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A slap in the face

I dared to hope. Nothing wrong with that. But hope is a live energy, it is not a static product neatly packaged in a box. Hope is necessary, I believe, but its dynamic nature can run wild when the rest of human faculties can be overwhelmed by it. Specifically, hope and reason coexist, not to dominate the other, to create a working partnership.

Reason carries with it, or demands it, a fair amount of objectivity. Reason is more than objectivity but cannot exist without it. The more objectivity present, clarity becomes the center of reason. Like hope, reason is a live energy, naturally drawn by its nature to grow. Once reason becomes static, or cold as some would say, it enters into a tight box and goes into an auto-pilot mode. Stuck largely in the past, it can only contribute less and less to growth, only to stagnancy.

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Hope tends to make a person sensitive to the natural design of man to seek its purpose, to become fuller in experience and appreciation, to gain refinement and wisdom. Hope, however, can drive a less mature person to hyper-sensitivity, building its own trap for pain and frustration from an overload of expectations.

Without speaking for others, I found myself in a deep ravine after a great fall from great hope to great frustration. It is not the first time for me, either. Hope has been a powerful personal driver to strive for the potential of many things related to human living. I could not live without hope, I refuse to live without striving for many things better than what already are. Yet, time and again, I know how I was also preparing myself for that great fall.

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Which is really stupid of me. I know enough, or even more than enough, about reality and objectivity. I know about human and societal patterns, how strongly they bind social behavior to a regularity not easy to break. I know I have had enough experience over the last seven decades of my life, and enough reflective capacity by my own constancy of practice. Yet, restraining or balancing hope continues to be a personal weakness.

The Marcos experience is an especially long one for me because I was part of an environment that was intimately connected to the former president and dictator. That environment was political, of course, but it was also economic. In a society that is feudal by history and pattern but overlayed with a conditioning for democracy, the journey from one to the other has been extremely frustrating. Not for the feudal lords or the oligarchy, of course, but for the poor and the dreamers of democracy.

The swing of the pendulum has been particularly volatile and painful for Filipinos as a people and for the Philippines as a nation. Filipinos are an emotional people, subject to mood swings but with a pattern to choose harmony over conflict. Hot in temper but quickly forgiving, vulnerable to sadness and disappointment from unmet disappointment but prone to look for the good even in the bad, unable to quell the thirst for celebration, and turning spiritual at the drop of a hat.

The Philippines moved from a patriarchal datu system to a monarchy under Spain, from native tribal beliefs to Christianity, and freedom consistent from a familial governance afforded to submission and resignation under a foreign master and religion. And, then, was catapulted to modernity when a new conqueror with technology and a strange political ideology imposed itself through brute force.

This was difficult to comprehend then and its initial flaw disturbs us even now – the introduction of democracy by invasion and bloody conquest. On the surface, freedom, but at its core, feudalism. Despite layers of Western assimilation, the traditional datu system persists and the most that tribalism has achieved is a tentative step up to regionalism.

Our last colonial master taught us well without meaning to, to have a veneer of democracy cover a most feudal subconscious. The Filipino‘s amazing capability to adapt and to serve, coupled with an overflow of creative energy, can make the best in the world believe that freedom and democracy are the core of our political system. Yet, poverty from feudalism turned oligarchic underpins our political reality.

The just concluded presidential elections were a slap in the face for those with lofty dreams and aspirations for that elusive democracy. I, too, allowed myself to undervalue a harsh reality and braved the odds for a change so Quixotic. I, too, joined a political lotto, betting on a one-in-a-ten-million hope that a real Joan of Arc would be inspiring enough to slay the dragons. So, I, too, received my slap in the face.

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I know that there were at least two million Filipinos who braved the odds like me, who found their way to rallies whether they were fun or they were full of risks. I know that their numbers were dominated by the young and their idealism, and that it was impossible not to be inspired by them. Yet, their numbers and their youthful energies cannot transform a political system no matter how rotten. To do that would require a kind of sacrifice that simply did not happen.

To be slapped in the face in my 70s is easier for me to take because I have been in my life’s trajectory of social change for almost 40 years. I did not begin with Leni Robredo nor will I end with her presidential run. This slap on my face is not my first one but I hope it will be the last. I simply have to try again because to stop is to dishonor the dreams and the people who have inspired me.

It is back to doing what a citizen can do best — giving his ambag or share to his nation, and giving more than his share or be abonado if possible, and leaving a record of concrete service or resibo. Beyond that, it leaves God with something to do.

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