dr. Jose Rizal.. The attending crowd would then have to endure an hour or more of boring political speeches, a cultural song and dance number or two before finally being set free to go home just before noontime in order to escape the midday heat.
Yet these ceremonies, dull and tiresome they may have been allowed to become over time, are, in my view, absolutely necessary acts in themselves. In a time when Filipinos are in danger of losing their sense of nationhood, the sense of being a collective "we" and have, even more so, become remiss in their appreciation of their rich, colorful and noble history as a people, it becomes not only necessary but absolutely essential that time and time again that they be reminded, even through faded symbols and inane hyperbole, of who they are and how they have become what they are today.
Whether we accept it or not, majority of Filipinos nowadays may proudly label themselves as patriots and nationalists but such declarations rarely transcend more than mere lip service. They are a lot like unbelievers who feel obligated go to church on Sundays, who merely mouth and recite their prayers and go through the motions of worship without genuine fervor and honest enthusiasm. Yet they go just the same because they feel reassurance, comfort and a sense of fulfillment in being a witness to a community in prayer, a community united in the yearning and the searching for something greater than themselves.
The Independence Day festivities and ceremonies reminds us, despite the inanity and and seeming pointlessness that often nowadays characterizes them, that we are all Filipinos despite all our differences as a nation of ethnic groups separated not only by land and sea but by language, color of skin, religion or political beliefs. We may choose to ignore them, fail to internalize them and even make fun of them but these reminders of our nationhood and our reasons for unity are there just the same.
It is a damn shame, therefore, that our town fathers, our esteemed public servants and those we have deigned to raise above ourselves in order to lead us would be so blind or so shortsighted, so ignorant or so plain damned lazy that they can think that they can so flippantly let such an important public milestone and occasion go by unrecognized and unacknowledged and then think they can get away with it.