Truth is in the (Im)Balance

I figure that this passing essay belongs in the immediate domain of someone like, say, @iwriteasiwrite or @ellobofilipino – but having not written anything for the past few weeks I think I should write something here as meaningful filler.

I firmly believe that the wrong solutions to the wrong problems find their roots in a wrong sense of history.  A wrong sense of history leads to wrong perspectives, in turn creating wrong analysis, which leads to the wrong methods to achieve the wrong goals.  Worse, a wrong sense of history is, for all intents and purposes, a wrong sense of truth.

Note that I’m talking about senses and not sides: to say “side” would mean entertaining untruth into the way we view ourselves (which is really what history essentially is: to recognize truth).  Which is why I’m writing this post as meaningful filler: when and how we tell the story of our nation is to tell – so to speak – the story of us.  While the function of something like, say, social media is to grant us the right to say something, the function of history is to grant us the wisdom and perspective to understand.

When social media functions as a historical resource, it should share history.  Truth, for that matter.


Sin Carne

In Mahar Mangahas’ column at the Philippine Daily Inquirer, he claims that the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) has reduced its standards for food.  One of his more poignant examples:

Dinner was changed from: pork adobo/pechay guisado/boiled rice/banana latundan to fried tulingan/boiled kangkong/boiled rice.  Thus pork is replaced by tulingan; the poor may not enjoy the national dish of adobo any more, presumably due to the extra cost of vinegar, garlic, etc. In fact, the new menu excludes all meat, including chicken or beef, from what the poor may eat.  Pechay is replaced by kangkong.  The banana at dinner is gone, implying that the single banana at lunchtime is already enough fruit for the poor for one day.

I’ll be the last to say that a poor Filipino should indulge in foie gras or have lechon every day, but for purposes of being literal, these are items that the poor probably don’t eat.  Then again, setting a threshold at this level is, in my view, a tad too dehumanizing.  If not for the fact that the poorest of the poor already consider adobo a luxury considering a diet of watered-down instant noodle sabaw (and no, I’m not exaggerating), it should give us insight into what the poor eat, and what the poor should eat.


The Drop

Federico Pascual of The Philippine STAR described it as “political pneumonia:” the double-digit drop of President Aquino’s ratings should be disturbing not only for the Cabinet, but for the President himself.  What worries Ernie Maceda, on the other hand, is that his officials may be taking this too lightly.  Which is in more ways than one a big mistake: “clearing the landmines” of the previous administration is one thing, but perception makes up a good part of political reality.

I wrote to a friend that P-Noy may end up going down in history as the most polarizing President we ever had.  It’s more than a “to-whom-much-is-given-much-is-expected” thing: it’s an Administration that came into power setting the bar to heights that were polarizing, and one that sought to polarize the wrongdoings of the previous Administration and frame it under the rubric of “evil.”  If this Administration is to be believed, its past 365 days have been involved – completely – in the arduous process of cleaning up the ravages of Arroyo.

The problem is that P-Noy’s administration is confronted with problems that are unique to its six years, with most of its actions – and inactions – proving costly not only to the national interest, but also to public confidence.  In the quest to correct the errors of Gloria, the Aquino administration also pulled itself into enough gaffes and mistakes that involved everything from handling a hostage crisis, to taking care of national patrimony.   For the past year, that’s what we have.  While the administration should be fairly lauded and applauded for making things right, it should be fairly criticized and castigated for things it does wrong.  Most of the time, it is in the latter where the functions of a political process is highlighted: it is here where the Aquino administration is lacking.  We laud the “Daang Matuwid” and all, but should a drop in public confidence be a necessary part of it?

Not that Arroyo’s errors shouldn’t be rectified and the criminals of the previous Administration should not be brought to justice, but to do that at the expense of moving forward (deliberately or by consequence) is something that requires a lot more thought.

The danger lies in the Administration reflecting Gloriaesque reactions to a survey: that is, to dismiss the diagnostic functions of a survey to “inadequately represent public sentiment.”  While it doesn’t, the President should be aware that part of the job of being a popular President in a popular democracy is to be – and to remain – popular; that is, while he may not be expected to make popular decisions all the time, the confidence of the people should always be on his side.  Not because a mandate is something that’s renewed during election time, but because it is renewed all the time.  This Presidency exists not to solely and exclusively rectify errors of the past, but to move forward.

And that’s part and parcel of the difficulty of the task for Aquino, who has, on a number of occasions, complained about how difficult the job of a President is.  Of course it should: had he been at the forefront of the roadmap to progress instead of being incidental to it by virtue of his position, no one would ever ask him an annoying question about his love life.  Had Aquino demonstrated able leadership and control, no one would question his competence.  And while a whole country waits – and waits – on the promises made a year ago, his ratings drop in a system where perception is nine-tenths of reality.  By delegating key Presidential tasks to advisers and czars and Cabinet leaders, he, in effect, distributed public confidence, accountability, and most of all, the spirit of why he’s the President and the leader.

While the country waits – and waits – for him to act, he echoes, “Kayo ang boss ko.” Knowing, despite the value and the glitter of the rhetoric, Benigno Aquino III should, in more ways than one, be the boss of his Cabinet, his Administration, and his country.  In short, the President must step up.

At the height of Typhoons Egay and Falcon, there was little to no mention of the President.  He may have been in the background for all we know, but if the past year of Aquino’s administration is proof of anything, the background is not the place for the Philippine President.


After 15 years, Aung San Suu Kyi is finally free.  For the longest time, she represented democracy in her country: looking out for Burma from her windows, her view framed by barbed wire and security forces from the military junta that ruled her people and put her house arrest.  Today, Burma rejoices – the free world rejoices – not without pensive thoughts or scenarios, but Daw Suu Kyi is as free as any believer of democracy there is in the free world.

Here, it’s a different story.  Raul Manglapus, with his acerbic wit, has highlighted our situation – then and now – in a trite but true phrase: we are Constitutionally free. We may be the freest country in Asia by all means and  provisions in our Constitution, but we are anything but living free.  Our democracy is in coinages and bills, in stamps and monuments, but it seems that we’re living long past the struggle to get it.



So the critics of the President took it upon themselves to criticize and to chastise him over the matter of…

A hotdog. The vitriolic anger, the righteous indignation, over… a hotdog.  That being said, I wouldn’t even bother to add to the criticism or the defense, if only because in a country with too many problems and too many issues, picking on a hotdog is just silly.

His First 9 1/2 Weeks

It began almost like a love affair between the country and its new President.  The nine and a half weeks of the Aquino Administration began with a landslide victory that many found difficult to dispute, and ended with a hostage crisis many find difficult to defend.  All we know right now of Daang Matuwid is the abstraction: the idealization of a long-term national project began by a President whom we thought can do no wrong.  In the first nine and a half weeks, almost everything wrong happened.

Not that Aquino is bad for the country; somehow, the President’s training wheels – led independently in all sorts of different directions at Daang Matuwid – aren’t doing him much of a favor.  There is no definitive stand: that the clarion call of unity and inner strength leads precisely nowhere so far.

There was no definitive stand on the issue of land reform, even if President Aquino may have been goaded into making one because of his blood-ties with Hacienda Luisita.  There was no definitive stand in the Manila hostage crisis, making it appear that the President has done too little, too late.


"Too Much Democracy"

“The problem with the Philippines,” an exasperated relative once said, “is that there’s just too much democracy.”

For me, the problem has never been about having “too much of a good thing.”  If we weigh democracy in terms of how many rights we have, then we are indeed a democratic society, as democratic as can be.  However, having the opportunities and capabilities necessary to exercise those rights is an entirely different thing.

A catalog of rights is of little value to individuals.  A person may have rights, but if he or she cannot exercise them in a free society, then those rights become accessories to living instead of being essentials.  All rights are defined by limitations and frames; while rights are absolute essentials, one can think of them as absolute limits as well.  For rights to be exercised by the individual, he or she needs the avenues and tools needed to exercise those rights to the absolute maximum.


The Yellow Elephant in the Room

A year into Cory’s death, and 32 days into the Presidency of Benigno S. Aquino III, there’s still that big albatross on the roof gutters of Times Street: could Noynoy have become President if not for the memory of his mother?

The most vocal critics of Aquino have said it themselves on countless occasions on many blogs and articles: that the Noynoy victory isn’t one of democracy or ideals or even hope, but marketing and the Filipino penchant for nostalgia and drama.  It was the last hurrah, the final ace up in the sleeve of those who profess by “Cory Magic.”  For his most ardent supporters, May 10, 2010, was “destiny.”  For his most unforgiving detractors, Noynoy’s victory was the most concerted act of historical coattail-riding in recent memory.

Of course, even the dead wouldn’t rest in peace in the new industry of Aquino-bashing.  Cory wasn’t a hero, and you have endless stories from the gates of Hacienda Luisita – and a mounting national debt – to back that up.  It evokes different kinds of nostalgia: of Marcos “instilling discipline” upon the people, or looking back at Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s regime as the “glory days” of a nation that’s now facing up to the gaffes – and perhaps the glibness – of the new Administration.

A year into Cory’s death, and 32 days into the Presidency of Benigno S. Aquino III, there’s that yellow elephant in the room again.


A House for Mr. Binay

In “A House for Mr. Biswas” by V.S. Naipaul, the lead character, Mohun Biswas, sees a house as a sign of his triumphs, independence, and vindication from his bad fortunes.  I surmise that it’s not a mansion or a palace, but a house that he can call his own.

In a GMANews.TV report, the Coconut Palace – that edifice to anything and everything Imeldific, one of the many monuments to the ostentatiousness of Martial Rule – is being considered as the official residence for Vice President Jejomar Binay, who seems to be getting a little bit of cabin fever from his office.  Apparently, the office in the PNB Building isn’t dignified and respected enough for Binay to exercise his duties.  As such, the office that he represents should have an official office and residence fit for his position.

There’s no better manifestation of a “structure of power” than a house.  It’s more than just a place to live: it’s a status symbol.  We add floors, create wings, fill rooms with furniture and create fences and gates to affirm class and status.  It’s a matter of giving something prestige, of creating (literal) structures that affirm our lot in life.  That, in effect, is what Binay is trying to do: give some weight to his position.  In this case, a nicely-appointed residence.