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Because they can

December 14, 2011

I’ve been asked many times this question in the last few weeks: Where do I stand in the midst of all these frenzied efforts to exact judgment at whatever cost and through whatever means possible?

The honest answer, which I have so far kept unarticulated until this writing, is that I view the whole sordid chain of events with pained resignation.

We’ve been down this road before and so far I haven’t seen any indication in the last few weeks that things would be different this time around. We still saw the same tactical mistakes that were committed in the past. They painfully illustrated just how easy it is for people in this country to bend rules in their favor when the situation calls for it and rile and flail around when others do it to benefit themselves. To my mind, it is the same kind of power play that marked the mad rush to judgment was still prevalent; the same smug attitude of the victors gloating over the prospects of seeing a vanquished foe reduced to a pitiful state, the same attempts to paint the government as cruel and oppressive and the same level of righteous indignation and protestation of innocence from the accused. Need we mention the efforts of some parties to squeeze themselves into the picture to bask in the deflected glare of the spotlight?

We know for a fact that we have a leader who wants to have his way at all costs. There are those who interpret his adamant posturing as political will; others label it as obstinacy borne out of a sense of entitlement and impatience. What we do know is that this is a leader who is not afraid to break protocols or be perceived as a bully, marshal his troops, and sink everything to get what he wants. History will be a better judge if this is necessarily bad or good for the country.

But I also know for a fact – and my nearly five decades of existence on this planet, gives ample proof of this – that what goes around comes around. Or as the wise and weary in this country tend to say, “weather weather lang yan” (it’s all a matter of who is in power). What is happening today is a variation of what happened a quarter of a century ago and even a decade ago. Sadly, we pretty much know how all these will end. The Marcoses and the Estradas are back in power and in the good graces of the current occupants of the Palace.

Strangely, people talk about how karma has caught up with certain people; in the process conveniently forgetting that they themselves are accumulating karmic debts that would have to be paid in some form in the future. This is the Philippines. We like doing the same things over and over again and yet expect different results every single time. That was how Einstein defined madness.

I am also aghast at the level of vindictiveness and the level of hatred being fomented all in the guise of accountability and justice. I have nothing against pursuing accountability and justice. By all means, let us make our leaders accountable for wrongdoing while in office and let us make sure that they pay for their sins.

But we don’t have to do the theatrics. We don’t have to foment hatred and encourage a lynching. We don’t have to turn ourselves into a mob. We certainly don’t have to destroy our institutions in the process. We don’t have to force changes just because we can, we don’t have to flaunt our power and influence just because we have the numbers. We don’t have to join the bandwagon just because it is the popular thing to do. We don’t have to shoot ourselves in the foot and commit another mockery of our democracy. We do not have to become the people we hate.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to argue with people in the throes of indignant righteousness. Not only do they fully believe in the infallibility of their positions, they also look down on those who happen to disagree with them, or even on those who simply happen to have a different opinion even if the opinion is not necessarily diametrically opposed to theirs.

And so here we are again caught in the middle of a contest of wills. We are being told that the battle is between good and evil, between what is moral and depraved. We are being made to believe that one side represents the true, the good, and the beautiful while the other side represents pure unadulterated evil. We are being conditioned to believe that all these is for our own good; that burning down our institutions and taking shortcuts that undermine what democracy is supposed to be about is justified because all these is for our own good.

Once again, the immortal words of C. S. Lewis come to mind. He said: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

Things have gotten so bad that there have been days when it feels like we live in a parallel universe where everything is fueled by hatred; the level of which has to be maintained, otherwise the whole government and the country will come crashing down. So most everybody has gotten into the act including those who, barely a decade ago, were the most vilified in this country. Such is the tragedy of shortsightedness – most are just too happy to forget the sins of the past provided there’s a new object for vilification. Most are happy to ignore everything else as long as they get their pound of flesh.

So yes, I am mortified at how easily many among us become so consumed with hatred that we lose the ability to suspend judgment and allow due process to take its course. I am appalled by how easy it is for people to denounce perceived disrespect for due process and then turn around and do exactly the same thing that they have been condemning when doing so works in their favor.

The sad part is that all this negative energy that hangs in the air and this climate of hatred and discord make for bad feng shui.

Like I said, I view the whole thing with pained resignation. We’ve been through this before and I think we all pretty much know how it will end. Those in power will get what they want because that is just how things are in this country – whoever has power gets his or her way. Everything else is just good old fashioned moro moro. Lest we forget, however, we must remember that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Eventually, we see people for what they truly are, the chinks in the armor are revealed, and we discover that we cannot survive on good intentions alone. Actually, had there been anything in the form of accomplishment that this administration can crow about, all these would not be as bad. The tragedy is that the economy is in worse shape and government is on a virtual standstill.

What we know for sure is that we may go through great lengths extolling the virtues of democracy but when push comes to shove, we aren’t prepared to pay the price for strengthening it.  –Bong Austero, Manila Standard Today

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