The Unstoppable March of Change

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

2016 will usher in more change, faster change, surprising change, unstoppable change. Many have pointed to this wave of change, this tsunami that is shaking the world as much as it shakes the Philippines. Yet, when change comes in its unpredictable way and form, many are still shocked.

Change is generational. The world had long called it the generation gap. Well, that gap has been making great leaps and those who do not attempt to catch up are simple left behind, terribly behind. Once left behind, panic steps in. Often, too, fear turns to resentment and a desperate effort to keep things from further moving.

The more radical change is happening in the most conservative of societies, including the Middle East. The resulting turmoil is a graphic example of how conservatism can turn to fundamentalism, and fundamentalism to terrorism. In lesser degrees but not upsetting, change is on a rampage globally, challenging even the most stable of countries. Stability, after all, is as much a target of change as instability is. Change simply moves where it is needed—according to a higher agenda or life purpose.

It turns out, then, agenda against agenda. And before I move on, I would like to say that everyone, everybody, has an agenda. It can be obvious, it can be hidden, it can be personal, it can be collective, but everyone has an agenda. And when people try to depict “having an agenda” as evil or dirty, better think again about the agenda of those accusers—because they, too, have their own.

What we should take note of is what an agenda is, whether that agenda is open or hidden, whether that agenda is beneficial to the common good or only to a few and against the interest of the many. Most agenda are simple, reflecting the daily needs and aspirations of ordinary people. Even without being vocal, their agenda is obvious from collective behavior. Their agenda becomes an important consideration of most societal leaders, triggering ways from them on how to provide or to deflect addressing these concerns.

The refugee situation in Western Europe symbolizes how change can disturb the most progressive. The political rhetoric in the United States towards their own presidential elections reveals how conflicted their people are, how racism and gun violence have not been rooted out, despite the inspiring journey of a powerful country to grow even stronger as a multi-ethnic nation. And the ISIS, of course, proves that many youth across the globe can still be drawn to causes even at the cost of their own lives.

When we look at how change can rattle even the best of them, it makes our own local situation seem milder. Yes, social media can make it appear that there is great dissatisfaction among our people, but social media’s noise is coming from 1 percent and enhanced by another 9 percent who comment on the original post and share it to others. The 90 percent remain very much active as participants in personal exchanges and as quiet observers of the more dynamic and controversial.

What does not merit consistent sympathy and support from all media, traditional and social, is poverty and the real suffering of the poor. Where not only dissatisfaction exists but real, daily pain and fear is what has been given true attention. It still seems that poverty with all its main features such as landlessness, homelessness and hunger deserves lip service—and only lip service. This is where radical change is needed. And this is where all of us must pay more attention to as that change will come.

Our own political environment is expected to heat up all the way to the May elections. The Christmas and New Year celebrations were not to be denied, not even by political dynamics, but they are over by now except for the hangover—and the bills to pay. It is time to be like movie-goers, watching the regular zarzuela of Philippine elections entertain us. Unless we get more emotionally involved, more operationally involved. If we do, prepare your heart and blood pressure because they will fluctuate. Even the Comelec had showed signs about how volatile things can be, caused especially by the disqualification cases.

This is a presidential elections we are having, but that means everyone except the barangay officials will be voted on. The focus will be on the presidential candidates, of course, but local politics will grab its own rightful and growing share as we approach May. In the elections after martial law, resources and political advantage were given to anointed presidential candidates chosen by the parties in power. They all lost. Except for Fidel V. Ramos, anointed by Cory the President without a party. Lessons learned and unlearned will decide what happens, as always.

Filipinos, though, are in a favorable position. Our wonderful culture and capacity for adaptation will see us through the most unstable of times. It always has and it always will. With modern mobility and technology that has made the world a smaller place, and our aptitude and talent for service, our growth us not totally dependent on domestic progress but the progress of many other countries who will need Filipino service. We only need to increase our appreciation of agriculture and defend our capacity to feed ourselves—and other abroad, too, if possible. Food never goes out of style.

I can only ask, hope for and work towards, a national effort to be kinder to our poor, 30 to 50 million of them, to raise their value before our eyes and heart, and cease looking at them as though they deserve what they were born into and cannot get out of. If we can regard the climate with more respect, all the more we can regard poor Filipinos with even more respect.

Respecting and valuing anybody or any group of people is the prerequisite to allocating attention and resources to them. This traditional lack of respect and value for the poor has perpetuated their poverty like no other cause. May this change be the greatest change that will sweep our nation.

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