I was recently asked by a college classmate if, in our remaining lifetime, we would ever see the change we have been wanting for our country. It was not a rhetorical question, nor a flippant one. The inquiry came from a lawyer of more than forty years, a man who had even had a stint in public office, and a person who continues to struggle to be one with his faith.
Actually, it was not the first time he had posed that question to me, except this time, there were others joining the conversation. And I believe he asked me because I had often taken a different view, a different approach, to common problems.
Of course, I answered the only answer I know. I said, “Yes, if you are seeing what I am seeing.”
It was, then, a matter of describing what I was seeing, and my inevitable pointing to the younger generations, our own children and grandchildren. Because we know, that more than just a general rule, that our own young are displaying incontrovertible evidence that they are a better version of us.
The serious frustrations that we carry, those of us who are beyond our forties, are the ills of our society. We are especially chagrined when we think of corruption, although I wonder why. After all, we who graduated from the premier schools of the land were scions of those who ran Philippine society, including the politics of it. And we then had at least forty years of being a crucial part of that ruling class – even if we chose not to be really aware of it. It is simply that from a macro point of view, we belonged to the upper 10% of Philippine society, dominating the perspective and decisions over the various fields of governance, economics, education, and even religion.
And the ironic, even sad, part of it is that we are deeply agitated with corruption while only mildly concerned about poverty. Truly sad because our scale of historical and present poverty, and its continuance, is one factor that will deny any anti-corruption advocacy any sustainable success.
So, we are faced with almost comic realities that result, not in laughter, but frustrations at the upper level of society, and actual suffering for the majority poor. We want to address corruption but miss the truth of our own participation in it, by commission and omission. I think most of us did not realize we were elitist because we looked only to the 1% who control so much of Philippine life, and undervaluing the fact that as part of the upper 10%, we have been elite as well.
Let me touch a little on corruption. While there is no one definition of corruption, in philosophical and moral discussions, it usually refers to as “the abuse of bestowed power or position to acquire a personal benefit.” Whatever variety of nuances there may be in legal terms, the nature of corruption is essentially this.
Is elitism bestowed? If elitism is inherited, or caused by inheritance dynamics not far from how dynasties are formed, then it is safe to assume that wealth and power have been passed on that way, at least in the Philippines, and at least for a few generations. As history and reality has it, though, our so-called dynasties are quite short-lived, which makes them oxymorons.
In our land, wealth and power are passed on the dynasty manner from ancestors who managed to pass on their accumulated wealth and power to the next generation. In this respect, much of present-day elitism has been bestowed. If we miss this very fundamental reality, we will never see corruption or its roots with clarity–and cannot dismantle it effectively.
Politically, however, corruption is the abuse of bestowed position for personal gain. These positions are basically bestowed two ways, 1) by election, and 2) by appointment of the elected. Most talk of corruption has been narrowed to these two categories of bestowed power. Most anti-corruption advocates, especially the most noisy, choose to narrow their definition of corruption to these categories.
Yet, the fact of bribery has been attached to this narrow definition as much as the philosophical and moral have been largely eased out (difficult as they are to measure). Bribery is as integral to corruption the way it is defined and measured today, especially by international transparency groups. When we understand this relationship between the briber and the bribed, our view of corruption must radically change. So, too, will our approach to dismantle it–if we have the stomach to also go against those who have the power to bribe.
Lambasting politicians seems to be the easier route as they are really made-to-order punching bags. They are the ones up front, they are the ones we can identify and who, at least during elections, openly need our votes. But the puppeteers are not so visible, the ventriloquist not so obvious as the manipulated.
So, the greater powers-that-are, those who prospered all these decades of what we say are corrupt environments and politicians, they are never the focus of our resentment, our attacks. After all, how many of us have eaten out of the largesse of the only source of humoungous wealth that can buy politicians? But if don’t see the kingmakers, we will never understand what they do.
That’s why I see only the younger generations. I see the nobility as designed by life itself still so alive in them. I see their predisposition to be more egalitarian and disapproving of our traditional caste system. I see their instinct to create and produce even when they are blessed by inheritance. I see that their environment is mobile, technical and global. This is what I see, and sense that beyond my view, there is even more power there than what a senior citizen can grasp.
Yes, my friend, Rico, we will live to see change, enough of it to ease our despair.