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January 12, 2019 - Saturday 12:01 PM by E.R. Nartatez

What’s been grabbing the headlines for the past 2 to 3 days is this annual religious observance of the Traslacion of the Poong Itim na Nazareno.

The event is a spectacle. Massive numbers of devotees brave the packed, limb (life?) threatening crowd pressing towards that small, ever moving circumference where the icon of the Black Nazarene is located, risking serious injury just to “touch the hem” of the icon. The scene is both enthralling and frightening. Enthralling as you observe a massive “storm surge” of humanity build up, in an attempt to build their faith up by passionately expressing their panata to the Puong Nazareno. Understanding the religious, psychological and sociological dynamics at work in this phenomenon is fascinating!

Frightening indeed as you see the faces of those caught in the middle of that human inundation. Once you’re caught up in that human flood, you don’t have any control anymore; you’re pushed and pulled by the waves of humanity. And to survive you must muster all your strength to stay vertical. To fall would either mean serious injury or even death. Truly it’s not for the fainthearted.

However, what grabbed my attention about this year’s event was a news footage post-Traslacion. If the Traslacion itself is a sight to behold, the aftermath of the event is a sight to abhor as the massive amount of garbage litter the path of the procession. Authorities have not found a solution to this (perhaps there will never be a solution due to the humongous human factor involved in the event).

One mainstream news source featured volunteer cleaners who showed up after the march (they do this yearly as well, as a form of their own religious devotion). Along with the regular street sweepers, these volunteers faithfully cleaned up the streets by picking up trash, sweeping the debris, etc.

One woman was asked to comment about the sorry state of the streets after the religious celebration. I was a bit taken aback by her statement. She said, ‘Pilipino kasi. Panata ng panata pero wala namang disiplina.’ (Roughly, ‘That’s how Filipinos are; full of devotion yet sorely lacking in discipline.’) My reaction was, ‘Whoa!’ Another woman was asked, and with a frustrated look on her face, basically said the same thing.

Discipline. Are the terms ‘Filipino’ and ‘disiplinado’ mutually exclusive? An oxymoron? I can probably understand the frustration of those two faithful volunteers as every year they clean up the horror of trash left by the “faithful.” But I would have to disagree with them. I have to believe that we’re better than this.

And with President Duterte, there are reasons to hope. Love him or hate him, praise him or damn him, but there’s no denying that he is a disciplinarian. In fact, discipline is one of the major drives the President is pushing for in the entire country. He has done it in Davao (smoke free, firecracker ban, curfew on the selling of liquor, etc). And his heavy handed method seemed to work (though by no means is Davao perfect!). This time around he’s doing it nationwide.

Recently he’s targeted police and military personnel. He does not want them to be going into bars and drinking in public. He correctly pointed out that this is often the cause of senseless killings, even among fellow police and military men. And more recently he has threatened to close down big establishments that irresponsibly throw their wastes straight to the waters of Manila Bay. And having powerfully demonstrated that he means what he says when he ordered Boracay closed for cleanup and repair, I’m pretty sure the heads of those establishments around Manila Bay are calling for urgent meetings to fix what they need to fix before Damocles’ sword falls on them.

The President also has begun to tighten the noose on the use of firecrackers. And of course, he’s demonstrated his determination to rid the government of corruption — he’s been firing officials (even those he has appointed) left and right on issues of corruption. His controversial ‘war on drugs’ to clean up the streets of the country from the drug menace is not letting up.

I remember in a TV guesting when he was still campaigning for the presidency, he bluntly said to the panel of news anchors, ‘I’m a very impatient man; when something needs to be done and I tell you to do it, then I expect you to do it. If you don’t magkakaproblema tayo dyan.’ The guy means business!

The President wants to see a more disciplined Filipino. And in this vision, I pray he will succeed. But then the place where it needs to start is right here — myself. As psychologist Jordan Peterson said, “if you want to change the world, you start from yourself and work outward.” If we want to see a more disciplined Filipino, it’s got to start with the me, the I, the myself.

But shouldn’t we go out and change the world? Peterson, speaking to those young and restless, politically active minds who want to “change the system” by going out into the streets with their placards, fists raised, voices screaming, gives this advice:

“…don’t be fixing up the economy, 18-year-olds. You don’t know anything about the economy. It’s a massive complex machine beyond anyone’s understanding and you mess with at your peril. So, can you even clean up your own room? No? Well you think about that. You should think about that, because if you can’t even clean up your own room, who the hell are you to give advice to the world?”

It starts in our room.