Heidi M. Pascual*
Publisher & Editor
* 2006 Journalist of the Year for the State
of Wisconsin (U.S.-SBA)
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Bonding time with family
These days I have an urge to always be with my children and grandchildren who live more than 90 kilometers away. Perhaps
this feeling has been exacerbated by several recent happenings and frightening news involving the country’s security due to
threat of war between countries interested in the South China Sea (or Western Philippine Sea) and protection from natural
calamities.

When the Philippine Institute of Volcanology started announcing repeatedly since last year that the country is ripe for a major
earthquake that is predicted to claim more than 30,000 people within and around the Marikina Fault Line in Metro Manila, fear
for our lives and the sense of insecurity have naturally ruled many parts of Filipinos’ waking moments, especially those who
live at or nearby Marikina. Recent earthquakes in the province of Batangas, a few miles south of Metro Manila, as well as those
in the provinces of Surigao and Lanao in Mindanao added to the discomfort we are already feeling, just with the PhilVolc’s
announcement.

I was with a group of close friends who travelled to Batangas before Holy Week for our Visita Iglesia, a yearly tradition to visit
several churches as we follow Jesus Christ’s Stations of the Cross. When an earthquake struck April 8, we were in the
municipality of Anilao, a few kilometers away from the epicenter in Mabini, where we experienced the ground trembling,
swaying all of us for a few seconds. It was really scary, as we were very close to the ocean as well as the mountain. With
shattered windows, broken glasses and threat of building collapse, people converged in open spaces and shared a common
fear. Everyone tried to contact family via cell phones, but connection was almost impossible. We could only pray. What else
can people do when disasters happen?

Our group decided to go back home to the province of Laguna right after more tremors were felt. We knew we just had to leave
right away. True enough, there had been some landslides already that we passed on the way back. People were out of their
homes; hospital patients — even those with hanging dextrose bottles — left their wards; office workers and bank clients
similarly got out of the buildings; and everyone was on the streets. I realized then that I was watching a preview of what would
happen when the Big One strikes.

While natural disasters could really be expected in countries within and around the Pacific Ring of Fire, we Filipinos continue
to hope and pray that we’ll be spared from major calamities. There has always been that belief that as the only Christian
nation in Southeast Asia whose majority population among adults claim to be either religious or spiritual, the Philippines is a
“protected” nation. But, with a number of disasters already claiming lives and destroying property, crops, and infrastructure,
that belief seems to lose steam. And, with the impending Big Earthquake that may happen within this decade according to our
volcanologists, there is a realization that the country’s “protected” status simply means that the people have been warned way
ahead of time so that we could plan how to deal with the situation when it happens, for our safety and that of our loved ones.

Here we’re not talking only of natural disasters but also man-made. Countries that hate each other, like North Korea and the U.
S.A., for example, are showing off with their missiles and bombs, more than enough for weaker nations in Southeast Asia to
tremble in fear. We DO NOT want World War III to happen, because it could annihilate mankind. Also, with the occupation by
China of islands west of the Philippines and converting the property to a military installation complete with an airstrip, who
wouldn’t worry? The decision of the International Court favoring the Philippines’ claim to the islands has been disregarded by
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte himself, as he expressed his preference for friendship and cooperation with China
rather than with the United States of America. Most recently, a Chinese ship was seen hovering around Benham Rise,
reportedly to do some research, which Duterte claimed he knew about.  However, I just think something’s wrong with such
actions. First off, we’re actually disrespecting our sovereignty. As a sovereign nation, we have all the reasons to protect any
part of our country from foreign intervention, and worse, occupation. While I fully support a peaceful resolution of this problem,
the Philippine government must not sell itself short and look like a puppy licking a giant’s foot. Most recently, some Filipino
fishermen were shooed away from local fishing grounds by Chinese military manning disputed islands in the South China
Sea. I guess the giant is starting to show its real intention despite Duterte's friendly gestures toward China.

In the face of all these challenges in the world, I want to have the best of times with family members as often as I can. There’s
no assurance of what the future may bring to us Filipinos, here in the islands and abroad. But one thing is pretty sure, bonding
with family and constant expression of unconditional love toward each other make a big difference in how we can face the
future, regardless of its outcome. But Filipinos are a resilient and religious or spiritual people. Most of us are always optimistic
of God’s graces and blessings, that we will survive anything that would challenge our beliefs in the good and what’s right.
Love is so powerful that it can help endure hardships so long as we hold on together.