Is Radical Bad?

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

I read the news one day and saw a picture of Judy Taguiwalo asking this question, “Is radical bad?”

Frankly, I did not bother to read the whole report. Judy Taguiwalo’s appointment as Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare & Development (DSWD) had earlier been rejected by the Committee on Appointment (CA). There were no reasons for her rejection that were publicly given by the members of the CA. Taguiwalo had been performing well above expectation and her performance inspired both DSWD and the public.

I think I understand the dilemma of the CA; if they gave specific reasons, they would have to justify not applying the same extremely high standards to other Cabinet members they had previously confirmed. I say extremely high standards because Taguiwalo was a living example of those standards from dedication, integrity, efficiency and courageous simplicity.

The question posed by Taguiwalo seems to be her response to an allegation that one possible reason for her rejection by the CA is that she was considered radical. And so Taguiwalo retorted, “Is radical bad?”

Well, Judy Taguiwalo, although you seemed to ask the question to no in particular but to everyone, in fact, let me give you my personal answer. No, no, and no, radical is not bad. Not only is radical not bad, it is the only answer to the greatest of our problems, be it poverty, be it corruption, be it illegal drugs. There is no other answer, no other way, but radical, radical, radical. Traditional and moderate solutions never solved the problems, they allowed the problems to worsen and intensify.

Since 1946 when governance was turned over to Filipinos by the Americans, can we remember when poverty was ever not massive? And whenever was corruption not the issue that political opposition always hurled at the incumbents? We can more than justify calling poverty and corruption as not only perennial but the most serious problems that almost 70 years of a Filipino governance could not solve. In other words, at a certain point years ago, radical was the best answer but the traditional or moderate was the one applied – only to fail and fail again.

Poverty had eased up because of the OFW phenomenon that began in the mid-70’s or 40 years ago. Leaving one’s family for years or decades is the radical sacrifice that was the only counterforce to historical poverty. OFWs bring in $30 billion of remittances (1.5 trillion pesos) plus the most critical factor of preventing the pressure of having an additional 10 million workers in the domestic labor market. OFWs – a radical phenomenon.

What about corruption? Baby boomers and all generations that followed have had to contend with the issue of corruption. If corruption has become part of the norm, then courageous integrity and transparent simplicity are radical public service virtues. Judy Taguiwalo, you asked a question that many who decide the fate of the Filipino nation may not be able to answer honestly and proudly. Yes, you were radical, not because you opposed a dictatorship and an elite class you considered corrupt, but because you did not use your rebellion just to grab power and become as abusive and corrupt. When you were placed in a position of power, even if only for a year, you stood out in your integrity and simplicity. Utterly radical.

And, now, the drug scourge. Those who understand it, how it has addicted millions of mostly Filipino youth, how it has corrupted governance in all branches of government, top to bottom, what traditional or moderate approach is there? If the current war on drugs is not bringing the desired impact but even adds more problems with thousands killed, justified or not, then it is not radical enough. Maybe because it has been Duterte’s war on drugs, it can become radical enough if it becomes our war, Philippine society’s war against drugs, criminality, corruption, and poverty. Maybe because one problem after another is rooted in the same distorted atmosphere, radical enough can mean one total war against all these related problems.

What radical means is different from generation to generation, from baby boomers to millennials. For baby boomers like myself, most things seem radical nowadays, especially the sense of time and the speed by which time seems to pass by. With time coming and going like a blur, change is happening all the time and nothing seems the same anymore. But I speak mostly of what is material, like buildings, vehicles, technology, machines, and devices. With so much change is so little change, a strange and eerie paradox that has added to the stress and frustration. With everything that seems to be changing, poverty, corruption, bureaucratic inefficiency, political partisanship, and turmoil – all these have not changed except names and faces.

To those who have ached for decades for great relief from what has ailed society, the pressure mounts instead of recedes. The advent of technology makes even the once ignorant who have less mobility in life due to sustained poverty to greater frustration because they can now easily see what is possible for many but impossible for them. They can see so many people in other countries enjoy ways of life that look like fantasy more than just another reality. And it is no wonder that change is not radical enough for them. It is no wonder that what shocks those in the upper strata of society is really too slow and traditional to change their unfortunate fate.

And, so, Judy Taguiwalo, is radical bad? If you ask the marginalized, the hungry, the homeless, the jobless, all those who, by accident of birth, have long comprised the poor of the Philippines, radical is good, necessary, a must have in governance and opportunity. And you in your own very personal way tried to be simply that, radically focused on what tens of millions of Filipinos need to ease bit by bit their daily suffering. And I hope there is up ahead more would-be leaders willing to be radical for the common good.


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