Imagining the Philippine Nation

The Weekly Inquirer Analysis

By Aurelio S. Agcaoili, PhD


There is this from-the-province joke about dancing. In the provinces, the folks call this the sosyalan. The more English-prone of the promdis call it the “benefit dance” or the “social dance.” You get into the social hall and you pay the corresponding entrance fee.

And then you dance till you have emptied your pocket. In the morning you realize that a dance such as this—the one akin to the cha-cha of the politicos—can make you a pauper at the stroke of midnight.

There are expectations, of course. This is where the joke comes in. A man should curtsy and ask a gentle woman, “Can I dance over you?” The answer, supposedly, is “Centerly, manong!” While this is a tongue-in-cheek way of poking fun at the lack of imagination of jokers, this seems to be that same quality of the cha-cha proponents. They try to “dance over us” because of their “lapse (in) judgment.” For the life of us as a people, we resist this curtsying and we do not say “Centerly” but instead tell the proponents to go get lost and scram.

The proponents of charter change at this time are a playing a joke on us. They think that all we want is to dance to their tune. They think that all we want is to go on with our endless dancing, with us executing all the delicate movements while they watch us stumble and fall.

In fake empathy, they smirk at the sight of us contorting to carnival-esque position and posture. They say to soothe us, “Kawawa ka naman. Sana hindi ka na lang nag-tumbling-tumbling.”

Just the same, they laugh at our folly even as we grimace from the pain of having our toes stepped on by those big burly men whose only claim to the art of dancing is that their ancestors were our ancestors’ oppressors.

Already, we hear of Speaker Jose de Venecia proposing barangay-level consultations all over the land as if our only lifeline in this search for our millions is changing the Constitution. We can imagine here the show promising us a million by being able to answer the general information questions that do not add character to our already heavily burdened lives.

The gospel they sell is simple enough. The problem is that it is too simple for simpletons to understand precisely because it lacks substance.

The logic of their proposal is based on a bad definition of a problem. It is clear now. That many of these politicians passing themselves off as the leaders of the land were absent from their Public Administration 101. Their reductionist approach to the problem plaguing us as a people is a simplification without sense and meaning: That the ultimate problem is that we do not have a parliamentary government and that the solution to this problem is that we should have one.

They also tell us of a promise of salvation—as if they have gotten some kind of an email from some Savior and they proclaim: That the panacea to all that bedevils us shall come from the potentia of a parliamentary form of government to become an actuality—a reality. There is enchantment of having all the not-so-good people—the phony politicians and pretenders—deciding the fate of the nation in one august body. Without us knowing, they will soon be there in that august body: the same faces, the same names, the same power players, the same cheats, the same liars, the same clans, the same tribes, the same families. What a social and political life!

If we look closely at what ills us, it is this: it is leadership and its absence. It is the lack of will to get past that ails us. It is the lack of will power.

In the SONA of President Gloria Arroyo, she spoke of a political system that has been so tainted, dirty, and sooty for a long time that anyone who gets close to it will invariably be tainted and dirtied as well. While we take our hats off to the President for that candid declaration, we do not mean to excuse her from her record of blame and blemish, alleged or true. We expect a different—a higher—standard to measure the presidency and to exempt this office from this standard is plain and simple socially inappropriate. It reeks of injustice—and a preference.

What consultation is de Venecia talking about then? Is the House of Congress tired of its impotency to adopt laws that are meant to better the lot of our people such that they are now busy designing and drawing up diversionary tactics to make us forget their lousy lawmaking work?

The fundamental step to problem solving is defining the problem.

The proponents of the charter change, their curtsying included, simply do not know how to define the problem.

The Congress is a failure not because we have a Congress. The Congress is a failure because the congress people do not know how to behave as congress people and do not know how to play their role in creating a just and fair society.

The Senate is a failure because the senators—honorable as they are—have dishonored that august body by their playing politics all the time, with some of them dying to become presidents as if their whole life depended on that wild dream and delusion of grandeur. Or the others are simply playing hanky-panky with opportunists—if they are not themselves the best example of what political opportunism is all about. We count our fingers and we realize that there are not many of them left—the decent and dignified one, those with integrity and self-respect.

The grandeur of a dream is in the dream and its possibilities; it is never on the dreamer with his flaws and grand ambition and foolish ways. The politicians in our midst, abominable as they are, have lost sight of what we are and where we are going.

The charter change derails us some more from the train ride to progress. With it, we end in perpetual backward motion. If we do not arrest this, we might as well accept the curtsying and say, “Centerly—certainly, keep us hungry and famished and poor and miserable some more!” If we do this, we shall have become a nation of masochists—loving suffering even more, enjoying it, and delighted in its promise of making us less human.

What power should draw us away from this humdrum of the everyday in the home country?

We need to imagine the nation again. If we need to re-imagine it, we should. In that imagination, we need to structure the plot of our national narrative. We begin the narrative in medias res. Then we ask, Quo vadis?

We are here at this nexus—this crossroads that tell us of the sad tales about our intelligent people leaving the country to live somewhere. One has said so, not lightly, but with such sadness and sorrow, “So sorry, my motherland, so sorry. I have to leave in order to live.”

This is what we have now. From here, where do we go? Well, we need to imagine—and creatively imagine—the nation again. And again.

Published in Weekly Inquirer, Aug 12/05

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