Looking back, looking forward

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

| Photo by John Mark Ramos on Unsplash

The disasters do not seem tired of battering Filipinos. In truth, we have become so used to disasters and their terrible toll on us that we have pre-programmed our resignation in the subconscious. We do not bother to fight back against what we accept as our fate. Instead, we lower our expectations until survival becomes par for the course. That is if we are from the 82% who consider ourselves poor or borderline poor.

Natural disasters are plentiful, obvious, and recurring. We have had a series of typhoons, floods, landslides, and earthquakes in so short a period. We have also remained alert for the possible explosion of a few volcanoes. And it seems that our patterned response to all these is the report of how many lives were lost, how many families were evacuated, how many homes were wrecked or damaged, and the approximate cost of crops destroyed. Year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation.

But, then again, the above is not enough. Natural disasters are not enough because we have man-made disasters galore as well. Our national, regional, and local environments have been besieged by lies, dishonesty, and corruption so badly and consistently that we do not bother to fight back, accepting this as our fate as Filipinos. As with natural disasters, we simply lower our expectations, reduce our moral and ethical standards, and even resign ourselves to not having justice prevail in our society.

I regret having lived for over seventy years and feel I have not done enough. And I regret that I have witnessed my generation not doing enough. We had all seen the Philippine scene unfold before our eyes, just as we had all participated in big and small ways in the making of the collective Philippine life. Yes, we have seen how things improved for the rich and powerful, just as things stagnated or deteriorated for the poor and marginalized. In other words, it was as though life would have gone on from its own inertia, from traditional patterns, with or without my generation having any substantive impact.

Some point to decreases in the numbers of the poor. I think all these statistics have been largely superficial. Poverty is both material scarcity and a poor quality of life. It is quantitative and qualitative. Poverty has not decreased, its pain has not lessened, and its impact is more destructive than ever. I say this because the poverty of the older times forced people to work harder with their hands, while the poverty of today forces people to fantasize more. The mind simply tunes out and holds on to fakery as long as it glitters.

Regret leads me to do more and rethink why past efforts have not lifted our people and nation to a better place than where we are today. I see many highways, bridges, and other infrastructure, but I have not seen the proportionate benefit of people having greater ease in traveling from home to work and back. After all, our lives are basically divided between home and work. The more hours wasted in between cut both quality time at home and productive time at work.

“The quality of life is a combination of how productive we are for our family and community or the public welfare and how contented we are as individuals. I do not see much of that among the lower 82% of Filipinos and too much of that among the top 1%. “

The quality of life is a combination of how productive we are for our family and community or the public welfare and how contented we are as individuals. I do not see much of that among the lower 82% of Filipinos and too much of that among the top 1%. This utter lack of equity or balance is not unusual in a feudal setup where the elite controls a country’s wealth and resources. I had thought, however, that the Philippines was aiming to be a democracy where the majority’s good is superior to a few’s interest. Apparently, democracy is not real unless the majority makes it real.

I regret that I, too, was a victim for so long of the myth about messiahs in our society as the ones inspiring and leading us toward a better life and future. Worse, that myth really narrows down the messiahs to being political leaders and public servants. There are many great performers in our society, but they are really not aplenty in government. In fact, heroes and role models have not grown in number and influence in the private sector. Our collective morals and ethics determine how our societal icons have influenced us.

I realize with greater clarity that democracy as a perspective and a way of life is a long journey of value and habit formation, of how our parents and elders show us what is important and what is not, of how our teachers and church leaders make what they teach and preach become the way we behave. And, for democracy, how egalitarian and our governance can be, how the equality of worth and dignity becomes society’s main operating goal and value.

How, then, can we facilitate democracy in an impoverished society? We have looked for leaders with unbreakable integrity who can administer the affairs of the state and the laws of the land with uncompromising fairness. This unwavering integrity is the only defense and promoter of the common good, which primarily mean the good of the majority who are poor or borderline poor. No other force in society can guarantee equity except those who hold the authority.

Except for the people themselves, the 82% for whom democracy has made a promise. How can 82% who believe they are poor or borderline poor become the center of the common good and the power that assures the primacy of that common good? None of the answers are easy, and some are even frightening. And no matter how we blame others, we make our choices day by day whether we realize it or not.

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