We Complain

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Several days of rain in Metro Manila forced me to travel when traffic was at its slowest and most heavy, when going from Quezon City to Makati can take hours. It reminded me again that our sense of progress, which is dominantly material, makes us sacrifice even time and space in pursuit of the money dream. And when we are too crowded, too many to be accommodated where most of us believe to be where most of the money is, we complain.

It used to be that the Philippines enjoyed more rain than now, but less floods. It used to be that even the cities and towns that are today the components of Metro Manila were a tropical paradise, not a tropical jungle. But we wanted it this way, and we have it. We surrendered free time to traffic time, we surrendered open space to cramped development, and then we complain.

There was a time when family was the most important, when communities were representative of families living together and second most important. Now, it seems the family can be close only when there is enough money, that even the togetherness of family can be sacrificed in the pursuit of money. The very standard of measuring well-being is dependent on money. Progress is to be able to buy, to spend, on the necessities, on comfort items, on even what we cannot afford. We don’t have enough, and we complain.

Money has supplanted God as our primary idol because more human time and effort seeks money more than God. It seems that God’s only advantage over money is that God is more available. So, we complain.

It is no surprise, then, that a rich country has chosen to become poor. It is no wonder that the country with the most abundant life forms or biodiversity chooses to exchange them for money, and then becomes poor. When our greed sacrifices our very patrimony for money, we wake up to the reality that everyone else in the world enjoys our natural resources while millions of us experience food poverty. Naturally, we complain.

In order to please a people who want money above anything else, our public servants must find ways to make money more accessible to us. Land is money, home is money, food is money, health is money, education is money, and most of all, shopping is money. Our politicians and bureaucrats have to serve our money needs, and they need money to do that. They must generate money, they must get our money so they could give us money – or we will not vote for them. They must earn more and more money, or steal, in order to stay in power. We are shocked, and we complain.

The money game is a vicious cycle, and it is getting smaller. Money supply grows but is in the pockets of fewer people. That is because money begets money, and only big money begets bigger money. The rest is shared by everyone else, and everyone else becomes loose change. No one wants to feel like loose change, but so many are. And we complain.

Political freedom, economic freedom, religious freedom, educational freedom, and even freedom of information, are more available when there is more money. Consequently, ironically, there will be greater freedom for the rich and very much less freedom for the poor. After all the revolutions, nothing changes, because it is back to where it used to be – the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

How, then, can we break the vicious cycle of wealth for a few and poverty for the many? Democracy was thought to be a powerful  answer to monarchies and dictatorships, democracy that is grounded on the equality of worth of all so well-being  become not only  available to all but the right of all. That is the ideal of democracy, the primacy of the common good, one man one vote, regardless of race, color or creed, rich or poor.

The ideal of democracy can be approximated only when the common good becomes the greater value of society. The common good must become the primary norm of politics, of economics, of education, of public service. Even the religious would do well to raise the value of the common good if they wish for God to regain ascendancy over money. It must become a mantra for all of Philippine society to promote the common good as a sacred value.

When the common good becomes the greatest cause of our leaders and nation, ordinary Filipinos, especially the poor, will gain value. When the well-being of an ordinary Filipino becomes very important to society, only then can the common good be really common, only then can poverty be dismantled.

How can the value of the common good be raised? This is what democracy has to pursue with vision, with great determination. This is what politics has to bow down to, what economics must serve and reflect, what education must teach in the literal and subliminal, and, hopefully, what religions must endorse as well. Corruption is an evil that the money game nourishes. Poverty is a necessary consequence of the same money game.

If we do not change the game, we cannot change the score.

The challenge, then, is to change the game. Who will lead the change? Who will introduce the change? What does that change mean in our daily lives, how does it look in our daily activities? We are severely distracted by efforts to change the consequences but we have not targeted changing what causes them.

When the common good gets more common, when the value of most becomes more important than the value of self or of a few, when laws and programs, and budgets, favor the equality of citizens rather than just the best among them, we will have a chance to build our dreams.

Otherwise, let’s just complain.

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