A government on its knees? Never
- Matt Wolf, Max V. Soliven () - February 25, 2000 - 12:00am

In his attempts to be folksy and to emphasize a resolve (I guess) to avert the escalation of oil and fuel prices, the President obviously gets carried away. It was a mistake for him to strike a humble pose and say that, for the sake of the people, he was ready to kneel and beg the local oil companies -- meaning Caltex, Shell, and Petron apparently -- to withhold another fuel price increase.

not_entPresidents don't beg oil companies. Member-states of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are a syndicated bunch of bullies, the world's most cruel cartel, whose banding together is for the specific purpose of squeezing every last drop of profit out of a despairing humanity. They don't listen to pleas. They take heed only of those who stand up to them and declare: "Do your worst, and we will do our best -- and we'll win in the end!"

We're not asking Erap to be bombastic and strike a bold posture even when we're standing on the edge of quicksand. But we expect him to show that we're uncowed by the hammer blows of that selfish cartel, and its surrogates here, the Big Three.

At the same time, the President must order his agencies to accelerate their development of alternative sources of energy (except nuclear, which has proven to be a dangerous genie, carrying in its left hand the treacherous quality of poisonous and fatal radiation, while it offers the benefits of cheap power-generation in the other).

This search must include redirecting our efforts towards harnessing hydroelectric power. But this source can't be tapped in a day, or a year, or two. For our forests and watersheds have been vanishing, destroyed by avaricious and illegal logging, and our dams and their environs choked by the silt of erosion from the surrounding hills and mountainsides.

Mayon Volcano's eruption, despite the threat it poses, also serves to remind us that, locked up beneath the crust of our soil, is the giant of geothermal energy. It is both a curse and a blessing that our archipelago sprawls in the sea within the volcanic "ring of fire" that stretches through the isles of the Pacific -- past Hawaii -- to Mexico and South America.

Finally, there surely is oil, somewhere, in our island chain -- or beneath the ocean depths, provided we can overcome the higher costs of underwater oil extraction. All the possibilities, whatever the financial burden exploratory "wells" entail, must be explored. This is the price we must pay for freedom from the extortion of the OPEC and the greedy non-OPEC countries who have joined hands in a conspiracy to bring everyone else to their knees -- as Erap, alas, has already "offered."

Stand up, Mr. President, and look them in the eye! And spit. This goes beyond bravado. Such a gesture probably won't even impress the cartel, who've even taken on the powerful and wealthy United States. But it will make us feel better about ourselves.

And feeling good about ourselves is what national spirit is all about. True grit is what arouses a nation. Sacrifice is what makes it grow. The determination to overcome adversity and battle all the way to the top is what makes a nation great.

Americans, who swagger about full of their prosperity and pride, went through hell in the early half of the last century. They languished, jobless and austere through a Great Depression, while some States turned into dust bowls, and their blighted cities were choked with refugees from the hard scrabble farms and the mines which had run out of the mother lode.

That period of suffering made them at first disillusioned and disappointed, but through valiant and inspired leadership emerging from the pond of despair, they won through to what they are today. Not perfect. Even more fragmented as a society than they were a heroic generation ago. But a nation on the go.

The challenge of today is for us to get going. But sounding faint-hearted won't do. Raising our tattered banner, stooping to rebuild with worn-out tools, giving our all: That's what counts. There will be too many speeches and "recollections" about EDSA and People Power today. A people, when all is said and done, empower themselves through bravery, honor, self-sacrifice, hard work, prayer -- and hope.

We must get off our knees and stand up to fight.

* * *

There's a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey which says that at least six out of 10 Filipinos see themselves as experiencing poverty -- with 59 percent of 1,200 respondents saying they're feeling indigent.

We can't blame people for feeling "poor," but, if I can put in my ten centavos worth, I believe this is because they are being discomfited by a nagging sense of drift in a government in which an ad hoc administration (reacting, rather than acting decisively) doesn't seem to have a clear road map of where it should be heading.

I'm old enough to have experienced, at first hand, a country devastated by war and starvation, with 100,000 dead in flattened and burnt-out Manila alone and almost a million killed in our countryside. That's when poverty was not merely a "feeling" but a stark reality.

During the war, when 18 million Filipinos (yes, that's how few we were) sweltered under the bootheel of three years of stern Japanese military occupation and looting, America's President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent over messages of hope and encouragement, along with exhortations for the "underground" to pick up the fight, including a promise to "put a chicken in every pot." A valiant few, while others collaborated, kept up the struggle at great personal cost and a high mortality, but this pledge was never redeemed -- possibly because, before war's end, FDR himself had died, while, after Japan's "surrender," our expected redeemer General Douglas MacArthur went over to Tokyo and became the new Shogun of Japan's postwar recovery.

What I'm trying to say is that our people got through those hard times, and even postwar periods of debilitating corruption and violent rebellion, and built the foundations of our present-day republic although the Americans had virtually cast us adrift.

In this light, I am uneasy over the President's disclosure yesterday that the government plans, despite a good rice harvest, to import "additional" rice from Thailand and the US (under US Public Law 480 -- does that still exist?) so as to stock up an emergency reserve. Is this the time to discourage our rice farmers and local growers by importing more rice, just as their palay is coming in? On the contrary, I submit, every incentive money can buy must be thrown our domestic farmers' and producers' way, so they can improve their certified seed stock, procure the right fertilizer, see a more extensive irrigation system constructed, improve feeder roads, and get the financing and expertise they require to boost our rice industry from seedlings to market.

"Importation," sad to say, has become our way of life. It appears to be the knee-jerk response to every perceived cloud on the horizon. Let's take a chance instead on encouraging our growers and producers to get their act together and develop ourselves into an upmarket agro-industrial nation.

I suspect that many "advisers" have a moist eye on the camouflaged profits of import deals, instead of a sincere desire to mobilize a rice and other food cereal "reserve" as a hedge against "future" famine. We ought to dispel the notion that importation -- and, indeed, smuggling -- are a necessary evil in the pursuit of keeping our population happy. This is a false flag which can only lead us down the path of disappointment.

Our agricultural sector, for all our advances in electronic and computer-chip assembly, remains the backbone of our progress -- or the cause of our lack of progress. It's bad enough that our discouraged peasantry and farmers are deserting the countryside and pushing listlessly into the squattervilles and slums of our cities, contributing to urban overcrowding and sapping the limited resources of our major towns and our metropolis. Importation is not the way to fulfillment. Production, as always, is the key to everything, including self-confidence and self-respect.

* * *

I received a phone call yesterday afternoon from our active Ambassador to the Holy See, Henrietta "Tita" de Villa. She said that 5,000 or more Filipinos will be converging in Rome this March 5 to join the ceremonies highlighting the "beatification" of our prospective second Filipino saint, Pedro Calungsod.

Although our Embassy to the Vatican doesn't say so, there may even be many more than that number since if we consider the unregistered -- there are about 150,000 or more Filipinos working in Italy, the biggest group we have in Europe. During my last trip to Rome and Milan a few years ago, there were already more than 100,000 working there, many in upscale jobs, and completely trusted and well-cared-for by their Italian employers. That quality of generosity and warmheartedness, for all their occasional outbursts of passion and chicanery, is what makes Italians so hospitable to Filipino overseas workers.

In any event, it has been announced that the First Lady, Dr. Loi Ejercito, will head the official Philippine delegation to the Sunday ceremonies in St. Peter's Basilica. If my other sources are correct, the beatification of our teenage martyr Calungsod (only 17 when he was killed by "natives" in the Marianas) may even coincide with the planned beatification of that wonderful Pope of ecumenism, the late Pope John XXIII, who hails from Soto Il Monte, Bergamo, near Milan. If that's true, the Vatican will be the mecca for hundreds of thousands of other pilgrims -- for Papa Roncalli was universally loved (although not entirely by the "conservatives" and hardliners in the Vatican). If my information is incorrect, let me say in advance that I stand corrected -- and, as readers have done with past mistakes, reprimanded.

All I can say is that Cebu has done it again! The "Blessed" Calungsod was only 14 years old when he left his home in the Visayas as a catechist and went to the Marianas island chain to pursue his work of conversion and religious instruction. He was slain together with a Jesuit missionary, Fr. Diego Luis de San Victores, on April 2, 1672. No wonder a 233-member delegation from Cebu, headed by His Eminence Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, will be arriving in Rome on March 2.

They will be joined, Ambassador De Villa says, by a "special delegation" from Guam, about ten or more Guamanians led by Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron of Agana, to express the solidarity of the Chamorros and Guamanians with the Filipinos, since Calungsod was martyred on their island.

Tita adds that Brother Mike Velarde of El Shaddai has pledged to donate 5,000 scarves, with the word "Philippines" emblazoned on them to identify the group from the multitude of other pilgrims. (There's no truth to the usual mischievous rumor that the other side of those brightly-colored scarves will carry the message: "Velarde for Senator.")

Just kidding, Brother Mike. That would be another kind of beatification.

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