Covid-19 practically decided the American presidential elections. How can 400,000 lost lives not matter to America when that is the level of deaths of American soldiers in World War II? And that war took four years. Yet, political partisanship extracted more attention than the deaths of 400,000 citizens. From afar, this pitiful contrast saddens me like no other. It just proves that the lust for power overrides concern for human lives – even if those lives belong to our own citizenry.
How much of that partisanship and lust for power drive our societal life? Filipinos have been in the throes of a pandemic that had paralyzed economic activity, kept us locked up in our houses, and weakened our very optimism for living. Never in recent history have we needed positive morale boosters as today. For sure, there are more businesses open now as there were months ago. There is also muted anticipation for vaccines that have become our one big hope for normalcy. The fear and uncertainty still hold us down, nonetheless.
I keep reading and hearing the cry of the new American leadership – unity. I find it ironic that America has been in a deadly war the past 10 months yet dove into deep divisiveness in the same period. War usually brings unity to each of the protagonists. Apparently, in the United States, saving hundreds of thousands of lives was not enough to come together in one united effort to win the war against a raging pandemic. How frightening to see that and then imagine how that can become our own domestic situation.
In the Filipino quest for freedom and a political system where equality in worth and dignity is a fundamental conviction, I have to accept that I do not have the years to see this in bloom. It is not a kind of prosperity like what developed countries enjoy that I long for, it is just the basics of equality in patrimony and opportunity. I know that each person has to strive for security, comfort, and happiness – and that many may succeed and that many will not do as well. Equality in achievement and rewards cannot be mandated, I accept that.
But what about patrimony? We have a motherland and none of us or any of our ancestors created our land. Therefore, what none created in the first place is patrimony of the sons and daughters of that land. Why is it that our people, and I mean the majority in an overwhelming manner, have had to struggle just to have a right to be somewhere, anywhere? Do we know how many landless families finally, after generations of being deprived by law, found security in the narrow legal parameters they had to struggle through? One or two of them in the family had to endure separation from the rest and work in other countries – themselves second class citizens there for a long time. That’s how.
This is why I know Filipinos will not have unity. The Americans, no matter how deeply divided they may be today, can attain unity much faster and easier than Filipinos. And this is despite our vaunted social interconnectedness and deep sense of family togetherness. The Americans feel they have fundamental equality in patrimony and opportunity, that their journey is already towards prosperity. Filipinos cannot move towards prosperity as a people, only as select individuals. We cannot because, as a people, we are more defined as extremely unequal rather than basically equal.
Americans will fight because of their political divide and they will hurt each other badly – as they already have. In their stubbornness to exercise their individual rights at the expense of the common good, they have to live with 400,000 families having lost a member in the last ten months. Plus they are still losing lives at a horrible rate. But put America in extreme disproportion economically, where the majority will find difficulty in the face of plenty for a few, a confrontation will force adjustments until unity again reigns. Because unity for Americans must be founded on basic equality.
I am, then, resigned that unity is not forthcoming in the Philippines. The odds are simply against it. Yes, a miracle may happen, a charismatic statesman or stateswoman may arise with such sterling qualities of unshakeable integrity, heroic courage, administratively brilliant, deeply committed to the common wellbeing above self or familial interest, and totally supported by our police and armed forces. Possible? What do you think?
Instead, I see that the only path with realistic and beneficial possibilities is the path to establish in the hearts of Filipinos a fundamental equality they believe is truly there. It may take one or two generations, but it can happen if that is made a national goal. If Filipinos can have the sense that patrimony and opportunity is for all, including the great numbers of the poor and vulnerable, there will be a sense of security. Is there anything more basic than security?
The pandemic highlighted, and continues to highlight, our collective insecurity. That insecurity not only dampens the optimism we need to recover, to produce, to create, but can cling to hope in ways more imaginary and fantastical than real. Because when one is in a hole so deep, the light at the end of the tunnel is a wish, not a ray. When food on the table is a come-and-go commodity, when the family cannot move on to do its daily tasks with certainty, then our state of poverty or weakness is undeniable.
To establish security, a sense of oneness is such a powerful ambience. Oneness comes from our coming from the same source, the same land, the same community, defined by the same inheritance and opportunity for growth. We have a long way to go then, and I wonder when we will ever start with societal leaders sharing the same fundamental understanding. Meanwhile, though, I know we must not dilly-dally in daily musings. So much to do that we each must do.
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