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In 2006 I was visiting the Philippines during the pre-election campaigning period, and was dumb-founded to read of scores of politically-motivated killings. Political candidates and their aides, advisors, assistants were being picked off in ones and twos all around the nation. I quickly learned that, sadly, this was par for the political course in the Philippines. Coming from Australia, where a political candidate would never dream of being killed simply because they stood for election, this state of affairs all but defied my comprehension. Reports I have read suggest a total of 129 people were killed in connection with the 2007 elections, and 177 wounded. The 2004 elections triggered 189 deaths!

But as little as I understand it, I’ve come to expect it. I continue to be deeply grieved, both for the country and the families of the victims, each time I hear of another killing, but rarely surprised any more. With elections coming up in 2010, the same pattern has been repeated in recent months, right up to the shooting of Jovito Baldos Diaz, former mayor of San Quintin, just a few days ago.

And yet, as much as I’ve come to expect it, I have been totally shocked by the most recent travesty — the massacre of 52 (yes, fifty-two!) family members, aides, and journalists who were travelling to file nomination papers for Esmael Mangudadatu in Maguindanao Province. This is also, simultaneously, the largest single killing of a group of journalists/media ever recorded. My heart grieves for the country of the Philippines.

Hearing of such an atrocity can at times leave us feeling utterly hopeless. But the Philippines is a country of 92 million people who desperately need hope for their future. The people of Pilipinas need to believe in their future and commit to a different tomorrow.

In the Philippines corruption, poverty, poor life expectancy, and incredibly tough living conditions are par for the course. But it shouldn’t be so. This is a country of innovative people, passionate, loving, resourceful. Unlike some poverty-riddled African countries which suffer from lack of natural resources and rain, the Philippines is blessed with an abundance of natural resources — excellent agricultural land, unlimited marine resources, huge biodiversity and ecological opportunities, mineral reserves, and so much more. The Philippines is a country which really has unlimited opportunity.

So what’s missing? Why does the country continue to be trapped in poverty and violence? Why do political candidates have to risk their life if they run for office? Why did 129 people pay with their lives in 2006/07 in a purportedly democratic country? In a nation which is predominantly Catholic, surely most Pinoys would argue that they should be blessed by God, and He should be “on their side”?

This is a country which needs a radical change. And not just a change of office holders (although that probably wouldn’t hurt). The Philippines needs a change of heart. A change of hope. A change of healing. Filipinos need, in a ground swell of love, to commit to confronting the cancer in their society which is killing their hope for the future.

Many people ask the question “which came first — the chicken or the egg?” — which comes first, poverty or corruption? If we solve the poverty, will the corruption be eradicated? Or do we need to solve the corruption to eradicate the poverty? I don’t have a trite answer for that, and so I would argue we need to do both. We need to tackle this problem from every angle we can. (I’ll write in future about some ideas for each of those angles — there’s so many opportunities that I couldn’t possibly include them all in this article.)

As our hearts all break for this latest terrible travesty in the Philippines, let’s all commit in our every thought and deed, to be the people that will create the future we hope for — a future where democracy (and people) are respected, where power is not misused, where justice prevails, where forgiveness overcomes hatred, where compassion overflows, and where treating everybody without partiality or favouritism is the norm.

Oh Lord God, may you bless the people that together make up the nation of the Philippines.