Our National DNA
These days, I ask myself questions about our political culture and our psyche as a nation. How do we think as a people? Why do we act the way we act? Why has corruption become so ingrained, so institutional it happens in all sectors of our society? We talk of corruption in government because it is the most rampant and the easiest to talk about. But it happens at all levels. We in the private sector are just as guilty as some of the ones we have voted to power.
Our corruption is such an open secret. Our President won the elections on the sheer platform and promise of doing something about it. But what about the corruption that happens every time you use your office car without permission? Or bring office property to your home for your personal use? Or accept gifts from contractors that somehow influence your decisions in choosing one over another? Or every time we pay the traffic officer to keep from getting a violation? Or leave something to a government official in order to speed things up a bit? On a much bigger scale, what about “befriending” politicians to ensure your business gets first priority in government projects?
We are a paradox as a people. We have the sins of the pharisees. We condemn (and we should!) but we should be aware that we are not blameless ourselves.
I wonder when this became part of our national DNA? At what particular point did we move to the dark side of the force? I do not know. I am too young to remember when we started thinking that a good name is no longer enough for our children. My dad used to tell me that there was a time, not too long ago, when people hesitated to be in politics because it meant sacrifice. I just talked to an ancient taxi driver yesterday who used to drive for the late great Raul Manglapus and he talked about how Manglapus was respected by everyone. And we remember that time, not too long ago, the time of the greats: Tanada, Diokno, Salonga, and before them, Primicias, Puyat, and the original Vicente Sotto.
And these people remind us that indeed, there was a time, not too long ago, when people who joined politics served their constituents and their good name was the only inheritance they could bequeath to their children. And that would be enough.
When President Marcos declared Martial Law, a whole generation of nationalists were lost–they were either killed, maimed to submission, or they eventually left the country in disgust, or worse, they became part of the corrupt system they were fighting against. After that generation of nationalists, a whole generation of people afraid to stand up grew up and took over. Probably because they (I should say WE) were just angry and tired of politics, our generation became generally apolitical. EDSA I and II were shining moments, but most of us could not sustain the gradual, day-to-day political movement that is needed for long term change. After highlight moments we tend to go back to our old apathetic cynical ways and refuse to go against inertia.
It will probably take one or two more generations before we get back what was lost and destroyed by the dictator. This is beyond all of us who are alive today. But we could plant the seeds of education in our schools, but specially outside the four walls of the classroom. There is a need to bring our young to the streets once again, to the halls of our museums, to plays and movies about our culture, for them to know and understand that believe it or not, many people before us have died for our country, and that the Filipino is (still) worth dying for.
I am afraid that because our generation is a generation of apathetic cynics, we are raising our kids to be like us–to dream our shallow dreams and grow in cynical hopelessness. I am afraid that in our effort to give our children better lives than we had, we will kill their love for our country. I am afraid that in our sincere efforts to spoil our kids, we are raising them to be more wimps than we will ever be. I am afraid that because the future belongs to the few of us still willing to get our hands dirty, we have lost the birthright for a good future. I am afraid that after the euphoria of our elections last year, we’ll eventually lose our momentum and energy and go back to our old ways. I am afraid that our politicians’ children will grow up, be elected, and will be just like their fathers and grandfathers before them.
I am afraid that it will take more than two generations for the Filipino to rise again. I am afraid that 100 years from now, when people read this article, they will say that I was right.
Please prove me wrong.