Column: Bitching about GMA

Published on July 26, 2011.

A YOUNG person relatively fresh out of college posted something on Facebook yesterday, several hours before President Aquino addressed the 2nd joint session of the 15th Congress. Her status update struck me, because it seemed emblematic—of much of what is wrong in our political culture.

I realize that large parts of Facebook remain a gray area, “personal” space where argumentative exchanges, especially political or religious, are still unwelcome and considered intrusive. I will respect her privacy by leaving her unnamed, and by somewhat paraphrasing her “stat.”

What did she write? She expressed the hope that Mr. Aquino would use his State of the Nation Address to present his vision, and not merely to “bitch” about GMA again—or words to that same salty effect.

I think I understand what she is saying. In truth, this is what even seasoned journalists, such as the panelists at this year’s Jaime V. Ongpin Seminar, agree on: The President is focused too much on the past.

But in fact the so-called obsession with prosecuting Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (to quote from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines) is a necessary one, for the good of the body politic. To describe it as bitching is to misunderstand the nature of the necessity. We are dealing not only with a short memory, but a short memory justified by an attitude.

A democracy that has been brought to the brink of a second Marcos era, when systemic corruption tempted another regime’s authoritarian impulses, must rid itself of this vulnerability. We can only do so if the administration follows the electoral mandate it received to the letter, and pursue criminal cases against high-ranking officials of the Arroyo administration. Nothing demonstrates political maturity better than a former president convicted of a crime—and serving the sentence in full.

To characterize the necessary task of pursuing criminal cases against Arroyo and her inner circle as mere bitching is to condemn the country to repeating the sorry cycle of power-hungry corruption all over again.

* * *

We haven’t paid much attention to this in the Philippines, but the chances of a US debt default have grown from merely hypothetical (the hostage of a harsh, ideologically driven negotiation on the debt ceiling) to increasingly likely. Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima told Inquirer editors and reporters last week it was improbable that the US government would allow the default to happen. Having followed this debate closely for the last several months, however, I worry that the intransigence of the Tea Party-influenced Republican majority in the US House of Representatives may in fact lead to a grave and self-inflicted wound.

* * *

In response to several readers, allow me to publish the brief remarks I read at the Philippine launch of “Revolutionary Spirit: Jose Rizal in Southeast Asia” on July 8—remarks I organized under the theme “The Re-Education of a Filipino,” and which I conceived as a reply to the incisive, generous remarks read by Conrad de Quiros, Howie Severino and Sandy Prieto-Romualdez at the book launch. Please bear with me:

I belong to a generation of mis-educated Filipinos, college graduates who were taught that Rizal was an incomplete Filipino.

The most influential history texts of the second half of the 20th century are essays on Rizal’s inadequacy. Here, for example, is Teodoro Agoncillo: “As a dreaming evolutionist, his clinical eye, so accurate and piercing in many instances, was, in this particular case, blurred by an unconscious attempt to defend the class to which he belonged.” And here is Renato Constantino: “He saw more clearly than his contemporaries and felt with more intensity the problems of his country, though his viewpoint was delimited by his particular status and upbringing. He was the first Filipino but he was only a limited Filipino, the ilustrado Filipino who fought for national unity but feared the Revolution and loved his mother country, yes, but in his own ilustrado way.”

If only there were more such “limited Filipinos” alive today! Our country would be a more civic-spirited, a more politically mature place. Unfortunately, the generation I belong to, and the generation that came ahead of us, took Rizal’s limitedness as a given. We looked at Rizal, and felt like apologizing.

Such was the measure of my mis-education.

My re-education began when I read Leon Ma. Guerrero’s flawed but fateful translation of “Noli Me Tangere” for myself, in the mid-1980s. Here was world-class literature, and it was savagely, even subversively funny. I was amazed to realize that, out of this tragic laughter, a nation began to emerge.

The process of re-education continued fitfully, through occasional immersion in the works of eminent Jesuit historians Horacio de la Costa and John Schumacher. (Some of the best writing about Rizal can be found in Schumacher’s “The Propaganda Movement” and “The Making of A Nation.”) It was only when I joined the Inquirer, however, and started to write opinion, that my re-education picked up pace. I read up on Rizal greedily, because in truth, the Philippines, both in terms of its limits and its possibilities, cannot be explained without reference to him.

Here’s what I have learned then: Rizal was a revolutionary spirit with an essentially religious sensibility, who sought to found a national, secular community. He was the most radical figure of his time, a true subversive who undermined the foundations of Spanish colonial rule, a self-sacrificing patriot who helped create the conditions of nationhood. That’s the truth. No apologies.



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Filed under Newsstand: Column, Readings in Media, Readings in Politics, Readings in Rizal

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