CHASING THE WIND - Felipe B. Miranda -
Disoriented, a nation cannot progress. When some Filipinos jest that they would be better off hostaged to gain the material benefits that a celebrated hostage – Angelo de la Cruz – stand to receive from generous donors, much popular disorientation must be suspected. People apparently fail to realize that the nation had already been hostaged by its ruthless politicians for the better part of at least four decades.

The historical evidence is not easy to refute. Across the years, regardless of who comprised or headed the national administration, the national welfare had not materially improved. Whether it was a nominal liberal democracy specializing in political gridlocks, a constitutional authoritarianism expertly and decisively plundering the polity, a feckless post-Marcos dispensation that naively "restored" a democracy that had not been previously gained and therefore was never lost, or a series of quasi-populist administrations that regularly served a full rhetoric of democratic politics, entrepreneurial economics and social justice, the quality of life of most Filipinos continued to worsen.

The suffering public attests to this reality in survey after survey of their living conditions. Except for two brief periods (May 1986 and March 1987), reputable, non-partisan quality-of-life probes reflect a consistent deterioration. (One may appreciate the context of the two exceptional occasions noted earlier. In May 1986, a dictator and his cohorts appeared to have been deposed from power; in March 1987, with the world apparently enthralled by Filipino "people power", the nation had just approved its new constitution and was girding for its first post-Marcos elections. Neither in May 1986 nor in March 1987 was there any hard evidence that material improvements actually had attended the life of most Filipinos. It was more a case of unbridled, irrational optimism mistaking what was fervently hoped for – what euphorically was anticipated as materializing soon – as already part of a nation’s contemporary history. By October 1987, these popular illusions had started to dissipate. By July 2004, there was hardly anything left of these romantic dreams.)

In the latest June-July 2004 Pulse Asia Ulat ng Bayan Survey, Filipinos expressed their assessment of life changes in their oft-touted strong republic. A clear majority (59 percent) of the nationally representative sample of Filipinos 18 years old and above says life had worsened rather than improved for their families in the last 12 months. The burden of deterioration is demonstrably heavier among those who are poorer, those in the worst position to absorb yet more hardships in life.

When asked to focus not so much on their own families but to bear in mind the condition of most families nationwide, the respondents reflected even more disilusionment. Almost seven out of 10 (69 percent) believed that life had worsened rtaher than improved for most Filipino families in the same reference period. Interestingly, respondents from the materially best-off class ABC (71 percent) and those from the worst-off class E (71 percent) appeared equally impressed by this punishing development. When economic divides fail to distinguish the assessments of the well-off from those who are badly-off, the phenomenon under scrutiny must be undeniably widespread and terribly forceful.

Worsening life conditions had been the implacable rule (with only apparent exceptions, as noted earlier) across two decades of nominal democratic governance in this country.

When life for a great number of Filipinos – at times exceeding a majority of the national public – is reckoned in terms of life-threatening circumstances like pitifully inadequate income, problematic employment, poor health and chronic hunger (close to 34 million Filipinos now say they worry about having to eat enough every day), there is reason to believe that a hostage situation has somehow developed within the country.

This must be the reason why the governing authorities need to field 6000 policemen, 3000 soldiers and an unspecified number of firemen and MMDA aides when the president of the republic goes through the ritual of delivering a state of the nation address. When illusions no longer work well and soma ceases to be effective in managing their hostages, is it any wonder that the powers that be would resort to a forceful display of combat-ready personnel, firehoses, truncheons, tear gas, killer rifles and handguns ?

The hostage takers must be getting apprehensive. A SONA is a most temporary diversion. Other alternatives – final solutions – cannot be ruled out when the authorities become desperate.

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