However yesterday’s rally turned out, it will already have been a victory of sorts.
It’s a phenomenon all its own.
At the very least, that’s so because it happened at all. Only a month ago or so, I was despairing over the fact that while we did not lack for exposés of corruption, some of them mind-boggling involving as they did fabulous sums amid a backdrop of “the gates of hell,” as Dan Brown called it, we lacked the anger, the outrage, to respond to it.
Which was what it took to stop it. So long as we just said, “What else is new?” so long as we just made text jokes about it, so long as we just thought it was enough that the culprits were exposed, never mind shaming them, never mind reviling them, never mind jailing them, the scams would go on and on. Yet that was all we seemed to do, that was all we seemed to be content to do.
And then suddenly, dazzlingly, an explosion of anger swept over cyberspace. And then instinctively, spontaneously, people began talking of taking to the streets. Yesterday’s rally really had no core organizers, it was just a lot of incensed voices talking as one, it was just a lot of rekindled hearts beating as one. It was as if a people had collectively been struck by light on the way to Damascus.
At the very most, this is the first time I’ve seen a public outcry over corruption.
In the past of course we’ve had the populace spontaneously massing at Edsa and shouting, “Tama na, sobra na, palitan na,” but this was about corruption in a far broader sense. This was about corruption in the sense of “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The protest, the outburst, the willingness to spill out into the streets and spark an upheaval was against Marcos himself and the tyranny he represented.
Just as well, in the past we had the populace massing in Makati, in particular shouting all sorts of invectives against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, particularly after the revelation of “Hello Garci,” and particularly after Jun Lozada risked life and limb to expose the NBN-ZTE scam. Mar Roxas himself was moved to utter the Pinoy’s favorite reference to a bastard’s mother in Jojo Binay’s turf, and gained a mild spike in his tepid ratings. But this too was about corruption in a broader sense, in the sense of “lying, cheating and stealing,” something was rotten in the state of the Philippines. The protest, the outburst, the willingness to go out in the streets—Danny Lim did the last at the head of a crowd, only to be halted in his tracks and do time for it—was against Arroyo herself and the tyranny she represented.
This is the first time I’ve seen a protest, an outburst, a willingness to tumble into the streets like a flood over corruption in the very specific or traditional sense of theft, plunder, pillage. It is not directed against government, or specifically P-Noy, though yesterday’s rally did not lack for elements who tried to channel it in that direction.
At least it is not directed against government yet, many of the demonstrators still hoping to get their president to experience a change of heart, or head, about pork. But that could change overnight if P-Noy continues to hew to his position of moderating the greed by modifying the pork. Rumblings along those lines are already being heard as we speak. The public mood is ugly, the people want the greed itself stopped, the people want pork itself scrapped.
I don’t know how the rally yesterday turned out—I’m writing this the day before—but I do know, or suspect, that the principled, and passionate, discourse that underlay it, that sparked it, will persist, if not grow more thunderous, in weeks to come. Who knows? Maybe in months or even years to come.
It is a luminous development and the social media deserves a great deal of the credit for it. Truly, it’s changing the landscape of this country, it’s defining the discourse of this country. It was there the anger started, it was there the opprobrium started, it was there the not-very-muted cries of “tama na, sobra na, tigilan na,” started. Before the massing of bodies happened at the Luneta, the massing of minds happened there.
I’m particularly fascinated by the participation of the Pinoy expatriates there, especially the Pinoys in America. They’re the ones who’ve been quite impassioned in expressing their disgust at the obscenity of wasted resources amid unbelievable want. For good reason, which also shows what the key to stopping corruption is: They have a grasp of the sacredness of taxpayers’ money. The Pinoys in America in particular are the ones who have come to expect that when a crack peeps out in their streets, or trash piles up in their garbage dumps, or someone calls 911, that the crack will be paved, the trash collected and the emergency responded to immediately. It is a right. It is a claim. It is a natural expectation.
That none of it is forthcoming because the money has been stolen is simply unthinkable.
I’m excited by all this. Finally, we’re beginning to see with the eyes of the oppressed and victimized that corruption is stealing, and it is stealing from us. The corrupt are no different from the pickpocket or snatcher or burglar that preys on us in sidewalks, in jeepneys and buses, in our homes while we sleep the sleep of the just, or the dead-tired.
Finally, we’re beginning to realize with the hearts of the outraged that the only ones who can really stop corruption are we ourselves. By our resolute refusal to abide it, by our collective refusal to tolerate it. Government by itself cannot do it, however high-minded its head is. Only we can stop corruption—even if we have to do it in spite of government, even if we have to do it against government.
Finally, we are glimpsing the truth.
And the truth shall set us free.