Does the Philippines have a future?
As soon as the initial results from the 2019 midterm elections came in, two words — one noun and another verb — began to dominate Google search in the Philippines: “migration” and “migrate.”
Clearly, there was an atmosphere of inconsolable exasperation and wrenching disenchantment among many Filipinos who had fervently hoped for positive political change through the ballot box. For them, democracy (once again) failed to secure redemption from the seemingly ineluctable road to national perdition.
Data analytics suggest that countless Filipinos, largely from the most developed regions of the country, namely Metro Manila, Calabarzon and Central Luzon, searched for greener pastures in Australia, New Zealand and (perhaps during summer) Canada. Many of our best and brightest began to give up, at least symbolically, on their country of birth.
While emigration has been a constant feature of Filipino life, this episode underscored the depth of simmering dissatisfaction among many of our fellow citizens.
Interestingly, anecdotal evidence also suggests that the yearning for overseas destinations is not necessarily driven by partisan instincts. A recent colleague migrated, along with her family, to Canada, even though she enjoyed a relatively comfortable life in the Philippines and, crucially, wasn’t an anti-administration critic at all.
Even some proadministration folks were clearly shocked at the election results, which saw a coterie of infamous political figures winning crucial positions of power. Representing what’s profoundly rotten with our political system, these new officials ranged from brazen plunderers and shameless opportunists to, at best, the patently inept, who are hopelessly unfit for even the most humble offices of any self-respecting republic.
To many, the midterm elections were less a resounding victory for President Duterte and more an affirmation of our dismal state of affairs. While Dutertismo is not necessarily the dawn of apocalypse, it’s clear the President has failed to overhaul a broken system.
For others, however, the country never had it worse. In their view, what we are witnessing is nothing short of the systematic desecration of our democratic institutions, most cherished values and fundamental principles of decency and human dignity.
In “In Defense of Sanity,” the 20th-century essayist G.K. Chesterton warned, “whenever we see things done wildly, but taken tamely, then the State is growing insane.” For him, trouble comes when people “have lost the power of astonishment at their own [evil] actions,” and “do not start or stare at the monster they have brought forth.”
A state of irredeemable societal degradation exists where large numbers of people “have grown used to their own unreason; chaos is their cosmos; and the whirlwind is the breath of their nostrils.” “These nations,” Chesterton lamented, “are really in danger of going off their heads en masse…”
One could argue that Chesterton’s century-old description is relevant to our contemporary situation. But I’d rather take a longer view of things (longue durée), and a cautiously more optimistic mindset.
I have embodied this belief by choosing to stay in my country of birth, even if I have had the opportunity to comfortably live anywhere in the world, even if I have suffered the most despicable forms of harassment, insult and black propaganda in recent years, even if my heart breaks at every inch of regression in our national destiny.
And yes, even if, to my utmost own astonishment, I literally cried, with my whole heart, during recent moments of profound political despair. At times, I felt stuck in an excruciating state of unrequited love.
Call me idealistic, if not foolishly naïve, but I continue to believe in our country, precisely because I believe in my students who will inherit this nation; the countless patriots and competent officials currently serving in the government; impeccable statesmen like Justice Antonio Carpio and generals such as Delfin Lorenzana and Eduardo Año, who are protecting our national interest; and many other brave and undeterred women, female leaders and civil society activists who have stood up to the most egregious acts of violence, misogyny and barbarity in recent years.
And the meteoric rise of proactive, progressive leaders such as Mayor Isko Moreno has only reinforced my unshakable faith in our nation. Perhaps, there is indeed light, rather than an incoming train, at the end of the darkest tunnels.
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