What now?
HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - July 20, 2020 - 12:00am

I stated in this column on May 18 that if the Lopez Empire is dismantled, the revolution shall have begun. Has it? Maybe.

The closure of ABS-CBN marks an important milestone in the Duterte revolution. Many of us may not consider it as such because we are very close to it, witnessing its progress. Also, many of us may expect sudden and significant changes after this momentous event, but such expectations may not come soonest because revolutions – the real ones that truly matter – take time. President Duterte should not gloat too soon. Besides, he should look at his own backyard – the new oligarchs are flourishing with his patronage.

True revolutions take time.

The Chinese revolution started in the 1920s with Sun Yat Sen and succeeded only in 1949. The Vietnamese revolution started in 1945 and ended only in 1975. The Mexican revolution took about the same length of time. The revolutions that took only a decade or so – the Cuban, the French and the Russian – are exceptions.

Then, when power has finally been transferred from the oppressor to the oppressed in this period of reconstruction, the revolutionaries are replaced by entrepreneurs and administrators; it takes at the very least one generation or twenty five years for a country to modernize. This was the period when Singapore, developed under Lee Kuan Yew, when it broke away from Malaysia. It is the same thing with the development of South Korea that started with the dictatorship of Park Chung-hee and with the modernization of Taiwan which developed from its colonial economy after Chiang Kai-shek retreated to the island with lessons from his failure in the mainland, modernized Taiwan. We can never be sure what the revolution will spawn – a Napoleon, a Stalin or a Mao? Whatever – the conclusion of history is this: the ultimate modernizer is the revolutionary.

So, we ask, what now?

The fall of ABS-CBN illustrates how a motivated Congress can achieve so much. That motivation should be in the bureaucracy, most importantly, by the justice system. And the first and most immediate action that all must understand is that the pandemic also gives us the opportunity to rethink and even change perhaps those institutions that obstruct development. As for that anemic batch of landlords called the Makati Business Club, it must now be a pillar in modernizing the country by engaging in productive enterprises, in the manufacture of goods for 100 million Filipinos – a mass market that is so obviously unexploited. We have a very large labor force, a lot of it technically proficient particularly the many overseas workers who are returning. The possibilities in agri-industry are so many, the exploitation of our agriculture, derivative products. For instance, excellent Philippine rum should dominate the world market. Ditto with our cigars.

Our capitalists must abandon being landlords, with the minds of landlords waiting only for their share of the harvest and for the rent. Like I always said, Japan has very little arable land and its real resources are its people. And most of all, Singapore – which is the richest country in Southeast Asia with no natural resources other than its industrious people – is led by incorruptible and visionary leaders. Do I sound like a broken record?

For sure, I had hoped that the Lopez Empire would be toppled, but I actually did not think it would happen for I only know too well the vast resources that the Lopez family holds.

Sure, Duterte was, from the very beginning, against ABS-CBN, but as we know, he has only two years left, and it is much too late for members of Congress to harry favor from him. What I am concluding is that, among our politicians, there are still many who are firm with courage and integrity and who have acted on the dictates of their conscience and their perceived aspirations of the Filipino people. We must remember them in the next election.

On a personal level, I find it so difficult to rail against the Lopezes. Oscar Lopez is so unassuming and decent; in the late Sixties, I shared a room with him for four days at a conference in Davao. I am very fond of his daughter, Mercedes, the curator of the Lopez Museum, founded by her grandfather, Eugenio, Sr., as a testament to his nationalism. I told her the Museum is her family’s legacy to the country – she should care for it, enlarge it.

The Lopezes can always come back, but they will no longer have the credibility and the clout that they once had. They still have billions to invest in productive enterprises, billions with which to resurrect their tarnished reputation.

And we must not stop criticizing our leaders. Duterte deserves to be criticized, pointedly, specifically if criticism is meant to be taken seriously. But at the same time, we must not forget his legitimacy. He did not come mounted on a white horse or a tank. We elected him. So we, ourselves, are not exempt from that criticism. Right now, he is seen as the nemesis of freedom. But what are the realities? Look around us, at the countries without our freedoms and how they have prospered. Press freedom is hardly the concern of most Filipinos whose priority needs are food and security.

I understand the tenacity of human rights believers when they equate the erosion of those rights with Duterte’s ambition, and with Duterte, the death of democracy. These believers are thinking only of themselves, their welfare, blind to the autocratic leaders in the region who brought progress to their people. How does one explain China – its progress now, its longevity? Human rights in China were always glossed over by the traditional compulsion towards hierarchy and harmony. In the end, above all this noise and raucous clamor for press freedom by a few is wasted passion, what truly matters is, do we truly love our country.

So, what now?

This pandemic, or any crisis, challenges us to work harder in order to survive and our leaders to lead selflessly and create new institutions that will strengthen our Filipino society to replace the old ones that have decayed. This will then be the new normal when this pandemic ends.

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