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A necessary rite of passage

I had wanted to write about the superficiality of many people, among them the noisiest of partisans and critics. I would rather be more positive and motivational. In most of my articles over the years, even the most critical, I would strive to end on a high note. Or an invitation to challenge ourselves to go for nobility and commitment instead of being eaten up by what we had gotten too lazy or too afraid to change.

After about nine months of hardcore political topics and dynamics, it is truly exhaustive to be repetitive. The noise of politics drowns out the more essential facets of life, and I admire the great capacity of many people, including the young, to tune out and simply focus on their own priorities. Unfortunately, it is not easy for many to do so, especially with social media multiplying the noise.

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I was happy enough last April 1, when the political current managed to highlight the protest of farmers who converged in Kidapawan. Either the authorities bungled the dispersal or they feel into the trap of the Left and the political opposition—the end result is that violence erupted, a few were killed, and many more wounded.

It was the color of hunger, however, that added drama to the dispersal that turned violence. Because the backdrop was of hungry farmers badly hit by the current El Niño, traditional and social media carried the story with great sympathy for the hungry farmers. The more pitiful the underdog, and the more violent a confrontation, the more it looks and sounds like a teleserye. And Filipinos lapped it up.

Like any drama, that Kidapawan incident ran a natural course. This being the political season, the Senate even held a number of hearings to investigate what went wrong. Why were farmers hungry? What support did they get, our not get? Why were they given bullets instead of rice?

It was not a massacre, not even close to one. From an alleged protesting army of 6,000 hungry and angry farmers, only about three were confirmed dead (one from natural causes). That’s not a massacre. It may even be closer to being a miracle if we were to believe that the police and soldiers really tried to shoot the protesters. Hundreds or thousands of bullets fired and only two were killed? The PNP should bring all policemen to the target range asap.

But the violence and the attention that media dedicated to the Kidapawan incident did result in one positive thing—it gave a temporary focus on hunger. That focus elicited sympathy for the hungry, and that is a blessing. After all, millions of Filipinos experience hunger from occasionally to frequently as a normal circumstance in their lives—without the rest of society really caring, much less bothering to help. Media attention, though, including the noise from social media, can be a powerful stimulus for more people to be concerned and, in fact, be generous.

Anyway, I was hoping for that. Now, four weeks later, we have a chance to discover where that sympathy went, our how much food it generated to feed hungry Filipinos victimized by the El Niño. There seem to be no more protests. Consequently, there is hardly any news on what should be a deepening crisis since four more hungry weeks from for more weeks of drought had passed by. Is it possible that government had been that effective in distributing food (yet the effort did not merit media coverage), or the presidential race that is about to climax is just so much more important than the hunger of thousands or millions?

Politics is just so much more sexy and stimulating than poverty and hunger. We prioritize it, we engage it, we fuel it—and so we harvest it. On the other hand, poverty and hunger have become run-of-the-mill problems, drab, boring, routine. That is why they will not be solved, cannot be solved. If they are not important enough for us to do anything about it, what will pressure government to act decisively against it?

Freedom and democracy accommodate messiahs only on elections, and only when they are faltering. When freedom and democracy are working well, they look for competent leaders, even charismatic ones, but only to inspire the people to do what is expected of them—to be productive, to be contributory, and to adhere to the common good whatever the odds.

Admittedly, though, ours is not yet a functional democracy. Our institutions give way to personalities, and so do our values. The present electoral exercise is proof of this. But freedom does not become a democracy with the passage of a Constitution, especially when what had been traditionally in place has been authoritarian, or oligarchic. There is a transition that can be prolonged, or extremely turbulent. We have the whole world as our stage, and so many other people and nations are performers we can watch and learn from. The Philippine suffering on the way to a working democracy has not been easy, but neither has it been as gory or horrific as so many others.

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Our transition can go into high gear because of information technology and the consequential exposure to nation models who have attained their progress in the most crucial aspects of societal life. Our youth, too, with their idealism and natural talents being favored by a first world becoming increasing dependent on creativity, leisure and those who carry the ability to adapt to multiple challenges.

But even if we slide back to authoritarianism and blatant oligarchy, evolution will push a radical swing back to where we ought to be moving towards. Radical swings can be abrupt and very disruptive, but are in themselves unique openings for radical learning as well. So there is no real need to be unduly worried about the coming elections. There are more important matters in our ordinary lives that will bring us back to reality, like it or not.

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TAGS: El Niño, Elections 2016, Kidapawan, partisanship
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