An era of change

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

The popularity wave is a powerful one. It has made many presidents, not just movie stars. When a president is popular, he can achieve many things. The empathy and support of a clear majority of citizens are like a steady wind beneath his or her wings. With that popularity, Corazon C. Aquino changed a Constitution. With his popularity, Rodrigo R. Duterte wants to change her Constitution. Par for the course, I would say.

The vast majority of the Filipino people did not understand the 1987 Constitution. What was clear to them was that they did not want the old one that Marcos made, and wanted to show their trust and approval of Corazon C. Aquino. For 30 years, that vast majority of Filipinos who did not understand the 1987 Constitution did not receive from the government a determined and sustained effort to make them understand and appreciate. Even the Constitution was taken for granted. That the upper 10% of society seemed to understand and accept it, the Constitution seemed safe. This despite efforts during the terms of Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria M. Arroyo to amend the 1987 Constitution.

Today, enjoying another strong wave of support through the approval and trust of most Filipinos, President Duterte is finally moving to change or amend the Constitution on the way to establish a federal form of government. I say finally because this was a campaign promise. Of course, campaign promises are always taken with a grain of salt. All candidates promise and all of them always omit delivering one or two, if not most. President Duterte made a very bold one, and I do not mean amending the 1987 Constitution or shifting to federalism. I mean his promise to resign in six months if he did not win the war against drugs. It’s been one and a half years and I read that Tokhang Part III will be launched. I suppose that indicates that the illegal drug trade is alive and well.

Did I believe Rodrigo R. Duterte when he promised he would resign after six months if he could not win the war against drugs? I did not. I did not know enough of Mayor Digong Duterte to say he was lying or not, but I knew he could not solve the drug problem in six months. I remember Marcos the dictator executed a drug dealer in public to send an unmistakable signal that he would be harsh against those who plied the illegal drug trade. It was martial law then and it stayed that way until he was ousted in 1986. The illegal drug trade persisted. When illegal drugs started to be manufactured here even as imported drugs continued, the drug scourge expanded like crazy.

But a promise is a promise, and promises that cannot be kept should not be publicly made by officials of the land. I am talking way beyond drugs although I wonder what the new time frame for winning the drug war is. I am now talking about why the 1987 Constitution is being changed, what the particular and most important benefits will be for the people. And I am also talking about going for a federal form of government, why and what for – in detail as far as what abuses it wants to prevent and what it wants to achieve in terms of bettering the future of our nation. When these changes are being proposed, they will come as new promises that will make people hope and expect for a better life – not just something new but something better.

It is an era of changes, rapid and dramatic changes. Strangely, though, the changes have been generally good, or at least it has measurable benefits, the most important of which is the increase in life through global population and increase in lifespan. In other words, the global situation must have been so favorable to human life that the population from the 1950’s to today has tripled. That means fewer people dies from illness and violence and more people were born to live longer lives precisely because the greatest killers, disease, and war, dramatically abated – no matter what the news has been reporting in the last 70 years. The Filipino now lives 20 years longer than he did since World War II and could live another 10 years longer in the next 20 years.

The changes, as I mentioned earlier, have been more favorable than not, or human population would not have increased substantially and average lifespans also the same. Beyond the bad news of moment-to-moment or day-to-day importance is a more macro, objective measurement, not just in income but population growth and longevity. Indeed, though, it is the continuing advance of technology that allows information and news to travel faster and in greater volume. That may explain why we can believe that life is more fearful and negative when the figures say otherwise. It is not just human strife, it is human strife that becomes more public and more powerfully spread.

The trajectory of change has been solidly for a loosening of the authoritarian and dictatorial expression of power, individual and state. Things cannot be worse than before when wars would be the norm, not the exception. But even if things become more refined and liberal, it does not mean that the pattern of authoritarian rule that characterized human societies for all of recorded history is gone. It has eased but traditionalists try to make time stand still. And when fear grips society more than hope or vision, power turns authoritarian again.

Fear and aspiration clash on many levels. That means that the tenor and tempo of change will contrast and even clash from time to time, from people to people, from region to region, from country to country. It will not be different for us. But if we wish to bring the odds of positive evolution better for us, then our higher aspirations must conquer our fears. I pray so.

You may also like

Leave a Comment