Some Filipinos aren’t doing cartwheels over those three Filipino mountaineers’ being the first Filipinos to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. I’m one of them, but I’m not so much belittling their achievement as lamenting how it’s been damaged, and made to seem so much less, by what’s going on in this country.

I’m not about to whine that many other climbers from other countries have done it before, as some grouches are alleging. There are deeds worth doing again and again, and climbing Everest is one of them. (This former mountaineer who’s climbed, among others, Mounts Pulag and Banahaw knows what ordinary climbing entails–but can only imagine what climbing Everest in sub-zero cold and oxygen-thin air is like.)

It isn’t only because of the physical perfection such feats demand. While it certainly required not only stamina and endurance to have climbed the world’s highest mountain, it was also premised on will and determination, as well as courage and mental discipline. Among mountaineers, whether here or elsewhere, climbing Mt. Everest is not only rightly regarded as the final proof of one’s mountaineering skills. It is also something akin to achieving, if not the impossible, at least the near-impossible, like walking on the moon or exploring the deserts of Mars.

What of the question, which supposedly suggests its own answer, about what climbing Mt. Everest could possibly have to do with the price of gas or poverty? Those who ask forget that the desire to excel in anything is not only a legitimate human aspiration. It is also an affirmation of the principle embodied in the statement of the first conqueror of Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary, who, when asked why he climbed Everest, declared “Because it’s there.” There is no purpose beyond such acts; the doing itself is their justification, excellence its own purpose, achievement its own reward.

We should by all means acknowledge the singular achievement of Leo Oracion, Romi Garduce and Erwin Emata not only because by climbing Everest they once more demonstrated what human beings are capable of, but also because, as Filipinos, they succeeded despite being hampered by the usual lack of resources and limited training that have prevented others from reaching the same (literal) heights. Never mind the hype and the vulgar attempts by the two biggest networks to turn a global deed into a cheap marketing ploy. Oracion, Garduce’s and Emata’s achievement is real enough and will endure.

But there’s an irony in their achievement that’s beyond Oracio, Garduce and Emata’s control. It is the irony inherent in the contrast between the heights of what they’ve achieved and the depths to which their country of origin has fallen. The irony is a silent scream from their photograph with Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whom they met the other day at Malacanang.

The irony goes beyond the uncertainty of Mrs. Arroyo’s mandate as the country’s highest official, and now includes the depths to which she has brought the Filipino segment of humanity she has twice been sworn to protect.

At no other time has Filipino humanity been as imperiled. At no other time since the Marcos period has the face of any government been so much the face of evil. And at no other time since have the depths to which supposed human beings can sink been as shockingly apparent.

Filipinos have climbed Mt. Everest, but Filipinos on the ground are being killed like flies. Justice has become the most expensive and most elusive commodity in the Philippines. Lies and deceit including manufactured statistics have become the common currency of government. Worst of all has violence become its favored instrument in what passes for governance.

Everyday the country is treated to ever lower standards of official behavior. The police and military blame assassination victims for their own deaths while the bodies pile up and are still warm.

Administration congressmen, specially that wondrous piece of work, Ignacio Arroyo, accuse Nobel Peace prize awardee Amnesty International and even the Commission of Human Rights of fabricating regime culpability in human rights violations.

Former rebels lured back into the mainstream are assassinated by government-funded and supported assassins–and their former comrades blamed by a military and police that in so many words routinely announce that they regard those who hold opinions different from their own as fair game. At least one general has urged the restoration of the Anti-Subversion Law, which during its effectivity was the prime excuse the Marcos martial law regime used to silence its critics through illegal arrests and detention, torture, and murder.

Under pressure from the regime’s foreign patrons, the putative president of the Philippines has created a task force that’s supposed to look into the killing of political activists, but which everyone knows has already made up its mind as to who’s responsible. And regime media hacks subject citizens to a deluge of disinformation delivered via atrocious grammar and even more ghastly logic.

The measure of every achievement in any culture is how much above the rest its most outstanding members are able to rise. In the Philippines, where evil stalks city and countryside in the form of lying officials and motorcycle-riding assassins egged on by, and sometimes even part of, the police and the military, whatever heights some Filipinos may reach is inevitably tarnished by the depths to which, thanks to a government focused on nothing more than self-preservation, the rest of the country has fallen.

Oracion, Garduce and Emata deserve the recognition they’re getting. How sad that what they’ve achieved is overshadowed by the monstrous evil resident in the country of their birth.

(Business Mirror)

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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