How nations die

HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - July 13, 2020 - 12:00am

As I wrote last May 18, 2020, I do not mourn the passing of ABS-CBN, much as I sympathize with its employees who lost their jobs. Institutions like nations also die when a much stronger force, particularly that with moral authority confronts them. The Congressional denial of ABS-CBN’s request for a new franchise is one such example. I salute all the Congressmen who voted No.

Who should lead us? I have often been asked this question. May I preface my answer with this description of our “objective reality?”

This pandemic and the lockdowns have given us solitude and opportunity for thinking the big thoughts like how infinitesimal we are in the vastness of the universe. Always, however, we seldom think of this insignificance of our very lives for in a sense, we are all destined to go and to leave nothing of our existence. Indeed, we are a very young nation in the making compared to our neighbors with their venerable civilizations.

Yes, people die as well as nations. And looking back at the past several millennia, there are ruins of civilizations everywhere which attest to the genius of the peoples that built them. Of these  perhaps, Ancient China is the oldest. All the rests are practically new and that includes the United States and us.

The United States is particularly interesting because while it is new, many of the people who migrated to it came with their ancient cultures. It is interesting to look back and recall why many nations and civilizations died. Was it because they no longer had water that sustains life? Or the people in these countries were not able to overcome the mortal challenges that caused their decay. And so we come to our own archipelago, to our 110 million people now facing not only this pandemic but also the forthcoming crisis that it will bring – primarily the disruption of our food supply and consequent famine.

Our problems of development pale and shrink when we think of the major changes that our earlier societies faced, such as the intrusion of hostile tribes that pillaged and plundered the ancient world. The hunger and poverty brought about by mismanagement of resources and finally the abuse of human rights by the rulers.

And yet today, in spite all the grim forebodings that memory presents to us, we seem to be looking forward to a very ordered society, perhaps authoritarian in nature but populist in its objectives. All too often, this hankering of the populace is motivated by the personal feelings of impotence and frustration of the collective mind.

This is a phenomenon today in so many countries that have bad governments; it was the same phenomenon in the past that made the ancient peoples look for dictators as saviors, and in more recent times as history has so abundantly shown the phenomenon of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao and closer to home – Park Chung-hee and Lee Kuan Yew.

We may also include Marcos in this listing, but alas, Marcos failed to modernize this country the way that Lee Kuan Yew modernized Singapore and Park Chung-hee modernized Korea. This were not proletarian revolutionaries; they were Asia’s modernizing elites which alas, we do not have. I had hope, I know vainly now, that the Filipino oligarchy with all its wealth and its brains could perhaps be the harbinger of progress, if not of democratic growth. But we see in the third generation of this oligarchy the same apathy, greed and disregard for the social justice that we desire.

Who then are my choices for who will lead us? I have already appreciated in this column, Conchita Carpio Morales, Antonio Carpio, Gilbert Teodoro Jr. and Loren Legarda who is now in the Lower House. Loren has championed causes that do not translate in two votes: culture and environment and climate change. She could be more effective than Cory Aquino, or Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – of our women leaders today, she is in the lead. And yes, Richard Gordon. He has tremendous administrative skills. He delivered Subic from decay when the Americans left it. And as the pillar of the Philippine Red Cross, he is always there when needed. Dick is well prepared for the Presidency if the fates will favor him.

To repeat: Nations wither and die when their material wealth is squandered, their oil, their minerals, their forests, most of which are not renewable. But countries like Singapore, without such resources, have flourished because they have the will, a valorous people.

Without these, it’s only a matter of time – it could be decade or even a century that metastasis sets in.

The rot starts with the leadership, the corruption, then the collapse of institutions, the justice system first, anarchy. It could take a hundred years.

A century – in five years – I will be a hundred if I’ll live that long. Will there be a Philippines five years from today? Will we, by then, be a Chinese province? I leave this question to our people. And particularly to our leaders, the ones I really have in mind. Not Manny Pacquiao.

Why then did I endorse him in a previous column? I got an avalanche of objections to that. Semantics again. What I did was to present the objective reality – Manny’s qualifications and his massive popularity that assure his election if he ran.

In fact, I’ve never met Manny Pacquiao, and I am not even a fan, but his wealth is hard earned, and he suffered physically for it. He is also not a plunderer, a rapist or a killer. But he is now in the company of the very rich who patronize him because he has become one of them. Is he aware of this condition? Or does he have enough understanding of the social order which shows that these very rich Filipinos, this oligarchy, is the entrenched enemy of the Filipino people? Is he comfortable with them?  Pacquiao has shown great physical courage in the ring; does he have the moral courage not only to reject the oligarchy, but to destroy it so that he will then be the real champion of the Filipino people? If he cannot, I am absolutely sure that we will survive him as we have survived all our leaders who betrayed us.

I will now use the Chinese riposte; look at those Baltic nations that survived the devolution of the Soviet Union. Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia – each has a population of only a few millions. Even if 50 million Filipinos will succumb to this pandemic, there will still be 50 million of us who will continue building this nation.

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