Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Right To Get Angry

A little over a year after EDSA People Power restored democracy in our country, American journalist James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly came out with a scathing article that shook Cory Aquino to the roots of her hair. “A Damage Culture,” as it turned out, talked about our culture—the Filipino culture. Very few agreed with Fallows’ sententious conclusion at that time. Very many posited the view that our manifold problems would be resolved, that the light at the end of the tunnel was in sight, and that the “damage” in our culture Fallows wrote so harshly about could, in time, be repaired.

That would have been understandable because for twenty years our nation was under Marcos’ thumb, and it would take time before we could uproot the evil and rid ourselves of the putrescence of the martial law years. Sure, Marcos did the country a lot of injustices. But blaming the Marcos regime alone, it would seem, was much too easy an answer. What made Marcos possible, what enabled him to hold on to power for so long, clearly proved Fallows’ point. The monumental problem in the Philippines, as Fallows would observe, was cultural and, in many ways, a preexisting condition even before martial law. He was dead right. Our problem stemmed from our “culture,” a unique culture that was shaped, molded, and in many ways, imposed upon us by our benevolent colonizers for centuries.

Listen to this: “The countries that surround the Philippines have become the world's most famous showcases for the impact of culture on economic development. Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore--all are short on natural resources, but all (as their officials never stop telling you) have clawed their way up through hard study and hard work. Unfortunately for its people, the Philippines illustrates the contrary: that culture can make a naturally rich country poor. There may be more miserable places to live in East Asia-- Vietnam, Cambodia--but there are few others where the culture itself, rather than a communist political system, is the main barrier to development. The culture in question is Filipino, but it has been heavily shaped by nearly a hundred years of the "Fil-Am relationship.' The result is apparently the only non-communist society in East Asia in which the average living standard is going down.”

Every word Fallows has written about our culture rings true today. Nothing has changed except that our conditioned worsened. Sadly, the culture that Fallows says is damaged would in fact remain severely damaged more than two decades after.

Of the things Fallows wrote in his article, there’s this one paragraph that got me hooked from beginning to end, especially now that we are gearing up for the 2016 presidential elections. Again, listen to his words, and listen very carefully: “Most of the time I spent in the Philippines, I walked around feeling angry, angry at myself when I brushed off the latest platoon of child beggars, angry at the beggars when I did give in, angry at the rich Filipinos for living behind high walls and guardhouses in the fortified Makati compounds euphemistically called villages, angry as I picked my way around piles of human feces left by homeless families living near the Philippine Navy headquarters on Roxas Boulevard, angry at a society that had degenerated into a war of every man against every man.”

Now why would I feel like someone had just walloped my stomach after reading those searing words? If James Fallows, a visiting foreigner, can get angry over what is happening in our country decades ago, why can’t we? The late Teodoro “Teddyman” Benigno, in his poignant essay titled “Our Damaged Culture,” provides us with an answer: “This is what gets me, the Filipino’s infinite capacity for patience. We can never really get angry, it seems, even if there is everything to get angry about.” WHAM!

As election day approaches, we have all the right to get angry. We have all the right to say, fuck that establishment, damn all the sonouvabitches and dimwit politicians who tormented us for years, many years. If I were to believe the lessons of history, then something tells me about our revolutionary tradition, that we pride ourselves as a heroic people, and that our patience has limits when pushed to the edge of destruction.

What could be the core of our damaged culture? I think it is the fact that we refuse to look beyond ourselves, all we really care about is what happens to us and members of our families. Yes, we do in fact get angry sometimes, but only if our interest, our familial interest is at stake. We always tend to pull our punches, not wishing to offend the person or persons we are talking with, especially if that person is family. Ah, why would Binay support any anti-dynasty movement when Abi and Jun-jun can enjoy the perks of Makati City and the Congress? Why would he decide to back out of the presidential race (out of delicadeza and in view of the corruption allegations) and divest himself of the immunity he enjoys when losing in the elections means jail time for him? Why would Poe advise her close ally and San Miguel Corporation chief Danding Conjuangco to implement a no-ENDO and no labor-only contracting policies in all his business ventures when Danding majorly finances her campaign? Why would Santiago reveal her current health status when she actually has nothing lose? Why would Roxas admit the lapses of PNOY’s administrations in security, disaster response and overall economy when he himself was part of the government whose “daang matuwid” mantra failed many? Why would Roxas question Kris Aquino’s use of the presidential chopper as a blatant form of corruption when her celebrity status helps in his and running mate Leni Robredo’s campaign? Why would he care for the tanim-bala victims when they represent no significant number of the voting public? With all these questions, one remains in my mind and that is: If they wouldn’t, why would we?

I was told that in order to help others, we must help ourselves first. I cannot agree less. We certainly, to paraphrase the words of Senator Bongbong Marcos, cannot give what we do not have. But I guess, it becomes very different when our actions are imbued with national interest because the moment we start looking beyond ourselves rather than pursuing our own motives to the detriment of our county, then that could be a good start to call ourselves a community—a nation. That is the struggle and it is real.

But yes, come to think of it, when our ancestors cried out for independence from Spain, it took them 300 long years to do so. When we shouted “Tama na, palitan na!” during the Martial Law, Marcos was already in position for 20 years. We were probably too patient. Or too forgiving, perhaps? Well, masochism is a sign of psychological imbalance. If we want change, a nation cannot be so forgiving or too patient. Oh, I’m probably thinking out too loud.

But really, once again, as we prepare for the coming elections, the citizenry is lured to believe that all that truly matters is continuity of leadership, and by “continuity” I mean, that the reins of power would remain firmly in the hands of the privileged few. But for many disillusioned citizens who are sick and tired of traditional politics, disgruntled Filipinos fed up with corruption at all levels of our society, the 2016 presidential elections could be their seething cauldron of outrage against the establishment. And somehow as our awakened people gaze on the political horizon, they can see just one man, one dogged man with the wills of steel, whose courage to propel the ship of state away from “imperialistic Manila” is almost certain. That man is Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

May our angry and awakened tribe increase!


Anonymous said...

100% agree!

C.D. Bonoan said...

Thank you.