Challenge The Impossible

by Jose Ma. Montelibano


In a reversal that astounds, the Philippines has been the focus of positive and exciting news. It used to be that the most prevalent of commentaries heaped on both Filipinos and the Philippines centered on two societal cancers – corruption and poverty. Then, stemming from that corruption and poverty would flow a myriad of horror stories. It is also worth mentioning that Filipinos themselves, especially those who felt they were better than others, or who tried to point to the ugliness of others to camouflage their own dirt, often led the bashing of their race and their motherland.

Today, though, is an almost unbelievable turnaround. In the first place, Filipinos now like their President, consistently express their trust and approval of President Noy and his performance. This is the exact opposite of their sentiments towards Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who has been recorded as the most unpopular president ever. And the source of that collective disapproval was her image as most corrupt.

Local surveys by SWS and Pulse Asia are not the only research or ratings agencies that acknowledge the change that is happening to national government and the people’s relationship with its highest leadership. The trust, approval and satisfaction levels being awarded by Filipinos on President Noy have translated to unusually dynamic economic growth in an environment of political stability. In other words, what SWS and Pulse Asia are able to measure find affirmation in the optimism of Filipinos and actual economic growth rates.

The recognition of the Philippines as a performing country in the face of adverse economic conditions plaguing even traditionally healthy America and Western Europe has been another consistent achievement that international financial and credit ratings agencies have measured in glowing terms. The World Bank has acknowledged that the Philippines was the only country in the world that surpassed its original growth rate targets. From among the worst performer to among the best – judged not only by the Filipino people but by experts around the world.

There still are no lack of doomsday soothsayers, no lack of haters who conjure their own fanatical delusions about how bad President Noy is, how inept, how incapable of effective governance. By their running commentaries which began mostly from the presidential campaign leading to the May 2010 elections, their prejudice and malice are exposed. They also point unerringly to their political bosses who provide the antagonistic trajectory of criticisms from not-so-hidden agenda, or to the Left who cannot find anything better to offer or do in an environment that seeks and appreciates solidarity and solutions.

The good news about Filipinos and the Philippines, however, simply makes inutile the intent and moves to derail the change from corruption and corrupt political dynasties to a new governance led by a popular and trusted President. There is acknowledgment in international transparency ratings that finally saw a meaningful improvement of ten places. There is also an acknowledgment that Filipinos, despite their financial limitations, are among the most generous in the world, generous with their time and efforts through volunteerism, and generous with their friendliness towards strangers who seek help.

The beauty of our land and people are also being acknowledged as the Philippines and its special places have made it to the most popular among the world – and the country itself now promoted by international agencies as among the top destinations for tourists. Indeed, tourist arrivals have dramatically improved and bigger numbers are expected. A momentum has been established, a momentum that reverses the once dominant image of the Philippines as a country both business and tourists should avoid.

Both people and country are not without serious problems and challenges. Yet, we had lived with these at worse levels and feasted in bashing ourselves, leading even our competitors in making ourselves look bad. That had done nothing good for us except make true our worst projections of ourselves – producing a president who was convicted of plunder and another one who may yet end up being the most corrupt, not only the most disliked. It is simply time that we look to the good we can do, to the best we can be.

Corruption still festers in the bureaucracy, unwilling to self-destruct. Too many decades of practices corrupt leaders and practices have developed to be bad habits. This time, though, the presidency is an enemy of corruption, not its main sponsor. President Noy cannot control corruption all by himself, but his appointees have to hide very well their corruption if they choose to be that way. Because President Noy has appointed many honest and determined officials, their respective subordinates will have to hide their corruption if they choose to continue to practice it. No more free rides for the greedy.

And poverty is just as stubborn. While great numbers have risen above their economic class of yore, thanks mainly to our OFWs and call centers, at least 30 percent still wallow in abject state of hunger, homelessness and landlessness that translate to a life of fear and hopelessness. While President Noy has aggressively tried to use tens of billions of pesos to arrest and reverse poverty, his intent has not been matched by creative and effective anti-poverty initiatives from those made responsible to do it. Perhaps, it is because the people he chose have no record of being effective against hunger and poverty. Perhaps, it is because poverty, like corruption, needs its own version of a President Noy.

There is a general ripeness for more radical transformation. Constitutional amendments did not bring about the wonderful changes happening today; character change of the highest leadership did, character change of a people who choose to work instead of gripe did, and attitude change to optimism and hope instead of pessimism and despair did.

Change within a democracy does not come easy, and can be made faster only if the people themselves give the necessary contribution towards a society anchored on integrity and hard work. No President can do that, but a President can trigger that determination in us. President Noy has begun and we have responded. Together, people and leader, we can challenge the impossible.

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