Saturday, November 29, 2008

Letters to an old comrade: Is there still hope for us?

More than half a century has passed, yet our country still limps under the throes of revolutionary change. Some of our old friends have died in the prime of their youth. Some have just given up and gone to embrace the comfort of the other side. Others have escaped in the peace and calm of foreign shores while the brave and more resilient ones continue on with the arduous work. We have yet to see the banner of genuine democracy waving from Batanes to Jolo.

Is it time to give up? Is it whimsical to keep on hoping?

Barack Obama, the president-elect of the United States, campaigned on a promise of change everyone can believe in. Defying the heavy odds against the first African-American to run as president of a country born from a revolutionary war and a civil war to end the slavery of blacks, Obama captured the imagination of the American electorate on the strength of his ideas and vision of change.

But it is a mere promise of change, a glowing but nearly empty rhetoric for a new America. Yet, Obama easily won America’s hearts and minds. By putting him in the Oval Office, America has given their trust that he will deliver the change he promised.

Are we such hard-headed people that we cannot believe in a similar promise of change? Maybe not. We fell for the Marcos slogan of making our country great again, or for his vision of a new society. In every presidential election I could remember, we have always elected a new leader after another hoping there would be change forthcoming. But after the euphoria of each election had subsided, our country has gone on to become more bankrupt, poorer, and less sensitive to the plight of the greater majority of our masses.

It seems to be not a question of a leadership vacuum at all. We have never run out of great minds, of people with the best intellect our country can use to map out a better future for our people. With the exception of a former movie action star and the wife of a political martyr, and perhaps the current sitting president, all the presidents our country had chosen possessed the necessary intellectual wherewithal to be the helmsmen of our nation. But why didn’t they live up to their promise?

What is the real problem with our society, Ka Topits?

The Spaniards colonized us for over four centuries, instilling in our minds a reverence for God, thus making the Philippines the only Christian nation in the Far East. When the Americans annexed us as their first colony after driving out the Spaniards, they thought we were savages that needed to be civilized. So, we were civilized. After being colonized by a former European power, then by the mighty Americans for another century, we should have been the beneficiary of the confluence of two great cultures. Yet, it was not meant to be. Our colonial masters turned us into a slave nation, a people without pride and dignity, a people who will always look up to foreigners as their masters.

So even after gaining our nominal independence from the Americans, we have to continue with our inner revolution, our own struggle for national identity. We have gone through a succession of presidents, yet our country remains the same. Status quo is change for us.

Change has always been the aim of our struggle for genuine independence as a people. We have tried to seek change peacefully, and through violent means quite sporadically. Both ways, we have been unsuccessful. But still, we continue on our quest for this holy grail of change. We’ve been trying charter change forever, and the New People’s Army and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front persist in their own liberation struggle against the state’s military and its friendly American visiting forces. How far is the end of this tunnel so we can see a flicker of light, at least a ray of hope that will assure us that real change is on the way?

Many have said that we need to overhaul our entire social structure if want change to happen. Even the current pope, who has often been considered as veering to the religious right, says: “the moral well-being of the world can never be guaranteed simply through structures alone. Such structures are not only important, but necessary; yet they cannot and must not marginalize human freedom.”

Even if we have the best structures, we still need a society that is capable of freely assenting to the social order that we would like to establish. But freedom does not exist on its own, freedom must be gained, and this is where our dilemma lies.

Filipinos fought for freedom during the revolution against Spain. We fought the Americans when they the stole the republic from us. When the Japanese invaded us, we resisted their armies. Up until now, our Muslim brothers in the South never yielded in their struggle for their own autonomy.

We can learn a little from the resiliency of our brother Muslims. Freedom is achieved if we are relentless in fighting for it. Only when we are able to hoist the flag of freedom without interference from others—foreign power or its lackeys—can we truly declare ourselves free to choose our own destiny, and build a society that represents the will of our people.

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