Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Democracy We Love So Dear

I am sure that if I say that Filipinos love their freedom and democracy like they love their own family, no one will raise a howl of protest.

To that, there is no debate. But will everyone also agree with the statement that if we love our democracy like we love our family, then it follows that just like what we sometimes do with our family, we take democracy for granted?

If we can take our family for granted once in a while, more so democracy, right? If we set aside hypocrisy, I am pretty sure that everyone of us has been guilty of taking our family for granted at some point in our life.

I will admit to that. For example, when I prioritized an invitation by one of my constituents over the desire of my sons to bring them to the mall on a weekend, I was guilty of taking them for granted. When I immediately responded to a text message of a voter while I forget to reply to one sent by my wife, I took her for granted. When I joined the funeral caravan of one of my supporters who died and yet I don’t regularly visit my mother who is alive and well, I was once again guilty of taking her for granted.  

I can justify myself by saying that it was all part of my work as a public official representing a particular constituency. After all, they elected me into office. But while I have a public duty to be available for my constituents, I have a personal obligation to my family who did not elect me into my position as father, husband or son, but it is an obligation that is bound by blood and in the case of my wife, my conscious and willful decision to dedicate my life to her.

Terms of public office have an ending. My relationship with my family does not. Even after my eventual death, they will continue to be my family. So taking them for granted is not justifiable. The only worse offense is denying that we take them for granted.

Going back to the opening statement, if we are guilty of taking our family for granted, what more our freedom and democracy?

Perhaps the average Filipino will never realize and admit that especially if he/she does not know how it feels to be deprived of liberty and rights. Especially the younger generation who were not able to experience the Japanese occupation in World War 2 or the dark days of Martial Law under the Marcos dictatorship.

I came to reflect about this while attending a seminar here in Germany where the air is clean and clear, the sights are awesome and the atmosphere is friendly because in our discussions about political communication, the experiences shared by my fellow attendees led me to think about the situation in my own country.

Not that it is the first time I’ve heard about the situation in Myanmar, Cambodia, China or even Palestine. My attendance of many international conferences have given me insights about the situations in other countries much more than what one can get from the news, especially because these insights are actual experiences of people living in those countries.

But being away from my family and missing them and being out of the country and missing it, plus hearing the experience of others in a less than ideal state of liberty compelled me to deliver a message to those who care to receive it.

In one of the sessions of the seminar I am presently attending, we were organized into collective interests of the countries in our region. Our group was composed of the Philippines, China, Myanmar, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.

In our group’s discussions, we talked about the situations in our respective countries, particularly the state of freedom and democracy, this whole seminar being an activity of organizations and political parties of liberal ideology.

As the members of our group shared stories about the lack of press freedom, the stifling of freedom of expression of individuals, the suppression of the freedom of association, the distortion or even absence of the right of suffrage, and many other stories of the democracy being trampled upon by government itself, I looked back to my country and, with a prayer of thanks, felt relieved that the Philippines is not in a similar condition.

While the high levels of corruption and bad governance is present in all countries, the personal liberties in the Philippines is much more protected and exercised compared to other countries.

While we in the Philippines complain about newspapers being biased one way or the other and broadcast networks slug it out for market share and advertising, in other countries, the press and broadcast are controlled by the state and the information that comes out are only those which the state wants the people to know. Of course, all of that would be government propaganda. 

While in the Philippines homeowners association bicker among themselves, in other countries, three people could not even assemble to discuss the fate of their neighborhood.

While Filipinos buy and sell votes, others pay with their lives just to fight for the right to cast their ballot or even just to have elections at all.

It is good to be exposed to the conditions of other countries. It gives one the insight and perspective of what is present and absent in one’s own country, in the context of living in a global community.

During these times leading to the elections of 2010, Filipinos are quite pre-occupied with the elections as an event instead of it being an opportunity for charting the destiny of our country.

Politicians and political parties are busy organizing for their campaigns and concocting gimmicks to get the support of the voters. The people are all looking for a “Filipino Obama”, inspired by the success of President Obama’s campaign.

But perhaps, we should all step back and ask ourselves…what are we fighting for in this political battle? Is it just to gain power? Is it to put into office someone who cleverly presents himself as our savior?

In the frenzy of pre-election period, we should all step back and return to familiarizing ourselves with the ideals and aspirations we have as a nation. We should rekindle our passion for the basic principles that binds us a free nation. It is time to reflect on the things we have taken for granted these past years.

Many are being mesmerized by dazzle of President Obama’s victory in the US elections. Many are now looking for a Filipino Obama. Some have even insinuated they are the Filipino Obama. We are falling into the trap of hero worship and messianic mindsets.

But as I have said before, President Obama did not win by himself. It is foolish to think that he is a superhuman and that it would be possible to imitate his success just by imitating his persona, adopting his campaign plan and “doing an Obama”.

What the Filipino people should do is “do an America”.

What many fail to realize is that Obama won because the American people chose the candidate who reflected the ideals, principles and aspirations that they themselves had. Sure, Obama is an eloquent and convincing speaker, has a charming personality and good campaign plans.

But what we Filipinos fail to appreciate is that the American people hold other things more dear to them than the persona of a candidate and his campaign plan. Many other candidates in US elections have presented those qualities but were unsuccessful, but those who reflected the ideals of the Americans as a nation were the ones chosen by the American people.

President Obama himself knew that, and that’s how he got the support of the people. He always said that his candidacy was not about him but about the American people. In his book, he wrote that in response to cynical comments he told people that,

“….there is another tradition to politics, a tradition that stretched from the days of the country’s founding to the glory of the civil rights movement, a tradition based on the simple idea that we have a stake in one another, and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and that if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done.” 

Note that he reminded people of the basic ideals that they have as a nation, ideals that are carried over generation after generation. He did not present himself as a savior, rather he encouraged the people to take action themselves.

In the Philippines, we seem to have set aside the ideals we should hold so dear. We tend to look at personalities, the patron who would answer for all out needs. This is evidenced by people who keep on saying “we need a Filipino Obama” for change to happen.

Leaders, especially those who have an interest in assuming power in 2010, present themselves as the key to the problems of the country. Relying heavily in marketing themselves and putting the best face or foot forward, they fail to recognize and acknowledge that change comes from the people, not just from themselves.

The time for a new beginning for the Philippines is near. But if we want to be successful in achieving genuine change, we should not take for granted the country’s fundamental values and ideals. That is one thing that binds us all. While we have many dialects, ethnicity, traditions, cultures and political leanings, we all have something in common----the desire for freedom and democracy, the aspirations for the fulfillment of individual dreams and the values that are unique to us.

For the change we are hoping for in 2010, let’s not look for someone who will “do an Obama”. Let’s “do an America”.  

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