CHASING THE WIND - Felipe B. Miranda -
Pragmatism rationalizes or justifies an act primarily in terms of its results. While not necessarily opposed to principled action usually emphasizing the moral or ethical antecedents of an act rather than its consequences, pragmatism is not often associated with principledness. For most people, pragmatism is tantamount to anything that immediately brings desired results, regardless of whether it serves or violates any avowed principle. In this popular sense, it easily degenerates into an outlook with little concern for moral or ethical scruples.

Across the years, Filipinos have found themselves increasingly pragmatic. Extremely trying times have forced them to embrace a culture of survival that is often mistaken for crass opportunism, deplorable deviousness or contemptible cowardice. Indeed, kapit-sa-patalim – gripping the thin edge of a knife – has become the normal condition for most of them. Over half the population are poverty-stricken – underfed, unwashed, undereducated, politically marginalized and socially stigmatized. In their most unkind and truly revealing moments, their privileged elite write them off as the country’s tangang masa — the idiotic or stupid mass.

To survive, most of these Filipinos have pragmatically taken to practices that often ignore the law, mock reason and subvert altruism. The poor, in their desperate search for shelter, violate property rights and spawn squatter communities; when driving tricycles and other vehicles for a meager living, they pay little attention to traffic rules and care even less for civility. Truth and authenticity are cast overboard as they armed themselves with falsified documents – birth and marriage certificates, college diplomas, employment records, bank accounts, property titles, passports and visas – in their struggle to land some halfway-decent job, any job, anywhere. To extract subsistence income, no law, social convention or personal pledge – that most precious palabra de honor – can stand in the way of immediate gain. It matters little that the prospective gain is almost always minimal; it is always critical as it spells the difference between one’s survival and annihilation.

This pragmatism eschews any sense of statistical probabilities and magnitudes of risk for Filipinos going abroad. Iraq, Kosovo, Somalia, East Timor and Afghanistan may hold terrors for other nations, but they do not terrify desperate Filipinos. Bahala na (Bathala na ang makapangyayari)! is the latter’s grim invocation to a Deity that hopefully will not desert His/Her/Its creatures in their hour of greatest need.

This is the kind of pragmatism driving millions of Filipinos in search of livelihood that has proven so elusive in their home country. This very pragmatism has been responsible for most of their remitted foreign earnings — the national income account’s dry statistic for factor income from abroad – that has spelled the difference between a national economy in outright recession and another that somehow manages to plod along. It is desperate pragmatism that makes of overseas Filipino workers virtual Bagong Bayani’s – the country’s New Heroes – even as the Philippines’ traditional heels continue their plundering ways and treasonously drive their people to despair.

This pragmatism is behind every brutalized Delia Maga, Flor Contemplacion and thousands more of that cheerless sorority that comes home in sweet-smelling pine boxes, with or without the requisite autopsy or post mortem documentation. It is the same pragmatism that has led Angelo de la Cruz – a simple truck driver seeking to make a decent living – to confront the stark prospect of death by decapitation, a heinous prospect that members of his high-risk fraternity daily confront but can do little except to pray.

Bahala na! This is the tragic pragmatism of those who had been victimized by a society dominated by authorities who rule without accountability, who pursue their own pragmatic ends and think little of ruining a nation.

The people’s pragmatism is one thing; the politicians’ pragmatism is another – an altogether different kind of pragmatism also reckoning with immediate results but inordinately emphasizing instant, personal and selfish gratification. The notion of self-sacrifice is alien to such politicians. A sacrifice for them necessarily involves sacrificing others, a whole nation including its yet unborn generations if necessary, and historically many of them have done precisely this.

The pragmatism of the authorities and their cohorts is incredibly focused. They stop at nothing to gain or maintain political pre-eminence. They pander to tricycle and jeepney drivers during elections – promising them the national highways as their freeways in complete disregard of the predictably tied-up highway traffic. The homeless they seduce with illusions of decent housing in the nearest future; for the present, they guarantee unmolested, secure and obviously vote-producing squatting. To the jobless, the pitch is instant jobs sweeping streets or seasonal employment as workers in election-targeted public works projects. To their much-better-off and therefore more demanding partisans, hefty and lucrative contracts in several areas – for instance public works and public utilities – could be unscrupulously crafted. After all, this is a country where ruling authorities had already made it possible for the most expensive roads in the world to be built, for the most punishing power charges to be imposed on a mostly powerless public.

Focused pragmatism is visibly employed by national leaders who enlist even an evidently unwilling public in an ill-advised "coalition of the willing" – those who would lend material and/or psychological support to foreign leaders bent on non-UN sanctioned, military intervention in the affairs of another state. Brokered at a time when these Filipino authorities felt vulnerable to losing in the forthcoming national elections, cozening up to the world’s most powerful politicians and openly courting their political support was a pragmatic decision. It mattered little that most Filipinos wanted no part in an international quarrel that they perceived to be properly those of others and not their own.

And now yet more pragmatism is reflected in the Arroyo administration’s dramatic decision to pull out of the American-led coalition in Iraq and send its small contingent of troops and auxiliary workers home, as stridently demanded by Iraqi terrorists who have the Philippines’ internationally best-known truck driver – Angelo de la Cruz – in hostage. This time, faced by the prospects of growing public outrage that could escalate into a political tsunami toppling her precariously structured electoral mandate, President Arroyo and her politicians had no choice but to go pragmatic once more. With the elections over and their political survival at stake, the Arroyo administration cannot worry too much about breaking a much-publicized pledge to an American president or suffering ridicule from many of the world’s opinion leaders.

First they must ensure survival and later they can try and mend political fences – this is the Arroyo administration’s transparent pragmatism at work.

Clearly, there is the pragmatism of a much bedeviled people and there is the pragmatism of resourceful politicians within a politically-threatened administration. One clearly serves the national interest even in the immediate sense of shoring up its national economy and giving it a chance to recover; the other can make no such claim as it historically has beggared the nation and pushed it ever deeper into debt.

Pragmatic politicians all too often serve only themselves.

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