‘Our lives are no longer our own’


In a country deeply divided by political beliefs and partisanship, where disrespectful political discourse has become the new normal, it is perhaps time to take stock and pause to reflect on the direction our country is taking.

In times like ours when the politics of hate and fear has become destructive, where conversations about ways of engaging to resolve common problems are rare and far between, it may be time to search our souls and rediscover our bearings.

In situations when fake news is generated based on bias or lack of effort to seek out the truth, it becomes difficult to act based on the truth, particularly when our trust for one another has become impaired.

In brief, we are largely left to our own devices and the ties that bind us seem to have been largely lost; the common purpose that can bring us together is no longer operative.

It is thus important to look back, and perhaps to learn from one young man’s story.

Some 22 years ago, a young Jesuit seminarian by the name of Richie Fernando volunteered to work to assist young people in Cambodia. Fresh from his studies in the seminary, he worked with Cambodian students in a school that he served in a fraternal country. On Oct. 17, 1996, at the age of 26, he died protecting his students in a classroom after a scuffle resulted in a grenade falling to the floor. It was one of the students, named Sarom, who had whipped out a grenade, and before it could explode Richie threw his body on it, saving his students from certain harm.

Richie had followed the Ignatian prayer of generosity to the hilt: “To give, and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; save that of knowing, we are doing Your will.”

He is “everyman,” or rather, “everyyoungman” — an ordinary young man full of life and energy transformed by an extraordinary act that was based on his ideals and a sense of service.
Because of Richie’s heroic act of self-giving, the Jesuit provincial received word from the Vatican that a process has been initiated that could transform his status from a saint with a minor “s” into “Sainthood” that could have a major impact on our country and beyond.

The reason this is important for every young Filipino is threefold: Young Filipinos are capable of acts of courage and sacrifice, no matter how ordinary they start out to be; young Filipinos can become beacons of hope in our country and other nations as well; young Filipinos need not despair when confronted by the daily challenges we face in our lives: be they socioeconomic, political or sociocultural, or personal in nature. We can confront and overcome them, and together we can be better than we can imagine.

In times like ours when it may seem so easy to despair and throw up our hands in utter desperation, it is good to recall someone who may look or laugh like us in the person of Brother Richie. In a country like ours when most young people have experienced some form of alienation, or are gripped by fear because of a “war on drugs” that seems to have no end, or the lack of opportunities or the inability to find meaningful livelihoods, it is important to be reminded that there is a better path that we can pursue in the footsteps of servant leaders like Brother Richie.

Every young Filipino can aspire to be better, in great or small things, taken one step at a time that could lead to the realization that “our lives are no longer our own.” In this way, we can overcome the hate and the fear, and take our country in a different direction.

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Ed Garcia, a framer of the 1987 Constitution, taught at Ateneo and UP, worked at Amnesty International and International Alert in London, and now serves as consultant on the formation of scholar-athletes at FEU Diliman.

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