The greatest threat to our freedom
More than two centuries ago, Thomas Paine wrote that “society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices.” The 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution raised enormous optimism among millions of Filipinos that democracy and progress are finally on the way. But three decades later, the nation has remained deeply divided.
Our prejudices against each other do not merely come from obvious political demarcation lines; they are rooted in the hegemonic regional divide. For most Filipinos, Manila evokes images of high-rise structures, elite schools, flyovers and horrendous traffic, while Mindanao is often associated with the Moro rebellion, the
rural life and, indeed, severe poverty. Until this day, politics in the country continues to be dominated by aristocrats.
Philippine public life is controlled by a very limited number of rich families and politicians, who rule in perpetuity by monopolizing power in government. In this way, politics has only become that existential burden in our never-ending search for happiness as a society. But nation-building is a serious question that should concern every Filipino. Andres Bonifacio’s “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa” rightly comes to mind.
But all our hopes for this God-forsaken land might just remain utopian because no rich man will unconditionally give his wealth to the poor. And so, we are a country of dreams—dreams of peace and prosperity, dreams of love and happiness. Elitist democratic rule breeds social and economic injustice. The harsh reality is that it results in the marginalization and exclusion of millions among us.
The poor are wanting in what Pierre Bourdieu calls “cultural capital.” Since the civic sphere has become almost the exclusive domain of the educated class, the majority of Filipinos are unduly denied of a platform or sounding board for them to critically express their legitimate protests against the abuses so often perpetrated by those who are in positions of power.
Yet politics is not just a matter of class interest. A nation is formed by its culture and history. Solidarity is also that enduring quest for a community that dignifies the life of each and truly respects the uniqueness of every person. But the road to institutional reform that leads to justice and equality is a dreary and treacherous journey.
Many among us lead unhappy lives. Millions toil without ever seeing the fruits of their labor, and millions more persist in this cruel world even if they are not really sure of achieving their modest goals in life. Perhaps, such is the sad tapestry on which our destiny as a nation is founded. But while most poor parents may not see the change in the lives of their children, they will continue to carry in their hearts the spirit and passion to pursue all that needs to be done.
It is not the task of political philosophy to preach to the world what men and women ought to be. Human freedom, G.W.F. Hegel teaches us, is “a life and death struggle.” Philippine politics is defined by conflicts and particular interests. It is only in the recognition of the right of each Filipino to a decent life that this society may be able to throw away the many forms of unwarranted privilege so wrongly enjoyed by the very few.
President Duterte’s unsmiling radicalism is not the greatest threat to our freedom. Rather, it is our divisiveness. This is the most difficult obstacle in the effort to overcome the many decades of misery to which thousands upon thousands of Filipinos have been subjected. In the end, we must find that common ground that will bind us together as a nation. The sacrifice of democratic ideals can only mean the irreparable loss of our liberties. Thus, the standard of reasonableness should be the lever on which the future of this nation must depend.
Christopher Ryan Maboloc, PhD, is assistant professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University.
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