A dangerous drift

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

The recent weeks have been grave vexations to our peace of mind – at the very least. Our attention has been grabbed, then riveted, to a series of negative happenings. As if the tragedy of Marawi was not enough, we had to be bombarded with corruption in Customs and the smuggling of shabu, the alleged murders of teenagers by policemen, and continuous political bickering in the background. It is time to come up for a little air.

From the news, from the postings and exchanges in social media, the negativity is choking. It is as if there is nothing more important than people and events that sicken us. It makes me understand why the younger generations are tuning out from the ugly reality that surrounds them. It makes sense that they focus on their smartphones and tablets rather than the aggressively negative dynamics of the older generations. They have little to focus on that of bright and hopeful. There is just too much violence and infighting that force the innocent young to build their virtual reality.

What is happening? What are families for? What are schools for? What are religions and churches for? What is government for? In a society, are not priorities set by all major sectors – social, cultural, political, economic, religious and academe? Are not the values taught and promoted precisely those that augment and strengthen the priorities agreed on? If society today is manifesting a breakdown of those values, it can only mean that our priorities as a people and nation have changed yet the systems in place continue to reflect obsolete priorities.

Modernity has brought its own influences and pressure on tradition. Yet, our traditions have established and sustained our priorities through value systems we have tried to honor and follow all this time.  If our traditions have morphed along the way without our noticing it, then the framework of society may have become less relevant. That is not only confusing, it is dangerous because this confusion will breed serious consequences. We cannot have rules and regulations which help keep order and stability lose their importance in our value system unless we clearly agree to change them.

We have institutions like the government, the churches, business and economic bodies, schools, and cultural organizations. Within each are smaller institutions and departments that implement their respective mandates. These mandates, however, reflect the priorities and value system of society. Once these priorities and values change without corresponding changes in the mandates of our institutions, chaos will emerge. From the noise of controversies and scandals, it would seem that the formation of chaos has begun.

A Constitution is not meaningful of themselves, just a set of words and concepts, if the people and the government do not hold it sacred. Yes, there will always be violations, but the people and the laws of the land will see to it that the violators are punished. After all, the Constitution is supposed to embody the vision and dreams of a nation and its citizens; and, in fact, the laws are derived from it so that its spirit and form can be both protected and promoted.

The present Constitution is grounded on the fundamental principles of democracy, not necessarily because it is well understood and practiced in the Philippines but because it is what Filipinos and the Philippines wish to embrace and grow in the journey to our future. Democracy is but an experiment in the world as all recorded and inferred human history could point only to centralized governance of a person or a clique with the force of armed forces behind them. Considering the few hundreds of years of experimentation with democracy versus the whole context of human societies, democracy has yet to simply grow up. And whenever chaos threatens a country, the tendency is to return to the traditional centralized governance.

It may be that poverty is taking its toll after all this time that it had not been effectively addressed. I will even venture to say that after all this time when those who could do something about it, the powerful and wealthy, the religious and the learned, did not really care beyond some lip service. It may also be that corruption has not been effectively addressed as well after all this time – because corruption is nurtured by poverty. Fighting it means fighting poverty as well, yet anti-corruption advocates have shunned a dual approach. Poverty cannot be combatted by debates, political hustle, or even passing of laws (that are violated almost at will anyway). Poverty is a tedious day-by-day effort of all sectors and not just the poor. Many do not have the heart and the stomach for this kind of daily struggle.

To aggravate an already weak state, illegal drugs have attacked the country is a big way, the drug trade already an industry in itself and has grown faster than the economy or the population. Its aggressive march exploited the lackluster moves against it before the Duterte administration and the narrow approach on the current war on drugs, with a growing backlash against the execution-type killings even of teenagers is at a delicate level. Poverty, corruption, drugs – how can these virulent cancers be confronted all at once when there is still the rebellion of the Left and terrorism from extremists in the background? Funny, at a time when the people and nation must close ranks, political intramurals remain a constant tool of partisans in and out of government.

The last several weeks have shown that there is much to quarrel about in this country. And quarrel many of us did as evidenced by both the news and the venting of netizens. What is just as obvious, if one cares to notice, is that there is little or nothing to be inspired about. If we are to arrest and reverse the drift towards chaos, then we must come together and agree to either maintain our priorities and value system or change them. To have yet to not honor and follow them is inviting disaster in our lives.

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