The Things We Need as a Nation

By Christopher Ryan Maboloc

        In his book, Philippine Institutions, the Jesuit John Carroll writes that Filipinos aspire for a higher standard of living, but such has become a story of unmet expectations. Despite the rapid economic expansion over the years, of the 50 million members of the labor force in the country in 2015, around 6.5 million are either unemployed or underemployed, according to the National Economic Development Authority. Today, this country has become too polarized, but what is more injurious to our solidarity as a people is that millions of poor Filipinos are still awaiting salvation from the dark pits of poverty.

        Early this year, Freedom House has rated the Philippines 7/12 during the second Aquino administration in terms of the functioning of its bureaucracy. But the trouble with Philippine democracy is that Filipinos are mesmerized by the magic of political drama, but deep within their souls they are actually being dominated by the political elite. While President Rodrigo Duterte represents change, being the first elected president from Mindanao, the fact of the matter is that the ordinary Filipino still needs to be empowered as a citizen of the state.

        According to the Asian Institute of Management, around 70% of our lawmakers come from political dynasties. By implication, this can only mean that the opportunity to serve is limited to a few families. The harsh truth is that policy making is often dictated by the self-seeking interests of the powerful. Moreover, there remains a lack of vision insofar as only one family dominates the political scene in many local areas. As a whole, the economy is still controlled by oligarchs, remnants of the old order who continue to divide the spoils of a colonial past that still haunts us with damaging consequences.

        Politics in the country has been and will remain to be for many years ahead, personality-based. This is because our historical experiences have made us conscious about the importance of personal heroism and self-sacrifice, and so we have developed a natural affinity for our saviors and liberators. Howard Handelman says that “democracy alone does not guarantee a just society, but it is merely a step in the right direction.” Basic principles will always matter to any democracy, e.g., transparency, the rule of law, and human dignity, because without them, the very starting point of social cooperation would not mean anything. 

        We have many bright young people out there but most of them refuse to enter government service because of their negative perception. The reason is that there is already a bias against a career in the civil service. In this regard, the best of young minds opt to join the private sector or work abroad. Inside our bureaucracy, we still have large numbers of influence-peddlers and the evil reality of political accommodation, both of which hamper the delivery of competent public service. 

         Politics is about two things – perception and expectation. But the simulacrum that is Philippine democracy is still unfolding. People often differ in their opinions and this is because we can only see the world using our own personal biases – nothing is really objective, especially in politics. But while that is the case, all of us expect one thing – the interest of the common good – perhaps, our only ethical point of agreement amidst all the chaos, personal attacks and countless insults that so often characterize our ever perplexing narrative as a freedom-loving people.          

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