Who we are

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

| Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

Traditionally, we are supposed to be in a honeymoon period. A new administration has taken over after six years of an old one. Official results of the election just four months ago proclaimed a landslide, and, all the more, great festivities and an extended honeymoon were in order.

But there were none. The 31 million votes counted in favor of the new president did not spill out to the streets to make merry. We just have to assume they were happy even though we must follow the trolls to get that sense of victory. What was overwhelmingly triumphant officially was underwhelmingly celebrated publicly.

Reality bites. The propaganda of a golden era is, by now, exposed as such – merely propaganda. The promise of 20 pesos per kilo of rice is also exposed as such – a promise that has been downgraded to a presidential wish. In other words, if he could. The only thing going around in serious quantities is misinformation and disinformation.

Plus, high prices of almost everything combined with low supplies, from gas and electricity to sugar and onions. The economic contraction affecting our country has removed the natural optimism brought about by new leadership. Except in politics, of course. Politicians are a special breed of people. They thrive under any probable circumstance.

Carpetbaggers, too, tend to thrive under the worst situations. What they look for are opportunities to exploit. Bad times are good times for exploiters, so not all of us are praying for things to be better. Globally, I have been monitoring the wealth of the very rich and am amazed at how their wealth increased by several trillion dollars during the pandemic. Hundreds of millions, though, were added to the population of the poor.

The global macro is reflected in the micro we call the Philippines. It goes for economics, and it goes for politics. What is pitiful in our case is the shocking poverty of learning. Our future, represented in this case by our young generation, is headed for some kind of darkness, considering 90% of our young children can hardly read and understand basic instructions.

While many factors contribute to a genuinely pessimistic picture, wallowing in self-pity will only worsen it unless the plan is to reach the depths of suffering that will force the majority to rise in anger. It may happen, of course, but only on its own. No one has the resources and vision for that kind of plan, the low intensity with no guarantee it will ever happen.

“Resiliency is not an action; it is the fruit of our productive actions. Resiliency does not give us the capacity; it is capacity that makes us attain resiliency. Resiliency is from doing, maybe even giving. It is not from simply receiving.”

We, as private citizens, have to do something. I hesitate to say do our part because even that is unclear. For one, our political preferences or biases will color our attitude and dampen our spirit. And two, we have no official guidance or inspiration to be part of a collective effort, only a statement here and there from the new leadership asking for unity.

What is happening, and will continue to happen, is that the majority of Filipinos who are poor will simply ask for lower prices for everything they need. They will also ask for more jobs and higher wages, but businesses are not in an investing mode. They see ominous signs around the world that make life volatile and disruptive. We are simply not in a good place and a good time.

Which means we ourselves have to take the bull by the horn. For too long, we have depended so much on government and the rich to solve our problems and be our perpetual security blanket. For that, we have conceded many of our own dreams and become resigned or submissive. We do not realize that we have chosen to be weak dependents, heavy millstones around the neck of our national fate.

The initiative must come from all concerned citizens. There are no golden parachutes from the sky, but there can be golden seeds from the earth. Food supply and affordable prices are not entirely out of our hands. We can grow our food, then exchange these with the food our neighbors grow. We can trade rice and vegetables for fish from our fishing communities.

Before becoming a nation’s citizens, we are residents of our community. Before the nation can come and save us from hunger, illness, or danger, our community and communities nearest us could respond faster. Resiliency is not an action; it is the fruit of our productive actions. Resiliency does not give us the capacity; it is capacity that makes us attain resiliency. Resiliency is from doing, maybe even giving. It is not from simply receiving.

The pandemic had taught us how powerless we had become and how dependent on the government and politicians who control our resources. We have long forgotten that their power and resources come from us. We became that because we chose to be dependent on them rather than them dependent on us.

Nothing new; disinformation has long been at work. Traditional disinformation had always targeted the source of power – the people, and especially the poor among the people. And it was not about slandering and fighting political parties and personalities. It is not democracy that is threatened by disinformation; it is the power of the people in a democracy that disinformation has neutralized.

Until we begin to build our capacity to produce and satisfy our essential needs, we cannot get back the power and resources that our humanity and citizenship endowed us. It is difficult to leap from dependency to independence. It will need many of us to work together and be each other’s support system. The ball is in our court, but propaganda will tell us the ball is in the hands of the powerful.

To break free from our poverty, material, and material, we must break free from the mind conditioning that keeps us dependent and weak. Then, we build, build, build our capacities and our character. There is no other way to be more than who we are now.

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