No Free Lunch

Change we’d all like to see

/ 12:22 AM February 17, 2017

The current leadership of the country came into power on the promise of real change, and apparently wide expectation that it could deliver on that. After seven months, it has become all too obvious that it was never going to be easy.

It now appears that the main idea was to bring about change through the barrel of a gun, by striking fear in people’s hearts. Never mind that a former president had tried the same formula before. Many may grant that positive change did transpire for a couple of years or so after Ferdinand Marcos imposed military rule on that fateful day of Sept. 21, 1972. Sadly, those two years now appear to have been miscast as the essence of the Marcos years, in the history books that our children read in school—something we all discovered rather belatedly. Many derided his slogan “Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan” (Discipline is the key to national progress) at the time, but many swore by it as well, even as it turned out to have a short shelf life. The problem was that there was no way to ensure that the same discipline would be practiced by those tasked to enforce it—not to mention the very people who preached and imposed it. And in two years or so, things began to unravel, and turned into what most of us now see as among the darkest years of the nation’s history.


Now we’re going through a collective déjà vu. Yes, we’ve been through it all before, except we’re seeing the plot played out with much greater speed this time. We’ve had practice, after all. What had taken about two years in the 1970s has taken only months in the ongoing reprise. The murder of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo was a symbolic turning point. That’s when we all realized what we should have all known out of our historical experience: that discipline is hardest to expect from those that we empower to enforce it. History should have also taught us that it matters little which uniformed service is entrusted with the job. Shifting it from the police to the military, as the current thinking seems to go, forgets that the same task of enforcing discipline was given straight to the military—both the regular armed forces and the infamous constabulary—back in 1972. And we all know what that led to.

There is indeed so much we all want to change. We only need to list our personal pet peeves to get the picture. Any one of us can make such a list, ranging from everyday nuisances to our most persistent national challenges. My own list includes, at one end, motorists who won’t stop or slow down at pedestrian crosswalks, petty front-line bureaucrats who treat the public like dirt, people who ask “Don’t you know who I am?” to demand attention, drivers who cut in front of you in a traffic queue, offices that give out a complaints phone number that no one answers or is perennially busy, “kotong” traffic cops who apprehend you in their favored “ambush zones” (yes, that’s what they call them in the business), billboards declaring that a particular construction is the project of a certain politician… I could go on and on.


The higher-level items on my list include ubiquitous big businesses that rake in billions of pesos in profit from hapless consumers who must put up with lousy service, misrepresentation, or outright deception; government officials who use their positions to amass great power and wealth; policies that favor a few at the expense of the many; populist politicians who opt for what is popular, even when it’s not what is right… and again, I could just go on and on. It all boils down to acting too much for one’s self, and not enough for the common good.

Changing all that will not happen through the barrel of a gun. It will take change at the top that, by example, inspires change from the bottom. The “no wangwang” policy was a symbolic but important gesture that I had hoped could have been sustained and upheld. The change we all want will not come from a president’s iron fist. He must himself set a good example, and thereby inspire us all toward positive change. It may now sound trite, but Gandhi had it right: We must all be the change we want to see.

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TAGS: change, Commentary, news, opinion, President Rodrigo Duterte
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