After all the criticisms thrown at Filipinos, many by Filipinos themselves, it seems crazy not to accept that we have a lot of problems – and major ones. Maybe, the word “poverty” has become so ordinary because of its constant use. So, too, the word “corruption.” Because poverty and corruption had been around too long, too massively, they can seem like standard features of Philippine society.
The reality of poverty and corruption, though, is far from routine. It is full of pain, the poverty side, and full of greed, the corruption component. Hunger incidence accompanies poverty, enough to affect as much as fifteen to twenty million poor Filipinos at any one time. And hunger may be the most pressing problem among the poor but not necessarily the most painful. I can only wonder what it is to go home at night to a place that may not be available anymore, to live temporarily as squatters anywhere and everywhere simply because one has no right to be anywhere in his or her own motherland.
The patrimony of Filipinos should be abundance because there is abundance beyond imagination is a land so clearly blessed by creation. Yet, for tens of millions, the patrimony is horrible fear and suffering – and the loss of human dignity when forced to survive under animalistic conditions. Poor Filipinos survive by lowering the bar of their humanity, by resigning to a life without hope, and by accepting that they are truly less equal than others.
To understand the severe imbalance of the rich, the not as rich, the poor and the poorest of the poor, then one must contend with the power of greed. In a society where greed dominates, and only when greed dominates can massive poverty exist in a naturally blessed land, the poor have no chance because no one challenges the system. Can it be that the presence of very poor Filipinos makes those who are less poor believe that their fate is bearable, or favorable, compared to the misery of the poorest? Greed complimented by apathy, or cowardice, can indefinitely extend the poverty of the majority. After all, the poor are weak even if they have the superiority of numbers.
The backdrop of corruption means that power has been used to enrich those wielding it. That means government leadership. Worse, it means that the elite and the hierarchy of major institutions, State and Church, have not been honest enough from abusing their positions and authority. It means that the value system of leaders in Philippine society have been for themselves and not the Filipino people whom they swore to serve and protect.
How, then, can change happen? There has to be pain, sustained and extended pain, until enough are determined not to accept it anymore.
How, then, does change happen? War and violent revolutions have been the traditional way for mankind. It was building up in the Philippines when Marcos and martial law gave birth to the insurgencies of the NPA and the MNLF. Thousands had died or been maimed from a nest of discontent, and tens of thousands more would have been frustrated enough to choose the violent path. But People Power erupted from depths of peace that the Filipinos discovered they had, and the possibility of violence rising to civil war was aborted.
People Power worked as a substitute for violent revolution. From the Philippine experience, several Eastern European countries followed suit. Twenty-five years later, Middle East countries are experiencing what many call the Arab Spring.
Like the Philippines, countries which changed leadership through people power will discover that change is different from the traditional form of development. Repressive governments may fall but corruption is not as easy to dismantle. After martial law, another president followed Marcos to the list of the world’s most corrupt even without the martial law. And it is suspected or anticipated that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo could barge into that list of the world’s most corrupt – sometimes with the law aiding and abetting her.
How, then, does change happen without war or violent revolutions?
By going through the drama that we are experiencing today. How else can it happen? There is no established template for maturing a democracy other than taking each situation with a grain of salt. To many, it will seem like a soap opera. To some, it will seem like there has been no progress at all. The reality is, though, that Filipinos are hungry for change and will experience it as much or as little as what they themselves contribute to it.
Wisely or intuitively, President Noynoy Aquino pointed to the secret of it all when he declared, “Kayo ang boss ko.” The President was referring to the principle of democracy where leaders serve the people and not the other way around. To get used to being the boss is not that easy, not when ordinary Filipinos have for the longest of times been mere followers or spectators.
It is the moment when the drama shares the limelight between the superstar and the majority. Leaders lead but followers build. The nation is not the leader, the nation is the people. When Filipinos say they want change, they may wish to remember what P-Noy said – “Kayo ang boss ko.” He might as well have said, “No pain, no gain.”
A nation reflects what its people are. it may be difficult to understand that democracies are not followed by the people but that democracies follow the people. When leaders abuse and the people accept it, democracy accommodates the abuse. But when people insist on what is right, democracy will not accommodate what is wrong. The choice, then, is ours.