Next Steps: Do Filipinos understand the concept?

08 July 2005



In the last couple of weeks as of this writing, tens if not hundreds of "groups" and "communities", have issued "statements" calling for President Gloria Arroyo to resign (plus a minority encouraging her to hang in there).

This could have been Filipinos at their best -- if this was 1986. Unfortunately this is Year 2005. Almost 20 years hence, and one other Edsa "revolution" later, we are again in the midst of our favourite approach to changing presidents.

Filipinos are again caught up with the festivities of political gossiping and collecting little factoids about the latest presidential debacle. Filipinos are now also even busier asking each other who is for or against President Arroyo. In this era of the Internet, so much information is available to fuel and fan the flames of discontent in Philippine society. In the middle of all this are blogs like the PCIJ that provide "investigative journalism" -- doing nothing more than contribute to the divisiveness in the chattering classes who subsist on all this stuff.

It's a dog-like mentality (in Tagalog asal aso). One dog starts barking in the night, and others in the neighbourhood following suit without really knowing what the fuss is all about.

Yes, the President is answerable to the people. But she is entitled to be answerable via the proper channels. Why do we rely on the media to do our "investigations" for us? Why do we rely on citizens' groups to do our "prosecution"? Investigating is the job of the police and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). Why can't Filipinos demand that the police and justices do their job? So much outrage has been dished out in the last couple of weeks. Yet in the last five decades, our own law enforcement agencies and judiciary have consistently done shoddy jobs. Why aren't we just as outraged when the police, the NBI, and the judiciary don't do their job? We should demand that they step up to the challenge of overseeing this whole thing. We should focus our vigilance on institutions -- ensure that institutions do their job properly.

No wonder institutional reform never gets implemented -- because Filipinos are fond of bypassing them. Rather than fix systems we unleash fixers on our systems. "Cause-oriented" groups continuously pontificate about the need for "vigilance". Yet Filipinos still do not have a clue as to what exactly this call means. To many it's about keeping an eye on our politicians to ensure that they keep their noses clean. We forget that our hard-earned taxes already are being spent on institutions whose job is to do exactly that. Filipinos need to channel this "vigilance" towards a more sustainable effort to get institutions to work for them. Instead we focus on working despite these institutions.

So here we are again, back in the business of Fiesta Instability -- often a precursor to Fiesta Revolution. The extent to which everything is so politicised is as disturbing as the overall bizarreness of the society. The culture of petty partisan politics is tightly interwoven into even the most mundane. It is a volatile mix - political showbiz added to a largely idle population with small idle minds. Add to this the messiah complex of Filipinos -- that our destinies depend largely on the goodness or badness of the powerful. From this lethal brew we get exactly what we see today. Philippine society becomes transfixed or, worse, paralysed, necks craned upwards to the powers that be whenever they flex or succumb.

Just like a bunch of two-year-olds. Zero attention span.

A society that once elected a famous philanderer, drunkard, and under-educated man to the presidency now lashes out against a president "who has lost the moral ground to govern". Indeed. An irony wasted on a people with utterly weak faculties to fathom irony.

Meanwhile the real world keeps turning. The peso teeters on the edge of rapid decline, environmental degradation continues, population growth gallops away, talented Filipinos leave. Brain-retarding call centres now attract the best and brightest graduates of elite Filipino schools. And China, India, and Vietnam are beavering away at the task of building industries that soon will be (if not already are) sucking away opportunities from an economy that was once merely stunted and is now severely shriveled.

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