A point of no return?

CHASING THE WIND - Felipe B. Miranda -
Runaway population growth, massive unemployment, surging criminality, intensifying insurgency, unabated graft and corruption, worsening public finance, an economy surviving off the earnings of those forced to flee abroad, a polity weakened by chronic fecklessness and problematic legitimacy and, above all, the undeniable deterioration in the overall quality of life of most Filipinos – can anything still work to reverse the national condition and enable people to dare hope for a less stressful life in the course of two administrations or an administration and perhaps two governments, GMA’s current presidency and immediately beyond?

Except for the administration’s chorus boys and those fifteen-years old and below who are yet to finish high school and won’t consign Santa Claus to the realm of juvenile fancy, few Filipinos are holding their breath and giving the SONA-drawn presidential scenarios for 2010 the slimmest sliver of a chance. Cavalierly ignoring the spectre of an explosive population growth, foisting arithmetical paradoxes when addressing employment, public finance and basic education, the president’s SONA predictably holds little appeal to those who seriously think through its promised-land rhetoric. Neither the GMA administration’s recent track record nor the country’s oligarchic history warrant any degree of public optimism in the way these national concerns stand to be addressed by those who now govern.

For many Filipinos. GMA’s proferred "legacy" does not appear to have the slimmest leg to stand on.

So, beyond 2010 and probably looking into 2015 if not 2020, can soft-hearted, hard-headed, intelligent and patriotic Filipinos realistically anticipate a significant reversal of their currently miserable conditions?

Probably not.

The problems confronting the nation may have already reached a point of no return, when management using reformist measures can no longer improve a punishing situation within the lifetime of a given generation.

Take an overly prolific population for instance. Even if everyone were to good-naturedly consent to have only two children or to limit themselves to monogamous rather than polygamous relationships, or – like conscientious bishops, priests and other clerics – to completely abjure sex, the negative implications of an already explosive population are going to still hound us for the next twenty or more years. This is the same as saying that little can be done to avoid the demographic stresses of feeding, educating, employing, governing and caring for millions of Filipinos who now may be only ten years old and younger.

A strategic response to the issue of population pressure, even if miraculously fully implemented starting tonight with mass abstinence nationwide, can do nothing to reverse our situation until more than a generation later.

Lead time is a crucial concept in dealing with massive problems that took decades to form and now require many more decades to solve.

As for the nation’s other headaches – concerns that also have been allowed to worsen over time – proposals emphasizing value formation, changes in the formal constitution and structural adjustments in the national economy appear to be sensible solutions only when contexted in the long term. Values are already formed by the time people are ten, at most fifteen, years old. Comparative socialization studies do not suggest that major changes in value formation or reorientation are easily effected within a generation. If young people have not internalized compassion, social justice and patriotism by the time they are ready to enter high school, it is doubtful that they can be effectively reoriented by any value formation program whether government, the civil society or any other agency were to attempt it.

As for restructuring an oligarchic polity and a less-than honest-to-goodness market economy — that is to say, institutionalizing the practice of democratic governance and "leveling the playing field" or promoting competitiveness and entrepreneurship among all economic players – a sobering fact needs to be reckoned with. Any genuine attempt at solving these historic political and economic infirmities requires that Philippine society’s current beneficiaries give up their positions of privilege and waive what they had long regarded as legitimate prerogatives.

What are the chances of this miracle ever happening? What odds will a pragmatic oddsmaker give that senators, congressmen and other assorted politicians will enable legal provisions that effectively ban political dynasties? Or that influential businessmen will lobby for measures that kill their monopolies, cartels and other profitable enterprises?

As regards the nation’s most critical challenges, current reforms, even if seriously considered and conscientiously implemented, are probably too late.

One may no longer have the option to reform Philippine society and its lead institutions. Most Filipinos who feel this way may already believe that social reformatting is the only alternative left if things were to improve here both in the short as well as the long term. But then, being mostly a gentle people with a distinct aversion for what is radical and probably violent, they resourcefully fashion another option.

They leave the country for good. By the tens of thousands and millions, Filipinos flee their native land and set their sights on foreign climes. Millions have already left and millions more are waiting to leave.

For these people, whatever their national leaders might try to conjure in their SONAs and other inspirational messages, the country has already reached a point of no return.

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