Monday, June 27, 2011

Something new, something different

St. James Town, the area of high-rise apartments straddling relatively upscale Cabbagetown on the east of Parliament and the mix of heritage semi-detached homes, rooming houses and law offices on old Cabbagetown south of Carlton, by far has the highest population density in all of Canada. It has a density of about 65,000 persons for every square kilometre compared to 900 persons per square kilometre for Toronto.

Looking through the fence toward St. James Town, Toronto. Photo courtesy of Dan Cronin.
Many residents of St. James Town are new immigrants trying to make things work. Over 50 per cent of the families in this part of the city live below the poverty line. According to the 2006 census, Filipinos comprise the largest ethnic group living at North St. James Town (Jarvis to Parliament, Bloor to Wellesley), with Tagalog as the most spoken of the non-official home languages.

St. James Town is the original Filipino settlement in Toronto, where new Filipino immigrants settled in the sixties and early seventies. It continues to attract new Filipino immigrants, mostly domestic workers and their families. The affinity with poor and struggling newcomers seems like a magnet that attracts families from the same group to live together in this place. Filipino families who have moved up in their economic status tend to settle in the outer suburbs of Mississauga, Brampton, Markham, Richmond Hill, Pickering and Vaughan.

Filipino families who have never left St. James Town are those unable to rise above their low incomes and who continue to be challenged by lack of better opportunities. Many of them are former caregivers who have held on to their old jobs and employers, failing to move on to better-paying jobs and working conditions. Parents sponsored by their immigrant children, mostly in their senior years, are forced to take manual labour such as cleaning offices in the downtown core. Others who have retired or are simply unemployed and not actively seeking paid work can be found chatting on street corners under the shadows of tall apartment buildings or under tree shades (referred to as “tsismis” trees by area residents) exchanging stories of their once-so happy lives in the home country and their personal struggles in Canada.

Poverty continues to beleaguer these families, which to some could be an embarrassment, but relatively a new phenomenon that did not hamper the early influx of Filipinos in the ’60s and early ’70s. While many of them were college-educated and former professionals (lawyers, accountants and teachers), these early immigrants had found that in the Canadian marketplace, their credentials carried no value. With employers putting value to relevant Canadian work experience, these diplomas and titles from the homeland were as good as worthless, their previous achievements often betrayed by their immobility in the Canadian workplace.
Apartment block life in St. James Town, Toronto. Photo courtesy of Phil Marion.
This predicament keeps them ensnared in low-wage jobs that will likely produce generations of poverty, a pessimistic outlook that others may not share. Those who dismiss this view will argue that their lives before they came to Canada are still better off compared to their situation in the Philippines, and would be first to blame them for their lack of effort and resourcefulness in improving themselves, as if poverty were internally driven and social and economic circumstances have nothing to do with it.

When poverty is handed down from parents to their children, it can become a vicious cycle that creates not only an economy but also a culture of inequality.

Filipino families in St. James Town constitute a key demographic that needs to be addressed more seriously through advocacy and initiatives by community organizations in the area. At present, Parliament Street is home to Filipino Centre Toronto (FCT), a privately-run resource centre serving, as stated on its website, “the neighbourhood of St. James Town, Regent Park, and Moss Park,” three recognizable pockets of poverty in downtown Toronto.

More than majority of FCT’s officers are drawn from outside the neighbourhood it serves, a number of them high-profile doctors, professionals and public servants in the larger Greater Toronto Area. With a powerhouse of intelligent and well-qualified officers, one would think FCT will be deeply involved in issues that affect Filipino families in St. James Town. But the truth is, FCT is but a house of dreams so far detached from the sad reality of life of Filipinos in St. James Town. FCT’s programs such as the Paraluman Beauty Search and Filipino Singing Idol Contest cater to our short-lived and hollow craving for entertainment, nurturing the illusion that winning in beauty or singing contests could be a ticket out of misery. Its heritage workshops, supposedly aimed at helping Filipino youth in their search for cultural identity, can easily be judged by the substance or obvious lack of it in the cultural fare at the annual Philippine Independence Day celebration that yearly features a parade of Santacruzan beauties and roast pigs in boxes.

 Click  the following link  to
 watch the Parada  ng Lechon  at Nathan Philips Square, Toronto during  the
 Philippine Independence Day celebration, June 12.
“Lechons or roast pigs are part of Filipino culture,” the FCT president stressed in an interview during the recent June 12 celebration of Philippine Independence Day at Nathan Philips Square. “It’s the centrepiece of every Filipino fiesta. Without the lechon, you are considered so poor,” she added.

And when did lechon become an integral part of Filipino culture? Perhaps, it’s not the tangible lechon that can be regarded as a legacy from Spain but the audacity to show off or boast, certainly a Spanish colonial trait, for a family to serve a whole roast pig to make an impression that they’re not in dire straits. Like its other entertainment offerings, FCT’s parade of lechons tends to whet our palate but leave us poorly nourished.

FCT has the capacity and the capability to rise above its current puerile engagements. It can be a relevant organization if it can realign its priorities with the social and economic issues that confront Filipino families in its neighbourhood, and by replacing its inconsequential entertainment-focused programs with an agenda of genuine settlement and integration for Filipinos in the Canadian cultural mosaic. Let the young enjoy their youth, yes; but let the old focus on activities that will ensure that future generations will grow up with a culture and history that they can be proud of.

FCT needs to identify itself with the community it serves, just like Kababayan Community Centre in Toronto’s west end, which plays a big role in responding to the needs of Filipino new immigrants and Filipino-Canadians in Parkdale and surrounding communities through what it calls a “painless and positive process of acculturation.”

Filipino community organizations in Toronto must redefine their framework of community engagement in ways that will enable Filipino Canadians to become full participants in Canadian society. This means community empowerment, for Filipinos to actively engage in the larger body politic and participate in shaping Canada’s future. It also means reclaiming our history here in Canada, not merely as consumers of pop culture and useless relics from our colonial period, but also as purveyors of a transformative immigrant culture as well.

For example, FCT with its team of skilled professionals can form a group of volunteers who will conduct conversations with residents of St. James Town on issues and problems that affect them, and from these discussions, help identify leaders to represent the residents in meetings with local politicians, government bureaucrats, and business leaders. Since housing is a common problem among the residents, FCT can have a team to assist them with landlord and tenancy issues.

If St. James Town is truly an identified client area for FCT, then it must have a clear vision of how to help its residents. Instead of trumping out activities like the Filipino Singing Idol, the Search for Paraluman or other competitions which other Filipino groups are already doing, FCT can engage in innovative collaborative partnership with Filipino residents of St. James Town on projects that will help empower them as members of the larger Canadian community.

FCT has been conspicuously absent in its own neighbourhood, particularly among Filipino residents, while other organizations like Community Matters Toronto and Recipe for Community Partnership Toronto, a project of the Toronto Community Foundation, have been mobilizing St. James Town residents and developing their skills and knowledge that will empower them to be the voice for change in their area. From projects that will improve equity of access to sports and exercise at local community centres to cooking, coaching and bicycle repairs, these organizations are making an impact in engaging residents young and old to improve their sense of belonging and safety in their neighbourhood.

Rows of apartment buildings in St. James Town, Toronto. Photo courtesy of
 the_brom. Click the following link to view video of  Community Matters  Toronto's
 project in St. James Town:
Filipinos will continue to miss the bus or the new subway train to Canada’s invigorating future if we remain content with our old ways of community engagement.

Other visible minority groups have already jumped on the bandwagon and gained inroads in politics and community building, Our leaders should listen to the needs of our new Filipino immigrant working class, our women caregivers, the most exploited class of workers in our community and who comprise the largest segment of new immigrants, and our young people who seem to be lost in transition and cultural identification.

Something new by way of a more spirited community engagement is what we need.

To achieve a fair and genuine settlement and integration with the larger Canadian social fabric, we must link arms and unite with each other and the broader Filipino Canadian community for the common good and do away with the legacy of our colonial past of dividing into fractious groups to preserve and protect our vested interests.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Tales of the tape: Peanut butter queen and a working class hero

Last Sunday’s (June 12) celebration of Philippine Independence Day in Toronto was billed by the Filipino Centre Toronto (FCT), a community organization of Filipinos in Metro Toronto, also as a day to celebrate our cultural heritage. On its roster of cultural offerings were Filipino folk dances (including hula dancing which is not native to the Philippines), Filipino singing idol contest, battle of champions, impersonation of international singing legends, a Santacruzan, and the lechon parade.

Not to be outdone, other organizations dedicated this important day in the history of the Philippines through their own interpretation of Philippine culture by showcasing beauty pageant winners like Miss Philippines, Miss Manila and their spin-offs like Miss Little Philippines and Mrs. Philippines. So along with the retinue of roasted pigs on the city’s main street were pageants crowning and parading our young women as emblems of beauty.

All in all, these various highlights of the Independence Day celebration by Filipinos in Toronto (nearby cities around Toronto also had their fare of beauty queens and song-and-dance competitions) only reveal our own cultural detritus. Not only do they lack any affinity to the historical significance of Independence Day but they also erode whatever good is left to preserve in our national culture as well. Sadly, this is the precarious state of the Filipino diaspora everywhere.

Although few in numbers, there are at least some who would stubbornly persevere in honouring and celebrating the best our country can offer, and by their examples, leave a more lasting legacy to others. Instead of drooling over the disappointing cultural fare our community organizations have to offer, these independent few chose not to go mainstream with our kababayans.

Here I am referring to two documentary films about the triumph of the human spirit and the continuing struggle for social justice as exemplified in the separate and different paths taken by two Filipinos, one of them a proven hero of the working class.

First off, Product of the Philippines (2010) by Filipino filmmaker Jullian Ablaza, a documentary about Jennilyn Antonio’s personal struggle to recover from losing her factory job by launching a new home-made peanut butter that would make her the country’s peanut butter queen. Unlike those beauty queens placed on their pedestal by their organizers in Toronto mainly on the strength of their physical appearance and a modicum of talent, usually singing or dancing, Jennilyn rose to become peanut butter queen on pure business instinct, patience, industry and ability to tap the market’s demand for a uniquely different taste of peanut butter.

The documentary was shown as part of Asian Heritage Month last May 27 at the Innis Theatre, University of Toronto. It was the lone entry from the Philippines but good enough to save our country from its dismal record of participation in celebrating our heritage with fellow Asian countries.

In the story, we see Jennilyn and her husband Vicente, eking out their lives like many other Filipinos—just barely making ends meet. They have their share of financial problems, worrying where to get the money to pay their children’s tuition fees or pay their debts and daily expenses. One day, while hunting for bargains and ingredients for cooking (this was after she lost her factory job), Jennilyn saw the ground peanut paste being sold to be used for making kare-kare. Without any knowledge of making peanut butter, she thought of experimenting a new formula, bearing in mind what her children liked best in peanut butter. With the right recipe and starting from an initial 500-peso worth of peanuts, Jennilyn discovered her own brand of fresh home-made peanut butter, a product which is now being sold in all SM Supermarkets nationwide and used in leading bakeshops in the country like Julie’s Bakeshop and French Baker.
Jennylin Antonio in her home which doubles as factory for EHJE's Peanut
Butter. Please click following link to view her story on video.
This was the same EHJE’s Peanut Butter that director Jullian Ablaza and his brothers first tasted when their father brought home a jar in their home in Vancouver. He found it so delicious and uniquely different from the Kraft and Skippy brands, which gave him the idea of making a documentary about Jennilyn. In 2006, Jennilyn Antonio was chosen as the National Awardee, Maunlad Category of the Microentrepreneur of the Year Awards.

At some point in the past, Jennilyn and her husband could not feed their children three times a day. But with the success of EHJE’s Peanut Butter, Jennylin is now expanding production from her home to a new factory to meet the growing demand for her peanut butter and the family’s future has never been more secure. It was clearly a documentary on the triumph of the human spirit, on how to succeed from adversity despite one’s lack of or limited resources.

The second documentary film, shown last June 12 at the Sidney Smith Hall, University of Toronto, was the Canada premiere of Ka Bel, a Documentary. Presented by the Filipino Migrant Workers’ Movement (FMWM), the film is about the life and struggles of Crispin B. Beltran, or Ka Bel, as he was affectionately called during his long career as a labour leader of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (May First Movement) and Representative of Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) party list in the Philippine Congress.

Ka Bel’s life story can be likened to the life of another proletarian hero of the Philippine revolution, that of Andres Bonifacio, the leader of the 1896 Philippine Revolution against Spain. Their family backgrounds struck the same chord, both were born poor and started as lowly workers. Bonifacio sold canes and paper fans before becoming an agent of Fleming and Company and Fressel and Company, on his way to organizing the Katipunan, the first Filipino armed revolutionary movement that aimed to overthrow the Spanish regime and establish a sovereign and free Philippines. Ka Bel, on the other hand, worked as a taxi driver in his early 20’s toward becoming the president of the Yellow Taxi Drivers Union and the Amalgamated Taxi Drivers Federation until he was chosen as Chair of the Kilusang Mayo Uno and of BAYAN, both militant and progressive movements for genuine democratic reforms in Philippine society.

Both Bonifacio and Ka Bel stood for anti-colonialism and democratic revolutionary change, the former against Spain and the latter against imperialist trade unionism. They both died before realizing their ultimate dreams of national freedom and genuine democracy. But their legacy lives on, as they are both genuine heroes of the working class.

In the euphoria over the Philippine Independence Day celebration and other upcoming Filipino festivals this summer, the simple lives of Filipinos who struggle for their place in the sun are relegated, if not totally forgotten, to the backburner. Filipinos in Toronto, mainly because of their leaders’ misreading of Philippine history, whether in the past or in the making, will continue to miss watching and listening to the interesting and inspiring stories or narratives of the struggles of ordinary but resilient Filipinos. Instead, some of our community leaders and their movers and shakers will hold festivals under the false pretext of promoting our cultural heritage that feature both our young and old mimicking the singing and dancing skills of American pop stars, and the crowning of our women—Miss, Mrs. or as Little Miss—bestowing upon them titles that favour looks over substance. Other organizations, those we would think would encourage and even lead our folks in Toronto in more meaningful civic engagement, will busy themselves with their summer sports fests or monthly breakfast gatherings over a cup of coffee and gossip.

One of the distinctive features of heroes is the will for self-sacrifice—for some greater good for all humanity. Ka Bel is the epitome of self-sacrifice, oblivious of his own interest and instead embracing the collective cry for social change of his fellow trade union members, and that of his larger country as well. If that is not good enough reason for us to celebrate his life and struggles, what other reason is there to ignore him and be content with clowning like American Idols or parading our women like the next American Top Model? Perhaps, Nick Joaquin was truly right when he once wrote that we Filipinos as a people have not overcome this heritage of smallness.
Ka Bel in his ripe age never wavering with his conviction of fighting for the Filipino working class.
Click the following link to view a Tribute to Ka Bel,. Awit sa Bayani.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Philippine Independence 101

On June 12, 1898, Emilio Aguinaldo proclaimed the independence of the Philippines from the window of his home in Kawit, Cavite. A month before, Aguinaldo also formally established the Dictatorial Government which he believed would be more efficient than a republican one in time of crisis. It was only later upon the advice of Apolinario Mabini that Aguinaldo changed the form of government from Dictatorial to Revolutionary.

Aguinaldo’s proclamation of Philippine independence came at the cusp of the Spanish army’s defeat in the hands of the Filipino rebels. It was never recognized by Spain or the United States which at the time had also been at war with Spain. In December 1898, American and Spanish peace commissioners met in Paris to settle questions relating to Cuba, the Philippines, and other matters. Felipe Agoncillo, Aguinaldo’s diplomatic envoy, pleaded with the commissioners to recognize the Philippines as an independent nation. The commissioners refused to listen to Agoncillo and went ahead to sign the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898, in which Spain gave up the Philippines to the United States for a sum of 20 million dollars.

Battle of Manila Bay, May 1, 1898. Courtesy of wikipedia.
On February 4, 1899, the Filipino-American War broke out which would last until 1902. Aguinaldo’s revolutionary government was crushed and his proclamation of independence short-lived. The Philippines was annexed as a Commonwealth of the United States until the end of the Japanese war in 1946 when independence was granted to the Philippines on July 4 by the United States’ Congress.

The June 12, 1898 independence proclamation was essentially an aspirational one. It was never achieved, and the colonization of the Philippines was handed over from its former colonial master Spain to the emerging power, the United States of America. Whereas the July 4, 1946 independence was merely a nominal one, it came at the expense of officially adopting the vestiges of American colonialism such as parity rights for American citizens in the Philippine Constitution and one-sided bilateral agreements in favour of the United States such as the Bell Trade Act, Laurel-Langley Agreement and the RP-US Military Bases Agreement.

In other words, the celebration of Philippine independence, as it was held before every July 4 commencing from the third Republic under President Manuel Roxas and then every June 12 beginning the fifth Republic under President Diosdado Macapagal, is a ritual bereft of historical correctness. Macapagal changed the celebration of independence to June 12 as a symbolic act of nationalism which was praised by other Filipino nationalists at the time since the July 4th independence was declared not by a Filipino but by an American, President Harry Truman. Both dates, however, do not represent the historical truth if the celebration of independence should really reflect the first act made by the Filipino people to establish a free and sovereign nation.
Philippine Independence Day Parade. Photo courtesy of Noel Y.C.
Aguinaldo’s June 12th declaration of Philippine independence was in itself questionable since he had earlier made overtures to Admiral George Dewey to recognize the independence of the Philippines under the protection of the United States Navy. One can argue that no sensible and patriotic leader of his country would claim independence, yet beg for protection from a foreign army. A U.S. Library of Congress Country Study on the Philippines completed in 1991 contained reports that the United States Department of the Navy during that time had ordered Dewey to distance himself from Aguinaldo so he would not make untoward commitments to the Philippine forces. Besides, Aguinaldo was never in a firm position to declare independence from Spain when the Philippine revolution was not over yet. The most Aguinaldo could accomplish was to proclaim the Filipino aspiration for a government that was independent and free from Spanish control, except this aspiration or desire to be an independent state was already expressed two years earlier after members of the Katipunan, led by Andres Bonifacio, declared a nationwide armed revolution to win freedom from Spain.

If we have to critically study the origin of an independent and sovereign Philippines, albeit aspirational, we can trace the embryonic idea to the formation of the Katipunan in 1892 when a small group of patriotic Filipinos decided to found a society dedicated to the objective of securing separation and independence from Spain. The Katipunan was founded right after Jose Rizal was arrested on July 7, 1892 by Spanish authorities and ordered to be banished to Dapitan. But it was four years later on August 24, 1896, under the threat of discovery by the Spanish civil authorities that the Katipunan would finally declare its decision to wage a national armed revolution against Spain.
Katipunan Flag as shown at Pugadlawin. Courtesy of wikipedia.
The Katipunan did not just declare its intention to fight Spain but it also established a national government with elected officials who would lead the nation and the army. There was no holding back the revolution. The Spanish secret police already knew of the dangerous clandestine Katipunan and the Spanish civil authorities had been warned by the clergy of the grave danger the society posed to the Spanish community. Governor-General Ramon Blanco made up his mind to order the “juez de cuchillo” or total annihilation of the Filipino population in identified areas of the uprising. Some, like Rizal, balked at the idea of the timing of the revolution, but to many, the time had come.

It was clear to Bonifacio and the members of the Katipunan that they were waging a national struggle. The Spanish historian Manuel Sastron described the revolution as a “rebellion of the Tagalogs against Spanish domination,” although it was clear that the 1896 revolution was a national endeavour. The term “Tagalog” referred to all persons born in the archipelago, whether Bisayan, Ilocano, Pampango, etc. Thus, the Tagalog nation or Katagalugan, consisted not only of Tagalog speakers but also included those who grew up in the Philippines, regardless of their ethnolingusitic classification and ancestry. At the time, the term “Filipino” applied solely to Spaniards born in the archipelago while “Tagalog” applied to all indios or natives.

From the declaration of war of independence on August 24, 1896, the Katipunan became an open de facto government. It had its own laws, bureaucratic structure and an elective leadership. As a matter of historical fact, it was the first Filipino national government. That was the conclusion made by John R.M. Taylor, the American military historian and custodian of the Philippine Insurgent Records. Most Filipino historians also agreed that the Katipunan was more than a secret revolutionary society and that Bonifacio intended to have the Katipunan govern the whole Philippines after the overthrow of Spanish rule.

How is the Katipunan’s open declaration of war against Spain any different from Aguinaldo’s proclamation of independence almost two years later on June 12, 1898? Both may be considered aspirational and did not accomplish the objective of a free and sovereign nation, but Bonifacio’s Katipunan was the first act declaring a national struggle and it paved the road to liberation from Spain, although independence was never achieved because the hopes of the Filipino people were quashed by the new colonial masters from America.

After the hostilities during the Filipino-American war ended in 1902 and the United States established its colonial foothold in the archipelago, Muslims in the south never wavered in their struggle for independence from the central government which continues until today. Despite grant of limited self-autonomy to Muslim-dominated provinces in Mindanao, the struggle for liberation goes on for the Muslim inhabitants of the south. Arguably, the same can be said about the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army which have persevered in their struggle for national democracy despite the powerful presence of the United States’ military through the Visiting Forces Agreement.
Filipino casualties on the first day of the Philippine-American War.
Photo courtesy of miaojsilva.
The question therefore is not whether we have achieved independence as a nation through the revolution of 1896, or whether the struggle for real independence continues because hostilities between government’s soldiers and the local insurgents and Muslim rebels have not ceased.

If we accept that all we have accomplished is merely an aspiration to become an independent and sovereign state, isn’t it right that we observe our celebration of independence by making it historically correct? We may not have to call it “Independence Day” if this shocks or bothers our conscience. We can always call it our “National Day” instead. But we must abide by events in our history and the struggles of the Katipunan if the 1896 Philippine Revolution has to have any worth at all. We can begin by recognizing Andres Bonifacio not only as the founder of the Katipunan and leader of the revolution of 1896, but as the first Filipino president, the father of our nation and founder of our democracy.
 Andres Bonifacio, leader of the Philippine Revolution of 1896.
 Photo  courtesy of shaiipot.
But then Bonifacio was regarded by those who would proclaim heroes—members of the educated and landed elite in Philippine society—as a mere lowly worker, uneducated and probably illiterate by the standards of our education system today, whereas Aguinaldo was a member of the ilustrado, educated, and also from the landed class. It’s up to us to honour our historical roots correctly, and it is not necessary that we wage another revolution or a civil war to settle this issue.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

End of the world (as we know it)

It was supposed to be the end of the world last May 21st. But the rapture many have been eagerly expecting turned out a dud just like all similar predictions in the past.
File:Judgment Bus New Orleans 2011.jpg
Judgment Bus. Photo courtesy of wikipedia.
This wasn’t the first time Harold Camping, the radio host and leader of a fringe and obscure Christian movement, has predicted the end of times. Camping also predicted a similar dystopian scenario in 1994. But of course, Camping’s “Judgment Day” is merely one of many predictions made for centuries, from the famed teachings of Nostradamus to a British hen’s egg-laying prophecy. They all have one thing in common: none ever came true. So, if another prediction comes out tomorrow or in the near future, it’s likely not going to materialize either.

If there’s any consolation about these doomsday predictions is that they only reassure us that life goes on as usual. Don’t blame the religious zealots who made up these prophecies, but vent it on the media instead for creating all the hysteria about the end of the world. After all, it’s a good story and a sideshow that’s impossible not to take notice.

Harold Camping’s fringe group believed that on May 21st a massive earthquake will make its way around the world, starting from the island of Fiji and New Zealand. Then graves will open and 200 million believers will float up to heaven, while the doomed remainder will continue to live unruly on earth for five months before God annihilates them five months later.
Signs on a van announce the end of the world outside of Harold Camping's ministry in Oakland, Calif., Monday, May 23, 2011. Camping, a radio and television preacher, had predicted the end of the world this past Saturday, May 21, 2011. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Judgment Day: May 21, 2100. Photo courtesy of Associated Press
We have seen this scenario many times before—from disaster films straight from Hollywood—maybe this why it entertains us. But why some people would believe it could happen is probably not that strange. After all, life is a passage into the future and preparing and planning for it becomes essential to make life worth living. And religious beliefs, whether based on Biblical teachings or something else, are part of this process of preparation for the future.

Human beings by nature are all insecure. Not even the enormity of one’s wealth and worldly possessions can give closure to this want. The richest individuals will continue to secure and protect their wealth as if nothing matters, accumulating more on the way, and always wary about the possibility of a financial meltdown or an economic depression. To promote a public image that they’re not just interested in materialistic acquisitions, the rich will pour tons of money to philanthropy and other causes that help the needy and the sick.

The rest of us who have less are equally unsure about our footing in life. In fact, individuals who have very little money or possessions are the most generous in contributing to fringe religious organizations like Camping’s Christian Family Radio. Imagine those followers of Camping who have donated money and rearranged their lives because of the impending doom, from exhausting their lifetime savings to quitting their jobs, all believing there would be no more need for any material acquisition anyway. What was their reaction the morning after realizing that the end of the world was not even near?

It would have been easy to point the finger at a religious zealot more than accepting their own individual faults. But not to Camping’s faithful followers. Life goes on as usual to them, as it does for most of us from the bleachers watching how the rapture will unfold.

Camping’s May 21st Judgment Day was just one in a long list of failed predictions that relied on faith, and perhaps, manipulation and psychology. Still, it pales in comparison with the 1978 mass suicide of more than 900 followers of Reverend Jim Jones and his People’s Temple in Jonestown, Guyana. In 1961, Jones made his prophecy of a nuclear apocalypse. That nobody died among his followers after his failed prediction, however, doesn’t make Camping any more likable than a fake prophet. Right after his failed doomsday prediction, Camping now believes his cataclysmic apocalypse will actually occur five months later, or on October 21, explaining that his earlier forecast was playing out “spiritually.”

Believe it or not, for as long as doubt and scepticism continue to put blinders on people’s understanding of their faith, we will have more of Harold Camping and his like among us. There is nothing cynical or dirty about doubting or becoming sceptical—doubt is part and parcel of anyone’s belief. As Isaac Bashevis Singer once wrote “doubt is part of all religions. All the religious thinkers were doubters.”

The real end of days will eventually happen as the sun slowly ages and changes the earth’s biosphere in ways that may not allow us to survive. Only by sheer negligence on our part or plain ignorance among a few others, can the signs and warnings of global warming remain unheeded. No need for Biblical numerology or religious hocus-focus. But that would be thousands of millennia away from now. That would be the end of the earth as we know it.

Perhaps, our modern prophets need more of libations and sacrifices as practised in the ancient world if they would want to ensure success of their oracles. There is at least some positive implication from this idea of making offerings to the gods, i.e., if we can influence the future, we are therefore responsible for what will happen afterwards. Looking at the future as an open opportunity we can support makes us responsible for our fate. Consider the stark opposite—that if the future is fixed, it makes us merely victims of fate.

So much about talk on the end of times. In the meantime, we have to wait till December 2012 when the world is supposed to end based on the Mayan calendar. This one will again disappoint many, but prophecies about the final chapter for life on earth will always be here to stay. If it doesn’t happen today, there will always be another day.