The Philippines can really be amazing to “foreigners” like us who come home to visit our uber-ly hospitable friends and relatives. Hosts just can't make us comfy enough and impressed enough. They take us to the latest and greatest and prepare nothing but the best in order to impress their hard-labouring, toilet-cleaning, subway-riding cousins from Canada.
With almost no exception, balikbayans awe at the visual indications of progress. As one friend who recently spent three months in Manila stated in her email to me: “....we were amazed at how well the country is doing under [the present administration] and how happy most Filipinos are despite the horrendous traffic, ongoing EJK [extra-judicial killings], rampant corruption by new cronies, endless wrangling over federalism, persecution of government critics like [Senator Leila] De Lima and [recently ousted Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes] Sereno, failure of our justice system and an emerging dictatorship.......”
Sky-scrapers. Highways. Fly-overs. Yes, these can be amazing for those who visit the homeland occasionally. However, for those who travel the world on a regular basis and who’ve had the chance to observe the progress in other countries, they can only ask: “Is the progress we see at home keeping up with the rest of the world, even with our Southeast Asian neighbors?”
The real question to ask about progress is: “How much have we advanced as a people beyond the visible physical structures? Have we, for example, improved on the way we treat sacred institutions that define our maturity and civility as a nation? Have we prospered in how our legislative and judicial systems are being run?”
But even just limiting our views of progress to just the visible physical structures, we should ask if we are keeping up with Singapore, for example, and Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam, and Indonesia, our neighbouring countries that were nothing but forsaken barren lands at the time when the Philippines was already a highly advanced nation in Asia culturally and economically, second only to Japan? How far behind have we been left behind? Such are the questions we (or better yet, our elected leaders) should ask before resting on laurels over some good looking structures.
We lost our once-held prime position because we wasted our patrimony, misappropriated our capital, abused whatever advantage we had as a country, and squandered our bright future. [The late President Ferdinand] Marcos left a trail of economic devastation for which hateful denunciation are still being written and said. But it seems we never learned from it. We moved one step forward and took three giant leaps backward. [Joseph] Estrada. [Gloria Macapagal] Arroyo, and now, the Dakilang Ulul.
In that same email I mentioned earlier, I was asked: “Have you given up on [the present president]?” She was wondering why I’ve been recently quiet about my dismay over what is happening at home. My reply to her was: “No, I haven't given up on our Dakilang Ulul. I still find it so tempting to troll him whenever an opportunity arises. What I have given up on, turned cynical about, are those who still support and defend the D.U., as well as those in the legislative business (what else has it become but a business?) who by their unacceptable behaviour in Congress metaphorically shove their middle fingers on the nation’s face.”
That same email went on to say: “Our values as a nation seem to have changed so that people now see all these goings-on as normal and acceptable.”
Damn right, our values as a nation have changed. We now laugh when our president tells his soldiers it is alright to shoot women in their vaginas if the women oppose him. We see nothing wrong when ranking public officials bully legitimate protesters by hurling invectives and gutter language at them in front of TV cameras.
We idolize politicians who publicly display ill-gotten wealth and speak unabashedly about their concubines. We praise justices who violate the very Constitution they are sworn to uphold. We meekly accept EJKs as collateral damage even as the D.U. admits that his fight against drugs has failed. We justify fakery as necessary.
We shrug our shoulders when our nation’s territory, recognized by the international community as legitimately ours, is gifted to China. We say nothing when the Dakilang Ulul asks China to annex our country to be its province, so blatantly treasonous and in grave violation of our sacred Constitution. Damn right, our values have changed.
Our new cities are gleaming, towering over sprawling slums. Our food cuisine is world class, but “pagpag” [food scavenged from the garbage] is daily fare for the armies of poor. We see snappy traffic enforcers do excellent jobs until rich bullies purposely drive Maseratis on the opposite lane because they think they're entitled to it. Our country's smile index is high but so is our poverty rate.
So one wonders whether we as a country have progressed, and whether we as a nation have matured. Who was that who said "Progress provides us with an excuse to go backwards."
Next time we go for a visit, let’s privately ask our hosts how they truly feel about the state of the country.
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