I was in one of the high rise buildings in Ortigas and looking out of the window, could see that the volume of vehicles was again too much for the four-lane two-way traffic road. It was bumper-to-bumper traffic both ways. At one intersection, a gray Toyota Camry from the two-lane heading north was slowly attempting to make a left turn to a road heading east. The Camry effectively blocked the two lanes heading south for a good few minutes which created an empty space between the cars ahead in said lanes from those that were blocked.
The space was enough for the driver heading north in a white Ford Pick-up to think he could overtake several cars, and the Ford darted towards the intersection, an action immediately followed by several more cars, availing of the suddenly empty lane in the opposite direction. I could not see the next intersection, but it was obvious that there was also something happening there which made the cars heading north to slowdown quite a bit because the cars heading south were blocked by the Camry. By the time the Ford reached the intersection I could see, the Camry has completed its left turn, but this time, it was the Ford and the other cars that followed that were about to block one lane heading south.
If they could not merge back to the lanes heading north, a gridlock was about to ensue. And sure enough, the gridlock occurred because of the impatience of the drivers in the Ford and the cars that counterflowed. It took about 45 minutes to untangle the grid. So, instead of making up time, they also wasted the time of others with their selfish and myopic ways. Only in the Philippines, I thought to myself.
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Have we become selfish and myopic after EDSA1?
The assassination of Ninoy Aquino at the tarmac made the nation think. It sure made us think on whether there was a point in pursuing the Marcos south to north road of Bagong Lipunan. We began to doubt and convinced ourselves that Marcos was no longer leading our nation to greatness again. We were trying a slow left turn to investigate if an east to west tangential road was a better path to pursue. However, emotions got the better part of us in the immediate aftermath of the tarmac, and we allowed a Ford Pick-up to dart towards the intersection of challenges. In our mad dash, we only took into consideration the attractive space of freedom and liberty, thinking that we could overtake the others who constraint themselves and stuck on the right lanes with a bumper-to-bumper patience and discipline.
Cory Aquino was the driver of our Pick-up truck; thereafter, there have been other drivers who have taken over her, including her very son as our driver today. Today, we seem to be still stuck in the intersection while other nations have untangled themselves from the gridlock. We have news that some of these nations have struck gold in the end whether they have pursued the east-west or the south-north roads. Maybe, it is time to admit that we have been myopic and selfish, made worse by Pinoy Pride. The irony is that we have put a premium on freedom, and yet tether ourselves to Pinoy Pride as if this was the only therapy to our inferiority complex as colonial victims. The truth is that we have been more like bridled horses in our tunnel vision, impervious to what is happening outside our unanchored floating archipelago. So, whoever is riding the horse, we follow even if the rider is leading us to a ditch??
What do we see in retrospect?
Lately, we just dashed, like the Ford Pick-up above, to host the next FIBA, but lost to China. To aspire to host a big international event, such as the Summer Olympic Games, could be something unifying. It affords a people a concrete vision to go for, a challenge to have the glory that comes with it, or the embarrassment from a disorganized event, and thus, they get interested, keep up with the news in the progress of the preparation, and get morally involved if they could not help directly, so that the country doesn’t get embarrassed.
When Seoul decided to host the Summer Olympics of 1986 in the 1970s, South Korea was no tiger economy. South Korea then could be somewhat compared to be what the Philippines is today. That could easily be pictured because the clock seem to have stopped in the Philippines to the 1980s; some Korean tourists remember that Manila, especially Makati and the Roxas Blvd/Ermita Area, then looked more progressive than any part of Seoul. According to the Koreans, if the Philippines probably continued with the initiatives and the momentum that it still had then, we probably would not be lagging as bad from them today. The respect they have for the ingenuity, creativity, flexibility and persistence of Filipinos remains for that is what we were as a people. However, visiting Metro Manila again lately, they were shocked at how Metro Manila deteriorated; it is urban planning gone awry, or an urban center with no planning at all — an urbanity turned “kabastusan” and “kababuyan”.
My Korean visitors were telling me that the 1980s was the watershed for South Korea. Seoul was practically overturned; at any one time of the several years, there was digging in practically half of the city because the subway lines were being put in. There were all sorts of business disruptions. Meantime, farmers in Kangnam, south of Seoul, were being displaced because their lands were being expropriated to give way to the large scale development of an Olympic Village. There were, of course, some complaints, but on the whole there was a sign of relief that finally the preparations were underway.
They have been dreaming of hosting the Olympics since the 1960s, the decade that Japan started exporting cars to the United States of America. The Jap cars then were still lemons and were a butt of American jokes (how times have really changed.) But, the mere fact that Japan started exporting to the US alarmed Korea. In the late 19th-, and early 20th-, century, Korea was a colony of Japan for 90 years, and during that period, the Koreans were treated very badly as second-class citizens in their own country. Koreans have not forgotten that, and the animosity between the two is deeply rooted even to this day. So an exporting Japan brought a depressing feeling, Korea needed something to uplift the national psyche.
The resounding success of Olympics 86 brought that. After the Olympics, Koreans started thinking that they were after all capable of great things. It was the decade the population started getting rid of mediocrity. It was the time to start thinking world-class. It was the time to start thinking big. The result is a Korea we see today — a country that we could never picture as myopic, not even a mile close to that.
So, I don’t know what our people were thinking bidding to host a FIBA; our love for basketball, and that is it? That is a lot of bull#*$p!!!
How do we analyze the corrupt undercurrent in our government culture?
Like Korea, the 1980s was a watershed too for the Philippines; it was the decade of the EDSA People Power Revolution, and we were so proud of it. Unlike Korea, we were not building momentum, we were changing gears. Destination? We had no idea then. All we knew is we were free of the shackles of a dictator. We obsessed over our liberty; we were bound to abuse it. What we know now is that we went headlong into being a basket case.
Several analyses have been put forward as to the WHYs. Number one in the list is the unbridled corruption to a point that some claim that our drivers in the cockpit called Malacañang, or the riders of our horses, have been more corrupt than Marcos if we consider the short term they have been in offices compared to the 20 years of Marcos. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) seems to support this, claiming that the Philippines loses 40% of its national budget to corruption, an unheard of amount during the martial law years.
Some say we are lagging because of the knee-jerk 1987 Constitution, which dissuades foreign investments; others claim it is the elimination of the two party system, or that our population has simply ballooned to over 100 million, to which I disagree. 100 million is just about the ideal domestic market size that supports all sorts of economies of scales if we have just focused our energies on strengthening our manufacturing industries, which, with 100 million customers, will not be easily subjected to the ups and downs of the export markets. But, whatever ills there are, they don’t seem to compare to the cancer, that is corruption.
But, if it is about corruption, then it is about selfishness and greed. But, I refuse to accept that we are that people. I look at myself, I look at my family, my neighbors, my colleagues and friends, my former classmates with whom I still get in touch with, and I cannot see in any of them a selfish and greedy person. And, I am sure you could say the same thing about yourselves, your family, your friends and circle of influences. So, where is this selfishness and greed coming from? Is it simply made to appear as a cancer in the system, so we would accept it as something incurable just to benefit a vicious few? How deep is this ingrained in the national psyche?
I read for the first time today Fallen Angel’s article about the BNPP, A Monument to Pinoy Stupidity the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. I was a bit sad about it because it brought back memories of an older cousin, who had an MS in nuclear science from MIT and was very much involved in the project management of BNPP. A very young man then, he was very happy shuttling back and forth between the US and the Philippines, like it was just going back and forth between Cebu and Manila, and every time, all the cousins were quite happy with his pasalubongs. He got a Green Card to the US in 1990, and that was the last I saw him. Because of him, I think I knew then that the Philippines was going in the direction of nuclear plants even if everything surrounding the BNPP was messy — if I am not mistaken, a regulatory agency in the US even sued Westinghouse for getting involved in a deal that involved a lot of kickbacks.
But be that as it may, it never ceases to strike me like a thunderbolt every time I read that Cory Aquino may have mothballed BNPP not really on the basis of the pros and cons regarding the safety of a nuclear plants, but because it was the idea of Marcos. Gosh, that is a very, very big Cory ego — a very expensive ego to the tune of billions of dollars that Filipinos have been paying through the years, made worse by the EPIRA Law that made the energy cost in the Philippines one of the most expensive in the world, discouraging all sorts of investments in manufacturing, which in turn could have been one of the biggest generators of employment. So, the multi-level multiplier effects of that costly Cory Ego is even impossible to compute in terms of a dollar amount. If it is impossible to compute that gargantuan amount, what kind of mentality did she have? Could we say that despite her saintly demeanour, she was actually a very, very selfish individual within her deep core?
Marcoses vs Aquinos
Hanging himself from a tree, even Judas did confirm in a way that Jesus was the Good One in the process. If Judas who is portrayed as the most evil one could unwittingly generate a good idea, could Marcos be more evil than Judas and not be able to generate any good idea at all? Being the First President of the Fifth Republic of the Philippines, Cory was all about discontinuity — even there was wisdom in retaining what was good in the past while throwing away what was bad. The stone of Cory’s ego was thrown in the middle of the government lake, and a selfish ripple has been expanding in an ever widening concentric circles since then; how else could we explain that even the older politicians are today shocked by the extent and brazenness of corruption in the last 10 to 15 years both at the national and local levels? If there is one thing about PNoy’s narcissism which shrouds, and yet put into a pedestal, the mother’s selfishness, it is that he has put into our consciousness what could have remained in our subconscious.
The Aquinos have always been portrayed as being straight as arrows. But, corruption is a two-way street, the giving of bribes and the receiving. We know what PNoy did during the Corona impeachment trial; bribing legislators is not corruption? Who is worse the one who has a far-reaching agenda, or the ones who just succumbed to greed? Aren’t they just the same? Or, who is more corrupt? The Aquinos who continue to hold on to Hacienda Luisita? Or, the Marcoses who people claimed have not completely return their ill-gotten wealth? If we don’t know the exact amounts involved, who has the more corrupt mentality; the one who started crony capitalism, or the one who continues to promote patronage politics, even if they said that this was the evil of Martial Law?
One could hate a person, but it is another thing not to give an idea any chance of being analyzed just because it came from The Hated One; we would never know if we missed an opportunity, or if we could discard the idea with finality so we could move on. The Japs, for example, are known for their sushis, but this was an idea that didn’t originate in Japan; it was a Korean idea from the start. Could Cory have just named the BNPP into NCNPP, or Ninoy-Cory Nuclear Power Plant? Perhaps if she did and carried it on, we may not be paying today a very expensive electricity bill. But could you imagine a Constitution barring a people from even investigating a set of technologies like nuclear energy and garbage incinerators? What if these technologies had advanced and improved dramatically? We’ll never know now. That is what the 1987 Constitution did.
More to it, the demonization of martial law didn’t end there. Marcos, they claimed, committed some of the most atrocious human right abuses in the region. But, that is not exactly correct; Mao Zedong, Pol Pot and Suharto, individually, hold that distinction, not Marcos. In fact, Marcos was no different from Lee Kwan Yew, Mahathir, and Park Chung Hee in their methodology of suppressing the Opposition. True, one life snuffed out is one life too many, but could we at least widened our perspective that we didn’t have a unique dictator? They insist that Marcos stole the most; sorry, but again that distinction belongs to Suharto per Forbes Magazine, and Marcos was not even the longest sitting dictator; those labels belong to Suharto and LKY, who each stayed in their offices for 31 years.
Maybe, it is time to consider whether we have been victims either of Marcos Martial Law, or of Cory (and PNoy) Egos. For sure, it is time to a clearer view and widen our perspective of history, which is always good for a better national psyche. We cannot have hang-ups as other nations have moved on from their “dark ages”. We never know, but it may just be the way to move the Philippines and get out of the gridlock we are now in!!!
GRP Featured Comment hall-of-famer. Former executive of the Far East Regional Office of a US-based multinational company living out of a suitcase covering the market from Tokyo to Mumbai to Melbourne, and all the countries within that triangle. Got tired after logging 300k air miles per year. Now, I just have a little trading biz on specialty chemicals.