A country at war

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

A colorful mix of drugs | Photo by Myriam Zilles on Unsplash

16 months of a pandemic forced me to have more time to reflect and learn life’s lessons. Ultimately, though, they fill me with great sadness today. I always thought that life was kind to my generation because we were born after the terrible WWII. Our family and many relatives had spent years in the mountains as active guerrillas against the Japanese invaders, plus running the military government of Negros Island then. Lives lost and the difficulty of being hunted down by Japanese soldiers were the stories I often heard during my boyhood.

Born during the liberation period, the environment was upbeat no matter the destruction that required sustained rebuilding. The young years of my generation seemed idyllic, simple, but happy. For the longest time, we thought we were the blessed generation. Our parents and grandparents fought the Spaniards, Americans, and Japanese. We baby boomers were their first and most happy beneficiaries. If there are opinions that millennials today feel so entitled to, I assure you that my generation was more blessed.

Why? Because there were no more wars. Because there were no more foreigners dictating on our lives and country. For those who had been trapped in the period of one war after another, peace was a blessing beyond comparison. Those who survived WWII and were young enough to enjoy more decades after that were our parent generation, who thought they had spared us from the extreme sacrifices they went through. They were right, too – for a while.

“I get exhausted thinking about the wars we fight. Literally, we are a country at war, and our political leaders are the first to bring the war to our consciousness. It is as if our future is laid out before us – to fight one war after another or simultaneously.”

We were just too young to know, or be told, that war had not stopped. The conflict between the West and Communism split the world. Europe and Asia were the first victims of the extended conflict. The Berlin Wall symbolized irreconcilable differences in ideology and operating systems in the European continent. China’s communism versus American democracy split Asia badly, too. The Philippines had their own Hukbalahap rebellion against government troops. When they pacified them, the Left movement gave birth to the NPA insurgency. Less than 30 years after WWII, the war broke out in Mindanao.

A country at war. War against the NPA. War against the Muslim secessionists (now on an optimistic hold), then war against the Abu Sayyaf terrorists and new Islamic fanatics. War against drugs. War against Covid-19. War against corruption. War against red tape. A pending war against China in the Western Philippine Sea. War against Poverty. War against Hunger.

I get exhausted thinking about the wars we fight. Literally, we are a country at war, and our political leaders are the first to bring the war to our consciousness. It is as if our future is laid out before us – to fight one war after another or simultaneously. I cannot find brightness, only anger, and divisiveness. Because the worst war is the one that reaches out to us every day, we cannot block it; one we cannot avoid is the war among politicians. Everyone gets dragged into politics in a fledgling nation where people are far from economic freedom and self-sufficiency.

Our politics is not about vision, not about statesmanship, not about a dream for our children and grandchildren. It is petty, devoid of ideology, philosophy, or morality. It is just a person for themselves, where principles and virtues are cheap assets for quick trades, absolutely meaningless. Yes, in the official sense, we are told that we should be patriots, we should be loyal, we should be honest, we should be accountable.

Let me apologize to the few good men and women out there in public service. Let me also extend my condolences. If you are not yet compromised, you will be. Or you will be so sick in your stomach that you will quit. The corruption of ethics manifests in the corruption of behavior.

If some do not understand, let me point out, again, that all public officials and employees are governed by a code of conduct and ethical standards. This code and set of ethics are straightforward. They should be. Because they refer to character, they refer to behavior; they refer to ethics and morality. They are even more fundamental than law; in fact, the law is based on this desired code of conduct and ethics. They give law its wisdom and heart, without which justice cannot be understood universally.

“Few realize that criminals or terrorists do not only cause the wars we fight. It is not always about ideology or about the evil that lurks in man. Resentment and hate can drive rebellions with greater passion than some philosophies.”

Yet, despite being a Constitutional requirement and an enacted law, this code of conduct is not even part of our national understanding and conversation. In my adult life, especially just before elections, there are always slogans and programs appealing to voters to vote wisely. They are, in essence, laying the ground for voters to be blamed for bad public servants. They are making voters responsible for violations of the law, as though citizens have to do the job of convicting erring public officials and employees.

Few realize that criminals or terrorists do not only cause the wars we fight. It is not always about ideology or about the evil that lurks in man. Resentment and hate can drive rebellions with greater passion than some philosophies. As for criminals or terrorists, a citizenry united in character, ethics, and good behavior will not allow violators to find refuge in their midst. History will show that abuse of authority by those who govern spawn revolution and crimes as well.

Just as law enforcement keeps peace and order among citizens, the same law enforcement can keep public officials and employees faithful to the code of conduct they swore to follow. I see law enforcers actively doing their job on civilians, but I cannot feel the same conviction of the law against violators in the public realm. It may be a strange path but an effective one. Public officials and employees adhering to the code of conduct and ethical standards prescribed by law can prevent many wars we fight among ourselves. When leaders behave, a country will.

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