cross the street when the pedestrian light is green

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Photo credit: Tico

CHINO HILLS – We only live life once. We want to live it well. There comes a point in the lives of many when they resign themselves to the fates. They do so because they have come to the realization that they have lost control of their lives. That they are helpless in the face of the circumstances that they find themselves in. That they have become irrelevant. That nobody cares. That there is no hope.


This reality that sets in is not the same for everyone. It ranges from retreating into the relatively safe confines of our immediate families, our friends, our social circle to the the taong grasa we ignore in our streets who has lost all sense of self-respect and human dignity. We re-define our existence and ignore the ugly realities that assault our senses every day. We ignore the taong grasa.


To those of us who are lucky, we try to stay above it. We stop caring because what can we do about it. We complain of the inconveniences like traffic, of not having a place to park in our workplaces – when we should be thankful that we have a car to get us to work. We blame everybody in our sights for everything that is wrong or take the “that’s not my problem” route. I am not preaching – that is how many of us think.


For many years, probably since the grant of independence in 1946, our country has lurched this way and that. No matter how you put it, the Philippines has ceased to become relevant in this world if it ever was in the first place. Oh yes – we say we are relevant because we provide many of the workers that keep many of the economies in the world going. The doctors, nurses, seamen, domestic helpers and other professionals who have abandoned their country and continue to do so. Who can really blame them?


Even as we extol them as heroes, we choose to forget the damage to the social fabric caused by this phenomenon. The forced separation of families, children growing up without parents, parents dying without having seen their children who have departed for greener pastures kasi baka hindi na makapasok uli sa America dahil out of status (i.e. TNT).


When you talk to many of these OFWs, many don’t really have nice things to say about the home country. They endure humiliation, discrimination, bigotry and assaults on their dignity. Yet when you ask them about coming home to the Philippines, may ask – “bakit?”. Magulo, mabaho, mainit are some adjectives they use. There is no overwhelming sense of pride in the country. Yes – some go to other countries hoping to come home at some point para makaipon. Many more leave with no intent of coming home instead waiting for the time when they can start a petition for the immigration of their relatives.


More than the lack of economic opportunities, however, there is the sense that the ability to advance in society is just not possible. Social discrimination remains firmly entrenched in Philippine culture. You either belong or you don’t. It is not something that is commonly overt but it is so encompassing that people just assume that such and such is their place in society. Our movies even promote this mentality with lines like – hindi mo puwede pakasalan si ______ dahil hindi ka karapat-dapat sa kanya. Mahirap lang tayo.” The rags to riches tale, such a sellable plot or cultural imperialism.


Maybe we don’t really care. The fact is that we have not matured as a nation. We have very little understanding of what it takes to become a real nation.


Business pages of today’s newspapers blare out the fact that we remain one of the fastest-growing economies in the planet. Yes, economic growth and development is essential to elevate the lot in life of our countrymen. Yet – several years into this economic expansion you still see poverty and hunger subsist in a great number of people. The lack of economic uplift for the common tao is not a cyclical economic problem, it is a structural one. And, the current structure perpetuates inequality by having the fruits of economic growth being enjoyed by a concentrated few.


It is here where government should be making a difference. Not by hand-outs, not by one-off projects, not by pork barrel economics. Government should make a difference by crafting policies designed to promote widespread investment in the countryside. Stop putting money in the money-pit that is Metro Manila. Incentivize companies which choose to locate in the provinces. Put into place regressive business taxes and levies that will make the cost of doing business in Metro Manila very, very expensive. Be bold, be creative.


As we vent our anger on Janet Napoles and her ilk, our Senators, our Congressmen and others involved in the pork barrel gravy train, let us not forget that their being called to account is not the end but a means to an end. Our ultimate goal is to have our tax pesos spent in a transparent and rational way that benefits not everyone, but really those who need these most.


The matuwid na daan mantra of the current administration will die a natural death without a path to progress that people will understand. The going after tax-evaders and other similar campaigns will end up being a one-hit wonder when the personalities change if more is not done to educate and solicit buy-in from the people of the bigger picture. Put in all the punitive measures that you can, set up the best infrastructure to try to prevent all of these – well, none of that will stand the test of time if people don’t believe in the whys of these things that are being done.


We are at a crossroads. Put away the Napoleses of this world, the corrupt Senator, the crooked Congressman and throw away the key. But then what?


The tangible things that can be done to punish those accountable are necessary and should be done. The difficult part is changing the mind-set of people about business as usual. We have to continue to keep people accountable. We have to continue to be vigilant. And more important – we have to make ourselves accountable.


We have to care. We have to stop retreating into the safety of our comfort zones. We have to individually and collectively subscribe to what we say. If we say that people should follow the law, then you should only cross the street when the pedestrian light turns green.



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