A New Activism

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

And so the world reacts rather dramatically to the impulses of evolution. People power of 26 years ago which started in the Philippines and moved quickly to shake down walls in Eastern Europe and South Africa, was thought to be over. When it seemed that the spirit of people power had exhausted itself, it surfaces powerfully in the Middle East and Africa, specifically in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Political leaderships in a few more countries in the region are threatened, and I personally believe that it is a matter of time, more short than long.

In the United States and quickly spreading to other Western Europe and countries they greatly influence, another type of people power is rising against the domination of an elite, popularly called the 1%. It began as “Occupy Wall Street” and is morphing to “99%” – ordinary citizens protesting the financial dominance of a very small but powerful few. It is no less the beginning of people power against a new kid of dictatorship or authoritarianism where economic control substitute for political power.

As more countries are swept to change via people power, the Philippines will have a chance to witness the way that these countries have handled their situations. The USSR was dismembered and some of its members went their own way, mostly against the wishes of their former master. Others were prevailed with more than subtle pressure to remain – even against their will. But whatever the case, all who experienced successful people powered revolutions are continuing to undergo transitional adjustments and their attendant consequences. None have found heaven, but they have found freedom.

The changes that have just happened to Tunisia, Egypt and Libya gave them self-determination, too, the same freedom that Filipinos found when people power drove Marcos away. We have read news or watched them on television and the YouTube. They are not sure how to go about their affairs under a new environment after decades of dictatorship or tyrannic rule, but they are free. They will not go back to their dark ages, not even if they are bribed. Filipinos, too, will not submit to dictatorship however Marcos loyalists would like to paint a rosy picture of freedom taken away by force.

When drastic shifts are experienced by any society, the desired changes will not happen right away because the shift is from authoritarianism to democracy. Democracy finds its own tempo and will not simply cater to the wishes of one man, or even one party. Filipinos in particular will choose to blossom with one thousand ideas rather than swallow a Marcos again. Money and consistent propaganda can deodorize a foul past but will not make Filipinos willingly accept another dictator. If Bongbong Marcos wants to have a future in Philippine politics, he will have to go around shaking people’s hands instead of chaining them; he will have to smile his way through, skillfully turn a black past to a nebulous history in the minds of many who have forgotten, or too young to remember.

Yet the past is not the center of my focus but a lesson learned and a pillar for a new home. It is the present and what we are willing to do to reach where we want to go. The moment we face has a context almost as dark as the days of the dictator because corruption swallowed our souls even when we had gained freedom from two unwanted presidents. It has not helped us that one president was convicted of plunder and the one who replaced him has been facing a string of plunder cases. In the face of freedom recovered, legalities covered the new cronyism that learned much better and faster than most Filipinos about not tolerating wrongdoing under any circumstance.

Hope springs eternal, however, in the hearts of Filipinos who invariably choose optimism to doomsday predictions. In the midst of suffering, the Filipino seeks release more than revenge. That is why plunderers do not get killed like Khadafi of Libya, almost helicopters may have saved the Marcoses from execution by an enraged mob. It leaves a bitter taste in the mouth when hidden wealth cannot be mostly recovered, when people power removes presidents but is less successful in getting back what they stole. Still, those who lived well in darkness will wilt in the sunlight, and the sunlight is emerging in our new dawn.

The sunlight has a very young face. It is nobility of the new generation, guided somewhat by whatever idealism is left of an older one. That is why Noynoy Aquino is now president. What he is simply by character, a son of two heroes who were not stained by corruption or swallowed by power, and himself eager to be worthy of a legacy and capable of enhancing it, creates space and opportunity for democracy to move forward in the new activism of Filipino citizens. Though it may begin so innocently as volunteerism, it has purity and not afraid of adventure.

Many political pundits will not understand today where the popularity of P-Noy comes from when the answer has been staring them in the face from the very beginning. The popularity of P-Noy is derived from the angst of Filipinos to be rid of the filth of dishonesty and lies they have been fed with. The challenge of P-Noy is to stay the course of his character, the legacy he inherited and the bigger one he wants to build.

The challenge of Filipinos is to be brave, to demand from themselves what they demand from their others, to hold on to their integrity even when many of their own leaders cannot, to be the engine of production more than the consumer of what others make, to be the builders of their nation and the keepers of their faith.

“There is always a philosophy for lack of courage.” — Albert Camus

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