If there is a moment in these last almost 500 years for the country and our people to finally take off, it is now. It is now actually a situation where the dream is so near, but we must not let it slip away.
It used to be that we had to fight the Spaniards to be free. It used to be that we had to fight the Americans to control our own land. It used to be that we had to fight the Japanese when they invaded us.
Now, we have mostly only ourselves to fight – and we do. Old habits die hard. Almost five centuries of being divided and the Filipino psyche has no memory of oneness. There have been moments when Filipinos achieved a modicum of solidarity, but less from a desire for unity than a forced reaction from external threats or unbearable abuse by the foreign master.
Maybe, then, the China situation can help bring us together. China has been growing steadily for decades – politically, economically and militarily. It appears that China has attained parity with the United States, for so long the only superpower of the world. This new found power has been accompanied with new found confidence – maybe even arrogance. It does not only threaten to soon be the number one economy of the world, it has laid claims over lands and seas that all its neighbors have also considered theirs.
The territorial claims of China can be considered ridiculous if it were not for the fact that China has begun talking and acting aggressively. Historical disputes with Japan and Vietnam have been rekindled by these claims – so much so that Japan is suddenly thinking of re-arming itself and is setting aside more than $2 billion for new military equipment.
The Philippines has not been spared by this bullying posture of China. From Scarborough Shoal to the Spratlys, the sovereignty of the Philippines has been attacked by Chinese pronouncements and actions. Filipino fishermen are now unable to fish at Scarborough because Chinese maritime ships prevent them. That is tantamount to a Chinese takeover.
For one reason or another, the potentially explosive conflict with China over territories of strategic importance to Filipinos has not generated widespread interest, much less concern. It is almost as if there is a concerted effort to downplay the controversy. Most Filipinos appear unaware while Chinese media in some southern provinces of China have actually been engaged in massive propaganda to turn the sentiments of the people there against the Philippines.
I can understand that our government will not wish to whip up a hysteria against China among our people. Faced with the extreme superiority of the Chinese military that we do not know how to address effectively, there is also the economic and social factor.
The dominance of Chinese goods in the Philippines is not because we think these are the best but because these are what we can afford. A little noise has been raised about boycotting Chinese products. It has not generated much support because there are no substitutes for Chinese products that our people can afford.
More seriously in special ways is the dominance of Chinese-Filipinos over the Philippine economy. Most major companies and general trading business are owned by Filipinos of Chinese descent. These Filipino-Chinese, or Chinoys, have remained deliberately quiet ever since the Scarborough Shoal issue erupted last year. Nothing is more threatening to them than an emotional backlash against China that will focus its attention on them.
There are other issues that have diverted public attention away from China’s creeping takeover of Philippine territory. Typhoon Pablo is one with its deadly impact on Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley. The death and missing toll is the worst in our history. The impact to land and people cannot just be fixed even by the most massive of rehabilitation work. Banana trees have to be replanted and safer ground for the displaced residents of these provinces have to be identified and developed.
Then, there is the RH Bill that is now a law – signed, sealed and delivered. Not so, says the Catholic Church, who says it will question its constitutionality before the Supreme Court. It is not enough for some that great controversy and emotional conflict had accompanied the long process of a bill ultimately becoming a law, they want more. It is not enough that politicians fight politicians, that NPAs fight government, that Muslims fight Christians, that even police fight police, we must have Catholics fight Catholics.
Countering this contentious background is the desire of Filipinos to have more than just a continuing replay of a broken society. The spirit of involvement and volunteerism is alive. More citizens are prepared to take responsibility and contribute to building their communities. It helps greatly that the vast majority of Filipinos trust and support the President, and that P-Noy has translated political capital to political will.
A resolute leadership and a cooperative people are seeing the fruits of their alliance. The Philippine economy is not only improving, it is performing beyond expectations, attracting more investments, providing more jobs. Major infrastructure projects are in the pipeline to prepare the ground for more mobility, more connectedness, and more economic activities.
The stock market has broken record after record for two years. There are more foreign reserves than there are foreign debts. Tourism is setting its own record number of visitors as the world is beginning to know just how beautiful and fun the Philippines can be. Today, too, more Filipinos are proud to be Filipino.
Yes, there is still poverty, hunger, landlessness, and homelessness. We need to have less Filipinos work abroad at the cost of separating from their families. But the meter for despair is lower, and the meter for hope is much higher. Even hunger incidence found improvement recently, again giving hope that we may yet beat it.
We are almost there. We just need to fight less and work more. We just need to be together.