Friday, August 21, 2015

Hope Springs Eternal!

The year 2015 is about to close. The President has delivered the last "State of the Nation Address." I re-read my last blog written over three years ago. I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised that many of my misgivings were wrong.

People used to  nonchalantly take corruption as 'par for the course." Honest politicians were very rare exceptions. The view seemed to be "If everybody is doing it, why not me?" Worse yet, some politicians went into politics precisely because of the opportunity to become rich beyond imagination, at the expense of Juan, the taxpayer.

Not anymore. Yes, there are still some who brazenly deny being corrupt despite overwhelming indications to the contrary. Perhaps, they are counting on their lawyers to get them off the proverbial hook. Who knows? The legal processes here can be so convoluted, they may be right.

However, there is a significant difference in the political air. It is now embarrassing to be corrupt. The days seem gone when a young punk can flaunt a profligate lifestyle and explain it all away because "congressman si Papa."

We have the President to thank for this. He, like his mother before him, will likely leave behind him the legacy of honesty. With only a few more months of his term left, I would not bet against it. Yes, his administration can be faulted for shortcomings, some of them serious. He has, however, set the bar for honesty quite high. I hope his successor does not break the trend, and perhaps raise the bar even higher. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Death-wish in the Political Psyche of the Filipino?

Erap Estrada had to leave MalacaƱang before his term was over. Gloria Arroyo narrowly avoided a similar fate. Yes, she finished her term but even after a year since leaving office, she is still grappling with all sorts of legal troubles. Actually, in the last couple of years in office, she was worse than a lame duck.

Were these events the result of organized, orchestrated, or deliberate effort? There are those who may believe so. There are easy scapegoats: the CIA quickly comes to mind. They are, after all, very well-funded. Motives, you ask? Well, they may still be hurting from the fact that we kicked them out of the Clark and Subic Military Bases. Those who love to dabble in conspiracy theories would be able to bring up a dozen more possible suspects.

I think these are far-fetched. As they say: possible but not probable.

But the story goes on. If you keep your ears close to the ground, you may already have heard stories about the sitting president. I don’t take extraordinary efforts to listen to these stories, but I haven’t escaped getting some. The ones I have heard center around a few themes: the president is not too energetic (read: lazy); he is not too intelligent (read: dumb); he is detached from the people (read: member of an indifferent elite). Interestingly, I have not yet come across these stories from taxi drivers, street sweepers or my barber. I keep hearing them from people who imply that they are “in the know.” These are people who claim to be close to the people who are great, near-great or, at least, their respective hangers-on.

I find most of the stories very annoying. It is one thing to find fault in the president’s decisions or actions. It is a different thing altogether when you attack his person. When you do the former, you keep the president on his toes. That can’t be bad. When you do the latter, what are you hoping would happen? Really now, if he is lazy or dumb, what do you want him to do?

I hope the purveyors of these stories are not building up to a scenario where they are able to convince people to again change the president before his term is over. TAMA NA. SOBRA NA.

Let me say it again. Erap was a bad president. Gloria was too. Maybe PNoy is. Let us not waste any effort trying to get rid of him. Let him finish his term. If we had let Erap finish his term, the whole country would have suffered from his actions (or inaction). That would have been a dear price to pay. But it would have convinced everyone, especially those who voted for him (dahil bida sa cine), that it takes more than movie stardom to get the country out of the troubles we are in. As it is, there are people who still believe that Erap was a good president. He almost made it when he ran again for the presidency.

As long as we have a large number of people who believe that movie stardom, or some other form of popularity equals good presidential timber, we cannot have a healthy democracy.

So, let the sitting president serve the remaining years of his term. He might still turn out to be a good one. If he turns out to be a bad president, then let the majority among us who voted for him realize that they were wrong, Let us all learn from the painful experience. The pain will be our tuition fee. Then we, as a pained but wiser people, can really say: never again. We will vote for someone who can really run the country well.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"I have seen the enemy. The enemy is us."

January 24, 2010

Metro Centre Hotel, Tagbilaran

The human brain stores memories. We all know this. What is not generally known is that the brain does not distinguish between real experience and imagined experience.

This is a crucial piece of information. You can get scared by the sudden appearance of a floating white cloth in the dark of night. The cloth may have been drifting along as it was lifted by the wind from a neighbour’s clothesline. But you got scared. You can scare yourself just as effectively if you imagine that floating piece of cloth next time you happen to be walking in the dark.

Then your brain will store each experience the same way. It makes no value judgement. It does not say this one is real and this other one is imagined.

I was having breakfast this morning in the hotel coffee shop. Next table to me was a group of men who were speaking loud enough to be heard throughout the coffee shop. They were talking about how traffic in the Philippines is so horrible compared with Singapore or the US. We Filipinos are terrible drivers. We generally are undisciplined and have no respect for the law. And they talked on and on and on.

People in the coffee shop heard them. Think about it. Those ideas entered into the brains of everyone present. Unless the people processed the information, their brains would have stored them as information –again not distinguishing whether they were real or imagined.

Then a horrible thought dawned on me.

I had thought that media people were to blame for the low regard people of other countries have for the Philippines and for Filipinos. Our media people speak mostly of what is terrible about us. Crime, corruption, poverty – if it’s bad, they write about it.

Our media people are Filipinos too. They were brought up in the same milieu as you and I. Like the milieu of those guys in the next table at the coffee shop.

A cartoon character once said, “I have seen the enemy. The enemy is us.”

It is not our media people. It is all of us. We feed ourselves with bad images of ourselves. It almost seems as though we are all competing for who can tell the worst stories about ourselves.

What would it take to change our habit into one of competing for who can tell the best stories about us? Once in a while, I would hear people talk about how good and smart and more, the Filipino is compared with the Japanese, or Singaporean, or American, or whatever. But I don’t hear it often enough. Do we want Singaporeans to compete for who can tell the worst stories about Filipinos? Or Americans? Or Japanese? Or do we want these foreigners to compete for who can tell the best stories about Filipinos?

Here’s one story: The Singaporeans under British commanders outnumbered and outgunned the Japanese attacking force. But they surrendered after just a few days of fighting at the start of the WW II. The Filipinos under Filipino commanders, graduates of the Philippine Military Academy, and American officers, were outnumbered and outgunned by the Japanese. But they fought off the superior Japanese military for several months until they practically had nothing but rocks to fight with. I wish people would tell more of this kind of story instead of how terrible our drivers are.

If all the world hears from us – and I don’t mean just from our media – is how bad we are, a great part of the fault is with us. But if all the world hears from us is how good we are, then a great part of the credit is with us.

Here’s something we can do. Don’t add to the bad stories. Add to the good stories. Next time you hear anyone tell bad stories, tell them to change. If you have friends in media, tell them to help revive the self-image of the Filipino. They have battered it enough already. Tell them to start telling good stories about us.

If all of us resolve to do this, in a short while, other countries can have a different view of our country and Filipinos.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

May there be a silver lining, back of every cloud you see...

People of my generation, can probably recall a song popularized by Joni James which said,

"Fill your dreams with sweet tomorrows.

Never mind what might have been.

May the good Lord bless and keep you."

The same song also says, "May there be a silver lining, back of every cloud you see."

One week after Manila got clobbered by typhoon Ketsana, this song, long hidden somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind, somehow, rose to my consciousness.

I saw many silver linings back of the dark clouds spawned by Ketsana.

More than a week after the typhoon, Manila still has not recovered. Flood waters are still high in many places. And in those areas where water has subsided, mud and debris are slowly being cleared. Along with this, the painful task of looking for missing relatives.

The situation seems hopeless. But the Filipino "Bayanihan" spirit has once more shown itself. It makes me proud to be a Filipino. People in ravaged communities helped one another. In a few cases, even at the cost of their own lives. One soldier saved several dozens before he, from exhaustion or accident, slid from an embankment into the water and was carried away by the rampaging flood.

I am proud I am a Filipino.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Should we ask our president to resign?

Yesterday, I bumped into an old friend in the lobby of the Makati Stock Exchange. This was at 1:00 in the afternoon, a few hours before a much ballyhooed "interfaith" rally was to take place at the street corner, just a few steps away. Inevitably, our conversation drifted towards that imminent event.

I'd like to share what I said to my friend. Essentially, how I wish people would wake up.

I thought it was a mistake to unseat Erap from Malacanang. Just as I also think it is a mistake to remove GMA now.

I thought Erap was a disaster for our country, but we must live with the reality that we elected him president. We should have let him finish his term. Perhaps GMA is guilty of even more than she is being accused of at the senate. But more than anything else, the media attention that this issue is receiving and the resulting awareness that people are having of the terrible impact on the country as a result of the corruption of a few, is the one great value that we can draw here.

Is the solution to get rid of her? Will whoever takes over as our new president be pristine pure and finish his term untainted by corruption?

I think Erap sincerely meant what he said at his inaugural address, when he proclaimed, "walang kama-kamaganak, walang kai-kaibigan," or words to that effect. History will not be kind to him, though, because of what he did very soon after he took office.

GMA, at her own inauguration, even appealed to the Divine for guidance and help. But look at where she is now.

Whoever becomes our next president will not fare any better.


As early as the first one hundred days when the media usually declares a unilateral "honeymoon" period, forces to corrupt the new person in power will already be busy. It is not fair to expect the president to remain "incorruptible" when everyone around him is, in fact, jockeying and maneuvering for a "piece of the action."At the level of the presidency, those are huge pieces indeed.

Willie Nepomuceno said it well. In one of his acts, while impersonating then presidential candidate Fernando Poe jr., he was asked by the audience, "What guarantee can you give that you will not be a corrupt president, like those that came before you?" Willie's reply, "E, kung ikaw kaya ang maupo sa Malacanang, hindi ka kaya maging corrupt?"

Friends of mine who have contracts with government, local and national, do not even hide the fact that they are regularly asked to set aside 20% "para kay mayor." The sad thing is, this practice does not even raise eyebrows. It is accepted as "this is the way things are done around here."

Perhaps, GMA is guilty. But really, I wonder who in our government is not? GMA may have the misfortune perhaps of being caught with her hands in the cookie jar. Is getting caught then, the unpardonable sin in our government? How many of those who are happily investigating her in the senate are in fact themselves guilty, but just have not been caught? Are they perhaps, salivating at the prospect that the time is coming near when, it will be their turn to make those millions of dollars in corrupt money?

Getting rid of GMA will only bring us through another cycle of sincere efforts, insidious corruption, and again , cries to oust the sitting president.

This deserves the cry, "Tama na, Sobra na."

This is not about removing GMA. It is about removing corruption from every part of government.

What should be done, then? I commend the CBCP for not allowing the catholic church to be embroiled in a political game. The church, and any other religious organization, should be our guardians and mentors for a clean, honest government. Note: it is not just a clean and honest Malacanang that we need. We ought to have a clean and honest government - from the barangay kagawads, barangay chairmen, the mayors, governors, congressmen and senators, and of course, the president.

We, the people, have allowed our government to be corrupt.

We, the people, are the solution to this problem. Let us start with ourselves. How many of us are active in our barangays? If you can't even correct the corruption that is going on in your barangay, what right do you have to try to correct corruption in Malacanang?

Consider this: you probably know almost every sordid detail about the ongoing senate inquiry. How much do you know about your own barangay? Do you even know who your barangay officials are? Have you attended at least one townhall meeting with your barangay? Do you know if your barangay holds townhall meetings? Did you know you are supposed to attend those meetings? Do you know the IRA of your barangay? Do you know what it was spent on last year? Have you or anyone in your barangay asked your barangay chairman to make an accounting of the barangay funds?

If you are appalled at the corruption that the senators are so desperately revealing, shouldn't you be appalled at what is going on right in your backyards? If you are able to correct problems at your barangay, you stand to gain directly. It is after all, your neighborhood. If this cry to get GMA out of Malacanang succeeds, what would you have gained? Another president who will start out with good intentions, and then be corrupted in a short while.

This is an excellent opportunity for the catholic church to become truly relevant. The church has the reach, the influence, the credibility and even the duty to bring people to a realization about how we are corrupting our government, and what we can all do about it.

There are organizations that should also come in and get involved. The political party, Kapatiran, is one of them. They stood for clean government. Perhaps, this is their golden moment.

A very senior politician whose career dates back to martial law years, is credited to have said, "winnability is the main thing," when they were choosing their party's presidential candidate. This is not surprising. Politicians will always be looking for the winning formula, the winning candidate, the winning anything. Anything, that is, to get into power. Once in power, they can then ask themselves, "What are we in power for?"

Come to think of it, I voted for the Kapatiran candidates, knowing they did not have a ghost of a chance to win, then.

If enough of us will do the right thing, we can help our politicians discover that the right thing is the "winning formula."