It is good to have the opportunity to step out of the country every so often. And it is even more of a blessing when I can visit the United States and spend quality time with Filipino-Americans. The change of government inthe Philippines has generated a lot of expectations. Yet, in truth, it has been only the popular victory of Noynoy Aquino, heir to a noble legacy, and the spectacular homerun of Jejomar Binay as the most unexpected vice-president, that substantially can be described as change. On a much greater scale, politics and the bureaucracy remain the same from the look, and the behavior, of many elected and appointed officials.
Because of the expectations, the new administration, and especially its president, has been the most monitored and scrutinized. Many forget that decades-old problems have developed roots in governance, economics, and the Church – there simply is no way that a democratic country can radically apply the needed reforms. That is why some sectors who have long despaired during the Gloria presidency had hoped for a revolution more than an election. Reforms, if they are the most important quest of today, should be understood in the context of how Filipinos exercise democracy.
I remember just a few months ago, and the whole nine years before that, the Philippines slipping fast from high expectations of Edsa Dos. That second Edsa revolution happened because a sitting president was accused of plunder, not immediately on how he dipped his hands in the public till, but how he had become the lord of all jueteng lords. Later, in the impeachment trial, more horrors were made public, including the Jose Velarde account. Edsa Dos was an outcry against vulgar corruption, for out-and-out cronyism, and a personal lifestyle that highlighted sex, gambling and stock market manipulation.
The beneficiary of a successful people’s revolt, however, was not the people. It turned out even worse than what it wanted to cure. On her inaugural speech, Gloria offered reconciliation when the wheels of justice had not even begun to roll. It seemed to me that the offer of reconciliation was, in fact, an invitation for the cronies of Estrada to approach a very understanding Gloria.
Well, it is now history. During Gloria’s term, what was looked at as plunder during Estrada’s short regime looked like small change. And it was not corruption that only Filipinos experienced but monitored and reported by international bodies like Transparency International. It did not take long for the Philippines to plunge deeper into a worse corruption rating until it hit first place in the region. Jeuteng was not a primary issue anymore although it did hit the headlines when the first gentleman and the first presidential son were fingered as first beneficiaries.
The whole nine years of Gloria as president looked like nine years of looting, beginning with smuggled rice, the IMPSA deal, the Diosdado Macapagal Highway, Hello Garci, North Rail, ZTE, and many more which I hope will go beyond rumors to actual spilled beans – and a conviction which will not merit a presidential pardon.
Precisely, the creation of a Truth Commission is so perfect, and the objections against it simply affirm the real threat that the commission poses for the guilty ones. Before the Truth Commission can be very active, attempts to stop it from even operating will surely increase. Already, the paid hacks of thieves who have gotten away thus far are starting to hype petty issues to divert the public’s attention away from hardcore wrongdoing.
The bungled rescue of Hong Kong tourists received international media attention because of its extended drama that was covered all the while. As a result, it became the main issue that was taken against P-Noy when it was absolutely insignificant in the face of the twin nightmares of the Filipino – corruption and poverty. Even P-Noy’s “walang wang-wang” stood way taller than any attempt of Gloria to level any playing field when she was president. And his “kayo ang boss” statement affirms that Filipinos have a democracy advocate in this son of heroes.
The ineptitude or inefficiency of a bureaucracy is developed over time, just like the discipline of a team or the achievement of a student. That a Third World country performs like Third World is not a crime, it is the way it is supposed to be. If we do not like being Third World, then we have to get rid of our corruption and the poverty it creates and perpetuates. It is not the job of P-Noy to get us to the Promised Land, it is our collective challenge.
Yes, P-Noy had a critical role to play as president of a Third World country. He is expected to discard the Third World perspective and attitude, and the most important of this is NOT to exploit position and power. In fact, his challenge is how to use position and power for the greater good – like dispensing justice, developing a culture of meritocracy in governance, and being the paragon of model behavior.
Against the backdrop of a political environment that P-Noy has not yet mastered, primarily because he is more an antithesis to it than its prime advocate, P-Noy would do well to establish an A-Team that can rise above personal interests and share a common vision and determination. If he wants to succeed even only against a former president that has thus far avoided being lynched for what she has done to body and soul of the Filipino, P-Noy must be able to find his pretorian executives – tough, skilled, and loyal.
Far away from my motherland, I can better view a national scene without being emotional, or partisan. I know I have to be part of the journey of change, just like other Filipinos. I have serious expectations of P-Noy, yet I have more serious expectations from myself. Less in watching P-Noy’s every move, and more in contributing daily what I can to move our people and country towards nationhood, there is much for me to do. I have no illusion about a journey that has built-in quicksands and mine fields, but I have every reason to believe that the Filipino is great enough to build his dream.
“There is always a philosophy for lack of courage.” — Albert Camus