A hijacked nation | Inquirer Opinion
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A hijacked nation

The massive rains and flooding have been unprecedented. The bus is once again disabled, precariously perched on a ridge. The driver and the conductor continue their stage-whispered private discussion on how to get out of the predicament. The passengers are hearing technical-sounding terms like “circuit breaker” and “bubble” and a lot of acronyms like IATF, PCR, GCQ, MECQ, ECQ. Occasionally, the driver delivers reassurances to the passengers, that the trouble is just a “small thing” and that whatever happens, “the driver will not abandon the bus.”

This process, of small talk couched in technical jargon done for the benefit of a busload of captive, anxious passengers, repeats every 10 minutes without any new ideas being surfaced in the dialogue. The conductor has said they had radioed for help, but apparently the outside world is keeping resources for their own emergency use. As the passengers are dying of hunger, predatory forces are afoot. Foreign vultures have been spotted in the area, but the driver seemingly can’t wrap his mind around this additional ominous development.

The ridge is not stable, and anytime soon the bus could plummet into the abyss. But the driver and conductor go on as if they know what they are doing. A few passengers have volunteered to help, but the driver will not listen. He has the knack of pretending to accept offers of help, only to set up the poor offerors to ridicule. The driver has alternating fits of dark resignation and fiery pugnacity that scare the passengers. No one is more battered than the conductor, who the driver keeps calling “czar” as if reserving for him the eventual blame. So far, the main solution imposed by the driver is for the passengers to stay in their seats, no exceptions allowed even for personal emergencies.


Meanwhile, the passengers have learned to amuse themselves. They keep sharing and passing on pictures of their loved ones and their pets, and the kind of food they find particularly classy, spicy, and pricey. Some talk about how plants respond to human talk, and soon an animated discussion of various exotic plants and how they can be propagated is shared. There is a tremendous longing to get out of the bus, and the appetite for mobility and motility is heightened as memories of travel to far continents is shared by the passengers. Momentarily, the crisis itself is pushed to the back of their minds.


What adds to the anxiety of the passengers is that every now and then, the driver disappears for days on end. When talk of finding a substitute becomes particularly frantic, the driver reappears, deriving pleasure in causing howls of disappointment.

This is just a story, but it could better convey the sense to ordinary citizens that the nation has been hijacked by its own leaders. We cannot seem to generate the kind of urgency to organize for national survival, because while we can picture individual and family predicaments, we cannot picture our collective predicament the way a sinking Titanic did for its passengers. If the well-educated are unable to fully comprehend the present situation, how much worse is the bewilderment among the masses?


I came upon this thought when, frequently over the past year, I saw a lot of people lining up at pawnshops and money transfer shops in the morning even before they were open. The same with SSS branches. And people, frantically like ants, searching for any means of livelihood. What lifelines are they accessing? How long will these last? Each time, I get a stabbing awareness of how real hunger with several mouths to feed creates intense slow-mo panic.

Our people long to be able to imagine how it is to have a President. In Ilocano, the exalted position of President is powerfully conveyed by two words—Apo Presidente. Where is that moment when you hear the President and you can imagine him talking to you, directly, personally, of the path ahead, until a lump is in your throat and you hold back the tears welling in your eyes?

We must provide sustenance for the body and for the mind. We may recover from the pandemic, but we may never recover from the setback of civic consciousness and pride. The Duterte administration has reinforced the malaise of this nation: Filipinos have strategies for family survival, but none for national survival.



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