Only in the Philippines

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

Mystery of mysteries in this beautifully chaotic country of ours is how we manage to always manage – bumps, potholes and all.

What is our society, really, but a tale of dark comedy in continuous motion, if not an edge-of-your seat Netflix series playing in a loop over and over.

I think of this all the time but more so these days just listening to all that’s happening in our beloved Philippines today.

How do we explain for instance all the injustice in our justice system? Why would a man repeatedly accused of being a rapist, by not just one but a number of women, be out on bail for a non-bailable offense? Why do journalists and truth tellers continue to be murdered with no less than a former official of the Bureau of Corrections tagged as the mastermind? Or why is it that you can easily get a TRO in this country for a song?

No country for heroes

Or why is it that on Bonifacio Day this year, poet, artist and activist Ericson Acosta was killed by military operatives? Witnesses said he died the way General Antonio Luna did. The fiery general who fought in the Philippine-American war was killed by his fellow Filipinos with over 30 wounds from bolos, bayonets and bullets.

The autopsy report on Ericson’s body has yet to be released as of this writing but witnesses know what they saw. I knew Ericson way back from our Philippine Collegian days in UP. He was a brilliant writer and, like his wife, the poet and writer Kerima Tariman, who also died in an encounter with the military last year, Ericson used his talent to help create a better and just society.

And there lies the irony. “Sadly, the more good you do for your fellow Filipinos in this country, the sooner you get to your grave,” as artist and activist Mae Paner said.

Ericson’s father-in-law, the artist and writer Pablo Tariman, said his loved ones have come to terms with dying the brave way.

Isn’t it ironic really that centuries after the death of Luna, Bonifacio and all our valiant forefathers, this country continues to kill and silence freedom fighters like Ericson Acosta?

Stranger than fiction

Truth indeed, is stranger than fiction in this nation of 110 million. Our daily lives are wrapped in magic realism. We could be the real life version of Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude and Allende’s House of the Spirits, each a story of all that could be wrong in society.

Today, the same societal ills our forefathers gave up their lives to change are still very much present and they just keep on playing over and over like a song – injustice, patronage politics, monopolies and disdain for the poor.

Isn’t it ironic that our farmers, who toil under the scorching sun to produce food, are among the most impoverished and hungry in our society?

Isn’t it ironic that our fellow Filipinos, who are among the best and the most hardworking workers in the world, need to work in distant lands to make a living?

Isn’t it ironic that a country so rich in natural resources is dependent on imports? Even President Marcos can’t get over the fact that we’re now importing galunggong.

Institutionalized wrongs

I can’t help but feel that we’re in the middle of a modern-day gangland of sorts in which every level of society – from domestic life to big business to politics – is filled with vested interests, shady deals and doublespeak.

A ranking government official, who is serving in the current administration, said no institution in our country seems to really work as efficiently as it should.

The only thing we seem to have institutionalized is a flawed system where corruption is so deeply entrenched and where money and connections are more powerful than the laws that we have.

Ironically, we have managed to survive through it all, day in and day out, accepting this system and working around it or in it, in our everyday mundane lives.

The other day for example, because I was having a difficult time securing some official documents from a government office – which I needed for some family matters – the liaison officer helping me advised me nonchalantly, “you can just get it from Recto,” referring to that underground mill of fake diplomas, IDs and what-have-you.

How easily we have gotten used to the inefficiency of our institutions that we created alternative yet illegal ways to address all that is wrong in our system.

And the worst thing of all is that there’s a hard-baked impunity that keeps the entire system running.

Only in the Philippines, indeed.

Just imagine how far we could actually go if our institutions work and that taxpayers’ money is used wisely. Perhaps, we would have been Asia’s superpower by now.
I am rambling, I know, because I don’t really know whether to laugh or cry.

Inflation reached a new high of eight percent in November, the fastest in 14 years. And yet, as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, our economy will grow, still grow and keep on growing; possibly faster-than-expected and many of us will wake up and live another day.

This is the never-ending irony and allegory of this country’s journey. And amidst all this, we’re still here – still here, indeed, finding the light in the moments between dark and gray.

Nothing really works yet somehow, after all is said and done, by some magic and miracle and after all the cursing and the heavy sighs of frustration, we get up and steel ourselves and try to make things work. And strangely, they sometimes do.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at EyesWideOpen on FB.


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