The Ides of March

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Jose M. Montelibano

Today is the Ides of March, as in exactly, as the Ides of March during the old Roman times was what they called the 15th day of March. At that time and in their language, the calendar was slightly different, and each date was called differently from our present numerical terminology. There was no special meaning to the Ides of March – it was a day like any other. Until things happened, of course, that forever put a foreboding nuance to the date.

The Ides of March in 44 BC began innocently enough. It did fall within some Roman religious feast but bore no great significance at that time; tradition, though, did mark it as a day when one had to settle debts.

According to Plutarch, a Greek biographer and philosopher known primarily for his writing, Parallel Lives, a collection of biographies of prominent Greeks and Romans, a soothsayer told Julius Caesar to beware the Ides of March. To beware meant an unfortunate incident would happen to him. And on that day itself, the Ides of March, Caesar was on the way to the Senate when he passed the soothsayer in the streets. The story goes that Caesar remarked, “The Ides of March have come,” to mean that the soothsayer had predicted wrongly because Caesar was well. The response of the soothsayer, however, was simple but meaningful, “Aye, Caesar, but not gone.”

It is now a remembered date and incident in history. That Ides of March, 44 BC, had Caesar meeting in the Senate and was assassinated in a treacherous manner – stabbed by those he had thought were friends and allies. Our present meaning of the Ides of March is rooted in that day of betrayal, a great ruler assassinated be those both jealous and fearful of his autocratic ways.

What a coincidence that today, March 15, is in the thick of political season gearing up for the May 13, 2019 elections. Political contests in the last 30 years have been grotesque exercises, not of changes in power, but of betrayal driven by ambition beyond ethics and morals. When the multi-party format was established to replace the pre-martial law two-party system, little did the framers of the new Constitution understand how disastrous it would be. A very divided people, miraculously brought together to remove a dictatorship, were fed a law that catered to a specific vulnerability of a people colonized by several foreign masters. The wise men and women of the 1987 Constitution needed social scientists and less political, legal and economic experts.

How could societal leaders forget that the country comprised of thousands of islands was conquered not mostly by the sheer superiority of weaponry but by the strategic application of divide-and-rule tactics? How could they forget that the betrayal of key native leaders, who became the local surrogates of foreign masters, allowed the conquest of a people situated in difficult to reach provinces? I do not wish to single out societal leaders 30 years ago because leaders of 2019 are as guilty or forgetful of the same malady that has weakened the Filipino people. In fact, because of the sad political happenings in the last 30 years, and even some talk that the multi-party system was at fault, our present leaders may be more accountable.

The lesson of the Ides of March is simple enough for those who are willing to learn, or at least very discontented with the way things are politically. The most obvious vice is betrayal. At the same time, betrayal is only a consequence of deeper afflictions like jealousy, unbridled ambition, and greed. But the deepest disorder of all is disunity, the sacrifice of the collective good for selfish interests. With disunity, the fate of any people is dependent on the weakest foundation. It is truly a great pity when the Filipino people cannot conceive of a collective state that can accommodate diverse interests without breaking up.

I am not looking at the future with rose-colored glasses. I know that our disunity or being a divided people is social disorder that has long festered and been nourished by historical events. Definitely, in my generation, a coming together from shared aspirations and respect for the other is simply impossible. The only possibility is again a temporary unity driven by severe discontent and deep disgust or loathing. Besides being improbable at this time, that will be another upheaval resulting in long-term divisions as well.

The political noise of a campaign season is toxic. More wounds are inflicted by the day and seeds for revenge in the future are being planted. Divisiveness is not being dismantled, it is given spirit by a political exercise that has long most of its nobler purposes. In democratic theory. Elections are a mechanism for new ideas and new personalities tasked with authority and the leadership to implement them. In short, elections at their best are driven by the human need for creativity and integrity, the great combination of ideas and personalities. But toxic, virulent and pernicious noise drown out noble aspirations. It will be more of the same.

Except, hopefully, with the greater entry of younger politicians and bureaucrats. Even not by intent by the powers-that-be, younger generations entering politics and governance will necessarily introduce new ideas and new ways of doing things. This is evolution, but evolution at a faster pace because of breathtaking technology. If one believes in a greater power, it seems that the grand design of creation has built-in, fail-safe mechanisms. They may take more time than what many Filipinos wish for but they happen nonetheless. Meanwhile, we suffer.

Beware the Ides of March, 2019 AD. Beware of jealousy, ambition and greed. Do not underestimate their power to corrupt us, their power to destroy our struggling nation. Beware of our disunity and do not add yourself to that cesspool. Most of all, dream of that tomorrow that is brighter than today. Do not ever let it go.

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