The enemy waits

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

I thought we got a boost hosting the ASEAN Summit that world leaders graced with their presence as well. Then, the 3rd quarter economic performance at 6.9% spoke for itself. Politics notwithstanding, these were two developments that showed the world how resilient Filipinos can be. With Christmas around the corner, I know there is enough reason to feel very positive.

And that is why I have to keep biting my lower lip when I have to read and watch news reports about impeachment and a strange initiative for a revolutionary government. It is a sad but irresistible pattern to turn negative and divisive even at the best of times. Truly, old habits die hard. I know life can be seen as a mixture of blessings and trials, but why do our trials look like curses?

It is not as if we do not have rugged mountains to climb in order to rid ourselves of patterned historical weaknesses. It seems useless to blame our colonial past because we cannot bring back time. But history is not a past that is buried and long gone. History is in our DNA, an inseparable influence and feature of our culture, and deeply ingrained in how we understand things. Most of all, our past established our habits. Well and good if these habits are our bayanihan spirit, our culture of hospitality, and our native inclination to spirituality, beauty, and the arts. But they are also our propensity to be divided by partisanship and to be easily manipulated by puppeteers.

The strengths of our culture have not been enough to prevent a poverty that cannot be explained except by the combination of greed and authority. Poverty is the most undeniable and persistent expression of greed in the hands of the powerful. Filipinos are not an exceptional example; there are worse. But having many other countries more badly off than we are does not mitigate their pain of the impoverished. Having no security of tenure, no decent home and constantly afraid of hunger in a land that is considered one of the most endowed with natural resources cannot be explained unless we point to a strange of history and unconscionable greed. Administration after the administration had promised to break this ugly curse but failed. Often enough, each administration refuses to learn from the past and indulge in the same exploitation of the weak.

It is almost a now-or-never situation and I know some of the most frustrated feel that way. When I am tempted to feel the same way, I have to dig deep into history to understand that our country will endure way beyond the present generations it hosts. Our country has the time, all the time, that we do not have. This can be especially galling to those among us with only ten or fifteen good years to live and crave to see our dreams come true. But the country and people will last for centuries and millennia to go. The question is – will they live well or will they suffer?

More than the past, however, I look to the foreseeable future through the lives of our younger generations. They are the near future; they are our next 50 to 80 years. And when I look at them, I feel beyond hopeful – I feel actively optimistic. It must be because changes are happening so fast that the future is less bound by the past in its expression. I know the constants that will hold humankind grounded whatever happens on our planet and beyond. I know that whatever technological advances they may be, the emotional and psychological maturing process will stay. Yes, there will be new tools, new ways of seeing physical existence, new paths of even more radical changes, but human feelings and behavior are not capable of the same rate of change. And the wisdom of the years, the elders, and the wise will always be in demand.

My vibrant optimism does not mean a trouble-free future for our younger and emerging generations. But I see that time and technology are combining with such power that it is virtually impossible to see what the future will look like, That means the past will not have such a strong grip on the imagination and creativity of those who will follow us. More than ever, it is a strong probability that what had so powerfully kept us mired in cyclical man-made disasters may meet a human context that is unimaginably different and endowed with resources, human and otherwise, that can dismantle historical patterns. In this, I am deeply convinced.

My concern for the present is that I see dangers with the awesome capacity to hurt and destroy. There is already the drug trade that is an imminent danger, especially so when public officials are either afraid to confront it or are already corrupted by it. Added to this is the wave of extremism that breeds and fosters deadly violence against almost anyone that is not actively a part of it. It is conceivable that radicalization has created small cell groups, the sleepers or the currently aggressive. We have, too, an unresolved insurgency and a secessionist movement, both potential allies of terrorism. These are mostly internal forces but have extensive connections with the world, from an international drug trade to geopolitics.

Our present and near future are at serious risk even as we have unusual blessings as well. It is said that our public officials are tasked with navigating a murky and dangerous minefield, then leading us boldly and wisely to our secure future. That is not the case, however, and it has not been. In too many instances, our threats are magnified, not mitigated, by those we depend on to protect us. Indeed, the caution of the sages of yore, about how power corrupts, remains an irresistible temptation to many in power. As each individual with power is co-opted by power, the existence of poverty and corruption endures.

The enemy is ever patient and simply waits.


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