At Any Cost

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

We are besieged with grave societal cancers – massive poverty, shameful corruption, armed rebellion, secession and terrorism. We are a people shell shocked, attacked from the inside and the outside, wasting away all that is beautiful and noble by adopting a terrible tolerance to wrongdoing. We have chosen a path of death, slow death to be sure, but death nonetheless. Our history, our culture, our present opportunities, all these we have offered to the altars of convenience, cowardice, and cash.

We live with hunger around us, with pain around us, with filth of body and soul around us. We are losing our birthright, our patrimony, exchanging values for relative peace, for a day or two of window shopping in the mall. We have become cheap, losing a firm grip on ethics but quick to grasp compromise. We are a race disemboweling ourselves before a global audience, a race that finds it near to impossible to become a people.

There was honor in our past; there was excellence, too. For the few who care to connect with their roots, they will find one source of pride after another, rice terraces in the north representing the best of agricultural engineering thousands of years ago, the Sultanate of Sulu and Sabah in the south recognized as an independent country by other independent countries. In between are pieces of history that show our natural and human beauty, the intricacy of art in sound, color and dance, the refinement of spirit and prayerful connection to the divine.

We had nothing to be ashamed of; we had everything to be proud of. But we lost it all, now losing even the memory of it all. I see many reasons why we did so, I have the colonial era to point to, the forced imposition of ways alien to us, the corruption of our native belief systems. But in the end, it boils down to only one reason – we choose cowardice over honor, convenience over integrity, compromise over principle. Truly, with our choices, we do not deserve much anymore.

Many will say, “The poor have no choice.” On the surface, they are right. Poverty steals from its victims their rights and opportunities. Massive poverty is caused by greed at its worst, and massive poverty in a land so rich with all required for a full and abundant life speaks only of evil that has found acceptance and justification in the hearts of the powerful, the wealthy, the learned, and even the religious.

Yet, even the poor have lives to give, lives that in the eyes of the Creator are equal in worth and dignity to all who are not poor. Yes, even the poor can find worth and dignity by simply being diligent, intolerant of wrongdoing, and prepared to die for the honor of their families. The poor do not have to accept the misery of their lives, the hunger that stalks them constantly and over overtakes them. The poor do not have to see their children in rags, scavenging for food, begging in the streets and scamper like rats for shelter when rain or darkness descends from the skies. The poor can fight, they can give their lives, they can choose freedom.

And the non-poor, what has been their sin, those who did not have great wealth or power, but had better lives than the poor they are in closer proximity to? They may have been poor themselves, but fate and determination released them from a bondage imposed by others. One generation broke free because a mother or a father exchanged their time with their family, then went abroad to open the doors of freedom to the generations who would follow. More sad, though, when they had crossed the great divide of poverty towards a better life, they did not offer their hands and hearts to the many left behind.

But to the powerful belong the responsibility and accountability of a whole race, because to the powerful was entrusted the abundance and the beauty of a blessed land and a culture carved from the best of our forefathers. The powerful had been foreigners who used force to grab all the land had to offer, who used guile to divide and rule, who used religion to demolish the spirituality that had ushered one generation of Filipinos to the next in dignity, in accomplishment, in honor.

We are now in modern times, the foreign rulers are gone, but our state remains the extension of a shameful and perverted history that resists reversal and proper closure. I cannot say that the suffering masses insist on their misery, or that the non-poor do not wish for more. Yes, they have the power to rise in rage and eliminate everyone above them, and their ignorance more than their cowardice prevents them from doing so. They have been cut off from the reality of their own power because that power is visible only with a solidarity they have not found. And all of us who have more in life than them must not wait for the solidarity they have not yet discovered, not because we fear revolution, but because we fear hell itself.

The powerful are those in official positions, in elected and appointive positions, in boardrooms and executive offices, in school administrations and leaderships of civic organizations and civil society, in pulpits and bishops’ palaces. The powerful are those who have parental and stewardship roles, wield influence and control over the young. There is a little of the powerful in each of us, and to that extent, we are accountable. And striving to increase the influence of that role and the contribution it can give to society is a challenge and accountability we face by the day.

However, it is in the governance of institutions, in national and local government, in churches and religious communities, in educational and civic institutions, and in business organizations that the greater responsibility and accountability lie. It is in these bodies and those who govern them that God and society demand the best and the most. Thus far, greed and cowardice have defined them by the evidence of massive poverty and endemic corruption. They must change, and they must change dramatically.

Let us save the wisdom of our race, the nobility of our soul, the future of the next generations, at any cost, at any cost.

“In bayanihan, we will be our brother’s keeper and forever shut the door to hunger among ourselves.”

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