MANILA, January 5, 2004 (STAR) HERE'S THE SCORE By Teodoro C. Benigno - The Philippines is dancing desperately on a dime when at this late date, 58 years after World War II, the country should have powered its way to be a major role player in Asia. Sometime in the 50s and 60s, we were dancing quite proudly on an expanding political and economic stage. We were the envy of many Asian countries. China was coolie country. It was prostrate, hungry, teeming with hundreds of millions of raggedy peasants. India crashed during the Great Partition. Tens of millions died, one of the bloodiest and ugliest in history as Muslims moved out of India and set up a separate state called Pakistan.

South Korea, after the Korean war, was utterly divided and devastated. Even Japan, already a major naval power before World War II, writhed in agony and defeat with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Who knew and cared about Singapore? And Thailand? And Malaysia? And Taiwan? Vietnam was a shambles of colonial greed and conquest.

The Philippines then was basking in the post-colonial sun. Its economy was second only to Japan. Its Maphilindo diplomacy was a model for many countries just emerging from the colonial era. Its two-party, presidential political system was socko. Its English-powered education attracted thousands of students from neighboring countries. Its culture of rice was the best in Asia.

We were gunned for progress. The World Bank said so. It found in the Filipino, his society and his political institutions almost all the indices that spelled economic success and political stability. Somehow, the World Bank guessed wrong. And so did the International Monetary Fund. This was one of the first of the many blunders of the Bank and the IMF as they posted their presence in Asia, ostensibly to help uproot millennial poverty in the continent. The reality was otherwise. It was a case of the rich and powerful nations of the West, winners of World War II, casting their net in Asia.

Almost without the World Bank’s assistance, and against its many myriad regulations for near-impossible reform – Western-structured, of course – China, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand launched what later became history’s most stunning "economic miracle", in the Bank’s own words.

Our narration stops here. And now the questions abound. Why didn’t or why couldn’t the Philippines join that Asian drive to economic tigerhood? Why were we almost on top in Asia just behind Japan? Why are we in the scrap heap today? Why did so many of our neighbor-nations in Asia get glued cohesively? Why did we Filipinos come apart? Why was our democracy then the envy of Asia? Why is our democracy now so inept, so impotent? How could these stupidities happen? Why despite our invention of miracle rice are we importing huge shipments of rice today? Why are China and Thailand, who learned modern rice culture in Los Bańos, have a surfeit of rice today?

In the main, the ordinary but proud Filipino, educated or not, does not like to hear these questions. He would, like an ostrich, hide his head in the sand. If he reaches out, it is to Divine Providence. And he smiles the smile of the beatified. Well, this column precisely provides an outlet to those who are confused, bewildered, bedraggled. Even quite a number of my friends are befuddled, flustered. They placed their bets on Raul Roco. They were virtually sure Raul Roco would win the coming May 10 elections.

There was hope for the nation. For Roco exemplified the best among the presidentiables. He is highly educated, his own credentials as education secretary are impressive. The man is intelligent, a brilliant lawyer, widely read. His record as a public servant, from governor to congressman to senator to the impeachment trial of Estrada, to the education portfolio constituted singular, some even dazzling highs.

And yet one single event, just one, torpedoed, or seemed to, all his hopes for the presidency. It was the entry of one Fernando Poe Jr. into the presidential race. FPJ is now leading the presidential surveys. The weeks and months ahead seem to portend a continuing streak, maybe even a walkaway to Malacańang.

FPJ is almost the complete opposite of Roco. He is a high school dropout. It is to be doubted that he ever read anything more serious than Evangeline or The Count of Monte Cristo or Superman. Success in movies or the movie industry cannot be equated with sterling preparation for the presidency, as his famous apologists claim. Even FPJ agrees. But it is here that we go against not only the damaged but the collapsed culture of the Philippines. It is here that we pause. It is here, that if the Pinoy digs deeper, he touches base with the deeply-buried tombstones explaining why the Philippines is a failed democracy today.

You can’t really blame FPJ.

In the end, he was just a patsy for the Establishment. The latter is now narrowed down to the party or parties in power, and the party or parties in the so-called united opposition. The Establishment is a very exclusive, covetous, blindsided network of the rich and the powerful, the entrenched politicians. The Establishment is split. But that is normal. They just make sure whoever wins is their ward, their puppet. The political opposition just could not accept Ping Lacson as its presidential flag-bearer. He carried too heavy a baggage as an ex-policeman involved in the Kuratong Baleleng massacre and other alleged abominations. Besides, he couldn’t shoot up in the surveys. And was no longer winnable.

How to beat GMA and get back to power? That was the only question that mattered.

After all, they already succeeded with Joseph Estrada, who was just saling pusa in the Establishment but had in 1998 tremendous drawing power among the masses. The Establishmentarians knew the Pinoy well. The masa was an amorphous but huge mass of alienated voters. If it voted Estrada, then all the more reason it would vote FPJ. So for many weeks, the elite wooed FPJ, fed him the claptrap he alone could save the nation. And the poor fellow succumbed.

It was FPJ, not Roco, not GMA, not Lacson, not Brother Eddie, who gave meaning to their parched lives. It was FPJ who symbolized for the masa the genuine. pinoy. In his hundreds of films, FPj struck always for the poor. Even more realistically than Erap Estrada, FPJ ambled from shanty dwellings to fight for justice. He was a Muslim warrior now, a panday after, a garage mechanic. He was seven feet tall with fists that could obliterate any plug-ugly, a gun that upended every crook, every criminal.

Roco couldn’t beat that. GMA couldn’t either. Brother Eddie? Lacson is virtually out of the ballgame.

So that is the story of the elections. And it is the story of a nation crumbling, twice-told, thrice-told, endlessly told. It is the story of a republic that stood still while virtually the rest of Asia woke up. It is the story of a leadership, an elite that could get away with anything to perpetuate itself in power. Except the formula might not work anymore. It is the story of a damaged culture, so Hollywoodian, so Castilian, it defied progress.

The Establishment, however, forgot one thing – civil society.

The Estrada formula worked for sometime. But it went wrong, horribly wrong. The only social force that could topple Erap was civil society, the educated, still principled layers of society. Its first success was EDSA in 1986. Marcos, Imelda and their minions had to flee to Honolulu like whipped mongrels. EDSA succeeded again in 2001 and with massed throngs converging on Malacańang hounded Estrada out of the palace.

Now, let’s simplify the equation.

Civil society cannot accept FPJ. An FPJ presidency, whatever its apologists say, will eventually ruin the Philippines. Let’s listen to the philosopher Thomas Hobbes who once and for all depicted a society divided against itself, hardly different from the state of nature. When there is no order, Hobbes said, there can be no freedom. Get it? Order is a frightened straggler in our deeply fractionalized, squabbling, feuding society today. The emergence of order, according to Hobbes, "will require an educated populace (civil society), as well as talented (creative) elites, to take root." Under no pretence can FPJ be called "talented" or "educated". Again: "Before the names of Just and Unjust can have place, there must be some coercive power."

Coercive power? Can this be another dictatorship, this time an enlighted one? Or mayhaps a revolutionary government? Without a Leviathan or a brass-knuckled authoritarian regime to punish what is Wrong, Hobbes declares: "There can be no escape from the chaos of the state of nature."

Are we there now? Massive turbulence during the elections? Chaos? And after that, a Leviathan descending on the Philippines?

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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