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Spirit of the season

THE first day of September is a special day for many Filipinos who see it as beginning of the long Christmas season in the Philippines. They look forward to hearing early morning radio broadcasts of Christmas carols, quite prematurely, of course, but then people take it all with a smile. After all, this is the Philippines and we love our Christmas season.

This year, however, it is so hard to feel the spirit of the season with all the painful reports we seem to have every day. Wednesday’s headlines were about 15 soldiers killed by the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu, with defense officials fearing that the outlaw group might mount attacks in urban centers in the country as a diversionary tactic. This is the same group that has made a practice of beheading its hostages as well as its battlefield foes.

The Sulu debacle capped weeks of killings in normally peaceful sites – at airports such as in Caticlan, Aklan, the main gate to our top international tourist attraction Boracay; in law-enforcement operations all over the country where drug suspects were reported resisting arrest; at police headquarters where arrested suspects were said to have fought their jail guards; at homes, in streets, in fields, from Northern Luzon to Mindanao in the south.

Some 1,900 have been reported killed in the war on drugs, many with no recorded suspects, raising fears of human rights violations around the world. United States President Barack Obama was reported preparing to meet with President Duterte on these concerns on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit to be held in Vientiane, Laos, later this month.

Meanwhile, on the political front, a Senate inquiry led by Sen. Leila de Lima on the anti-drugs campaign will be followed soon by a House inquiry, in which the senator herself faces investigation for allegedly being at the center of a “matrix” of drug production and payoffs right in the National Penitentiary at Bilibid.

With such daily reports in media, how indeed can we enjoy the spirit of the season in this first of the “ber” months, as we have always done in the past?

In the Church calendar, Advent, the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, is celebrated in anticipation of the coming of Jesus Christ. There is a joyous sense of expectancy, of hope and anticipation. The first Advent Sunday, which falls this year on November 27, could well mark the start of the Christmas season. The Simbang Gabi on December 16, however, figures more prominently in Filipino tradition, for this is the time people all over the country rise well before dawn to gather in church yards for the first of the open-air Masses that will culminate in the church on Christmas Eve.

The first of September, Advent Sunday on November 27, Simbang Gabi on December 16 – they all are part of the Filipino Christmas season. We may not yet feel it at this time of so much trouble in the country but we have faith that the spirit of the season will come soon enough and bring us joy and happiness and goodwill, as it always has in the past.