What Really Matters?

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

It may be that news is important, but seldom so. It is voluminous, for sure, what with tri-media becoming a business more than a service. It used to be that media outlets would seek profits from entertainment and subsidized news programs. Not anymore, though, as news sell nowadays, and sensationalized news the most saleable.

With news becoming products for profit, volume and form become more important than content. Early morning news, midday news, evening news, late night news, and some even have mid-morning and afternoon news. Each news show has a deadline, and news departments have several deadlines a day.

For content to have substance, it demands focus, research, verification, and reflection. So, who has time for substance? News reports, TV and radio news programs, and most internet chatter run on deadlines, speed and volume, plus off-the-cuff commentaries, not substance. Inanity that meets deadlines is more acceptable than substance that does not.

The fault is not solely with news people or commentators. Audiences, too, have less and less time for fine-dining news, which often requires more time and active intelligence to indulge in. That’s why fast food news, or street food news, is most popular. Audiences with no time for substance sustain a news industry with a vanishing competence for substantive news, and vice-versa.

I suppose this situation is representative of a societal environment that caters to the less or non-important rather than the essential. Many of us believe that there are concerns very vital to our quality of life, individual and collective. We can begin with the security and survival issues like food, clothing and shelter, then move on to health, education and productivity. Beyond these are the more aspiration, the more creative, the more leisurely and the more spiritual.

Human needs and desires are simply enough. But a few human weaknesses can cause such great disruption, so much so that the natural order of things becomes complicated. And they have stayed so complicated in the Philippines that complications are the norm, not the exceptions. Greed that cannot be moderated, lust for power that knows no bounds, these human weaknesses cause cancers like corruption and poverty.

News about corruption and poverty are important if they inform and agitate people to action, to reform and transformation. For these cancers to be effectively resolved, greed and lust for power have to be confronted and dismantled. But talking about it, fillings the news day and night to point out the obvious have made corruption and poverty run-of-the-mills news, not the horrible reality that should drive us to firm action against them.

The objective is not to talk about corruption and poverty, the intention is to solve them. But Filipinos have become engrossed, maybe by the volume, the various forms and colorful personalities involved in corruption. On the other hand, poverty has been around so long and everywhere that it has become boring – except to the impoverished. Unfortunately, the poor cannot be their own saviors if those above them, including government, do not initiate and sustain anti-poverty attitudes and programs. Except, every so often in human history, the poor take matters into their own hands by bloody revolution.

The premier colleges and universities prepare and graduate the future leaders of the country, as they have always done so in the Philippines. From the education that sons and daughters of the rich, the powerful and the learned flow the perspectives and priorities of government and industry. Maybe, that is why corruption and poverty have not been effectively confronted and resolved – because the premier colleges and universities have not made these priority issues as well.

It is strange that the most urgent problems of the Philippines as a people and country cannot develop experts from educational institutions. Our students are not armed with the wherewithal in values and skill sets to become the needed warriors against the monsters of corruption and poverty. I wonder why the premier colleges and universities more consistently give more value to what had traditionally been unable to contain both corruption and poverty.

Corruption means that those in official power abuse that power to serve their personal interests, basically to enrich themselves. Poverty means the deprivation of the basic needs of people, such as security of tenure, shelter, food and access to health care. Where are the subjects and the training to meet corruption and poverty head on, and how high in the totem pole of priorities are they?

From time to time, too, emerge situations that give rise to emergency or crisis, like the conflict between the Philippines and China. I particularly mention this delicate situation because the growing tension will not explode only if the Philippine government and the Armed Forces keep eating crow in the face of China’s bullying. We have lost one reef, Scarborough, and we will soon lose Ayungin. If we do not physically resist China, we cannot keep in our possession any reef or island that China wants to take over.

Only patriotic people can confront a bully who, as Senator Miriam said, can pulverize us in an instant. And only a patriotic people can produce public servants who will not betray the public trust. Where, then, are the patriotic schools whose graduates have the willingness and courage to confront an enemy with superior firepower?

That same patriotism will push our young citizens to become intolerant of poverty, of the hunger, homelessness and fear that the poor inherit by birth. The details of an anti-poverty program are secondary to the sense of passionate nationhood that will resolutely drive a nation to dismantle the chains keeping millions of Filipinos poor.

The needed sense of nation cannot evolve when Filipinos cannot resist the pattern of divisiveness that saps our strength. Unless we can embrace transcendent causes far more important than the walls that divide us, there will only be a facsimile of nationhood.

It is in the most challenging of times when change is forced on us, in the most dangerous when we find our courage. Is that time now?

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