Mere Mortals

03:30 AM March 03, 2017

They say that the average life span of the Filipino today is 70 years. That means a Filipino will experience 11 or more presidents in one lifetime, maybe double that of mayors, governors and congressmen. Looking at numbers can sometimes tell us a different perspective.

When we regard our leaders as our hope for a better life, then we will have to pray that the many sets of politicians we elect will govern us well. For example, 11 or 12 presidents will have to be outstanding – and they will not be. Let us pray that, at least, they will move us forward, not backward. And these 11 or 12 presidents will have to bring all other politicians and bureaucrats to the same one direction in governance so conflicting personalities and policies will not make our collective lives go in reverse.


As we hold on to our hopes for good leaders, our politicians hold on to power even beyond their usefulness. It is hard to let go of power and the authority to control wealth and resources when a politician or bureaucrat believes that he or she is the hope of the people’s dreams. It is not just the lust for power and greed for money that can make politicians lose their initial desire to make people’s dreams come true, it is also pride.

The dynamics of politics and governance have a life of their own which can be almost totally divorced from the common good. After all, in the competition that individuals and groups engage in to pursue positions and then govern from these, what is good for the people can be the last thing that is considered. Nothing can be more selfish than politics, not when competition is its main activity. Performance may or may not be crucial, at least not as crucial as popularity.


When competition, too, is the foundation for politics and electoral victory, meritocracy is seriously sacrificed. Only established laws like those governing Civil Service stop the wholesale replacement of civil servants every time a new president, a new governor or mayor is elected. It seems to be quite impossible for new leadership to build on the good that was done by the previous one. And why would they when, throughout the campaign period, all they could say was that the incumbents were corrupt or inept? If new ones would win, they will say that the voters wanted change. That justifies new hires, new priorities, aborted programs, new customized branding of a new administration.

Meanwhile, we, the people, continue to look to these ever-changing leaders as our great hope for a better life. We ride their roller coaster, go where they lead – and not where we want to go. This is natural. It is not the fault of politicians and bureaucrats. It is the nature of their world to have their pride, their lust for power and their greed drive their behavior and motivation. If they choose otherwise, if they choose to simply serve as best they can without playing by the rules established by their ilk, they will not win reelection.

That is our democracy now. It will matter little whether it is presidential or federal. The system is not more powerful than those who create and manage them. The system will not cater to the common good, the people’s good, when the people are not more powerful than their leaders. Yes, in a democracy, the people are the highest power –  but they can choose to surrender that power to the leaders whom they look up to, to the people they elect or pay to serve them. And when citizens do not understand that they, and not the politicians and bureaucrats, are their own hope to their own better life and future, they will surrender that responsibility.

Consequently, we have a revolving door, dreams attached to those coming in, disappointments attached to those leaving. It is a miracle that the country moves at all, that it does not collapse with politics and governance that have little relevance to the common good, to people’s dreams. From self-rule in 1946 to today, almost 71 years to the day, how did politicians and bureaucrats dismantle the poverty they inherited from a succession of colonizers? It seems that Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) did more to take themselves, tens of millions of them, out of poverty than all administrations combined.

And it is not only OFWs. The rest of us who placed our hopes on politicians and bureaucrats, we watched them come and go, we laughed and cried with them, we cheered them and we cursed them. But while we did, we lived our lives as best we can, we worked to feed the family, to buy our food and our clothes – no matter the circumstances. All the time that we placed our hopes on others, we helped ourselves survive, or improve at every opportunity. Sadly, we had our eyes on politicians and government instead of ourselves, and we missed the essence of democracy, the essence of society itself. All the time, as we thought and hoped that the leaders and bureaucrats will lead and make our dreams come true, it was us who delivered everything to them.

We have forgotten that our leaders are mere mortals. They, as leaders, die way ahead of us. When they lose their positions, they are gone. Not only are they mere mortals, their life spans are so much shorter than ours. On the other hand, we live for 70 years. We are mere mortals, too, but with much longer life spans, 11 or 12 times more than any president. So why are our hopes and dreams placed in their hands more than ours?

Democracy demands that we, the people, perform better and more than any president, more than any senator, congressman, governor or mayor. It is only in democracy and freedom that we are higher than the ones in government. Why throw this privilege away? It is ours. We must hold it, wield it, and build the nation of our dreams.


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