Why the fight has not ended

This is my column today.

The country commemorated over the weekend the 26th anniversary of the people power uprising that has come to be known as Edsa 1. The President, some members of his Cabinet, and some key players of Edsa 1 including former President Fidel Ramos and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile gathered at the People Power Monument to relive the heady days in 1986 when millions of Filipinos occupied the highway, stopped tanks with their bare hands, and pacified with prayers and flowers the armed soldiers sent to obliterate them to smithereens.

The question that was top of mind over the weekend was: After 26 years, are we better off as a country and as a people? Put another way, have we successfully purged from our system the evils that we swore would never again bedevil this country and the Filipino people? After 26 years, can we categorically say that we have regained our freedom and our democracy? These are painful questions to ask because we all know the answer to each of these questions. It’s a resounding no.

The President, himself, called on the people “tapusin na natin ang laban ng EDSA” (let’s bring to its conclusion the fight we started at EDSA). The fighting words only served to highlight the fact that practically nothing has changed in this country after 26 years. The fight has not ended; nor has it really brought significant changes in the country’s life.

Yet another Aquino, the son of the woman who rose to power on the wings of the people revolution, is in power. The Marcoses, the Romualdezes, and even the Estradas are back in power. The body of Benjamin Romualdez was welcomed like a hero in Tacloban City over the weekend and Joseph Estrada linked arms with the President as they vowed to continue the moral fight.

The yellow forces are once again proclaiming the absolute ascendancy of their own brand of morality. It’s the kind of selective morality that favors supporters—for instance, note how the head of the National Bureau of Investigation was unceremoniously kicked out of office without any benefit of a hearing on suspicion of wrongdoing while the chief of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation is being hailed as a victim despite existence of proof of wrongdoing. Ask anyone who deals with government agencies and you will be told the same thing – corruption has grown worse.

The country is still a Third-World country, corruption is still systemic, oligarchs continue to rule, and the numbers of those who are hungry and without jobs continue to increase dramatically.

We make speeches about how freedom and democracy have been restored in this country and close our eyes to parallels between the years leading to 1986 and the present. I was a student activist when Edsa 1 happened. I spent years fighting an authoritarian regime that had the whole country under a tight grip. We successfully kicked out a dictator in 1986; a despot who tried to impose his own version of what was right and desirable for the country, a dictator who controlled the Supreme Court and the military and had no qualms about using the resources of the whole government bureaucracy in support of a new moral order he called “The New Society.”

Of course it is being argued that the authoritarian tendencies of the Aquino government are justified because they are in pursuit of “The Straight and Narrow Path” which is supposedly for the good of everyone. But then again, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, the worst kind of tyranny is the one that is “exercised for the good of its victims; those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they so with the approval of their own conscience.”

Real changes in this country can only come if our leaders and those in a position to make changes stop romanticizing and moralizing our problems. We need to wake up and see the grime, smell the decay, and realize that our problems are much more complicated and systemic and cannot be solved by rhetorical discourses and populist posturing. For example, corruption cannot be solved by running after a few people and embarrassing them in public; we need comprehensive strategies and institutionalized value formation programs that strike at the core of the malaise. But as we speak, there is no program to speak of; there is no roadmap to guide the journey. What we need are real leaders, people with strategic vision for the country who are willing to work hard and dirty their hands and not sit around and bark orders like despots. And certainly, we don’t need more preachers who see themselves as belonging to a higher moral order; we have more than enough bishops in this country.


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