Continuing Catharsis

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

It has been tumultuous year, 2013 was, full of so much drama. And Yolanda was a tragic year ender with its impact setting the pace for the new year. It seems to me that 2014 cannot but reflect a continuing catharsis. Too many firsts had begun in 2013, too radical have been the beginning of great changes, that to simply fade away would mean that the changes, too, would then be ningas cogon. I do not believe so.

The investment for change has been massive, maybe more emotional than physical so far, but that can shift pretty fast. The nature of change that has begun a journey of no return is that it can be exponential with little warning. Look at the PDAF issue. It may seem on the surface that the Napoles controversy caused the societal uproar about corruption at the highest level. But after Marcos, Estrada, Corona and Gloria, the PDAF is but the tip of the dirty cesspool.

The configuration of corruption is slowly emerging before our very eyes because most people failed to imagine what corruption had always been. We looked for the head of the monster, tried cutting it off and believing it was all over when we did. But we are slowly, and shocked at that, realizing that the head we cut off was a Hydra, sprouting its deeply embedded roots each time the top was cut off. It seems we have to go through the experience as the mythical Heracles also did until he learned how to cauterize the wounds he inflicted.

How long, then, will we keep feasting on each tip of corruption that is exposed before we recognize the colder truth that corruption has developed to be a sub-culture of those in power, from government to Church, from business to the academe? The only true victims of corruption are the powerless, and even they, by choosing submission over rebellion, by accepting crumbs for their votes instead of demanding their patrimony, have extended their own misery.

In the end, the citizenry will have to confront a painful truth, one often repeated in sermons and exhortations, but one too often avoided and evaded – that change begins in each one of us. That is too fearsome a journey for many to embark on, this thing called personal change, this decision to move away from unproductive comfort zones and towards the challenge of growing our potential. There are some, too, who will distract us from personal change to convincing us that it is only our leaders who need to change. That allows them to blind us with anger and inch them closer to the same power they covet.

The noisy sector of the citizenry expressed their disgust over corruption through social media, and once, yes, only once, by converging physically in a number and a mood that greatly affected those in power. That march of a million did not reach a million in Luneta but did affect the hearts of many millions. Political manipulators tried to ride that wave of emotionalism but underestimated its inherent intelligence. Further efforts to orchestrate rallies failed to attract the huge numbers of Filipinos seeking change.

President Benigno Aquino has been the focused target of a determined demolition effort. Because lies and jaundiced accusations masquerading for informed opinions ate their basic tools, it is quite difficult for concerned citizens to know truth for misinformation. As Chief Executive, P-Noy performs to the satisfaction of a steady 70%, as well as committing his own errors. But since those with hidden and dirty agenda have to sow confusion and false allegations, many Filipinos have learned to take everything with a grain of salt, pursue their own concerns of survival or growth, choose optimism and action to better their lives.

The President has become the unlikely beneficiary to the belligerent noise and din that haters try to overwhelm the public with. In trying to put P-Noy down without offering a clear and acceptable alternative to an anticipated chaos, haters and their not so well-hidden puppeteers expose themselves and make the majority even more fearful. They have succeeded, and sometimes with help from P-Noy himself, in making the President look bad in certain issues. But the same 70% trust and approval rating that most citizens give to P-Noy puzzle haters who thought they had won the people’s sentiments in those controversial issues,

The basic truth is for all to see because it is for all to experience. The people know that their lives could greatly improve if their leaders would choose integrity over greed for power and money, if statesmen emerge instead of protectors of self-interests, if patriotism and nationalism become the trademarks of public service. But the people have been historically dished out with governance that had looked at people as subjects who serve, not as citizens to be served. The margin for errors that they extend to those who govern is rather large, and their capacity for disappointment is not easy to fathom.

The constant and inner desire of the vast majority is simply to have less problems and then to have more opportunities. Every so often, when frustrations reach unbearable levels, people explode in anger. But native intelligence will ground them quickly enough because they know that anger is not a solution, that anger can make things worse, not better. Solutions to problems and more opportunity to better their lives are the deepest and strongest desires of Filipinos, most especially the majority poor.

I am reminded of what a Stephen Colbert wrote so relevant for a new year. He said, “Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge. “Yes” is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say “yes.”

What hangs in the balance is not the political future of P-Noy or his detractors, it is the fate of a people still mired in poverty, of governance struggling to be released from corruption, of younger generations seeking their place in the sun.

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