Saturday, August 2, 2008

Feeling hopeless, helpless?

The rain last Thursday afternoon fell in torrents. The traffic after was truly horrible. A friend who was to have dinner with me that night took all of four hours and a half to travel from Alabang to Manila. He had dinner at almost ten.

My ordeal wasn't as bad. Taking a round-about route at four in the afternoon from Makati to avoid notoriously flood-prone areas, I reached the vicinity of our dinner date at about six in the evening. I decided to kill time in a nearby coffee shop, as the dinner meeting was supposed to be at half past seven.

An old friend and his companion were inside, also killing time, because they did not want to hurdle the heavy traffic. For more than an hour, he and his companion wondered aloud, "What is happening to this country?" and it wasn't just the horrible gridlock on the streets.

"Wala na bang good news sa bansang ito?" he began. "I listened to the SONA, expecting the usual lies, but jaded as I already was, I became aghast at the brazenness of GMA's lying. As you keep writing in your columns, she is beyond redemption. Recidivist, kung baga," he wailed. I wanted to laugh, except that his observation was too painfully true.

And then came a litany of problems without solutions. From Hello Garci to the earlier Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard to his own allegations of gross larceny at DPWH (he used to be a pretty established contractor until he decided to call it quits and sold his company, hoping to retire in comfort) to the malodorous ZTE-NBN mega-deal to why Joe de Venecia is as scarce nowadays and as silent as an Egyptian sphinx to the untold wealth of politician this and cabinet member that.

But I will not bore you with that stuff. I myself am tired of writing about such stuff... well, almost. And in varying degrees, with SWS and Pulse Asia and even radio surveys giving ample evidence, hardly any Filipino believes that their leader, unelected as she is, has been honest or upright or sincere or caring or sensitive, those qualities that we dream of and hope for, but always get disenchanted about.

What I'd like to describe is the anguish that both gentlemen expressed over the hopelessness of the country's situation. And they were not talking of the "global" externalities that Doña Gloria bandies around as excuse everywhere she goes, whether before the downtrodden waiting in line for their "katas ng VAT" or astonished foreign audiences who know the truth, but are too polite to tell her to her face.

As polite as Rudy Giuliani, who told an audience which paid fantastic mega-bucks for the privilege of learning from him, all the qualities of leadership that their president and her government has not. But would not want to "meddle in local politics". Right though he was, his audience probably felt they need not have paid 300,000 pesos per table just to be told that the secret to good government is transparency, and the secret to good leadership is having trust and credibility. Jojo Binay and the other organizers imported somebody just to be told what they themselves keep hearing from Liling Briones or Oscar Cruz or Vince Lazatin in television talk shows.

"Look at our judiciary, from RTC to the Court of Appeals, even some justices in the Supreme Court...the Ombudsman...the fiscals. It's no longer about legal arguments, or basic justice. It's all about money, how much per decision," lamented my friend's companion. "All our institutions are destroyed," he adjudged.

"Wala na yata talagang pag-asa...elections don't serve the purposes of democratic choice," said my friend. "Kung sino ang maraming pera, 'yun ang nananalo...walang kalaban-laban ang magaling at hindi magnanakaw", he added, as we went into the expensive details of running a campaign, and even before that, the pre-campaign.

"Even here in Metro Manila, vote-buying is already of course, the Comelec operators, the cheating mechanics...the electoral system will not produce good men and women, only smart-alecky guys who would use money sourced from corruption or big business to ensure their victory," they chorused. "People are mesmerized by false leadership claims that engender false hopes and end up being cheated," one of them rued.

"Kung bata-bata lang ako, I would head for the nearest exit, and migrate elsewhere," said one. Both of them have children who have migrated in sheer despair. Like millions of other Filipinos who feel hopeless and believe they are helpless to set things right anyway.

It was a sad conversation, which got me recollecting how another friend, in a much earlier conversation, ruefully declared, "nothing less than system change, by force rather than constitutional or legal means is what this country needs."

I wanted to agree with that observation, but do not know if that is at all possible, given the mercenary predilection of our generals (or some of them, anyway). Where, one wonders, is patriotism, or is there any sense of nationhood at all among us, to begin with?

And then, yesterday morning, I happened to pass by Nagtahan Bridge. Astride garish lampposts which ablaze at night look like some cheap fairyland, were rows of flags, tattered, faded, decaying. Truly they symbolize the state of the nation.

What kind of government, local or national, could countenance such desecration? And to think that a stone's throw away was Malacañang, and beside the bridge is the headquarters of the Presidential Security Group, the praetorian guards who secure her illegitimate majesty.

Hopeless na nga ba? And are we as a people so helpless to do anything about this abomination upon us?

Malaya, August 2, 2008