Temper of the times

CHASING THE WIND - Felipe B. Miranda -
Can a year really make such a big difference? Between August 2003 and July 2004, could Filipinos – mostly a constitutionalist, exuberant and optimistic people – have started harboring uncharacteristically dark thoughts? Is it possible that their traditional faith in civil governance and typical joie de vivre might have suffered a critical depreciation in the year that was? If so, what implications might be drawn for those who wish to survive the year yet to come?

These are questions provoked by two Ulat ng Bayan surveys of Pulse Asia, the first conducted a year ago, in August 2003, and the second just this June-July 2004. Both are nationwide probes using representative samples of 1200 adult Filipinos 18 years old and above. These Pulse Asia surveys are independent, non-commissioned studies, definitely non-partisan and uncompromisingly academic in orientation.

Findings from these surveys suggest that there is a significant increase in the people’s sense of hopelessness, their desire to migrate to another country and their willingness to consider radical alternatives – specifically the implementation of martial rule – to solve the many crises of the nation. In August 2003, significantly large majorities (60 percent to 70 percent of those surveyed) disagreed with the idea of a hopeless Philippines, turned down migration as a personal option and rejected martial rule in coping with national problems. A year later, their numbers had declined to precariously small majorities and degraded to an unprecedented plurality (55 percent on hopelessness, 51 percent on martial rule and no more than 45 percent on migration). Actually, given the surveys’ margin of error, the 51 percent absolute majority could just as well be a minority sentiment too.

On the other hand, Filipinos who already subscribe to a grim assessment of their national situation or who profess indecision about it increased in numbers even as they continue to remain in the minority. The sense of hopelessness rose from 12 percent to 15 percent of those surveyed between August 2003 and July 2004; willingess to migrate from 22 percent to 28 percent and martial rule advocacy picked up from 24 percent to 27 percent. For these three probes, indecision also markedly increased, from 19 percent to 28 percent in the case of hopelessness; 21 percent to 26 percent for migration as a personal option; and 14 percent to 21 percent in endorsing martial rule.

Filipinos, much like other people, do not rush to give clear-cut answers to probes into sensitive political or cultural issues. Much like other nations, they do not readily reveal their opinions when they believe a majority in their community might think otherwise. This "spiral of silence" probably works to cloak hopelessness, migratory preferences and martial rule advocacy among survey respondents with the convenient and prudential mantle of expressed vacillation, of affected indecision, in opinion surveys.

A digression is in order here. Analysts looking into critical concerns like popular hopelessness, willful migration and therapeutic martial rule are better off treating respondent indecision as indicative of a respondent’s negative mindset. Even if they were to err, such analysts would err on the side of prudence; they will not mistake as normal that which might be truly critical – and politically costly – in developing public opinion. (However, whether correct or in error, prudent analysts are wont to be castigated especially by insecure authorities as "alarmists", "doomsters" and, in the most critical of times, as treasonous "enemies of the people".)

Pulse Asia’s survey findings on the public’s perceived hopelessness, their migratory preferences and martial rule option point to much deterioration in the nation’s confidence to confront its numerous crises and master them through essentially civilian governance. This is a sense that cuts across all geographic areas, socioeconomic classes and other demographic variables.

The sense of despair, the need to exit the country for good if one is to survive and do better and the willingness to resort to martial governance are most often associated with the best-educated, the materially better-off and the younger (indeed, at 18 to 24 years old, the youngest) Filipinos. The rest of the nation, it must also be noted, are not so markedly different in temperament.

No country can long stay the inevitable should this scenario persist. Within the next twelve months, an equally feckless set of authorities to those that had governed the country in the last three years could provoke a political development of the first order.

The SONA of 2003 failed to arrest and instead contributed to the sorry state the nation finds itself in. It is foolish to think that the SONA of 2004 could fare better unless the authorities somehow had managed to radically transform themselves and now would truly work for the national interest.

A year indeed can make a lot of difference. The nation, as in the past, can continue to work and hope to survive. The authorities can exert themselves, perform, and if they do well enough between 2004 and 2005, they just might not perish.

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