Crisis, what crisis?

CHASING THE WIND - Felipe B. Miranda -
Recently a team of UP economists went public with a report detailing the public debt and fiscal crisis of the country. In their analysis, the academics traced the historical and systemic character of the problem, its present extent and the various measures that might be taken to successfully master it. They also predicted the country’s economic collapse should the national administration be wanting in political will in addressing it. Provided a copy of the report, President Arroyo dutifully acknowledged the crisis and called on the nation to collectively confront and share the burden of managing and solving it.

Surprisingly, the administration’s own financial and economic team expressed much reservation in their chief’s admission of the crisis besetting the nation. One of the president’s subordinates averred that her superior was only speaking "rhetorically", that the admission was not to be taken literally and substantively no financial or fiscal crisis actually exists. Yet another offered the view that "technically", no crisis attends a country that can still pay interests on its debt obligations and has not been forced to declare a moratorium on debt payments to date.

The team’s considered opinion appears to be that a crisis must be present only when something has definitely broken down; in the case of a public debt and budget deficit problem, a crisis obtains only when one is no longer able to do anything about a terribly difficult situation, when no more options are available to keep the country from going bankrupt and the administration is publicly forced to announce the undeniable fact.

This is precisely the mindset that has saddled the nation with crisis after crisis and eventually with simultaneous crises in most areas where feckless governance has been the rule.

Lacking anticipatory skills, given to irresponsibly rosy readings of a national condition, allergic to anything indicative of its ongoing or prospective deterioration and temperamentally unable or politically unwilling to acknowledge its grossly worsened state, public officials with this mindset are always "on top" of any situation, always "in control" of it and never ever have a crisis to deal with.

At least not while they comprise a ruling administration. It’s a different matter altogether when they somehow lose political power and become an "opposition". Miraculously, folly deserts them and reason returns; with power gone, their sense of justice, public accountability and patriotism recovers. This appears to be a common transmutation, reflected by how many "opposition" politicians apparently become better human beings. (At least for a while, until perhaps the next elections when they may regain power and visibly transmogrify into lowlife forms again.)

For these public officials, vital issues like unmitigated population growth, mass poverty, high prices, regressive taxation, illegal drug use, criminality, substandard education, government graft and corruption, irregular and dishonest elections, military and police politicization, political cronyism and nationally-beggaring public finance all follow the same developmental path.

They begin by being largely non-concerns of those who govern, then become a national concern as they deteriorate and merit the rhetorical attention of most public officials, eventually graduate into being an urgent national concern as they worsen and become staples in the bombast of influential authorities and, finally, suffering further deterioration and unprecedented worsening, morph into being a most urgent national concern. In this final stage, the feckless governors are careful to publicly go through the motions of trying to do something with the particular concern; at times, when their political survival demands it, the authorities may even claw at each other and viciously try to unload the blame on whomsoever might be most vulnerable at the moment.

For the most powerful authorities, the trick is to make the public believe that they are conscientiously trying to do something with a poor situation, whatever its specifics might be. This strategy that basically buys time for the authorities is quite rational and historically has had a relatively high payoff for them. It exploits the tendency of most Filipinos to bear with politicians whom they see as a mostly homogenized lot, i.e. offering the public little real choice in alternative governance. It also capitalizes on the public’s incredible resilience and proven ability to survive their most difficult circumstances.

Among such authorities, the politically calculating believe that there really is no such thing as a catastrophic possibility of being ousted from power – this is the only meaningful "crisis" for them . It is quite easy to maneuver their constituency across a landscape traditionally cluttered with numerous "most urgent national concerns" – those objective national crises that could be cosmeticized, deodorized or made to appear simply illusory. Available weapons of mass deception – compliant media companies, pragmatic media people, opportunistic cronies in business and elsewhere, naïve civil society crusaders who never suspect their being used for other than noble purposes – are readily available and are ruthlessly used.

Such authorities are not going to be bothered by a sense of national crisis. Among them, even those who publicly admit to having not only a "most urgent national concern" but a crisis may truly be only thinking of it in a rhetorical sense.

In such a case, a superior and her subordinates apparently at odds in assessing a crisis may only be disagreeing rhetorically.

A most pathetic possibility.

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