Back to reality

HINDSIGHT - F Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - August 17, 2014 - 12:00am

It takes a tough-minded banker to drag me back from the heights of Olympian euphoria to the harsh realities of today. Those of us who have been surprised and gladdened by President Aquino’s successes recall the first term of Ferdinand Marcos and that of Fidel Ramos when the drabness around us seemed rosy at last and the economists were chorusing, “We are at the takeoff stage, we will be Asia’s new tiger.”

Indeed, as I have already said, the recent political developments that we are very close to augur well for a democratic future: a chief justice was impeached, a president and three senators are in jail. This was unthinkable before, but it has happened, thanks to P-Noy’s courage and determination.

But as Ramon Sy, the accomplished banker who took me out to lunch last week, said, “Look closer, not so much at the political stratosphere, but on the ground where we stand.”

It isn’t so hunky dory anymore, although I must say that if things haven’t changed much, it is not the President’s doing. It takes at least a generation — 20 years, as the experience of our neighbors has so amply illustrated — for a laid-back country to get up and prosper.

Those who suffer most to begin with — in a country ravaged by poverty, by politicians working only for themselves, with corruption and a justice system that does not work — are the poor, still stuck in the same place.

This terrible injustice is evident everywhere, particularly in the streets of Manila itself, the traffic jams and the inability of the poor to get affordable and efficient transport to their work. Manila’s traffic woes cost billions in wasted time and productivity, and it is the very poor who suffer most.

Look at Manila’s skyline — the new skyscrapers burgeoning all over the place. Progress, yes — but the foundation of these skyscrapers is rot; in the first place, they do not produce anything.

Money is awash in the banks, in government, but it has not helped create new jobs and has, instead, encouraged inflation as reflected now in the high prices of food. Money, therefore, has yet to go into the right hands — to the very poor.

And food: agriculture is at a standstill. Francis Pangilinan knows the problem but he can’t resolve it in a year, even two years. In principle, we should be producing enough rice. Rafael Salas did it in his time. But we were only 50 million then.

The justice system is unjust, dysfunctional, and the Supreme Court is largely to blame for the delays, the corruption in the courts. They lack rigid supervision; the delaying tactics of lawyers compound the corruption of judges.


apital punishment should be restored; a criminal sentenced to death saves the government maintenance costs. It is really that simple.

And for those bleeding hearts always looking after the rights of criminals — they should think twice. What comes immediately to mind is that drug peddler caught with the evidence; the Quezon City Police with Mayor Herbert Bautista who slapped the criminal. As Mayor Duterte of Davao said, that criminal should have been punished more, if only to show the TV audience that crime does not pay. In medieval Japan, his head would have been immediately cut off. Why are we concerned so much with the rights of criminals when we should be concerned more with the rights of their victims? The lengthy Ampatuan case — it is almost five years now, and still no decision.

A couple of years ago, Gen, Jose Almonte stated that with all the stern challenges facing us, we have 10 years to either get our act together or collapse — a failed state. A European diplomat who is also an astute observer of socio-political movements agreed. Former President Fidel Ramos said we have only six years.

We face three major problems, two of them manmade, and one over which we have absolutely no control. All the countries in the Pacific “Rim of Fire” have had catastrophic earthquakes and tsunamis. We should expect one to hit us anytime soon, and God help us that it will not be as ferocious as Yolanda.

The first is China’s growing intransigence. No matter how adroit our diplomats are, sooner or later, China — with its superior arms — will wallop us to “teach us a lesson” like it did with Vietnam. We must be prepared for this — to make China lose face and at the same time, make them pay a very high price. Can we do this? And we must be absolutely sure that the powerful Chinese minority, which controls 60 percent of our economy, does not become China’s ally.

The other problem is the coming presidential election — it is a full two years before 2016 and the air is already thick with political talk of equations, and rabid criticisms against the administration.

We all know that elections do not promote either political or economic development because the masa end up filling Congress with nincompoops; to wit — look at the Senate today.

Will a coup, a dictatorship then be the answer?

The ghost of Marcos will rise to tell us it is not so. But still, let us look at a coup again.

Who will suffer from its imposition?

The majority of the people will not complain if martial law is the kind that forces government to provide more security to the larger masses of our people and also provide them with food.

Let me explain. Six months after Marcos declared martial law, I went to Barrio Magsaysay in Tondo where I knew some of the residents. Mind you, they were still poor, they still had no plumbing and the whole place still reeked of decay and perdition.

Yet they were very pleased with martial law. The gangsters that preyed on them were all gone, either jailed or salvaged. Now, they could go about their daily lives feeling secure and safe.

As one taxi driver told me even when there was already growing criticism of the profligacy of Imelda and abuses of the military: It does not matter even if the devil was the ruler for as long as food was cheap.

So, there you are — food and security are the most precious need of the masa, not elections, not a free press, not free assembly!

Who, then, will suffer most if martial law is declared?

The politicians, the owners of media who are feeding us with a lot of garbage anyway, the lawyers who argue and do not hold productive jobs.

Such an alternative, however, may not be President Aquino’s choice. He is now in favor of changing the Constitution, which is just “a piece of paper” that a bad ruler will mangle and which a good ruler does not need.

It is quite clear then that P-Noy will run for a second term if the Constitution will allow him. I sincerely hope he does, and if he wins, he should not diminish the vast powers of the Supreme Court but make the Court do its job, efficiently administering the corrupted courts.

Three years ago, I called on Speaker Sonny Belmonte whom I knew way back in the Fifties when he was with Manila Chronicle and I was with the Old Manila Times. He asked me what he could do and I told him, since he was one of the most powerful politicians in the country, that he could do away with the pork barrel.

I am sure Sonny could do this now that the people have spoken. Otherwise, with martial law, it is not just the pork barrel but Congress itself — a most expensive and sometimes useless institution — that will also go.


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