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Opinion

Being Filipino today

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

MADRID – Life is normal here despite the lingering effects of COVID. People are out and life has reverted back as it was in 2019. Businesses are operating at full capacity and tourism is making a comeback. The Spanish economy is starting to operate on all cylinders again.

All these are fruits of a science-based COVID response. It will be recalled that Spain had three severe infection waves last year. But appropriate action on the part of the Spanish government flattened the curve in record time. What made all the difference was an effective tracking and tracing system and rapid vaccinations. Ninety percent of the Spanish population are already vaccinated.

Unfortunately, things are not as good for us in the Philippines. Due to the inability of government to get its tracking and tracing app to work, Filipinos remain under quarantine restriction even as the economy bleeds and children suffer from the many consequences of not attending face-to-face schooling. News of plunder and how our own President defends the plunderers only adds acid to our wounds.

Luis, my business partner here, is well aware of the situation in the Philippines. It is widely known that the Philippines has the world’s worst COVID response and that our people are suffering the most. It’s embarrassing how we are now looked upon as a basket case. Yes, our reputation abroad is stained, to put it mildly. It is a far cry from how we were perceived six years ago when everyone wanted a piece of the Philippine success story.

Over dinner, Luis asked me: “If you had an opportunity to be born again into any nationality, will you still chose to be a Filipino?” I didn’t respond… but Luis’ question dominated my thoughts for days. I was torn between being a patriot and choosing an easier life.

Let’s face it, it is not easy being Filipino. Being a lower middle income country comes with painful consequences. Poverty is all around us, income inequality is pervasive, government services are lacking and our industries are globally uncompetitive, except perhaps for a few. In a global context, the Philippine brand does not enjoy the same approval, recognition and respect as the leading countries of the world. We straddle the lower middle tier. Under Mr. Duterte’s government, the Philippine brand dropped to its lowest level since 2016, according to the Good Country Index. All these conspire to undermine our self worth and national pride.

It has not always been like this. From our independence up until 1972, the Philippines was the model economy of Asia and our people were the model society. We were an industrial powerhouse on the back of our policy of import substitution. The Philippines of the 1960’s had the most advanced industries in Asia. This included textiles, steel & metal and even precision equipment. We were the second Asian country to produce our own electronic appliances (remember Radiowealth and Zenith?) and also our own automobile, the Sakbayan.

Those were the glory days. It was the era when our population enjoyed relatively affluence, our educational system was the undisputed best in Asia and our democratic institutions were the most evolved. Our national pride was at its highest. On the international stage, the Philippines was held in such high esteem that our very own Carlos P. Romulo was elected the fourth president of the United Nations. Manila was also chosen to be the headquarters of both the World Health Organization and Asian Development Bank.

The last six decades has seen our fortunes reverse. Time has not been kind to us. But as I contemplate where we are today, versus where we were in the 1960’s, I can say that the nation was betrayed not by our people, in general, but by a small cabal of politicians who ruled for self interest. I am referring to the whole spectrum of politicians of varying political colors. They are/were the cause of the country’s fall from grace.

The overwhelming majority of our politicians prioritize what is good for their political and economic interests before all else. Harsh words, but this is precisely why the anti-dynasty bill has not been enacted into law even if it created political dynasties; why our defective land reform law has not been restructured; why certain industries are protected from foreign competition. I can go on… suffice to say that our laws are designed to benefit a narrow elite consisting of political and business personalities, who have become one and the same.

Amazingly, despite the inequality and hardships, we Filipinos endured. We displayed strength, fortitude, resilience, creativity and resourcefulness in the face of it all. We made the best of our situation despite the oppressive policies imposed upon us. We kept our dignity even when our very own leader hurls invectives at us. We are survivors.

I believe that just like life, fates of nations come in cycles. When I think about the talent, youthful vibrancy and personal attributes of the Filipino, there is no doubt in my mind that our best years are still to come. No one can put a strong people down.

But before we can truly live up to our true potentials, we must revert to intelligent, honest and people-centered governance. Our next leader must push for political, economic and social reform – this is fundamental for our survival. Many say that the Filipino’s worst enemy is himself for choosing the wrong leaders. It is true. But I would like to believe most have learned their lesson after experiencing the anguish of the pandemic managed with corrupt, clumsy fingers. I would like to believe we are more discerning now.

So to Luis, I said, “Yes, I would still want to be reborn a Filipino.” Why? Because the hardships we have gone through have made us durable… made us tough… made us clever and made us determined. I believe that, as a people, we have passed through another test of fire and are now better for it. We will no longer settle for self-serving leaders nor will we settle for mediocracy.

The pandemic induced a political rebirth for many of us. We are a people with a new attitude and new determination. We have become fierce.

If we choose correctly in 2022, our diamond renaissance will come. This is why it is the best time to be Filipino.

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Email: andrew_rs6@yahoo.com. Follow him on Facebook @Andrew J. Masigan and Twitter @aj_masigan

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