More of the same

09 January 2007



What a year 2006 was.

For most it was a year of more than enough fiesta politicals and showbiz pomp to satisfy the Filipino public's appetite for things to distract them from their wretched existence. Yet like all the years past in the last two decade of Philippine history, 2006 was no different. In fact it stands out in its mundaneness as far as progress in Philippine society is concerned.

Charter change? Cheating politicians? Legal convolutions? These are all so last-two-decades.

On top of these, yet another boxing champ propped up that ephemeral "Filipino Pride" that we all encourage each other to harbour. As if yet another individual achievement will pave the way for the collective progress of Philippine society in general.

The sad truth is that Philippine society is no better than it was twenty years ago. Thirty years ago even. The majority of Filipinos still get the short end of the stick of Philippine justice. And "Filipino Pride" -- despite so many feats of achievement among a handful of exceptional individual Filipinos -- is nothing more than a hollow slogan that is not substantiated by any collective achievement to speak of.

The sad fact is, ours is still a society imprisoned by feudal mindsets. Anyone who's experienced being prodded aside in traffic by a motorcade -- complete with flashers and police sirens -- escorting a private vehicle knows just how huge a farce rule-of-law is in the Philippines. Big black -- and private -- flasher-and-siren wielding vehicles have been stomping through Manila traffic since time immemorial and they still do today. They epitomise the general legal apartheid that the average Filipino for his part generally tolerates in his day-to-day life. And this situation hasn't changed.

Now the same old token gestures of disgust suddenly scream through the media and the country's halls of "justice" in the wake of the illegal transfer to U.S. custody of US Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith who was convicted by Manila court of raping a Filipino woman in December 4, 2006. The expressions of indignation and disgust that followed now simply come across as a bit quaint. A society that routinely tolerates apartheid of the Law is suddenly up in arms. It is like a man who did nothing for years while leaks on his roof spread rot all over the walls of his house suddenly cries foul when a vandal scrawls graffitti on his garage door.

No change. No progress.

Indeed, the year 2007 was fittingly welcomed by that quintessential manifestation of the Filipino's utterly flat learning curve -- a New Year's Eve celebration marked by record death-and-injury-by-fireworks statistics. "Isn't it time we banned firecrackers?", blogged the PCIJ on the 1st of January 2007. Well, for that matter isn't it about time we Filipinos learned to take a hard look at the many stupid things that go on within our shores that continue to secure our position as the laughingstock of the Far East?

One need look no further than the quality of the people our society chooses to entrust its wellbeing upon.

Bong Austero, braces himself as The Nightmare Begins, seeing the Senate turn into a "one giant family affair cum showbiz studio" as a new batch of showbiz personalities led by no less than Richard Gomez prepares for their shot at a Senate seat. The old guard "traditional politicians" or trapos are now being replaced by a new generation of politicians -- the "traditional peoples' choices".

Trapechos, anyone?

As our elections become more honest, our politicians begin to reflect our society more accurately. As our elections get cleaner, the mirror we stare upon gets clearer.

It's difficult to regard the person in the mirror, isn't it?

What we see in that mirror is the image of a clown that hides a face ravaged by an underlying cancer that continues to afflict Philippine society -- and this cancer is growing and deepening as the clown's bizarre smile grows more grotesque. This is the rot that pushes more and more Filipinos either out of the country or into a state of absolute apathy. It is the apathy of those that remain in the islands that poses the bigger danger to our society.

As the Sassy Lawyer said in her Manila Standard column;

[...]in the context of an acceptance of things that one cannot change, apathy can grow when there is no genuine understanding of what truly separates the things that can be changed from those that cannot be changed.

This bit of insight is especially relevant in a society that is famously bankrupt of intellectual pursuit, critical thought, and honest self-reflection. Every Filipino, for example, has it in himself and herself to change the appalling casualty statistics after every New Year's Eve fiesta of fire. Yet year in and year out, there is no change.

The Philippines is a glaring tribute to the all-too-real observation that abundant resources do not necessarily make a prosperous society. Consider that the world's richest diamond mines and most productive oil fields are located in lands that are host to mankind's most backward societies. The Philippines, for its part, having all but depleted much of its natural wealth and driven its agriculture to uncompetitive oblivion is left with its people -- among the most educated and literate in all of Asia. Filipino humanity now constitute a vast asset base that Philippine industry has started to draw on.

Yet like other past resource at our society's disposal we are already showing the makings of our usual shortsighted approach to managing this valuable asset. Chuckie Perez Manio had this bit of insight on how our society employs the armies of university graduates we produce each year today (excerpt from his "Youngblood" article on Inquirer.net, 09 Jan 2007):

Maybe our priorities are misplaced. Instead of cultivating talent and shaping promising young men and women into creators and innovators and pillars of their communities, we are nipping young buds who are about to bloom, training an army of brain-dead drones to speak a foreign language with an accent. Rather than teach in one language and concentrate on mathematics and the "hard" sciences, we teach in two languages and graduate batch after batch of inept English speakers destined for mediocrity. Instead of producing thinkers, leaders, writers and scientists, we set loose upon the world servants and flunkies, wiping the sweat off doctors' faces and cleaning some foreigner's backside. Not a fair trade, I think.

Indeed, work as call centre agents and "caregivers" overseas make up the career aspirations of the cream of Filipino youth today.

The future looks so bright dude, you gotta wear headphones, bro.

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