A silent and current erosion
Decades ago, almost to the day, the Philippine president declared martial law in a bid to solve what appeared to be the country’s many problems. What happened next was abuse, years of economic turmoil, families separated and broken forever, a population scarred to its very heart.
Today, martial law seems to exist only in textbooks; even then, its presence is in danger of removal. But to believe that it will never happen again is naive. Martial law did not exist simply as a means to control a population; it represented a form of governance that we can see everywhere today.
We have an ombudsman who believes that only the final report of an audit must be released to the public. The reasoning for this new proposal? To show the sausage-making of auditing, the ombudsman believes, is to subject the public to unnecessary stress. For example, discrepancies could be attributed to missing receipts, but this might be misconstrued as outright corruption by those who do not know what is truly going on behind the scenes.
Such a proposal betrays the ombudsman’s perception of the public as petty children with neither intellectual nor emotional capacity, and therefore no right to criticize the government that it voted into power.
We have a Department of Education (DepEd) that supposedly wants to instill patriotism, which requires years of education and infrastructure that encourage the young to be curious about the world, unafraid of critique, and proactive in instilling change that will make the country better than it ever was.
Instead, DepEd proposes mandatory military training and erases historical facts that would tell the truth of the pitfalls of simply allowing a government to take the reins without the voice of the people.
And then there’s the perpetually traveling man in power: sitting at the races, claiming that the pledges are pouring in—all as our national debt balloons into the trillions of pesos.
All these current events speak of a form of governance that tries to solve all problems through a blanket solution that involves neither a dialogue with the people nor a recognition of their problems, their perspectives, their lives.
Keeping audit reports secret, making students march in straight lines under a blistering sun, striking out historical events from textbooks, going on overseas trips that are explained away as diplomatic visits—all these speak to a brand of governance that tries to target all problems through shortcuts that target nothing, with an implicit order to people to simply shut up.
This kind of governance absolves the government of any responsibility of being thorough in the critique of its own processes, of being the force for good in a world, of actually sitting down in an office and finding ways to understand those whom they serve, from those who work in the air-conditioned buildings of the urban jungle to the farmers and fisherfolk whose livelihoods are now in danger of disappearing because of careless importation, powerful middlemen, encroachments in the West Philippine Sea, and a culture that places no value on actually listening.
This is not governance. This is not leadership.
We may or may not fall under martial law again. But how dare we turn a blind eye to government officials that condone haphazard work, impose programs that are in danger of descending into abuse, encourage the next generation to blind itself to the dangers of servitude, and live in luxury while many see no possibility of a future, even when they were made to hope for one under a so-called banner of unity?
These didn’t seem to be a problem years ago, with then Vice President Leni Robredo. Her office was open about its spending and never asked for confidential funds. It encouraged people to read, interact with each other, accept the truth of our pained, bloody history. Travels were for the purpose of gathering information about how to help people or sharing best practices in bringing help to different marginalized groups.
The success of the vice president then is evidence enough that when a government office takes its responsibilities seriously, it also does its job systematically, top to bottom, start to finish. It makes sure that the right people are hired and work on their tasks with integrity and thoroughness. And when everyone does their work well, then the results should stand up to public scrutiny—unless someone deliberately manipulates the truth.
The work of such people is a testament, nevertheless, to the leader under whom they serve.
The confusion isn’t in people critiquing their government. That’s what a democracy is all about. True confusion happens when people are engineered into destroying those who actually served the country when they are made to accept lies even about themselves.
Martial law is no mere history. It represents a long, slow process of chipping away at what little hope we once had as a people. Never again should it be repeated. Never again should we close our eyes.