The deadline for the completion of the LRT (Light Rail Transit) Line 1 project (Baclaran to Bacoor) by the end of 2015 has passed and the promise issued by President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III that he and Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) Secretary Jun Abaya back in 2013 will throw themselves under a train if this deadline is not met remains broken. What are Filipinos gonna do about this outrage?
Well, nothing of course.
This, after all, is the sort of response expected of a people long broken by a tradition of being lied to by their leaders that has been made banal by its sheer decades-long consistency. Indeed, nothing encapsulates the promise of better public transport more than the continued ubiquity of the jeepney and a bus system operated by homicidal drivers many of who reportedly ply their trade in a drugged stupor. These stand as monuments to broken promises at a national scale that is the Philippines.
In most normal societies, such a situation would have called for no less than a riot. In the Philippines, blatant leadership incompetence is usually met with no more than a collective shrug of the shoulders. Worse, Filipino voters are set to troop to the polls and vote the same sorts of idiotic politicians again. All of these politicians come from the same clique of oligarchs and feudal clans that ran the country to the ground and seek to keep the country that way.
Why is it that Filipinos are such gluttons for punishment?
Simple. Because there are no consequences levied upon failed leaders. After the country’s top netizens and the commentators surrounding them raised monumental awareness around President BS Aquino’s promise to deliver or die, it will be interesting to note what happens next now that the deadline to make good on that commitment has come to pass. Then again, maybe not. It’s really an exercise in futility waiting for nothing when it’s been so clearly made evident for so many decades that Filipinos expect very little of their society’s leaders.
In Japan (where there are very few lawyers and the laws are largely unwritten because Japanese society is one where everything is excellent), men of honour kill themselves (or, at least, suffer grave depression) when they fail to do what they said they would do. Everybody loves Japan and its culture because of that simple underlying ethic of honour and commitment. It is this ethic that created bullet trains that run on schedules that you could set your watches by, implemented vast supply chains that deliver wondrous manufactured goods at a quality and reliability unmatched over the rest of the planet, and created an entire cultural ecosystem much admired by most of humanity but virtually impenetrable to people not born into it.
Why bring up Japan? Because Japan represents the other extreme of a spectrum the other end of which the Philippines occupies.
Japan is at the winning end of this spectrum of social beauty. At the losing end is the Philippines — a society where nobody trusts nobody, and where one’s Word is an artefact of shame rather than of pride and honour. And this is why the Philippines fails on all measures of success. The whole point in Filipinos getting together to be a nation seems to have been missed by many miles. None of the character traits that bind people and meld them into a cohesive collective exists in Philippine society. There is none of the glue of social trust that enables Filipinos to make straightforward deals with one another. There is no common direction that builds the sort of historical momentum that could move the nation forward. There is hardly any defining meaning in being “Filipino” that Filipinos can hold themselves to to define their identity. And where substance should have been in the country’s cultural infrastructure, we only see a vast cavernous void the effort of which to fill Filipinos have foolishly delegated to their entertainment industry.
It is no wonder that promises to build critical rail lines to link key population centres all over Metro Manila remain broken, or that grand theft of taxpayers’ funds continues to be a rule rather than the exception in Philippine governance, or that Filipino presidential candidates are a source of cringe rather than inspiration.
Filipinos, quite simply, cannot seem to get together and be a nation. It just does not seem to be something that is likely to happen in the foreseeable future. That Filipinos seem to be big achievers (or so we are told) in other countries only further highlights the sad reality that is the Philippines’ aspirations to true nationhood — that Filipinos are better apart than together.
And this is where the challenge ahead lies — Filipinos need to come up with a compelling enough reason to be together, as a nation, as a people, and as a collective. Happy New Year![Photo courtesy International Policy Digest.]
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