Heroes and villains

ROSES & THORNS - Alejandro R. Roces () - December 1, 2009 - 12:00am

“Aspire rather to be a hero than merely appear one.”  – Fray Baltasar Gracian, SJ

This has been a year of heroes. In the aftermath of Ondoy we saw the strength and goodness of the Filipino. Even those who could not be front and center during rescue options were involved through the internet. It was a new experience, watching rescue attempts and aid being organized via websites like Facebook; they helped save lives. The way Filipinos, local and abroad, rallied to support the displaced families made us proud to be a Filipino.

Efren Penaflorida is a Philippine patriot and hero: A person who reminds us that one man and one idea can make a difference in people’s lives. He proved something we have long believed: Education is the solution to all our problems. Even better, he is working to make sure street children have a chance at a better life. As we have said, we firmly believe it is civil society that is working to move the Philippines forward.

Efren shed light on our inefficient and ineffective education system – an area we have long been concerned with. To be fair, it is unreasonable to expect our education system to reach every student in the Philippines. This is why social programs run by foundations are so important; they help catch what the government may miss. They are not there to do the job of the government though. The kariton klasrums are a stop-gap measure, not a long term solution. Of course, the immediate knee-jerk reaction is to replicate the karitons, not attempt to identify and fix the issues that make it necessary to have karitons. What our education system needs is an overhaul; not a band-aid.

What Efren is doing is admirable above all else: bringing hope through education. All those who work selflessly to help others – there are many in this country – are heroes and patriots to be honored and emulated.

“He who does not punish evil commands it to be done.” – Leonardo da Vinci

This has been a year of villainy. In some cases the villain is greed and self-interest. We saw this with the floods of Ondoy. Many of the problems that caused the floods are not short terms issues. They represent decades of greed and self-interest on the part of those in power. For 40 years we have known about the issues with our drainage systems; the overwhelming garbage problem; the floodplains in Marikina Valley; and the issue of illegal logging. Yet nothing was done.

We have despots, warlords and the corrupt in this country: They are the villains in the story of the Philippines. This was so recently and graphically represented with the Maguindanao Massacre. The suspects (in this case Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. and his private army) believed that either they were so far above the law (or so protected) they could kill with impunity. This is just the most egregious example of an issue we have seen growing in this country. Many of our politicians have forgotten they are supposed to represent the people, not themselves. Instead they consider elected positions as theirs by right and mandate to do as they please.

There is so much to be proud of in the Philippines; so many heroes and patriots to admire. There is so much to be embarrassed by in our country. We firmly believe in the greatness that is the Philippines. We have heroes and villains, yes, but the end of the story is not yet written. Mahatma Gandhi said: “Remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall – think of it, ALWAYS.”

We all have a choice, including our politicians: Hero or Villain. Most Filipinos choose to be heroes; it is time our politicians followed our example. They can start with our education system.

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