Of followers and leaders
We are in a new year, by choice. Many prefer to stay in a year that has passed. What they had been doing there, what they have been thinking there, what they had been feeling there, are what they still are into today. For them, there is no new year, just a change in calendars, not a change in life. If they had been doing well in their old space, then they are very fortunate that there is no reason for change.
There are others, though, for whom a new year is a new opportunity to do, think and feel something new, something better, to take a few more risks, to allow more adventure into their lives. Many among the younger generations are in this space, eager to discover, welcoming what has never been before. After all, growing up or growing old is a first day every day. It is only when, by choice, we wish no change in our lives that a new year is like an old year. Change is a popular word. Too often, though, it is not a popular process, nor is it a smooth experience.
It is sad to begin a new year by extending an old one. It is like going against the clock and only a matter of time before reality sinks in. One simply cannot stay in the old because it is gone except in our fantasy. But fantasize we do, and it is uncanny how we can imagine that time does not move, that we can stay the same, and that we can, in fact, keep everything and everyone else from moving on. And we unwittingly use both politics and religion as devices to keep things as they are.
The 2016 presidential elections are over. Or are they? The partisanship is not, the partisanship that makes politics as divisive as can be before, during and after elections remain on hyper drive. From diametrically opposite views on the state of drugs and narco politics to oust Duterte talks, it can appear that solid and sustainable governance is a by-the-way priority. Going by the headlines and the hottest issues of the day, there seems to be nothing else but controversy and conflict.
Thank goodness that governance and public institutions can also move from inertia, past programs and programs. Thank goodness that the Finance and Trade Departments, the Central Bank and NEDA have stayed away from as much controversy as possible, and that the economic status of the country remains stable despite some dire predictions. Thank goodness, too, that the Defense Department and the AFP have shown great professionalism and competent leadership in the midst of difficult peace talks and ceasefires, plus the ever-volatile situation for control of the seas and islands around the region.
In fact, if we take the departments one by one, there is a sense of steady governance, that respective leaderships in most operating branches of the Executive are not as naïve or lost despite the changes at the top. This can only mean that the career personnel are sustaining their new leaders while they get to know more about their responsibilities. The more confused among the agencies of national government cannot hide just how lost they are anyway. Bad performance cannot be hidden for long, just like bad odor. At a certain level, everyone smells it.
There are serious concerns about the extra judicial killings because summary executions simply go against the grain. The general public has been accepting of it because of their greater fear about illegal drugs and the horror these can cause their children and families. But even those who have been tolerant of these killings from the beginning are now expressing more concern and their wish that unexplained killings would stop. I am afraid, though, that narco or near-narco state conditions will provoke more killings unless better and do-able options are put on the table. On the upside, the growing community or multisectoral efforts to attend to drug surrenderees will serve as opportunities of change.
In other words, for those who are not politically wired or involved in the partisan dynamics of the country, things are not as bad as they are pictured by many in traditional or social media. Because life in the ordinary goes on. People have work and can get to work. People grow or can buy food. Shelter is inadequate but not worse than before. Business is cautious to bullish, and the real estate boom continues, as well as the attendant construction and transportation industry. I heard that some call centers are waiting for President-elect Trump to more fully articulate his keep-it-in-the-US policy for employment. At the same time, the need does not diminish and the Philippines will remain a favorite option from markets even beyond the United States – thanks to the Filipino call center agent.
It is not Duterte’s fault that governance in the Philippines is president-centric; in other words, governance revolves around the president first and other factors only after. Because his character is out of the traditional mold of protocol, and his language even more so, his actuations can give a picture of a country that is unstable. Our own daily experience, though, disproves that. And points out that it is largely what we citizens choose to do that counts – if we can do things with relative cooperation and unity. If our leaders fight and we join them in the partisan arena, our daily lives will dive into turmoil. If our leaders fight and we just watch them while we go about being productive citizens, we will embarrass them until they change.
It is not just a matter of a presidential or federal system, it is maybe even more a matter of good citizenship. We get leaders we deserve, and good citizens will merit good leaders. We have believed for too long that our leaders make us. I don’t say they have no influence, but their job is to empower us. It’s a new year now and a good time, for us and them, to start building a future full of hope.