Jose Ma. Montelibano
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.
If there is a moment in these last almost 500 years for the country and our people to finally take off, it is now. It is now actually a situation where the dream is so near, but we must not let it slip away.
It used to be that we had to fight the Spaniards to be free. It used to be that we had to fight the Americans to control our own land. It used to be that we had to fight the Japanese when they invaded us.
We begin the new year with a mixed bag of goodies and booby traps. And, hey, before you raise your eyebrows too quickly and too high, this is a good place to start. Before, we just came from booby trap to booby trap – in all nine years of Gloria.
When did we ever begin a new year with our economy on a serious upswing? The last time we came close to this was exactly last year, when we began the year with the first positive outlooks of global financial institutions. And we proved then right and ourselves more than right – we were outstanding. Imagine being the only country in the world outperforming our economic forecasts!
It is Christmas time no doubt. The traffic is Metro Manila reflects the almost manic style of shopping that Filipinos can indulge in at this time of the year. Frankly, I would be very much into it if only other matters have been competing for, and winning, my attention. Shopping during Christmas, or for Christmas, is not really about what I buy, it is what I experience. Nor far but inside the maddening crowd, I get to sense what kind of Christmas it is. There are years when shopping is slow until the very last week. One knows then that there is not much money available then. Some start really early, signs of prosperity of the times.
It would have just been one of those ridiculous incidents that deserved no more than a momentary smirk if it did not have serious implication to an issue of great importance. I refer to a statement of a Catholic bishop who tried to put a connection between Typhoon Pablo and the effort to pass the RH Bill in Congress. He wondered out loud if the storm was not a sign of the wrath of God.
While this audible mumbling may have upset the more intelligent and sensitive among Filipinos, it is also a good reminder for us that the Catholic Church continues to be populated with religious elders who are an embarrassment to her Founder and teachings. The self-righteousness and bigotry that have been a scourge of Catholicism throughout the centuries, manifesting its worst in the Inquisition and wars waged in the name of God, remain in their more subtle form in some bishops. That these same bishops fumble and blurt out their perverted attitudes every so often allows the many good ones among them to work all the more to defend the true spirit of Christianity from extended blemish.