After seven decades of living, as in my case, I can look back and marvel at how both stupid and intelligent I had been. The stupidity comes from expecting different results by doing basically the same thing to a persistent problem. The intelligence comes when the realization of the stupidity finally happens.
Of course, I am speaking about the things that stood out in my life, the highlights, so to speak, the people, events, and special moments that cannot be forgotten simply because of the impact they caused. Much of the time, our lives are in a holding pattern as in airplanes that, during heavy air or runway traffic, keep circling in the air waiting for the airport tower to tell them otherwise. What makes life exciting and memorable are when things converge to create perfect storms, when lessons come down hard and we do not learn, or when drops of wisdom are finally but painfully earned.
There were decades when life was in glide mode. That is because I was truly blessed with a caring and protective environment for my first two decades, thanks to family and history. But great as things were, I had to encounter the challenges that define the classroom of life when texts and exams are given. Still, life was kind to me. The challenges were not as abrupt and disruptive as can happen to many. My early challenges were about building a family and supporting it. It was not a life of luxury but not one of scarcity as well. With my wife and I both working, we had to keep things simple. No great sacrifices but no savings either.
I believe most young couples go through what we went through. We were as normal as can be. But life was not. Life was martial law in the Philippines – which did not frighten us although we did not provoke it either. If there was an uprising, it did not come from us. Yes, we did join the effort to remove a sitting dictator but we were just part to the nameless and faceless many in EDSA. Little did we know that life had other ideas for the country, and for us, too. I stayed apolitical but my wife went into public service. I soon realized just months after she began working in government just how delicate and dangerous the political environment was. Four years of waiting for coup attempts by a rebellious faction of the military made me more aware of what I never bothered to pay attention to before.
From normalcy to a life of advocacy was a great leap for me. I never thought of joining government but I never thought, from that time until now, that I could watch idly by as our people and country was experiencing its catharsis. From the mid-eighties to today, that catharsis unfolds, and life remains largely unpredictable. While great effort has been expended by many to establish stability in politics, that stability remains elusive until institutions work, until poverty is substantially dismantled. Poor people may be submissive on the outside but are like dry powder inside. What more when they are in the tens of millions?
Thirty years ago, I realized that the comforts of my youth were only for a privileged few. Because I had deliberately stayed away from politics and focused mostly on succeeding in my career and raising a family, I remained ignorant of the greater dynamics of Philippine society. Maybe, not really ignorant but I chose to be uninvolved. The time came, though, when I felt the need and obligation to do my part for the wellbeing of the people and state that I had neglected. Today, as Spiderman succinctly says, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I never thought of myself as powerful until I saw the totality of a population with a few at the top and with many, many at the bottom.
Advocacy is about leveling the playing field by drawing attention to the prejudiced, to the marginalized. Advocacy is not about balance, it is about being at the opposite of the dominant side. With advocacy maybe, hopefully, can come balance, but advocacy is intense partiality for a cause. There are popular advocacies today, and I can quickly recognize zero carbon for the environment, the push for the natural and organic after an overdose of synthetic chemicals, and the most persistent so far – social justice and anti-poverty.
Advocacy for me serves two important sets of circumstances. First is the need to correct a serious and harmful imbalance. That means the status quo or those who control state and economic power have left out critical sectors, or great numbers of people, from enjoying the benefits of governance. The second is to provide a channel for the natural idealism of the young. When the combination of both occur with intensity, radical and sudden change may happen. In today’s language, the advocacy becomes viral and generates an awesome impact for change.
The governance of the wise anticipates advocacy. In an era where time and technology puts pressure on time itself, wise governance must anticipate advocacy that s just as demanding. That is the nature of the advocacy. And when an advocacy is merely warm instead of hot, it is premature or it has misunderstood the deeper sentiments of people. Also, an advocacy can become weak or even obsolete when change in other forms is introduced by other forces or circumstances.
The governance of the insecure, however, will not only be lukewarm to advocacy but resents it, and tries hard to contain and discourage it. Advocacy is one end of the pendulum, it cannot be stopped, only provoked to intensify. The wise governors use the power of advocacy to diffuse it, usually by overtaking it and introducing alternative reforms or changes. Wisdom creates options, insecurity creates rigidity. The first expands, the second self-destructs.
Advocacy will change form but will never stop. That’s life.
“There is always a philosophy for lack of courage.” Albert Camus
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