Dream It, Then Build It

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

It has been a busy season for criticism and it looks like the tempo will intensify all the more. Radio, TV and Print have already been swamped with all kinds of bad news, some deserved, others sensationalized. Today, the Internet has allowed once armchair critics to become more read, heard and seen with email and YouTube.

Commentators and commentaries range from the wise to the bizarre, but most of them fall within the gripe category with suggestions coming a close second. The suggestions, though, are laced with a critical nuance and is predicated with comments like, “why did they not do this?”

While the age of technology has increased the power of verbal expression, it has not significantly improved the conditions on the ground. The most busy in the criticism category have not themselves been able to bring commentaries to action. The same is true of those who love to suggest alternatives to the mess they criticize – they, too, are not examples of what they preach.

Since the homeland is the arena of greatest interest, with politics and governance as the major concerns, commentaries and recommendations sent to media for print or airing, or to the Internet as email or blogs usually end up as just that – mere commentaries and recommendations. They are mostly just venting of frustrations, as ineffective as the best plans and intentions of politicians which do not ever become reality.

I know that it is everybody’s right to express himself and herself, yet not everybody’s obligation to comply with oaths of public office unlike those in governance and official bureaucracy. But when rhetoric remains as plain rhetoric, then public oaths tend to follow suit – remain as mere oaths which demand no compliance.

Preaching and promising have been cultural habits of both Church and State. The clear exception was the American rule of almost fifty years when a different work and performance culture was imposed by the American mindset. Five decades, though, were not enough to develop a new culture from an old one. It was enough, though, to influence and direct a people with subservience as an attitude. During the American rule, the Philippines suddenly catapulted above its Asian neighbors except for Japan. It was a Filipino performance, but definitely because Filipinos followed the American-run government.

Filipinos like to point to the fact that the Philippines was second only to Japan in the early 60’s. It is, of course, true.; Yet, why it was so is gravely misunderstood. Too much credit was given to Filipino initiative, intelligence or industry as the reasons why our performance was so admirable. Perhaps, the painful truth is more than Filipinos obey, and obey very well, when those who rule are strong, consistent and determined.

The Americans were achievers, and Filipinos. By following them, became achievers as well. From 1946 to the early 1960’s, it was downhill all the way, all the way to 2009. The sad truth is that the influence of American governance for almost fifty years fades by the day. Even our command of English has faded along with the years of Filipino governance.

Filipinos become nostalgic of a past that is misunderstood. It is good to want a better life, but it is dangerous to begin with wrong assumptions. Like the better life, but understand how it was attained, and who attained it. We are not being asked to rebuild our nation as we never built one; the Americans did.

We must build our nation because we have no other choice. We cannot continue to dream the wrong dream, to want what never was. What many among us laugh at, like the move for US state-hood, is the most accurate expression of wanting to return to an era when it was perceived to have been better. If we do not wish to take that path, then there is no other alternative but to admit we are not a nation, we are not a democracy, and we are not sovereign and independent.

When we have read our truth clearly, then we can intelligently design our pathway towards nation-hood, towards democracy, towards true freedom independence. This pathway is very, very different from any design that assumes we already are a nation, already democratic, already sovereign and independent. The difference in nuance may seem slight, but any social or behavioral scientist will quickly see what will fail from the very beginning because of wrong assumptions or an understanding that will give birth to options which have a reasonable chance of succeeding.

Politicians must admit that their messianic bent might be better transformed to the ideals of empowerment. Leaders play an unusually strong role in a society where people have a culture of subservience, and this reality often influences leaders to lead more than empower. Yes, if we wish to be a feudal society, then leaders can simply lead well and demand obedience. But if we wish to be a true democracy, then the people must take the brunt of the responsibility of building our nation.

There are many who are concerned and wish to see great change and improvement in Philippine society. They are verbally expressive but need to be as expressive in action. It is not anymore the time to simply criticize yet enjoy the comfort of a non-poor home, or the Internet, or the safety net of the United States. It is a time when those who claim they want a better Philippines to walk their talk, or not talk so much anymore.

This is the moment for heroism – if, indeed, the motherland is in distress. Heroism has always used action with courage, action with intelligence, action with determination. In a few occasions, heroes use words which lift the heart and inspire the spirit, especially before battle. But the words have that effect only when they flow from the mouth of the heroes who have proven their extraordinary courage and nobility before they spoke to their people.

Filipinos are unerringly guided towards a point of confrontation, when they will be asked to cross their rubicon and experience their tipping point.  We have held on to a dream. It sustained us through the bad times and gave us hope of a future full of hope. It is now time to build it.

“There is always a philosophy for lack of courage.” Albert Camus

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