The golden age

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

In a little over 10 verses, in his poem Works and Days, the ancient Greek poet and philosopher Hesiod introduced to the world the concept of the golden age a time when mortals, created by the Olympian gods, lived in harmony, justice, and prosperity. It was an age of peace and plenty because the earth provided the people’s needs.

I think about the golden age of the Philippines as I see the wild presidential election circus unfolding before our eyes, with candidates promising to save us from eternal doom.

The first to throw his hat in the ring is one of the principal authors of the Anti-Terrorism Act; another is an ambitious former movie star, ridiculed for his past life when he was seen clad only in white underwear.

There’s also the aging boxing champion who thinks he can deliver a one-two punch in the political arena. Not to be outdone, of course, is the son of the late dictator who vowed to unite a country ripped apart by his father’s legacy of corruption and human rights abuses.

Vice-president Leni Robredo has filed her candidacy, too but the circus isn’t complete yet. The presidential family after all is keeping us guessing, another of their thickening plots that have become part of our everyday fare.

Six years is a short time if we have good leaders; an eternity if we get incompetent ones.

Dreaming, yearning

Against this backdrop, I can’t help but think of the golden age of our country. I am dreaming, yearning for it, yes I am.

Has our country ever experienced it? Will we ever see it in our lifetime?

Some believe the Philippines under Martial Law was the country’s golden age as roads, bridges and flagship projects glimmered under the glistening sun.

But whatever accomplishments these were – funded nonetheless by taxpayers’ money and not by Ferdinand Marcos himself – it was overshadowed by everything else that defined his 20-year dictatorship – human rights abuses, corruption, and greed for power, a shadow that continues to cast dark clouds over the heart and soul of this nation of 110 million.

Was it during the Corazon Aquino administration? I wouldn’t say so because while it paved the way for the restoration of democracy, it soon brought us back to where we were – political killings, instability, and still elite-centered economic policies; her agrarian reform law, for instance, exempted her clan’s Hacienda Luisita from the landmark program.

Ghost stories

The years that followed were a mixture of good and bad; there were many prosperous periods for sure – good enough to make us feel we were moving forward; enough to give us hope; enough to make us stay in this topsy-turvy country.

But some years felt like we’ve been circling back to where we were, haunted by ghosts of the past.

For 30 years now, for instance, we’ve been screaming “NeverAgain!” and yet we have, again, put plunderers and people without regard for civil liberties back in power.

We’ve restored democracy, only to bury the tyrant who destroyed it, in a hill meant only for heroes. Decades later, the tyrant’s son wants to “make this nation great again.”

We fought a dictator only to see an administration that now prohibits government officials from attending Senate investigations.

We’ve heard threats to destroy reigning oligarchs only to pave the way for a new breed of cronies from the kingdom down south.

Ramon Magsaysay

Perhaps, the last real golden age was during the time of the late president Ramon Magsaysay who strived for social justice so that all Filipinos — not a privileged few — could live fuller lives.

His administration restored people’s hope in government. It was the first and last time Malacañang’s gates were opened to the public, not for field trips, but for the masses to air their grievances and make known their daily needs.

Lucky were those who enjoyed those years.

At the end of the day, we’re only as good as the leaders we elect. Just look at our pandemic situation. The Philippines ranks last among 121 countries in the COVID-19 index on infection management, says a Nikkei Asia ranking.

But I am not losing hope. I will continue to dream for that golden age. One day, hopefully in the near future, we will finally get it right, if first, we register so we can vote and then elect statesmen who will think of the next generation and not the next election; of leaders who will really have the gall to fight the deeply-entrenched corruption in the country, and who aren’t just bogus opposition or narcissist politicians.

Real progress takes time; lifetimes even. But if evil has lasted a long time, the good can’t be too far behind.

We just need to keep on going and we must never forget that every step toward the high road lights the path for a better tomorrow, for that much awaited golden age.

Some say it’s an impossible dream, but as Don Quixote de La Mancha said with fervor – to dream that impossible dream, to beat that unbeatable foe – to do that for the Filipino, ah it’s more than worth it.



Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

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