Quo Vadis, Pilipinas (Part 3) | Inquirer Opinion

Quo Vadis, Pilipinas (Part 3)

12:30 AM March 17, 2023

Let me now conclude my Quo Vadis, Pilipinas series. I thought it would be good to share my view of many things, not so much the specific challenges that come our way, but the state of our people and nation at the time of those challenges.

When the pandemic hit and the lockdown happened, the pitiful dependence of our citizens and communities exposed itself. Philippine society froze, experiencing fearful paralysis. In a frantic move to prevent a national panic, and maybe something worse beyond that, government prepared an emergency budget that included food distribution for 80% of Filipino families. 80% of Filipino families were deemed unable to fend for themselves without direct government assistance.


Of course, the pandemic made everyone in the world panic. That explains our fear and paralysis. It does not however, explain why 20% of Philippine society were not included in the government food distribution program. Simply, the upper 20% in our economic strata were more insulated against fear and paralysis. They had enough material and technical resources, plus an overflow of influence, and were much safer in their privileged environment.

When disruption hits us, we are quickly separated into two groups, those who have and can, those who do not have and cannot.


The pandemic was a radical experience with many lessons. We learned about our true state of things, our sad inability to take care of ourselves, and our helplessness without government. It also made government even more powerful than it usually is. A fearful and weak citizenry opens itself up for abuse of authority and exploitative corruption. I will not give specific criticisms now, but those who read this can choose which scandal especially upset them.

I wonder why we have all studied bits and pieces of history yet miss the most common threads that have defined past millennia. For thousands of years, from the time that we had been able to gather information about how the way of life had been of peoples and countries, we remember some kings, queens, emperors, and conquerors. We may even recall some great wars. But we hardly remember the slaves, the peasants, the commoners, and the millions of soldiers who fought and died for the few personalities sitting on the throne.

We do not remember that which we do not value. We do not even remember that many or most of us are part of the mass which are not valued. It is like our appreciation of history, lip service for the vast majority and excessive awe for the spectacular exceptions. Consequently, we are very much less knowledgeable about society and systems but overly drawn to spectacles that are largely irrelevant in our daily lives.

Power has always come from the top, and it fights to stay there. For a very long time still, power will remain at the top. While there has been some movement away from monarchies and dictators, the authoritarian DNA is so deeply embedded in the societal gene. That is why governments in the Philippines will have a tendency for centralized control, except for one mother and her son, maybe. In our brief history with democracy from 1946, we have been rudely interrupted and even thrown back to the old days.

Moving forward, I do not look at the leadership anymore for transformation – simply because the temptation for total control is difficult to resist. Those that cannot do it directly plan for a dynasty, abiding by the law in letter but against it in spirit. That has plagued us and plagues us still.

We are often told that the natural control mechanism for dictatorial governance is an informed citizenry. Being informed, though, is not enough. Citizens must be productive and contributory to national development and progress. When citizens do not invest meaningfully in their nation’s survival and growth, they will not be a force that can argue with the same government who feeds them. They can only cry out louder for more assistance.

Those who sacrifice much for their country will demand much as well when their investments are wasted, or stolen. Other than that, the citizenry, or the people as we always call them, will only be changing personalities at the top. Because in a democracy where citizens are weak, elections often only legitimize a democracy but cannot actualize it.


Good governance is not born simply from wisdom and nobility. Primarily, it is eked out by the demands of a citizenry truly feared and served by politicians and bureaucrats. And we, the citizenry, are not that yet.

The path forward, then, is quite clear. The path forward is our choice, whatever that may be. We can choose to be rightly informed or we can choose to gloss over lies and fakery. We can choose to be hardworking and diligent, even sacrificial for a better future, or we can choose to depend on leaders – even if we concede our power to them. We can choose to manage the factories and facilities of other nations or we can choose to build and nurture our own. Stand to be counted, or stand to be paid.

Those who are in the know better than most, public servants or concerned citizens, let them try to change the narrative of the Filipino people. Let them remind us what bayanihan means, and how bayanihan is etched in our collective soul. Bayanihan does not revere the leader, it venerates the individual effort in a collective endeavor. Bayanihan is not about somebody, it is about everybody.

Our heroes and many of our leaders past and present may have been outstanding models for us. But if they cannot inspire us to awaken the hero in us, their value quickly fades away. On the other hand, if we turn our eyes and hearts away from their heroism, we dishonor and shame them. In a world beset by turbulence and disruptions, it is our time to change ourselves, to prepare for the worst, and be worthy of the best.

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