Wishful thinking

This was my column on the date indicated above.This post is antedated.

At around four in the afternoon today, or thereabouts, the 15th President of the Republic of the Philippines, Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, will deliver his second State-of-the-Nation-Address to Congress as prescribed by Article VII, Section 23 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

This year’s edition (some simply refer to it as the biggest fashion event of the season on account of the fact that our legislators and their spouses grab the chance to show off the abundance— or sadly, the absence—of fashion and common sense) is the much awaited political event of the season as the President is widely expected to use the occasion to reveal the most explosive revelations about what concrete damning evidence his administration has on former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her lackeys.

We expect to hear facts and figures, and more importantly, what exactly this administration has at this point, that will stand in court. We have seen in the last few weeks, all these frenzied efforts to summon renewed interest, perhaps even renewed outrage on the extent of corruption in the previous administration. Not that we needed to be reminded, of course. But generally, I think it is safe to assume that most everyone expects this year’s SONA to be a last hurrah of sorts.

There is a limit, after all, to how much we can keep on simply publicly whining and flaying around about the sins of the past. This is probably the last time President Aquino will be given some latitude for using the gambit as most everyone is tired of all these efforts to put all the blame for everything that is wrong in this country on the previous administration. At a certain point, President Aquino also needs to be made accountable for his own performance as President, particularly if he has sat long enough in office.

This early, even some of Aquino’s core supporters have already expressed impatience with the all-consuming preoccupation with “looking back” and the trial-by-publicity. At a certain point, and everyone hopes this will be soon after the SONA, cases will just have to be filed at the proper courts and the government will just have to begin focusing on how to move this country forward. We need to make Arroyo and her lackeys accountable for their misdeeds, yes, and that is what the courts are there for.

I agree that we need to start making leaders accountable for corruption, but this cannot be our all-consuming passion and preoccupation. We also need to move forward. We need to start managing for the long-term.

So I join everyone else in hoping that President Aquino will balance his SONA today with a presentation of a roadmap for the future, beyond efforts to put Arroyo behind bars.

But what exactly is the state of the nation today? There are the facts and figures and the scholarly rundown of the many indicators that supposedly describe the state of the nation. But statistics are gobbledygook to most Filipinos who don’t really need to be told about what is happening in their own real universes. Economic indicators such as improved gross domestic product figures and lower inflation rates are unintelligible to people who don’t have a roof over their heads or don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Rising incidence of employment at the national level doesn’t mean anything to the hundreds of thousands of nurses who haven’t been able to find a suitable job here or abroad. Figures that supposedly indicate overall improvements in the quality of life are irrelevant to the multitude that survive on scraps left around by others.

The real state of the nation is that many of our countrymen continue to languish in abject poverty.

Poverty remains our biggest challenge and no amount of correlating corruption at the top with poverty below will help because, whether we like it or not, or whether we accept it or not, corruption is also a system that feeds millions of people in this country, from the thousands of fixers who hang around government offices, to mulcting cops, to local executives who provide dole-outs and political largesse and all types of illegal employment in various ways.

The sad thing about highlighting the extent of corruption that happens at the top is that it emboldens those below to think of their own nefarious activities as insignificant and therefore less of a problem.

The sad thing also about solely focusing efforts on ensnarling the so-called big fishes is that it allows the many small fishes to go scot-free. It also allows those who are equally guilty at the higher echelons of power to escape persecution. It also stretches general tolerance for corruption; the benchmark for the kind and extent of corruption that could awaken our collective sense of outrage have become more selective and well, higher. Apparently, corruption that is kept within the single digit million levels is now considered almost insignificant. How many times have we heard people being accused of corruption exclaiming with misplaced moral indignation that if they did commit corruption, they would have had the sense to steal so much more than the amounts they were accused of stealing?

Poverty is exacerbated by corruption, yes, but it is also a widespread and chronic problem because, thanks to hundreds of years of conditioning, we have seemingly accepted the notion that we should be happy with whatever we have been “blessed” with.

This has partly legitimized and institutionalized the inequitable distribution of resources and consequently, opportunities, in our culture. It is not accidental that the greatest incidence of unemployment is among the poor, with only about 20% of families registering more than half of total personal income in this country.

Thus, despite what the Catholic Church says, poverty is linked to population growth. Given the institutionalized unequal distribution of wealth in Philippine society, population growth among the poor damns them to a life of even more wrenching poverty. The solution, obviously, is to manage population growth. Unfortunately, this has become a moral and religious issue.

It’s a systemic problem that needs a systemic solution, one that impacts on the various facets of Philippine society.

We need visionary leadership. We need strategic thinking. We need comprehensive solutions. This is what we expect the President to present in his annual SONA. And so far, these are not in the works yet.


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