Here we are again in this same state of crisis.
We had it coming because right after we have won back our freedoms in 1986 when what we had was a dim and grim life, we have not done anything right in terms of putting together a better social mold on which our basic institutions could have been anchored.
We do a reading here, a quick one. We use a simple framework, less complicated, we hope, for us to be able to see some substance with less of the accidents.
We take a review of the kind of politics we have, the economy, and our culture. We scratch their surface and we try to see what is in them.
We proceed by asking the basic questions.
What has happened to our political life since EDSA People Power I?
What has become of the economy that was ransacked by the rapacity of thieves and the greed of the power holders?
What has become of the culture that was formed and shaped and molded by fear and out of fear during the dark and dim days of the dictatorship and the equally dark and dim days decades after the agents of that dictatorship were driven out of the corridors of power and a new set of rulers came about trumpeting their own brand of the gospel of salvation?
We are asking the same questions again and again because of this feeling of déjà vu.
Here we go again in circles—the same circles that are responsible for our losing of our bearings.
We do not know where we are going with all these duplicitous transactions going on, with all the ulterior motives that range from saving the small man from the excesses of the Macapagal presidency to the calling for snap elections in order for the country to cut it clean with the chaos and the political pandemonium going on in the streets where lives come cheap, in the halls of Congress where rights are compromised and negotiated, in the media that tend to play up some positions at the expense of the other positions, and now even in the churches and religious groups that are now coming in concert with the opposition and other sectors that are pushing for President Arroyo to resign.
We have always argued that in all these dramaturgy, we have the least advantaged at the receiving end. And always, he bears the burden of carrying the cross of the country while those in power enjoy the largesse, the perks, and the privileges of ruling.
The argument for the snap elections comes close to the argument of starting all over again—as if in 1986 and then during Erap’s time we have not started all over.
This business of keeping on with difficult starts each time has become a form of sadism on the part of the rulers who can afford to play up their role in this social drama.
On the part of the people that have shown enduring courage and patience, this has become a form of masochism as they take in all the flagging and the beating and the pushing against the wall of no-alternatives.
So we have the dance of sadists and masochists, the sadists telling the steps and the footwork necessary to enjoy the dance while the masochists try to submit to the requisites of the unruly dance.
We take a review of the political life of the country.
This reality does not surprise us precisely because it is, in all counts, a déjà vu.
We have the same names of those going on to the corridors of power.
We have the surnames of those aspiring for the highest positions.
We have the same political clans.
We have the same political families.
We have the same people of dubious intents and dubious reasons for getting into public service.
We have the same people of mixed motives, their main motives centered on how much benefits they can rake in.
We think of changing for the better the political life of our people and this is what we get when we do not have the power in our hands to demand for the needed social change.
Politics is the distribution of power. When power gets into the hands of the people, that power is what makes the people the framer of their own political future.
However much we dream of this distributed power if we have the same names, surnames, families, and clans lording it over our public lives, there would be no way we can see a bright future for all of us.
Last year, the government reported that a million Filipinos went abroad to seek a better chance in life in strange lands.
While there is an economic tradeoff here—there is also a huge social loss.
We are losing the fiber of our collective life with this social disintegration that comes as a result of this exportation of warm bodies even in cold climates.
This exodus of Filipinos to other lands is at the same time an exodus of manpower and brainpower.
In many ways, the same Filipinos represent a middle class which is the source of a genuine political, economic, and cultural power.
With this exodus, this power gets into the hands of other countries. The loss is incalculable.
The big trouble with the economic institutions is that the resources to create wealth and employment and therefore production are in the hands of the political elites as well or those they are allied with.
The announcement, for instance, that another hacienda in the Visayas owned by a political clan is up for sale for so much indicates the history of economic injustice in the country, this injustice traceable to how these vast tracts of land had ended up in the hands of these people without having labored for them except for that accidental fact that they were born into the landowning family.
The hacienda of the Cojuangcos of which the former President Corazon Aquino is a part-owner is another example. It is up for sale as well—and then the revenues will yield the landowners so much.
How such amount of money is ending up in so few individuals who already have more than enough to live by when more than half of the population is starving boggles the imagination.
This leads us to the cultural.
With those elites cornering all the avenues that lead to both the political and economic life of the country, they now have the upper hand to produce, create, and manage—even administer and control—the consciousness of the nation.
This consciousness, as officially approved and recognized, can only be in the hands of those who can go to prayer rallies without getting hungry; those who can go to protest marches without having had to worry to get home safe and sound by clinging on to the extensions of jeepneys and tricycles; and those who can rant boisterously about the abuses of the regime that they at one time served faithfully without having have to go through eating rice porridge sprinkled with monosodium glutamate and salt to taste.
The producers of the culturally powerful images and mindsets are the very same people holding us hostage economically and politically.
No poor man will ever own a television or a newspaper for obvious reasons.
No poor man will ever hold an office in Congress for obvious reasons.
No poor man will ever win in elections for the simple reason that he does not have the money to buy the votes of the equally hungry, impoverished, ignorant, and opportunists—not necessarily rolled into one.
So the recourse of the poor is through the power of words and magic and charm and charisma that he can draw up and identify with in his watching of B-movies that catapulted Erap Estrada to the highest office of the land.
The movies, the all-time bang-bang and personality-oriented narrative of a hero trying to rescue the people from oppression and projecting the celluloid character with the booming voice as the redeemer and savior, have been responsible for the Fernando Poe Jr. candidacy that almost cost Gloria Arroyo her dream of recreating the nobility attached to the Macapagal surname.
The movies, as bearers of a controlled consciousness of what gives in a country, have not been owned and produced by the poor but the moneyed, including the actor FPJ.
Both Erap and FPJ did nothing during martial law. Like the rest of the members of the cultural elites, they kept mum of what was happening. There was a calculated, systemic acquiescence. We are now culturally impoverished because of this—because we lost the raison d’ etre of our right to protest and to dissent.
We begin each day with this sense of déjà vu and we tell ourselves: been here, been there—and here and now begins the same social tragedy of losing sight of our hopes and dreams.
Perhaps we need to gather these dreams and hopes again.
So even if we go through the motions of snap elections and more snap elections if we do not pay heed to the moral necessity of renewing and rearranging the basic social institutions attached to the political, cultural, and economic life of our people, we will certainly have the same problems.
The key to addressing these issues of our social life is to make it our serious business to rearrange these basic institutions by democratizing our processes.
In essence, we need to make the exercise of our political life available to the common man or woman; we need to have the economic resources available to all those who have the competency and the ability to participate in economic production and resource employment; and we need to liberate the consciousness of our people such that they will not anymore be enamored by personalities but by political programs aimed to alleviate the plight of the least advantaged.
Published, INQ, V1N18, Oct 2005