Jose Ma. Montelibano
Politicians have become entertainers, and entertainers have become politicians. For as long as Filipinos seek entertainment more than good governance, then it will continue to be entertainers becoming politicians and politicians become entertainers.
Entertainment tends to distract us from our daily worries, or the exhaustion from our daily routine. With the kind of extreme poverty that a third of our people suffer from, and almost another third that are moderately poor, by our standards, of course, class struggle and bloody revolution could have overtaken our society a long time ago. But the capacity for entertainment to be a major and effective vent of frustration allowed the revolutions we had at Edsa I and Edsa Dos to be peaceful.
It is time to review the program of subsidizing state universities and colleges. Like any government expense, school subsidies must have justification, their objectives clear and desirable, and their results measurable and proportionately beneficial to the common good.
The massive support for public school system from grade school to high school is understandable and necessary. It is not really about education per se because there is no question about the value of education. Rather, it is about giving everyone the chance to access that education, most especially the millions of young Filipinos who are too poor to afford a grade school to high school education.
The noisy Filipino went at it again. All the commentators, from traditional media to social media, could simply not help themselves. We had to bash ourselves again, maybe because the rest of the world had nothing but good to say about us. When people have gotten used to being failures, they do not know what to do with success.
Democracy guarantees the freedom of speech, even the kind that does not help rebuild our broken self-image from decades of decline. The memory of a brutal dictatorship or presidents who plundered must have become so much of our inner context that we miss them when they are not there. It matters little that we went to the streets to be rid of them because they had been our furniture for so long. And their children can pervert the historical truth because we easily forget and do not teach our own children to remember the evil wrought on a whole people.
A strange thing happened a few days ago. Nur Misuari came out in media blasting President Aquino, gave the President unsolicited advice, and then accused him of siding with Malaysia against Filipinos. I kept reading the news (thankfully, I missed the bizarre scene on TV) and wondered how history is so easily forgotten. And I am not talking only about Sabah.
From 1704 to 1962, Sabah was neither here nor there. From the Sultan of Brunei, Sabah was given to the Sultanate of Sulu. I am not a historian with a wealth of information, but the fact remains that there were no official historical details ever taught in school about Sabah as being part of the Philippines from 1704 to 1962. In fact, because of the drama that is occurring in Sabah now, most Filipinos are learning for the first time about Sabah and a claim that has been comatose for decades.
When the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution removed a dictator, it was not only the physical Ferdinand Marcos that Filipinos sought to get rid of, it was also what he represented. Much has been said of his brilliance as a lawyer, his journey to political greatness, his brand of leadership. Yet, great power in the hands of a person without great character is like a nuclear bomb in the control of a lunatic.
In the snap elections between the dictator and all his forces versus a housewife and all her volunteers, intimidation and money were not able to make Marcos win convincingly. In fact, he must have lost because he had to cheat, he had to monkey with vote counts (as what Juan Ponce Enrile had admitted happened in Cagayan Valley), and he had to manipulate computer results. In the end, even cheating was not enough. To stay in power, Marcos had to order his armed forces to send tanks and soldiers to disperse the peaceful Edsa gathering. Unfortunately for him, flowers and prayers stopped, then converted, the Marcos forces instead.
Filipinos finally stood up to express their longing for freedom. They risked all in Edsa, but did it peacefully. Their reward was a miraculous victory that removed the dictator – and returned freedom.
The campaign season for candidates aspiring for national positions has kicked off. There is little cause for me to be excited, though. The coming May 2013 elections are a far cry from the 2010 presidential elections when an air of change was so rife in the air, when Filipino citizens saw a good reason to volunteer – and did in massive numbers. The campaign that has just formally opened offer little to the imagination, devoid of great vision for an emerging nation and a most probable descent to politics rather than an impetus for continuing change.
Admittedly, there are some young candidates that can be fresh additions to the Senate. Anybody younger than forty-five years old will bring their generation’s aura and dynamism into stronger play and the country can only benefit from that. Ours is a country that is finally moving towards its place in the sun, propelled by the personal charisma of President Noy Aquino and the trust and support he receives from the people. Even the recent drop of his approval ratings did not add much to the small minority who have always been critical of him, all the way from 2009 when he upset the political apple cart and the agenda of traditional politicians. Affected Filipinos just shied away a little to the side, not sure of whether they like or dislike what is going on. I believe that the current political season distracts from the upbeat mood that had gained momentum, and I hope it will be over soon.
I am in the middle of a late night drive from Santa Clara to Long Beach, from Northern to Southern California, a full six hours without stopping. There are two young Fil-Ams traveling with me to meet with fellow advocates and volunteers in a common cause in the Bay Area. The last meeting was with Fil-Am students from Santa Clara University.
Five years of regular quarterly trips to the United States have brought me to where I am today – in a heightened state of anticipation that younger generations of Filipinos in America are awakening to their being Filipino. And it is a positive and optimistic awakening that enables them to look enthusiastically at themselves as members of a race that is beginning to rise above the shame of poverty and corruption.
I am not sure who started what, whether political dynasties co-opted Church leaders or Church dynasties nurtured political dynasties. I guess that the history of societies would give us the final clue on who began dynasties – the agents of God or the agents of the State.
Religious rivalries have often brought out different claims from the various competitors about which one organized itself ahead of the others, which holy book could be dated the oldest, and which is the most wise, or at least accurate. This kind of rivalry seems to indicate that dynastic tendencies appear first in the religious realm rather than the political. Tracing oneself to the oldest is not enough if there are broken threads in the leadership of that religion. Each competing religion would have to point to a continuity of leadership as that leadership has been the continuing representation of the divine.
In a reversal that astounds, the Philippines has been the focus of positive and exciting news. It used to be that the most prevalent of commentaries heaped on both Filipinos and the Philippines centered on two societal cancers – corruption and poverty. Then, stemming from that corruption and poverty would flow a myriad of horror stories. It is also worth mentioning that Filipinos themselves, especially those who felt they were better than others, or who tried to point to the ugliness of others to camouflage their own dirt, often led the bashing of their race and their motherland.
Today, though, is an almost unbelievable turnaround. In the first place, Filipinos now like their President, consistently express their trust and approval of President Noy and his performance. This is the exact opposite of their sentiments towards Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who has been recorded as the most unpopular president ever. And the source of that collective disapproval was her image as most corrupt.
I am preparing to go on my first mission abroad for 2013. Since 2008, I have been regularly visiting the United States, deliberately seeking out Filipino-Americans and trying to imbibe their experience of leaving a motherland to adopt another country. I cannot anymore count the number of families who opened their homes to me, much less the greater number of people they gathered so I could expand my network of sources of information. I have organizations and associations to thank as well; they have been many and our interactions have been quite enlightening. While not a Filipino-American, I believe I have met more Filipino-Americans than most of them in the last five years than they since they migrated to America.