by jun asuncion
Part I: Notes of a silent traveller.
It seems that I was not alone who went home to capture the election “fever” in the Philippines. I was in Bulan for actually just two full days (May 4-5) to deliver medicines to the Sta. Remedios Charity Clinic and left for Manila in the early morning of May 6. Just two days of walking and driving around and enjoying the sights and sounds of Bulan community. I made an unscheduled visit to the Municipio to talk with Mayor Helen De Castro but she wasn’t there ( though I listened intently to her speech in Canipaan the evening I arrived; but better luck next time!). I noticed a long queue of young people on the first floor just before the mayor’s office. I supposed they were job-seekers, or there to claim what has been promised to them.
Before Bulan I was already in many places in the northern part of Luzon. That’s the reason why I said to some people there in Bulan that our town is relatively a clean town, cleaner than the other towns I saw. I used to go before 6: oo in the morning to the market and at this time you could already see some workers dusting up the main streets of Bulan. I particularly enjoy Maclane Street for its proportions: for a town, its such a long and wide street. Now that it has lamp posts on each side, one feels like being in a city. A City? Well, for a town we love there is no limit to the dreams we can dream for it. For we only desire the best for it, isn’t it? Personally, that’s the reason why I sometimes laugh about our politics because this diverts us from our most common dream for Bulan. I am for leaders who don’t miss this dream, who don’t abuse their power and do not enrich themselves at the expense of the people. It’s not about Guyala, Gotladera or De Castro but about leadership with social responsibility and conscience.
With the daily temperature of 39-39 degrees centigrade, the election day was sweltering hot, a real fever. But I have seen how the people braved the heat the whole day queuing just to give their votes. In a place where I receive the ballots per mail, read the issues in the quite of my room, make my choice in between sips of coffee and then just drop them in the next mailbox, I could only give my highest respect to those voters last May 10 who waited for hours. I especially think about those people who did not sell their votes but voted according to their convictions. I think the future of a better Philippines rests on these people- and on the political candidates who opposed this bad tradition of vote-buying. Still, it’s in opposition that change can happen.
But what is basically wrong with this tradition of vote-buying and why don’t we just tacitly consent it? In my view, money used in this context robs the people (including the politicians) of their senses. This explains all our problems.
A tradition is always hard to change, but it can be changed, and I guess that’s the point that every Bulaneño should know. We don’t need a bloody revolution for that. All that is needed is reflection and a little sacrifice. A political candidate who is proudly sure of the support of the people because of good leadership and achievements doesn’t need to buy the people, and the people who support the agenda of a politician, do not need to sell themselves. You may again blame poverty for this behavior, but there were many poor local voters who did not sell themselves. I guess that if people wouldn’t prefer to “keep the change”, decent change would occur.
I was in Biton for a swim. The sea was clean and the scenery fantastic. So I was in my element for such experiences always inspire me- no longer to swim but just to sit and walk around and absorb and be absorbed by the beauty of being. It should have been a perfect day had it not for this ear-rupturing comment that I heard from a German who lives there: “Ohne corruption, würde es keine Filipinos mehr geben”- that “Without corruption, Filipinos would cease to exist.” What a disparaging generalization coming from somebody who doesn’t even know Heine or Feuerbach. The poetry of the day was instantly gone! Now comes dirty politics again- in a place I never expected. But that German did not expect the same that this time he won’t go unpunished for his arrogant comments. The winds changed direction as I began to frame the debate within the greater context of world history and current events in Germany. Were it not for the gentle kicks under the table and oculesics coming from my “camp” telling me to slow down, the place would have burned- in the fire of my apologia, naturally.
Yes, incompetent leaders, corrupt presidents, justices and generals, Ampatuan monsters, astronomic foreign debts, corruption, vote-buying, political violence, poor education and ignorance have increased our vulnerability. You can’t help but defend- it’s instinctive – even if you know there is a kernel of truth and even when it comes from a primitive German whose trunk reminds one of a huge barrel of beer about to break. (He told me his family name is Krüger. Krug is the German for jug or pitcher, and Krüger means a jugmaker. There is a German idiomatic expression which says, “Der Krug geht so lange zum Brunnen, bis er bricht.” or, ” The jug goes to the well until it breaks”, which means, one day you’ll take it too far and you’ll come to grief. I think Mr. Krüger went too far that lovely afternoon…but we sailed home quick before the breaking.)
Now, as a nation, as a town, how do we manage vulnerability, how do we keep ourselves from breaking totally? This brings us back to the old discussions about electoral, political, educational and moral reforms. For now, I would say go for change, but avoid keeping the change for when money dictates, the bad tradition continues and so as this social order with all its problems.
Noynoy Aquino has vowed to combat corruption, hence, to introduce vulnerability management-“If there were no corrupt, there would be no poor.” He said that “Corruption is the single biggest threat to our democracy. It deprives the poor of the social services they badly need. It destroys the very moral fiber of our society. No reform agenda will succeed without a determined program to eradicate corruption.”
Well, this sounds good to start with. Good intention deserves support. Be reminded, however, that a campaign mantra is not a solution yet to the problem of corruption. I expect to see his concrete vulnerability management plan as soon as he assumes office.
But it’s in planning that one is faced with various factors that must be considered: He needs to have a solid presence in the Congress; the huge national debt of over P4.358 trillion and the pressures from the international lending institutions (IMF, WB) will surely have effects on his policies on taxations and budget spending. Fighting corruption means not only law enforcement and putting behind bars corrupt colleagues but-in my view- a fight against poverty and for better education. And here I see the problem that Aquino will face in his fight against corruption: it’s the problem of capital. How can he spend more for education and against poverty amidst the huge national debt and pressures from the lending institutions? Don’t you know that you owe these institutions P47, 247? Yes, each of us 92 million Filipinos carry this debt burden.
But still, the point that he is determined to fight corruption is already a good attitude (what Arroyo has lacked) as president-elect. For as Nietzsche says “‘He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how”. I suggest though that the people should support Aquino’s why but be cautious with his almost anyhow. Pay back the debts, but not at the expense of education and health programs.
Back to the poor people, it is right not to forget the poor and aim for the reduction and elimination of poverty in the Philippines – this is a social and moral responsibility of modern man. But in my observation, this slogan of helping the poor is a tool being used and abused by the rich, the oligarchs, and trapos to maintain their power and status quo. Truth be told, politics (Erap para sa mahirap, Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap, etc…) and religion in our country capitalize on the poor. It is easy to manipulate a hungry man or community, the reason why vote-buying works perfectly(and this first automated election has intensified it because there were no more ballot boxes for politicians to hijack) – the same with the promises of better (After-) life by materialistic religious preachers.
But did Philippine politics and church ever mention protecting, sustaining and strengthening the middle class? The middle class in the Philippines is disappearing and many of these people have been displaced outside the Philippines – those skilled migrant workers and intellectual capital. We know that the middle class stabilizes the society, it’s not easily manipulated, hence serves as the catalyst of social change and reforms. As Aristotle had observed during his time- and that was between 384-322 BC!- “The best political community is formed by citizens of the middle class”. I think Aristotle would find in Switzerland of today a fine example of his community.
What made the voters brave the sun and wait for hours just to vote a corrupt candidate? That bloated German would argue that they were paid, that’s why. But even if I were paid, I would back out just because of the heat and the thirst and would not fall in line again. Indeed, faith moves mountain. For in that election day, I travelled around Luzon to observe and I was moved by the scenes I have seen. I thought that there must be something more to this. It’s neither just because of the most despised Arroyo administration nor of the cash that the politicians distributed but I think the Filipinos of today still have this faith that they could improve their country – and repay the debts we owe.
But there is a backlash to this, and that is the psychology of Filipino voters: This month’s election has shown that Filipino voters- bought or not – vote in terms of what is familiar already regardless of the records. Old names like Marcos, Estrada, Revilla, Enrile, Aquino- and even Arroyo or Ampatuans are back or have remained in the political scene. This mental attitude prevents change and gives the impression to any observer that Filipinos have impaired memory or simply “crazy” to vote for an ex-convict for president or support murdering political clans in the south.
And still, there are the local municipalities with their entrenched ruling warlords who won’t be ready to give up their extra sources of income like jueting, illegal logging, mining or sneaky little daily forms of deceit like that of adding an extra 0 (zero) on the receipt/check than the amount actually spent or issued (900 pesos is swiftly earned out of 100 pesos!). Laws against such crimes already exist, what Noynoy needs is to “enforce” law enforcement. Noynoy was not a high performance congressman of Tarlac(1998 to 2007) and senator (2007-2010) and not a single bill that he passed became a law but he could use his “moral” and political capital in defining his position in the country and using the right momentum to get things running from Day One, a difficult task for he has to wrestle first against the midnight sabotage that Gloria Arroyo has orchestrated.
Well, again we have an economist as president-elect and we all hope that he is not for keeping the change as Arroyo was but for a reduction of our national vulnerabilities, no matter how “noynoy” (little) it is.