Are we the citizens our country needs?

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Jose M. Montelibano

Campaign and elections are a serious distraction in the life of our struggling nation. For several months, way beyond the time period allowed by law, politicians and would-be politicians poison our environment with their strange mixture of myopic promises, misplaced inanity, contrived patriotism, and hopeless naivete. Their confused cacophony continues the myth of salvation grounded disproportionately on good governance, that politicians, when empowered by the authority of public office, are our messiah.

In between elections, a greater level of reality descends on Filipinos as those they elect to pursue careers in mismanagement – at best. Many try to recoup their electoral expenses that usually are ten to hundreds of times more than the salaries their offices will pay them. It is no wonder that they have to be creative in balancing the required graft or plunder they have to engage in yet must get away legally with it. At the same time, they simultaneously attempt to fulfill their promises to their most active political supporters by the grade of the pork barrel.

Caught in the midst of these unavoidable dynamics of self-interests from the most powerful are two huge sectors. The first is a hapless bureaucracy. Estimated at around one and a half million, government employees are those who roll out everything that everyone at the top wants to be done. There is this daily drama of compliance to what the law mandates and what superior officers instruct. The end result is what is known as red tape. The bureaucrat struggles. The public struggles.
The second is a hapless citizenry. Citizens who depend on the bureaucracy to ease their daily needs cannot be but as hapless as the bureaucracy. It would be unfair to say that the citizenry is bludgeoned to submit to the inefficiency of red tape. What is more plausible is that the citizenry has simply become used to government inefficiency and adjusts its expectations accordingly. Those who cannot endure or tolerate the red tape succumb to bribery or extortion, seek political patrons, become rebels, or opt out of the system.

A hapless citizenry is the ultimate result of people believing that salvation is out there, or up there, and not in their hands. A hapless citizenry has little understanding of the principle and operating system of democracy – that a strong nation is comprised of a strong citizenry. Should there be an enlightened and inspiring leadership, that is a bonus but only a bonus? Because the backbone is always the citizenry, the people who live and work and die for their nation.

Even in a dictatorship or authoritarian government, the people are just as critical. They have to be willingly submissive to enable a dictatorship to perform well. Because the country is still about the people within their territory whatever the form of government. The quality of their submissiveness determines how much a dictatorship can achieve.

Filipinos are a sad mixture, one foot stuck deeply in their historical submission and the other one kicking to forge a way to independence. Transitioning to empowerment in a democracy from colonial conditioning remains a great struggle for all people with that history.

Unfortunately, Filipinos have no one to guide them through being capable citizens. We are at best copying results of the transition processes of other once conquered people.

We must remember that even the United States, Canada, and Australia are children of subjugated people from old Europe who had to transcend their own histories. Canada and Australia are independent and among the most developed of nations, yet they remain part of the Commonwealth that honors the long eras of kings and queens. They had to transition, just as we wish, too. But as we do, we look to these new nations as though democracy has always been natural to them. They are not alone, too. Their parent nations in Europe are still having a catharsis about accepting or rejecting refugees – their karmic harvest for leaving their weaker neighbors behind. Their political and economic progressives and liberals are at odds as though they are not one people.

So, too, Filipinos will have to outgrow a much longer history of submissiveness before they can build a truly new foundation. Filipinos in the vast majority continue to look to our domestic kings and queens, local, regional or national, as the saviors they promise to be. And why should our politicians not promise to take care of the needs of the people? Who would ever elect political candidates whose platform of governance would begin with the democratic principle that the people first take care of government, not the other way around? Remember that popular John Kennedy words – ask not what your country can do for people but what you can do for your country?

The foundation of the United States was of pioneers looking for a new life in a new world. They were like our modern day overseas Filipino workers desperately trying to build a new life for their families. American pioneers became settlers, braved strange and harsh environments, learned to stand only on their own power and courage. That is the American foundation. That is how they transitioned from being in submission for thousands of years. When the idea of freedom and self-rule came, they embraced it.

What about Filipinos? How can Filipinos disengage from a past that, despite some benefits and good memories, still in the whole enslaved a whole race? Who will hold our hands, guide us through the long and difficult path, encourage us to build our nation without warlords, gambling lords, economic lords, and gods of all denominations masquerading to be our only option out of poverty and misery?

It was not the Spaniard; they had their chance. It was not the Americans; they had their chance. Now, some think the Chinese will do a better job. Will we give them a chance?

How about us? Are we the citizens our country needs?

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