Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Philippines After Yesterday

We all watched as the staggering events unfolded on our television screens, if we weren't there on the streets ourselves. We saw the tears pour down the faces of President Corazon Aquino's family and friends and even strangers off the street. We saw the massive lines that snaked around La Salle Greenhills and the Manila Cathedral as people lined up for hours to pay their last respects to that lady in yellow. We were reminded by video clips on TV and on YouTube about our country's troubled past and the miracle that restored our sense of nationalism and unity. Our collective grief and bereavement entranced the entire world even as the international press stood on the sidelines watching and writing about the outpouring of emotion and respect and sympathy, the likes of which were unseen in this country since the death of Ninoy. We have experienced it together and we have been united.

So what happens tomorrow?

The Aquino children will continue to mourn the loss of their mother and the Filipino people will remember, despite this nation's proven shortsightedness, how we have been transformed by the life of this lady. Inevitably, though, we will return to the routine of our lives as businessmen, teachers, lawyers, doctors, street vendors, journalists, beggars. The government will still be enmeshed in red tape, corruption, and personality and patronage politics. The activists will continue to stage rallies and demonstrations at the slightest hint of what they perceive to be injustice. The religious will continue to go to church. Congress will still pass laws and conduct committee investigations on the most pressing (read: popular and TV-grabbing) issues of the day. And the majority of the people will still be that, the silent majority. All this is part of the workings of real democracy and the fallibility of human nature.

That President Aquino restored democracy to our nation is above contestation. Students of Philippine history will know very well the stories about human rights abuses, the disappearances, and illegal detainment so prevalent during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. I am fortunate not to have been personally familiar with that time as I was born some years later. Some have sought to diminish the bloodstain on the strongman's hands by insisting that he was brilliant, that he had the best interests of the country in mind, that he was fighting against a Communist insurgency, and that it was his wife, Imelda, who was the rotten one. I say bull. And yet, even during the regime of President Aquino, there was widespread corruption in the lower levels of government (it is said that she herself was immaculate and I believe it), patronage politics still existed, and there were still people who hungered and were jobless. That corruption will always exist in one form or another in all governments around the world should also be a matter of fact. For those in our society who believe in God, we attribute this to the innate human condition called sin. However, corruption's persistence (and prevalence) in our society should not stop us good citizens from fighting against it however way we can, and to ensure that we ourselves do not propagate its practice.

Tonight, I read an opinion piece by Alex Magno tonight, published on the Philippine Star website. He concludes his essay with what I think is the best solution to the what-next question:
"As we rebalance our sense of national community, we should soon understand that the task at hand is not one of finding new heroes to replace the ones we lost. We should soon understand that what we need now, in building a stable and reliable future for our people, is to build heroic institutions so that we do not rely on the extraordinary heroism of individuals."
While in the course of our nation's story, we will witness the occasional heroic acts by extraordinary people not unlike Cory and Ninoy, we cannot keep expecting other people to sacrifice on our behalf. We must do our part to ensure that we have strong institutions in place, in government and out of, a tough and powerful framework against which we will build our futures on. For us common citizens, our first responsibility toward that end is to make sure we exercise our right and our freedom to cast that sacred ballot.

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