State, stake, and Mabini

HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - January 6, 2020 - 12:00am

That brilliant technocrat and hands-on politician, Gilbert Teodoro dropped by the other day and we continued our dialogue on politics and the state. I told Gilbert that he should go back into government service and politics for he is one politician which the country badly needs. I watched him when he was Defense Minister and my positive conclusions about him were confirmed by many officers as well as ordinary Filipinos whose lives he had touched.

The state is what politicians create and build. If they succeed, the state becomes a firm and enduring institution which then serves society, for the logic of the state (and government) is service. By being strong, it also helps and encourages the development of a strong society with which it maintains harmony – an organic equilibrium, self sustaining and self healing – called democracy. It is a fragile equilibrium based on periodic consultation and consensus (elections).

Ideally, the best-trained people in any country should be in politics, and government. By this definition what comes to mind is the Japanese bureaucracy. The brightest graduates of Japan’s elite universities seek employment in government, and they have made the Japanese bureaucracy a formidable continuum so competent that even if the political leadership, and government changes every so often, that bureaucracy performs its functions efficiently and devotedly without society falling into selfish individualism and political anarchy.

Gilbert recognizes this and he also understands how necessary and important it is for citizens to have stakes in the building of a nation itself. With such stakes the citizen has something personal to preserve  and, with it, strengthen the nation as well. Is Gilbert absolutely right? We must now look at our past, at our leaders, ourselves and our stakes. Our history is instructive; we see how often self interest (stake) is identified as part of the national interest.

All through our history, the protection of this stake resulted in the collaboration between the holders of power and the subjugated stakeholders. We see this in the collaborations of Filipinos with the Spaniards, with the Japanese, and with the Americans. The collaborators did this to preserve their status, their wealth, and their stakes in society.

Much earlier in our history, we see this lucidly in the wealthy Filipinos who were at the helm of the Malolos Republic in 1898. They betrayed that republic by wanting to make the Philippine state a member of the American union. They labelled themselves nationalists and are so honored to this very day with monuments, avenues named after them. They have a righteous justification for their collaboration, particularly those allied with the Japanese and Marcos later. Without them, they proclaimed, the oppression would have been worse.

In the revolution of 1896 and in the Philippine-American war that followed, we had exemplary Filipinos who had no wealth or physical stakes in the country. They were poor and landless – Bonifacio for one, Emilio Jacinto, and of most of all, Apolinario Mabini. Coming from a peasant family, Mabini was able to have an education, and he became a lawyer. Crippled by polio, the Spaniards ignored him, thinking that in his physical condition, he can do them no harm. Aguinaldo, however, recognized Mabini’s intellect, and he took him as one of his closest advisers. Mabini was the subject of evil gossip from the Federalistas who objected to his influence on the Republic. Mabini had also exposed their plans to raise money for the revolution when, actually, it was to make money for themselves. He was eventually ousted, but in that private capacity, he continued to write and work for the republic, even when it was already in its death throes.

As a lawyer, he worked for free for so many of the poor who sought his help. He remained poor all his life. That replica of his house in the Luneta is absolutely phony. I saw his real house in Nagtahan around the 1940s. It was roofed with nipa and was no bigger than the thatch roofed house in barrio Cabugawan, Rosales, Pangasinan where I grew up.

If wealth is the sole measure of what a man’s stake is in his country should be, then the wealthiest Filipinos, the oligarchy, should be the most nationalistic because of their huge stakes in the country itself. But, as history and contemporary events have shown, it is this oligarchy, with its limitless greed and its exploitation of Filipino labor and Filipino resources, that has made it the greatest obstacle in the building of a just and sovereign nation.

They have the nerve to claim they are nationalists, and why not? They provided jobs for thousands, increased the gross national product, built luxury condos and gated communities – they contributed more than their expected share in building this nation.

Everyone therefore can call himself a nationalist for, as that old adage goes, nationalism is the last resort of the scoundrel.

And those poor soldiers who shed their blood for Filipinas, what is their stake? I pity the revolutionaries on the left who also sacrificed everything for a belief which they thought would bring justice to our people. In looking at these Filipinos who had no possessions as stake, I realize that their stake was far more precious than material goods that one can hold. Their stakes were their very lives without them realizing it.  They worked hard and sacrificed so much so they can carve their permanent and hallowed places in the sun. They became expendable, as objects, but with this heroic effort, often unrecognized, they gained true worth.

This stake is what so many Filipinos, particularly those who worked abroad, had finally realized, for which reason, some came back. They know they are hollow and adrift without their ties, their bonds with the motherland that nourished them. Their nostalgia and nationalism transformed them. In paying back what they owed to this unhappy country, they have been gloriously transformed into patriots.

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