Monday is a day that many people dread almost like a disease. The first day of the workweek for white- and blue-collared workers (and academic week for students) has earned such a reputation that even the famous comic strip feline Garfield hates it with a passion.

Earlier this week, Monday reared perhaps its ugliest head yet for this Southeast Asian nation of 7,107 islands.

The day began on a terrifying note when former police superintendent Rolando Mendoza hijacked a bus loaded with tourists from Hong Kong traveling through Manila and held them hostage for a grueling 12 hours. A former police officer who was awarded multiple times for bravery and self-sacrifice, he was suspended without pay after being implicated in a drug bribery incident along with four other fellow officers. He then proceeded to hijack the bus full of Hong Kong nationals to gain attention for his case, saying he was suspended without a fair hearing to allow him to air his side of the story. After hours of tense negotiations and much chaos inside and outside the bus, a botched rescue attempt in the evening rain left nine hostages and the hijacker dead.

In the midst of an evening downpour, Manila police look poised to take down disgraced comrade Rolando Mendoza.

Anger and grief have poured out from various sectors like a torrent, with some Hong Kong residents expressing outrage at even the slightest mention of our nation and its countrymen. Even the Hong Kong and Chinese governments have given a cold shoulder to officials who have tried to express their apologies and condolences, all the while pressing for a speedy and thorough investigation of the heinous act. And the revelations that have surfaced so far prior and even after the bungled rescue have not helped attempts to repair the degraded image of the country, from the arrest of the hostagetaker’s brother Gregorio during the whole drama to the hordes of onlookers who transformed the ruins of the bus into another photo-op for their Facebook albums even before the rescue attempt had been completed. The investigation promises to reveal more in the coming days, and you can be sure the evening news shows will lap it up like a camel at a watering hole after months of endless desert travel.

Well across the expanse of the Pacific Ocean, local beauty Maria Venus Raj (pronounced with a silent “H”) was in a battle of her own as Miss Philippines in the Miss Universe 2010 beauty pageant at Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. She had survived the grueling evening gown and swimsuit competitions, and after making it to the finalist group, she would participate in the question-and-answer portion. It was where she would utter her infamous “major major” answer in response to being asked about the biggest mistake she had made in life and how she dealt with it.

Maria Venus Raj, the Philippines' bet for the 2010 Miss Universe crown, fell short of her goal but garnered attention and controversy in the process.

Although she managed a fourth runner-up finish, many have expressed the view that she could have captured the top plum had she not bungled her answer. She has since then addressed her critics, stating that she has not had any real regrets in life and she would likely give the same answer if given the chance. To boot, she has had her own band of staunch defenders, pointing that the question itself was unusually difficult to start with and she proudly represented the country nonetheless.

As with most people, the events that transpired just five days ago have left me with mixed feelings on everything. I even muttered at one point, “This is not a good time to be a Filipino.”

While composing this particular blog entry, I came across an online article by managing editor Daniel Wagner of The Huffington Post, an online newspaper.

While not a particularly pleasing post for an already bruised Philippine ego, he did point out that the country had much going for it in terms of natural resources and other such advantages. He then pointed out that in his four years in the country, he discovered that the resignation of its populace to settle for the “lowest common denominator” (in his own words) was what was holding the country back. In short, many Filipinos were content with just getting by in life and approaching daily existence with the typical “bahala na” or “come what may” attitude. They did not demand much of the government or those in power, and were quick to make excuses for a lot of things that would otherwise be plain unacceptable in other countires and cultures.

Enter my post on comedian Adam Carolla’s remarks about the Philippines being all about Manny Pacquiao and “sex stores”. Again, going back, etcetera etcetera.

Christian Bale said it best when he opined that “It is not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me,” in the movie Batman Begins. Well said. If we want to change the world and how it sees us, we must effect that change on ourselves first. It is not enough we want the country to become well-developed; we must will that desire into existence.

So let me lather, rinse and repeat: Noynoy is not our savior. WE ARE. Much as he wasn’t my choice on the ballot, he is correct in saying we are his boss. And in so saying, only we can bring our country back to greatness or lead it to further ruin.

So unlike so many out there hoping he is “El Salvador” (or “The Savior” in Spanish), I intend to be my own hero and kick some rear like Sylvester Stallone and his cohorts did in The Expendables. Not a bad movie at all, considering how many star-laden films end up being shoved out the door by critics or the viewing public, or both. Nothing made my Sunday like watching guns, explosions, action stars and a decent storyline come together.

And to the lovely Bicolana, congratulations are still in order. Although questions about her English proficiency may linger, there is no doubt she intended to represent the country the best way she knew how. Having interpreters for the succeeding installments of the Miss Universe pageant may be a good way to go, since past winners have done well with the extra help.

And that ends this past Monday on a good note. May the tragedies be forgotten, but not the lessons they bear.

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