Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Moderation

This is my column today.

Thanks to you-know-who, the phrase “moderate their greed” has become a political slogan for our times, right up there with “hindi ka nag-iisa” and “tama na, sobra na!”

As can be expected in a culture where people take liberties with anything and everything that advances their own personal agenda, the phrase “moderate their greed” has been used and abused, interpreted and re-interpreted many different ways. The original context around which the statement was supposed to have been made, as well as the reference of the pronoun “their,” has not simply been lost in translation. They’ve been mangled beyond recognition.

At the very first rally held in the wake of the ZTE controversy, the phrase was written in bold and used as a backdrop for the makeshift stage. The pronoun “their” had already been replaced with the more accusatory second person pronoun. The phrase thus metamorphosed into the call “Moderate your greed!”

“Moderate their greed” was supposed to be Secretary Romulo Neri’s instructions to former National Forest Corp. president, now celebrity witness Jun Lozada. The pronoun “their” was supposed to refer to specific people, most notably, former Commission on Elections Chairman Benjamin Abalos.

The original context was that Neri mandated Lozada to “moderate,” something which Lozada was more than willing to do, presumably in an effort to keep things within “reasonable” limits. Before you send me indignation letters for undermining Lozada, let me state for the record that Lozada’s willingness to serve as accessory in the ZTE bribery is not disputed. In fact, it is one of the many so-called sins that he has been continuously apologizing for and seeking absolution from—and it seems, from just about everybody, something that really needs moderation as well. I’ll go back to this observation later on in this piece.

There is reason to believe that Neri used the word “moderate” as a verb, which can mean “to temper” or “lessen.” However, moderate can also mean “to preside.” We all presumed what action was meant, but no one really bothered to clarify. Most were simply happy to make inferences.

As usual, many among our leaders, including a number of our senators, plunged into the issue with nary a care for semantics and simply assumed that the word moderate was always used as an adjective. Thus, the long and often irrelevant discussions during the Senate hearings on what constitute “moderate greed.” One senator huffed and puffed and made rhetorical distinctions between “moderate” and “extreme,” all of which were pointless because there simply was no basis for comparison yet since the whole point of the hearings was to establish that there was an anomaly to begin with.

And as everyone in the academic community knows, particularly people familiar with research methods—although many seemed to have conveniently lapsed into temporary amnesia on this one—“to moderate” can also take on a lot of meaning and describe a number of outcomes. To moderate, then does not always and necessarily result in reduction of impact. In fact, a moderating variable can just produce the opposite effect—it can exacerbate or worsen current conditions. Thus, if Neri was using “moderate” in the academic context, Lozada could very well have increased the level of greed of the parties concerned. Again, no one cared to bother with these distinctions because most already had their own conclusions on what the phrase meant, anyway.

All of these simply bring home the point that, like I said, the real intent of the instruction has been lost in translation. Of course, it can be argued that Neri is to blame for the fact that most people simply made their own inferences on what the statement really meant since he refused—and continues to refuse—to testify anyway. The point is that no one knows and no one cares anymore. Most simply grabbed the phrase, turned it around and around to suit their own purposes, and the hell with the truth or fairness.

Thus, it was initially amusing—but eventually exasperating—to note the liberties many people took with that phrase. By adopting the phrase as a battle cry and using it continuously in its various pronouncements against the administration, the opposition has succeeded in misleading many people to believe that the President and her family are the reference of the pronoun “their” in Neri’s original instruction to Lozada.

The first family’s involvement in shady deals is open to conjecture, but in the interest of truth, this still has to be proven and backed with proof. If we are to embark on the search for truth, we must begin by making honest distinctions between facts and hearsay.

In fact, many senators badgered Neri, Jose de Venecia III, and Lozada to directly implicate the President and the First Gentleman in the anomalous transaction, but to no avail. Of course. Lozada and De Venecia III would later on add flourishes to their original testimonies at rallies and in campus tours to gain pogi points with the audience, but the fact remains: They still have not categorically and directly implicated the First Family. They’ve made sly innuendos, but they haven’t produced the smoking gun. In fact, the whole point of pressuring Neri to testify is precisely because it is widely presumed that he is the only one who can directly implicate the President or the First Gentleman.

So it disturbs me a lot to note that Benjamin Abalos’s role and participation in the whole sordid scheme is now for all intents and purposes cast into oblivion as the whole brunt of the accusations have been directed solely at Malacañang for quite some time now. Don’t look now, but at the rate we are going, Abalos may just become a footnote in this scandal.

The lesson we can draw from all these is not only how easily hearsay becomes Gospel truth when repeated often enough and when people take liberties with certain facts to suit their own interests, but also how excessive attention on certain things take away attention from other equally important preoccupations.

Take for instance Lozada’s tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve, engage in self-flagellation, and make pronouncements that convey a false sense of humility. This used to be cute, but quite frankly, these have become a bit tiresome lately. His tendency to amplify and augment his original testimony in his various speaking engagements has also become quite alarming because all these tend to reduce the gravity of his original testimony. So one wishes that he would learn to “moderate” his act because quite frankly, he already had most people at “hello,” there’s really no need for the whole song and dance routine.

But as usual, and this is where this piece is leading to, doing things in moderation is truly a concept that we seem unfamiliar with as a people. We tend to do everything in excesses.

The same thing can be said of the inordinate preoccupation with Senate hearings. Again, I am not saying that we should junk these hearings altogether. But perhaps our senators can also pay attention to other issues that are just as important—perhaps things such as legislating urgent bills?

Maybe we can truly practice moderation in this country, and that includes greed and ambition as well.

1 comment:

Lester Cavestany said...

Naku, Sir! Mismo! Tumbok na tumbok niyo ang ugali nating ito. Kasama na rin ako sa mga Pinoy na guilty sa ganitong sistema nang pagmamalabis.

Even in our day to day interactions, we tend to say, "Kaya pa yan!" "Sige pa!" "Isa pa, isa pa, isa pang chickenjoy!" ;-) ... At ngayon pati "people power" kasama na rin sa mga gustong ulit-ulitin.

Mabuti pa, ibuhos na lang natin ang atensyon natin sa online poll tungkol sa seven wonders of nature. Nominated ang Tubbataha Reef, Mayon Volcano at Chocolate Hills. Punta tayo sa http://www.new7wonders.com/nature at doon tayo bumoto nang paulit-ulit hanggang maging top 1,2,3 ang ating mga nominees.