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The Long View

Looking backwards

Writing on political change back in March 2010, Randy David observed that “With the passing of the prewar generation, the stresses and strains of an underdeveloped society struggling to govern itself democratically began to surface. The old feudal values of restraint and nobility quickly vanished, as the logic of a cash economy prevailed. The intervening martial law period destroyed the political parties. With the return of democracy, the doors to the nation’s political system opened widely, but minus the gatekeeping role of political parties. Gone is the goal of nation-building. The result has been the steady depreciation of politics and governance. We are in transition. We can neither return to the old nor be content with the present. We have no choice but to reinvent the nation.”

The ghosts of the feudal past continue to haunt our public discourse, for example whenever someone asks “whatever happened to ‘delicadeza’?” The logic of a cash economy can be found in the near-constant inflation of the cost of buying a vote, itself a transaction increasingly necessitated as internal migration takes place, dissolving the bonds of mutual obligations that is the time-tested glue that keeps dynasties attached to public offices.

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When did we, as a people, start looking backwards instead of forward? This question is important because it marks two things: the end of the phase of nation-building, of a forward trajectory in our collective attitudes to the Philippines and being Filipino, and with it, the adoption of a mindset of failure instead of achievement.

One candidate for the specific moment in time when this occurred is May 12, 1962, when Diosdado Macapagal changed the date of independence from July 4 to June 12, and asked Congress five days later to pass legislation making this change permanent.

Historians looking backwards had been advocating the adoption of June 12 for some years. What was remarkable was Macapagal’s political decision to pivot to the past. It was a harbinger of things to come, afflicting all the major political movements to follow. Marcos may have proclaimed his dictatorship a New Society, but it was fundamentally old in its instincts: Institutionally, it looked back to the Japanese Occupation for models; it went back even further in terms of the Sultan-like rule he established, and the displacement of local governments, the barrios, with a replacement he decreed would be known as barangays.

Edsa, for the political class, was a restoration, a revolution in the sense that England’s “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 was one: a return to limited monarchy in their case, and the premartial law separation of powers in our case. For the public, ironically, at its core was the Marcosian belief that a new society was still a possibility. As for the portion of the population never reconciled with Edsa, they flourished and regained strength due to nostalgia, too: for the good old days of the Apo. Even the Left, after its period of internal purges, looked back to the 1960s and 1970s as it tried to regain momentum in the 1990s.

We had attempts to look forward. There was Philippines 2000 under Ramos, Angat Pinoy 2004 under Estrada, a Strong Republic under Arroyo, and Daang Matuwid under the second Aquino. The first two were content with a short-term peek at tomorrow, the last two were more ambitious but got bogged down under the weight of contemporary realities.

The present dispensation has tried to sell A Comfortable Life for All, but its bourgeois notions of development lacks the fire in the belly — and promise of a reckoning with modernity — that brought it to power.

What was that reckoning with modernity? In the realm of official behavior, it’s that concept we hear, but only vaguely understand, as the “rule of law.” As early as 1953, a Philippines Free Press editorial boiled it down to the difference between where “private conscience drew the line beyond which it would be dishonorable for a public official to go, a line which only an impersonal law should draw.” In other respects, it is the glittering attraction of a globalized world when the reality of globalization is an ill-educated, permanently poor underclass stuck at home, while everyone else without inherited wealth has to settle for the exhausting extortions of life at home or being some sort of servant abroad.

A Filipino abroad, Irineo B.R. Salazar (who is the son of the formidable historian Zeus Salazar), recently identified that “the trouble and the danger is the direction which anticolonialism and antielitism has taken in the Philippines… [The President] is just a symptom of profound national inferiority complex which shows itself in intentional rudeness, proud ignorance and brutality. Defiance against the old conditioning to be meek and obedient to the masters, but also wanting to be the masters now—including the right to contempt and murder.”

Here, in a nutshell, is the new that was born while everyone kept their sights on the past.

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TAGS: Diosdado Macapagal, Independence Day, Manuel L. Quezon III, nostalgia, Philippine history, The Long View
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