Time to go

CHASING THE WIND - Felipe B. Miranda -
This is my last column for The Philippine STAR. In over four years of public reflection, I had written about mostly everything that is an urgent national concern. These essays tried to look into vital Philippine issues, whenever possible their historical origins, current state and long-term implications and, prognostically-driven, possible tactical as well as strategic policy interventions. In these analytical pieces, I had deliberately minimized the role played by specific personalities in either sustaining or worsening their nation’s numerous concerns.

After all, the systemic character and structural features of the nation’s deepening crises go well beyond the often colorful dramatis personae of the moment. As a matter of fact, Filipinos probably are overly diverted – indeed, their fuller understanding of vital issues is often much handicapped – by the popular focus on excellencies, eminences, honorables, notables and other fashionable figures of Philippine society.

The dynamics of a public debt and fiscal deficit crisis is not optimally explored through lenses that focus on any specific national administration or political personality. Rather, this woeful situation is best understood by a sober examination of the nation’s long-standing constitutional infirmity: The disempower-ment of the citizenry in public life, their gross inability to exact public accountability from plundering authorities and their cronies and, predictably, the resulting pragmatic calculus that makes it irrational – even stupid – for those who are powerful and influential not to engage in corruption and other forms of lawlessness.

Properly understood, national crises always lend themselves to the successful management of patriotic leaders and an intelligent citizenry. The real nature of a crisis is made transparent and what needs to be done to master it is properly identified and willfully implemented. The national challenge is effectively taken care of and its subsidiary elements – whoever and wherever they might be – are also simultaneously addressed.

The public debt becomes manageable, the fiscal deficit significantly lessens and the corrupt officials and their auxiliaries find themselves either immured or interred. All of these are effected at practically the same time; all become possible because enough Filipinos have finally decided that the right time and the full season for public accountability has truly come.

When is that time? Romanticizing, one would be tempted to say "now" or "soon enough". Realistically, I do not believe that this fortuitous development will occur in the next twenty to thirty years. Unless those in power are completely demented and in utter folly increasingly practice national policies that currently exacerbate mass poverty and provoke popular unrest, Filipinos will take at least a generation moving from their presently disabling sense of desperation, to one of progressively reckless frustration and, finally, a sense of outrage beyond any possibility of appeasement. It is the last that politically dramatically liberates a people, as history has often enough shown.

Enlightened, patriotic administrations everywhere have always sought to educate, inform and inspire their constituencies towards national development. In times of crises, this trinitarian responsibility of democratic governance assumes greater saliency. In the last forty years, no Philippine administration appears to have succeeded well in this crucial undertaking.

Systematically miseducated, largely disinformed and often despairing, most Filipinos across the years have not found much that they can trust in their government or authorities. It is not the case that the nation is genetically programmed to distrust institutions and their officials. Normally inclined to trust, Filipinos nevertheless have grown skeptical and even cynical. There is just too much empirical evidence militating against trusting those formally tasked with serving the public.

Good, alternative governance may not be a realistic proposition in the short run. However, like any progressive development, it cannot be postponed forever. It will come to pass even in this long-benighted land. Alternative leaders – those that do not specialize in transactional politics and token governance but insist on practices that radically transform a society and make it irreversibly human – are increasing in numbers and in appeal. In the wings and in the eaves, they work and wait for the opportune moment to take on the responsibility of national governance.

These leaders work constantly to educate their public such that the crucial distinction between truly pro-people and merely populist" politics becomes clear to everyone. They put a premium on political transparency, on clearly informing the public rather than purveying illusions. Alternative leaders know the intrinsic value of hopefulness and try to inspire their people particularly in the worst of times. Above all, as they educate, inform and inspire their people, such leaders trust the latter’s collective wisdom and betray no contempt for their capabilities and potentials.

This democratic faith of our alternative leaders, not the conventional populism of traditional politicians, is the salvation of this nation. Give it at least a generation or two to work its magic and nothing reactionary or counterrevolutionary can block its way.

Sustained by this hope, I now believe that there is more comparative advantage in active outreach work for me and others perhaps similarly situated. Those who write columns and in so many other ways help in responsibly educating and informing our people are doing equally valuable work but each one of us situates his/her own advantage in some specific dimension.

A generation or two from now, many among us will live to see and celebrate the synergy that meaning well, doing well and being well necessarily spell for all those who strive to build a better nation, one that a most perceptive Filipino scholar also holds before us as "the nation that we could be".

In closing, I would like to thank The Philippine STAR and its leadership for the privilege of sharing my thoughts with the public on a comprehensive array of national concerns. I must also express my appreciation for all the good people in The Philippines STAR who took time to wait for my often-delayed columns and provided editorial assistance for columns that at times were produced on the run, in between UP classes and outreach public lectures as well as Pulse Asia client briefings.

I cannot thank enough those who, in addition to my most dutiful wife, read my column and at times shared their thoughts and sentiments with me through postal letters, email and spirited oral discussions. I have been terribly impressed by the persistence of many Philippine STAR readers in trying to decode what I had written, many times quite abstractly and, often enough, convolutedly.

(I cannot end without recalling how a summa cum laude from a prominent Manila university, a well-known industrialist in his fifties, confided that he actually understands what I write. Then, a most friendly advice, completely unsolicited, was offered: "It really would help me much if you could write shorter sentences.")

It is really time to go. Thank you all for bearing with me and this column for so long.

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