Hopeless but hopeful

In a December 1(SWS) survey on whether they would welcome the coming year with hope or with fear, 96% of the respondents said they would welcome it with hope.

If the survey methodology was as sound as many have come to expect of SWS, almost the entire adult population of the Philippines expects things to be better in 2019. What those “things” are was not specified. But it is widely assumed whenever the question is asked at every year’s end that they primarily refer to the quality of life in general.

Whether those “things” include such pressing public concerns as competent, corruption-free governance, political stability, peace, the rule of law, or personal and familial interests such as inflation and prices, employment, access to education and medical care is a matter of speculation. But because the respondents very likely had widely divergent concepts of what the objects of their hopes are, because of the generic quality of the question, all or most of the 1,200 adults SWS interviewed probably had them in mind.

Although, because assured of confidentiality, the respondents probably expressed themselves candidly and without fear of possible consequences, 96% is still unprecedentedly high. Some Duterte critics were skeptical, since it seemingly implies widespread approval of the regime.

That result, however, can be read in at least two ways. The most obvious and most conventional interpretation is that in the view of nearly all adult Filipinos, things — the quality of life in general, governance and politics, employment and education, etc., etc. — are currently so good they will be even better this year.

But another possibility is that practically every Filipino believes the exact opposite — that things are so bad they have to improve this year: that they have reached such a low point they have nowhere to go but up. Indicative of the hopelessness of the present would thus be almost every Filipino’s hopeful expectations for the future and for change. Hope, to paraphrase Shakespeare, is the only medicine of the miserable.

The first interpretation would mean that despite the newspapers, radio, and television; despite the Internet and social media; and despite their own daily experience with poverty and inflation, extrajudicial killings, the abuse of power, and the dominance of the rule of force rather than the rule of law, except for a tiny minority, every adult Filipino is woefully uninformed not only about public issues but also about his, his family’s and his neighbors’ actual state and quality of life.

In addition to indicting both old and new media and exaggerating their power, it would also suggest that false, misleading, incomplete, and slanted information trumps daily experience. More significantly, it would indicate a level of optimism that would justify political non-engagement and apathy. After all, if things are going so well, one only has to be on the sidelines so they can take their natural course for the better.

The second interpretation is therefore more credible. Disinformation can work only so far, experience being the ultimate arbiter of one’s perceptions. But as accurately perceptive as this reading of Filipino hopefulness may be, it demands active political engagement if the hopes for change and a year better than 2018 are to ever be realized.

However, political engagement should neither be interpreted in the narrow sense of political partisanship, nor as merely being limited to taking an interest and meaningfully participating in the public discourse on the May elections. The results of those elections will help decide the fate of the system of checks and balance that’s at the core of Philippine elite democracy. But political engagement includes, at the very least, being actively involved in the discussion and illumination of those other issues of public, familial and personal concern such as:

(1) the violation of and flagrant disrespect for human rights as State policy;

(2) the possibility that a new constitution without term limits for members of Congress and without an anti-dynasty provision and other self-serving characteristics will be rushed by the present majority members of the House and Senate;

(3) the still extant peril of a shift to a federal form of government that will further strengthen the rule of the warlords and petty tyrants in the country’s most backward provinces and regions;

(4) the virtual surrender of Philippine sovereignty to Chinese economic and strategic interests; and

(5) the Duterte regime’s threat of adopting the Suharto “model” in its campaign against the New People’s Army (NPA), among others.

The imperative that they be held, and the outcome of the May elections, are crucial to the realization of hopes that things will be better in the next 11 months. The regime campaign to continue its dominance in Congress, particularly in the Senate, has to be frustrated as a necessary check against its authoritarian ambitions.

But equally important is the forging of widespread resistance to the violations of human rights that are no longer the abstractions they once were in the poorest communities, where fathers, sons and even mothers have been extrajudicially killed in the course of the war against the poor disguised as a campaign against illegal drugs. The same violations are going on in the Philippine countryside, and victimizing Lumad, progressive Moro people, farmers, and such of their advocates as principled lawyers and human rights defenders.

Earlier thought to be no longer possible, the adoption of a constitution that will keep in pelf and power the present bureaucrat capitalists in all three branches of government has become an imminent danger to the democratization of political power, and so has the shift to a federal form of government.

In addition to these domestic issues, there is also the reality of Chinese aggression, which has not been limited to the military occupation of the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone. It includes as well incursions into Philippine territory and society, with tens of thousands of Chinese “tourists” being in jobs that can be filled by Filipinos. This is occurring as unemployment soars even among educated Filipinos, poverty continues its brutal reign in the Philippine countryside, and thousands leave the country daily to work abroad.

Unemployment and poverty are indisputable parts of the social and economic crisis that drives rebellions. But every Philippine regime since 1946 has refused to acknowledge that reality and has even fostered the delusion that rebellions are the cause of underdevelopment.

The present regime is no exception. But it is the only one that has openly admitted that it is targeting for elimination the legal formations, among them the party-list groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), that it alleges are allied with, or are “fronts” of the Communist Party of the Philippines. This bare-faced assault on the civilian population is paving the way to the destruction, not of the guerrillas of the NPA because they are armed and can defend themselves, but of civil society.

Exposing and opposing this ruinously senseless policy is fully justified for the dangers it poses to the entire Filipino nation. What the regime wrongly calls the “Suharto campaign” was the 1965 generals’ coup d’etat against the Sukarno government that killed more than a million card-carrying members of the Communist Party of Indonesia, nationalists, ethnic Chinese, atheists, and non-believers in Islam. Its continuing replication in the vastly different Philippine situation will mean decades of political instability and irreversible economic decline.

Without being involved in the patriotic duty of political engagement in behalf of the imperative of change, one might as well abandon all hope. The hopelessness of the present drives Filipino hopes for an alternative future. But those hopes can only be realized through proactive human intervention, or not at all.

Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro).


Published in Business World
Jan. 10, 2019

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