STAR COLUMN OF THE DAY:  AGAIN, QUO VADIS?  /  PERCEPTIONS ON RP

MANILA, April 12, 2004 (STAR) HERE'S THE SCORE By Teodoro C. Benigno - The homestretch it is, the last full gallop for the finish. What awaits us at the end is anybody’s guess. For it is an election like no other, a full roar and yet a frightened whisper, a raucous raising of a hundred political flags and yet the bearers are hunchbacks and certified fools. It was Shakespeare who said, "The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool." So the fools have the run of the elections. The few wise men we know will not talk for fear they will be burned at the stake of public opinion.

And what is public opinion?

It is what the media reports it is, an outpouring of support and enthusiasm, a circus bursting at the seams, the clowns in full jollity. Unprecedented crowds almost everywhere greet the presidential candidates, their every word mined for wit and wisdom even when what they spew out is pure garbage. Promises and pledges are made by the baker’s dozen. But what is more, what is really more, is what the presidential aspirants bring with them – celebrities and entertainers galore, money galore, gifts and bonuses galore.

Make no mistake about it. These elections are being bought long before the counting has begun. And if they cannot be bought, they will be cheated by arms longer than those of Long John Silver, the legendary pirate who stole the Carribbean blind. This, I think, is what could bring turbulence around during and after the counting, maybe even before. There is just no presidential candidate around ˆ nada – who can succor the citizenry from the wickedness of these elections, their perfidy, their emptiness (itaas mo), their callous and shameless disregard of Juan de la Cruz.

And yet, there is no turning back from it. Unless of course, No-El (No Elections) rears its ugly head.

Are we now being brainwashed? Suddenly the nation is awash with government reports of "Madrid-type" terror stalking the country, just waiting to explode in Metro Manila. Suddenly the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People‚s Army) has been resurrected as "the greatest danger to democracy". Suddenly, the Abu Sayyaf stages a mass jailbreak in Basilan. You just can‚t beat this government in psy-war strategy and tactics. Don’t be surprised if government agents themselves disguised as Muslim terrorists explode a cluster of bombs in Metro Manila soon to scare the heebie-jeebies out of every breathing Pinoy.

They have studied the Filipino well. As Ferdinand Marcos did. What stunned me September 22, 1972, after the declaration of martial rule was that nobody, no protest group, no civil society organization, dared storm the street in protest. As a journalist, I drove the whole morning from one end of the city to the other. I might as well have roamed the city’s cemeteries. Marcos‚ golpe showed how well he could clutch the jugular of the Filipino and make him shut up.

So Marcos won his bet.

Will GMA win her bet during these elections?

I believe she will. Those who thought Jose Pidal, flared to hideous King Kong proportions by Ping Lacson would bring down GMA guessed wrong. Those who thought – including this columnist – Fernando Poe Jr. would just sweep the Philippines like a conquering monster cyclone thought wrong. GMA brought all her sinister power to bear on the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP). And now they are in near disarray. Media helped a lot by destroying the myth of FPJ as the nation‚s political poster boy. Ping Lacson, for all his money and early propaganda start in media, never caught the public imagination.

And yet, irony of ironies, the two names now being minted and massaged in the public mind as the most qualified to enter Malacañang are at the tail-end of national surveys. They are Raul Roco and Brother Eddie Villanueva.

Again, more irony, impressed as the voter might be, he will not switch to Roco or Brother Eddie. In his mind, both belong to the Lost Command of Philippine politics, mediocre lights flickering on the road to Calvary, abandoned by Destiny, unable to muster the roar of glamor politics, unable to dazzle, unable to sit on a slice of a full festive moon, unable to bring moneybags, unable to unload goodies. So Raul Roco has a good experienced brain, didn’t really steal, so what? He’s riding a jeep when what he needs to win is a Sherman tank. So Brother Eddie rides a pumpkin coach of morality and righteousness, brandishing the bible like forked lightning, very impressive, but again so what? He won‚t win anyway.

So here we are counting the days. Many hear the voice of God, and Mammon. We shall prevail, they say. We shall – as usual – muddle along. The wise think otherwise. Let others walk the talk. They have already taken cover. * * *

Of late, we have been watching sometimes perfunctorily, sometimes attentively, the ANC series "Perceptions on the Philippines" hosted by Dong Puno. For all its claims to erudition, its panoply of rotating guests, all renowned experts in the world of economy, finance, management, industrial and agricultural expertise, markets, globalization, I find this TV presentation rather pretentious. And even full of bombast. Even if it deliberately excludes politicians.

Nothing has been said that has not been said before. Except that this time, only the experts are on board, the professionals. And so what they have said, what they are saying and will be saying, carry great weight. And Dong Puno makes it a point to look and sound like the Oracle at Delphi, with the usual strut and swagger only he is capable of.

There has been a profusion of comments and observations, to wit:

The market has to be restudied and this time the main emphasis should be on exports. Infrastructure has been neglected by the government and without state-of-the-art infrastructure like modern roads, less congested traffic, easy communications, port facilities, we might as well close shop. Oh yes, of course, government corruption has to be drained like a cobra of its venom. Foreign investors can only accept so much corruption and no more. The judiciary should be prevented from interfering in the economy, and TROs (Temporary Restraining Orders) should be reduced to a minimum. They harass foreign investors.

There should be political will on the part of the leadership, particularly the president. Otherwise the wheels of the economy get bogged down. The best and ablest economic-financial team should be assembled, "the best and the brightest" so no stone is left unturned. The national deficit, the national debt should be given the highest priority because the Philippines is moving close to the Argentine model and may declare bankruptcy. The citizenry should be educated en masse to appreciate what good government is, what democracy is, what elections are all about. Globalization is both a blessing and a curse, so the Philippine government better get a close look at WTO (World Trade Organization).

And so on and so forth ad libitum and ad nauseam.

Honestly, at a certain point, all this reaches the point of stupefying drivel. Hardly anybody ever advocates the five biggest crooks and criminals in the country be forthwith rounded up, arraigned, thrown into the calaboose, convicted. Democracy, our democracy, is looked upon as our biggest boon ever from the Holy of Holies. If so, why hasn’t it worked for more than half a century? Why has it failed to consolidate our institutions? Rescue our majority poor from poverty? Nobody dares raise this issue.

And since our system of government hasn’t worked, in fact has failed despicably and miserably, isn’t it time we examined why?

Why have other non-democratic models in Asia worked, and worked like a charm? The Meiji Restoration in 1867-1868 worked and extricated Japan from the feudal age. South Korea’s Gen. Park Chung hee after the Korean war (1949-52) which killed millions, drove more millions homeless wandering cross-country, soldered the authoritarian regime which prefigured modern South Korea, now an economic wonder of the world. Lee Kuan Yew did the same in Singapore. Dr. Mahathir Mohammed built Malaysia with his guts, his brains, his searing patriotism, his nationalistic brass knuckles.

Why can’t we Filipinos study these models? Why are we stuck to he Latin American model which stays still and somnolent, is resistant to development and progress? Why don’t Filipinos trust each other? Why don’t we possess the social capital advanced countries, particularly Protestant, possess? There is a lot of blather in Perceptions on the Philippines about the parliamentary system. The contention is that it is the political booster shot the Philippines needs. Listen. The parliamentary system was not around when Asia’s economic dragons snorted fire and power.

Why can’t we stop our rapid population growth? Why do 60 to 70 percent of our studentry drop out of high school? Why don’t we have access to modern knowledge and technology. Why is our economic productivity one of the worst in Asia?

These are perceptions and issues worth discussing in Dong Puno’s show, not the vapid, worn and whiskered subjects being beaten again and again like a dead horse.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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