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The eternal flame of people power

On its 35th-year celebration, the people power anniversary has become an even more muted annual event. This can be attributed to the challenges we face with the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, but even before the lockdowns of 2020, how the country marked Feb. 25 last year was consistent with a sad pattern of fading into obscurity. Is the nation’s romance with people power dead? Was it just that—a romantic notion of peaceful change? To paraphrase a popular song of the ‘80s, “are we only dreaming, or is this burning an eternal flame?”

I propose we go with the latter. People power is a burning eternal flame and to those who were there in 1986, it is time to reignite the romance not just for us but—more importantly—for today’s youth. After all, it is their future that leaders of today are toying around with. To do this, we must focus on our common enemies and then rally around a leader who can keep the nation focused on these. While there are many, allow me to zero in on two of our bigger pains.

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Enemy No. 1 is the pandemic. It has snuffed so many lives, and to stop its scourge, our nation’s economy had to and continues to take a beating. Key levers of growth like tourism and infrastructure development have slowed down extremely, and in the case of tourism even grounded to a halt in many key destinations. Business shutdowns had to be resorted to as the lockdowns and strict protocols extended, pushing unemployment to truly alarming new highs. And, as we mark 35 years of people power, our people are appalled at the slow pace of the vaccine program that the President, from day one, kept touting as the key solution to our pandemic woes.

While we have to understand the complexities of rolling out an effective nationwide vaccine program and give credit to a few truly servant leaders at the forefront (you know who you are), people power must bare its fangs against attempts by individuals and groups to make a windfall from this much-needed program, and against pandemic response managers whose incompetence is resulting in more severe illnesses and deaths. Every additional death is one too many when delays in vaccine delivery could have been avoided.

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Enemy No. 2 is hunger. Unfortunately for us, hunger among our children is both for the stomach and the brain. Economist and people power hero Ciel Habito has made this crystal-clear to us. He warns of a demographic dividend quickly turning into a demographic time bomb as millions of our children suffer stunting due to malnutrition. And worse, even those being nourished enough are now out of school due to the pandemic, progressively weakening the foundations of their ability to learn. The education community is sounding the alarm bells of this learning crisis that is adding salt to the injuries of the country.

With just the two above, there is reason for the nation to unite and fan the flames of people power. As I proposed earlier, it is a burning eternal flame. At times, like during these times, we need to fan those flames so they burn brightest like in 1986, when we toppled an arrogant dictator and his corrupt cabal. You see, people power to me is not about asking people, already suffering, to do the jobs of those who should be responsible and accountable, or to fill gaps in service created by those we expected would ably address those gaps. People power, in a democratic society, is about calling out our officials from the barangay all the way up to Malacañang when they fail to be the servant leaders they ought to be. They should be washing our feet and not asking us to not only wash our own feet, but also find the water and soap to do so.

Dahil natutulog ang ilang lider ng bayan, kailangan magising at manggising ang taong-bayan. Yan po ang lakas ng sambayanan!

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Peter Angelo V. Perfecto is public affairs director of the Phinma group and former executive director of the Makati Business Club

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Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club ([email protected]).

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TAGS: EDSA, Edsa Revolution, opinion, People Power
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