The Gathering Storm, Part II

Continued from Part I

The Beginning, Part 2

“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.” — Louisa May Alcott

Many have argued, some convincingly, that despite Arroyo’s faults, we need a strong leader with an iron hand, a “noble dictator” so to speak (albeit oxymoronic). Possibly one in the style of Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew. The early Marcos years were, after all, quite progressive. One Filipina posited to me at a cafe in politically dull Holland that if martial law never happened, then maybe Filipinos could deal with a noble-dictator type of leadership.

Perhaps. But martial law and People Power, and everything else, did happen. The Filipino psyche will not be able to live with an iron hand again. A Filipino present in our cafe conversation said that Filipinos would rather be miserably poor than be miserable under martial law.

The point is: history happened. We cannot change that. National psyches, sensitivities and proclivities are shaped by the socio-cultural context as well as historical legacy. Not to mention that martial law is a living memory to many Filipinos, and that is a major force in how they choose to write the next chapter of the story.

Any other candidate could arguably have made a good president. But we do not live in a vacuum. There are forces set into motion in the generations before us that we must contend with, that have shaped who we are, why we are, where we are today. And why we seek to go where we seek to go. In other words, now is not their time. Now is not their place in history.

Chris Tio, quoted in a TIME article on the Philippine elections, could not have said it better: “We’re in a fight for the soul of this nation.”

“The Next Aquino”

“It’s like waking up from a bad dream.” — Leah Navarro

Now-President Noynoy Aquino was thrust into the limelight following the death of his mother, Cory; her funeral reminiscent of the outpouring of grief for her late husband Ninoy back in ’83. Just like after his death, the country was flooded in yellow ribbons. And just like his death sparked something sleeping in Filipinos, so did hers.
Elections anywhere always means “change.” But this time, it wasn’t just any old change Filipinos realized they wanted; they wanted, and needed, fundamental change.

A former advisor to then-President Ramos told me over coffee that leaders are born out of what needs to be changed in the status quo. From strongman Marcos, we found the “saint of democracy” Aquino. From a politically weak Aquino, we found the decisive Ramos. (The movie actor Estrada was a fluke, or perhaps a protest vote from the masses largely ignored in the boom of pre-Asian Economic Crisis of ’97). And now from Arroyo, we find the one who stood for everything she was not.

Aquino finds himself in the same situation as his mother 25 years ago: to clean up a country almost from scratch, to re-establish trust in the government, possibly re-work the constitution (it was during his mother’s time that the current constitution was drafted and effected). Or at the very least begin to reverse the tide.

His detailed platform of government, with a cabinet staffed by respectable, capable and honest men and women, is a promising start. One thing we should expect him to deliver on, however, is “putting closure” on the scandals that have wracked the Arroyo administration, an Arroyo supreme court notwithstanding.

[Read more: “Aquino’s first challenge: Arroyo,” from Asia Times 26 May 2010]

Aquino will now have to navigate dire political straits, the legacy of the administration before him, including his mother’s. According to de Quiros:

What [Aquino] is facing today is a resumption of government after a hiatus or void or vacuum of six years. [Arroyo] was president only before she was “elected” into office. “Hello Garci” voided her second term.

He is now up against the herculean task of restoring the faith of the people in its leaders; without this trust, there is no true democracy.

One thing immediately clear from the results of the elections (in which Aquino won with the largest mandate at about 40%, since the Philippine adopted the multi-party system in 1987, this election having the most number of presidential candidates since then to boot) is that the Philippines is in transition. Randy David writes:

Our institutions have not fully ripened….Still, we are becoming conscious of the perils of conflict-of-interest situations as we play multiple roles in everyday life.We are getting there. By voting for leaders we can trust, we buy time for our institutions to fully mature. But we cannot be complacent. The long term goal is to develop a society that is formidable enough to withstand betrayal by its chosen leaders.

Not to worry, fellow Filipinos, democracies do not grow overnight. The blossoming of democratic societies do take time, and it involves work both by the government and its people. But let us not forget that last nine years and our close call with permanent regression.
Transparency, Accountability

Aquino has promised to review and at least begin revising the legal and policy framework whereby there will be an environment of government accountability that has sorely been lacking for at least the last decade. Transparency is a necessary condition for Accountability.

Aquino’s moves to, for instance, conduct audits and further reviews of the budget, opening government officials’ assets and liabilities beyond the very limited SALN, and most pressingly, his recent promise to make the Freedom of Information Act a priority in his government (after the conspicuous absence by Arroyo allies that blocked its passage in June), shows we are on the right track to a more transparent government.

Such integrity will lead to future economic pay-offs. In this way, the GDP and other economic indicators will more likely be able to reflect the social situation; that is, economic and social progress going hand in hand.
Nation Building

One prominent Filipino blogger complained that 60% of Filipinos were mourning the loss of a dream because of the Aquino win. While the percentage is a logically fallacious assumption, and the rhetoric overly dramatic and counterproductive to an attitude of progress, to her credit, the sentiment does betray a flaw in the system. Until the Philippines reverts back to a two-party system, there will never be a true majority president.

Aquino is set to review the current constitution for changes. Perhaps this, and the over-abused partylist system (where non-geographic, but “marginalized,” constituencies are also represented in Congress), should be reviewed, among many other flaws.

Such is political life in the Philippines, but then again, every leader and institution should be subject to a healthy amount of criticism and probing. It goes back to accountability.

Accountability is a two-way street. There is no accountability if there is no one to hold that person accountable. And Nation-building is not only the building of a nation, but the building of a nation by a nation. For a nation is not a political entity (that is a state), nor is it a geographic one (that is a country). A nation is its people.

Therefore the task ahead of us is this: We need to fix our country, we need to fix our state, but first, we also need to fix ourselves.

So for those jockeying for political weight, abandon the crab mentality. For those who might have “seen their dream die,” abandon the bitterness. For those who smugly celebrate their candidate’s win, abandon the self-righteousness. In this country, not only is politics addition; it is also division. Politicians, they divide and they conquer.
It is time for us to now move forward, together, for us.

The Life Before Us

There is an age-old question that students of history ask: Does history shape man, or does man shape history? As Herbert Spencer once said, “Before he can remake his society, society must make him.”

Most would agree it goes both ways. The sub-heading I chose here reflects that thinking. Read it again. It is the English title of one of my favorite books, the story about a young boy dreaming of his future and how everything in it is shaped by the pasts of the people in his life, as well as the pasts of his countries/race/social class, and yet it is he who is doing the learning, the dreaming, and eventually, the doing.

We are a product of our own history. But it is up to us to continue shaping history for ourselves and for future generations.

A CBS journalist had famously said of the 1986 revolution: “We Americans like to think we taught Filipinos democracy. Tonight, they are teaching the world.”

It was democracy through revolution. Today, we have the chance of a revolution through democracy. Can we teach the world again? More importantly, can we teach ourselves?

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson