An altar boy sits in a church with photos of parishioners taped on pews as part of social distancing measures in Angeles City in the Philippines. (Photo: Ted Aljibe/AFP)
Three months have passed since the Philippines implemented strict community quarantines across the archipelago.
With no mass testing in place, many still fear the coronavirus will spread, threatening thousands of workers who risk their lives to earn a living. The healthcare system will be on the brink of collapse once a fraction of its employees are infected by the virus.
Reports say thousands of overseas Filipino workers have used up their savings to pay for their quarantine facilities while some are still on cruise ships docked in Philippine ports.
A month ago, a repatriated overseas worker hanged herself while undergoing a 14-day quarantine in a state facility. A few days ago, another jumped off a building in Beirut, Lebanon. The pandemic has not only caused poverty but also psychological distress.
Yet what sustains the Filipino people, especially those in the slums with almost nothing to eat? What inspires a country to thrive, even when its future is uncertain?
In World War II, bombs shattered the country. Our homes and churches were ruined. But the war never destroyed our faith as a people.
Jesuit historian Father Horacio de la Costa compared the war-torn Philippines to a pauper with two precious jewels. He wrote in his essay “Jewels of the Pauper” that the Philippines has two great treasures — faith and music.
“But as poor as we are, we yet have something. This pauper among the nations of the earth hides two jewels in her rags. One of them is our MUSIC. The other treasure is our FAITH,” wrote the Jesuit historian.
We Filipinos love music. Our tunes soar higher than the number of lives taken by the pandemic.
The present situation has not prevented choirs and musicians from coming together through technology to perform astonishing compositions. We sing karaoke behind closed doors. We even resort to social media by dancing to the tune of “tiktok” music to express ourselves even when food and testing kits are scarce.
Music soothes our aching souls. Our melodies not only distract our minds already burdened by loss of a loved one or unemployment. Our music, rather, has become a powerful bringer of hope and good memories. It reminds us that things will get better and that one day we can visit and spend time with our loved ones again.
Our hymns are not merely for entertainment. They are a stepping stone for prayer, just as our melodies are our expressions of faith. Faith gives meaning to all the suffering we are facing right now as one nation.
Churches may remain closed but we have brought them inside our own homes. We are praying more than before. We are reflecting on the meaning of life and death more than before.
Faith washes away our tears of grief and anxiety. It makes us see the needs of others encouraging us to move beyond our comfort zone. It frees us from our individualistic tendencies.
When we read and listen to stories like that of “Mang Dodong”, an old man who was imprisoned for not having a valid permit to earn a living, we do not simply see a legal issue. We rather see a broader sense of what social justice is about. Faith truly propels us to respond to the needs of the poor.
Our country has faced more than a pandemic. We have survived wars, political and economic upheavals. Yet we have always recovered and survived as a nation.
This pandemic has opened our eyes to many great lessons in life. It has taught us to reassess the value of life itself, our health and even the way we choose our leaders.
Some may feel there is no more hope. But as we continue our battle with Covid-19, let us remember our two greatest jewels, our ultimate weapon in this pandemic.
Faith and music bind our nation together. They are the soul that makes us one. They are the reason we will rise again as one.