Philippine Landscape by Tala Roque
By Mila D. Aguilar
"Therefore you, O son of man, say to the house of Israel: 'Thus you say, "If our transgressions and our sins lie upon us, and we pine away in them, how can we then live?" '
"Say to them: 'As I live,' says the Lord God, 'I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?'
"If the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has stolen, and walks in the statutes of life without committing iniquity, he shall surely live; he shall not die.
"None of his sins which he has committed shall be remembered against him; he has done what is lawful and right; he shall surely live.
Eze 33:10-11, 15-16
Many will be surprised at the combination of my title and quoted verse, thinking them at odds with each other. I will proceed to demonstrate, however, that at this juncture of Philippine history, they jibe perfectly.
This is not to say that the present point of contention, the Madame of the land, is about to or can still change. Politically, she is already a goner; whether her inner character can still make that momentous turn is apparently belied by reported movements in the Palace, at the airport, and in Hong Kong. The truth of these reports, however, is not for us to judge, in the same way that it would be unjust to judge the state of the Madame’s soul. All we can say for sure is that politically, she is a goner, and it is only a matter of time before she bids us goodbye, in her uniquely ineluctable manner—still sounding highly insincere.
Since the end of this particular drama is a foregone conclusion, we should therefore start turning our attention to the greater problem, the nation. Why can’t we have enough of the Marcoses, the Eraps, the Glorias? Why, indeed, do we even have to put up with a Cory? Or, for that matter, a Ramos? If they cannot express and advance the aspirations of the people, how then can we live? More appropriately, “if our transgressions and sins lie upon us, and we pine away in them, how can we then live?”
The Biblical answer is very simple, but the answer in terms of everyday reality bytes, of everyday living, indeed, of everyday struggle, is much more complex. In the end, however, both will amount to the same thing: “If the wicked restores the pledge…he shall surely live.”
Between the question (“How can we then live?”) and the answer (“If the wicked restores the pledge…”), what lies between? To resolve this, we have to look back at the past. What are the “transgressions and…sins [that] lie upon us,” and why have we been “pining away in them” for so long?
The co-optation of the datus
The truth is that we have a history to overcome, and in order to overcome it, we have to see it correctly, first and foremost.
When the Spaniards came upon the separate tribes in the islands that they eventually came to call the Philippines, the most common leaders of these tribes were not sultans, but datus. Sultanates, structures which approached the level of organization of Spain’s own fiefdoms, had been put up in Islamized areas like Sulu and the southwestern parts of Mindanao, as well as, a trice before the Spaniards came, in Manila. In most areas of the archipelago, however, barangays, those small communities of only a few scores of families, were led by datus, who owned no great armies nor ruled no high princes of their own.
These were the datus whom the Spaniards co-opted and made to live in the town centers, in the municipios, there to be unobtrusively guarded against potential rebellion. As it turned out, save for the failed Tondo conspiracy and communities in unreachable or hostile mountainous areas such as the Cordilleras, most datus were co-opted rather easily, their sons and daughters eventually becoming favored in Hispanicentric society with their mestizo progeny. The datus, given the gift of becoming tax collectors by the Spaniards, would learn to survive among the Spanish elite by pinching from the public bin the reales they needed for their private pleasures.
It was this corrupted, diminished datu class that became the base of the principalia, as well as, through the miracle of mestizoization, the ilustrados. This native, Hispanized elite carried down to the next centuries our Spanish colonial legacy not only of feudalism and patriarchalism, but also of corruption.
Feudalism and corruption are in reality twin evils, especially in a colonized society in which the elite could survive only by dipping into the public bin because the colonial lord has already taken away much of the fruit of the land. Corruption in the public arena copies the practices of feudalism in the private arena: since the landlord merely sits while waiting for the fruit of the land to arrive at his dinner table, the government official also sits, waiting for the moneys of the land to arrive at his desk drawer.
The continued rule of the datus
When the Americans took over, they did not remove the ilustrados whose ancestors had made it a habit for three centuries to plow into the public bin. Instead, they placed them in the highest “elected” positions in the land.
To their credit, however, they did train young men and women from the lower classes to take over senior and junior positions in the bureaucracy. The training that these young men and women got as pensionados in the United States was steeped in the honesty bestowed on George Washington, mythically or not, and that may be why they came back serious in the business of running government. But more than that, the basic reason these young men and women became honest civil servants is that they generally came from classes which had not been thoroughly co-opted by the Spaniards, and therefore still held on to the native principles of hiya and katapatan.
Due to the presence of these young men and women who eventually grew old in the bureaucracy, we are wont to think that our government, before Marcos, was as clean as immaculate. That is not entirely true. What is truer is that the bureaucracy remained, for several decades, clean enough to cover up the stealthy little robberies of our upper-class elected officials.
It is also true that these robberies were very little compared to the robberies conducted by our officials today, who are capable of robbing the people blind whether they be elected or not, whether they be in the upper or lower rungs of the bureaucracy or not.
But the robberies of yesteryears, small as they may have been compared to what we see today, were robberies nonetheless.
Marcos, a datu
Marcos was a local datu before he became a congressman. He it was who, in breaking the barriers of the imagination in robbery, broke the barriers of upper-class robbery. In involving bright young minds from the middle class in his administration, whether as officials or as cronies, he lowered the stakes for robbery-in-band. With the proliferation of possibilities in the art of corruption, the population itself soon learned the art of corruption.
That is why many say that when democracy was restored in 1986, corruption was also democratized. The Filipino people had learned, by way of osmosis as well as journalistic declaration, that their leaders were corrupt; being an indigenously democratic people who had lived by consensus before the coming of the Spaniards, why should they not be able to do what their leaders were doing?
Marcos’ breaking of the barriers of corruption also facilitated another phenomenon: after martial law, the old ruling class, whose wealth had been based on feudal property, ill-gotten perhaps through one or two centuries of corruption but feudal nonetheless, found themselves with strange bedfellows in politics—they were joined now by sons and daughters of the professional middle class, sons and daughters who had themselves gotten rich quick through the auspices of cronyism but had no social backing in terms of land.
The “old” ruling class, as Cory’s kind must be called even if their wealth may have come out of a fluke in the Philippine Revolution, looked down on this new variety of the ruling class, though they were exactly the same not only in terms of skin color but of eyeglass color—they looked at the economy in exactly the same feudal way: that is, they sat and waited for the moneys of the land to come to their desk drawers. Only, the new ones were more active and obvious in their search for it, while Cory herself, like some of the presidents before her, may not have directly engaged in it, having been guilty of it only by proxy.
It was not, therefore, because Erap came from the masa that Cory’s kind abhorred him. He is, after all, the son of an engineer, and most of his brothers and sisters are professionals. It was because he had broken through the barriers of corruption, of which the old ruling class thinks they have the priority, the practice having been traditionally their sole privilege.
Land reform made matters worse for the expanded ruling class, which are now rightfully called ruling elites rather than one ruling elite. After land reform, which was dictated by the U.S. on Marcos (as well as Magsaysay before him) as an instrument for creating a cash economy and therefore a wider market in the countryside, as well as for stymieing peasant insurgencies, the traditional elite could not rely anymore on good old feudalism to feed their fancies. They had to look for newer sources of “income.” Since they were so used to sitting and waiting for the produce of the land to come to their tables, few of them thought of applying whatever capital they had accumulated on productive enterprise. Instead, they thought of the next best thing: to engage in bureaucratic enterprise—that is, sitting and waiting behind desks for the moneys to flow into their pockets.
This added to the current glut we see in electoral politics. Too many want to become politicos—it is the only way to earn, barring conscientious application of hard work in legitimate business. Not only the nouveau riche elite, but the traditional elite, want a piece of the pie.
Even the few of the traditional elite who are into big business mistakenly think that they need government in order to survive, and therefore dabble in it.
This is the circus we see now playing itself out before us: the Gloria camp representing the traditional elite (now you see why Cory has had to defend her, and is working out a replacement for her); the Erap camp representing the nouveau riche elite, with their billions earned not only from illegitimate sources but from the movie fiefdom (which, by the way, behaves very much like a feudal fiefdom, in the sense that the star sits and waits long hours to get into camera, earning millions, while everyone else works his butt off around him/her, earning a pittance).
It’s been a tug of war between the two elites, beginning with Edsa I and going on to Edsa II. That each time the traditional elite won is indicative of its continued strength. This continued strength is fueled by their allies in big business, which happen to be peopled by their kind. The problem is, while these few businesses depend on the masses even more than on government, their owners, like their cousins in politics, cannot get themselves to like their own customer base. It is this internal contradiction within the traditional elite that will spell their disaster after Gloria, if they choose not to shape up.
Their likely alternative of a puppet known to have been corrupt-to-the-core from the start will not help them any. They are on the way out, in the same way that Gloria is, because the semi-feudal order that used to nourish them is already crumbling. All the masses have to do to turn them to powder is to boycott their products.
But there is a third factor to the current situation; without this third factor, our story will not be complete.
The rising entrepreneurial class
Marcos, in his twenty-one year reign, did two other things that would turn the tide of history after his political demise in 1986: first, he shortened the 99-year lease on the U.S. military bases to a 25-year lease, renewable; and second, he opened the doors to the sending of overseas contract workers abroad, an act which was indefatigably carried through by Cory Aquino.
Let me discuss the second one first, because it is an internal development that can become a basis of thoroughgoing change, and the first one later, because it points to an external factor that could accommodate, or stunt, the second.
But first, we must be clear about the reasons for the OFW policy of both Marcos and Cory: not being productive, its head caught in the vise of foreign control and its tail snagged in the laziness of its ruling elites, the economy has been on a downward spin for decades, the only way to salvage it being to rely on the remittances of millions of Filipinos working their butts off abroad.
In its first one-and-a-half decades of encouragement, the OFW phenomenon produced a consumer-oriented local market. The families of OFWs spent their loved ones’ earnings on appliances and every imaginable consumable, so that when the OFWs got home, they were still as penniless as ever.
But one gets over consumption sooner or later. As expected, the Ilocanos were the first to overcome the urge. By the middle of the second decade, some of them were already starting to buy not only houses and lots, but farms, putting these to good productive use. On the other hand, most bought service vehicles, earning their daily bread from these when they had exhausted their contracts abroad.
There is a limit to one’s earning from service vehicles, however. The rapid spread of information technology in the 90s provided other ways of investing smaller amounts of capital on businesses that even young children of OFWs could engage in. The discovery of franchising opened up other venues of investment for those who had accumulated more capital, whether by being OFWs abroad or by having been children of less greedy jueteng lords or government officials or, for that matter, children of legitimately wealthy Chinese businessmen—or by just exercising plain ingenuity. The discovery that Filipinos eat a lot, and love dressing, opened up even more venues of investment to anyone who was willing to work darned hard to earn reasonably.
Today, there are a substantial number of these micro, small and medium-sized enterprises all over the Philippines. Their owners constitute the engine behind the movement against corruption in the bureaucracy. These owners know that without corruption, they would not have to slave to get their papers through city hall, the BIR, SEC, DTI, and other government agencies. They know that once unleashed, their wealth-creating energies could save the Philippines from economic disaster.
They also know that “E”-Vat may kill them.
Not yet quite a distinct, existent class, they are a rising entrepreneurial class nourished by the breasts of the middle and lower classes, waiting desperately to start walking on their own. They are the new and more robust seeds of the vaunted national bourgeoisie described by the Left in the 60s and 70s, a national bourgeoisie that did not quite survive the onslaught of foreign capital after the imposition of martial law.
Their beginnings, and strengthening, run parallel with the born again Christian phenomenon in the Philippines. Like the beginning of the OFW phenomenon, born again Christianity went through a revival in the 80s. By the 90s it was already starting to influence Catholics in their attitudes towards the Bible. With the advent of the 21st century, born again Christians were already starting to reach out to the Muslims, not necessarily to convert them, but to show them where Jesus—Issa Almasih—is in the Koran.
It is significant that born again Christians never thought of their belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God as a religion, but as a personal relationship with their Savior. In so starting, they have been able to approximate in the Philippines the effects of the Reformation on Europe, releasing a great well-spring of hope within a crumbling semi-feudal order because it unleashes the energies of the most basic seeds of capitalism—almost, but not quite the same kind of nascent capitalism that the merchants brought to Europe centuries ago. In so starting, they were, in the 90s, able to rethink their initial closed-mindedness, thereby reaching out to the Philippines’ traditional religions, and lately, even to the agnostics and atheists of the Left, the power-prone of the military Right, and, most difficult of all, the unbelievers of the University of the Philippines.
Tenuous as the continued existence of the rising entrepreneurial class may be, therefore, having the born again Christian phenomenon as its ideological spearhead means its inevitable formation. Furthermore, even before its full formation, it has already found a leader in the person of Bro. Eddie Villanueva, himself a professor of entrepreneurship as well as entrepreneur. His concern for both OFWs and entrepreneurship, clearly and methodically expounded in his platform and program of government, drew both groups to his cause during the May 2004 elections, and will continue to draw them to him beyond Gloria.
As to whether this new OFW-entrepreneurial-born again Christian force will be able or even be willing to immediately unseat the traditional elite, however, is another matter. In the May 2004 elections, eschewing all tactics and strategies of traditional politics including the expenses (though not the wobbly machinery) of poll watching, they were roundly cheated of millions of votes, exactly how many millions only time, and God, will tell.
But who knows? The God of those who believe is an extremely powerful God. This optimism, this overwhelming sense of belief, is expressed in a recent missive written by Jeric Soriano, a born again Christian-entrepreneur who runs JCSFX Media, Inc.:
Listen, we need to stop preaching what the politicians are doing and start telling what God is doing! God said He is healing this land. We must start speaking about this country by faith instead of going around spouting bad news all the time. Of course, that will sound odd to most people. Some of them may even think we've slipped a few cogs. But that's nothing new.
Let me tell you something: One handful of believers who are listening to, trusting in, and speaking out the good news of God are more powerful than all the devils on earth. One handful of believers is more powerful than a whole army of unbelieving doomsayers. Their unbelief will not make the faith of God of no effect!
That's why you need to turn a deaf ear to the bad news and just start praising and thanking God for His deliverance. Every word of praise we speak releases faith in our heart.
Get determined. Take a firm stand that things are changing in this country. Settle it in your heart as you pray. Speak it out. Call it forth. God is healing the land!
The missive, harmless as it may sound, is in fact based on Nehemiah 6:1-16. At the time of the early Jewish diaspora, Nehemiah had built a wall to house the Jews who had returned to their land despite its having been overrun by foreign powers. Enemies of the Jews tried to discourage him by spreading the rumor that he was planning to become King of the Jews, and therefore, because of that, he was going to be killed. He, however, remained unfazed, and went on with his work, finishing the wall in 52 days. When the wall was finished, the tables were turned on the enemies of the Jews, for it was they who became disheartened, finally realizing that the wall was, after all, the work of God, not just Nehemiah.
As the passage from Nehemiah demonstrates, the language of born again Christians is not only a prayerful language; it is a language that integrates action into its prayer, and prayer in its action. Their models include not only David, who slew Goliath and became King after long years of pursuit by the power-protective Saul; they also include Paul, who was constantly in and out of prison, but never flagged in the evangelistic goals assigned to him by Jesus.
Today, born again Christians, who constitute not only fellowship-based, religion-less Christians but born again Protestants and Catholics alike, and at this very moment, even born again Muslims, cut through at least 20 percent of the Filipino population, whether in the Philippines or abroad. Among them are a substantial number of micro, small, and medium-sized as well as millions of would-be entrepreneurs who hold fast to their Bible’s promises of prosperity and blessed nationhood.
Perhaps it is not so much the millions Bro. Eddie Villanueva is capable of calling forth that bothers Gloria, as Tony Abaya enunciated in a June 23 column entitled “Who’s Afraid of Bro. Eddie?”, but this overwhelming faith and confidence in a righteous God.
That is, if she herself believes.
The external factor
There is an external factor to Philippine society, however, as there was even in pre-colonial times due to the inordinately hospitable nature of the people, and that factor always has to be taken into consideration in any study of the ongoing Philippine crisis, especially today, in the light of the global situation.
That factor is the United States.
When Marcos cut the 99-year lease of the U.S. military bases to 25 years renewable, not even the United States guessed that nationalists would get to the Senate by 1991 and vote not to renew the lease. They thought they had ensured as far back as 1983, before the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, that the powers of these nationalist legislators would be clipped. Dragging their feet while making the motions of moving out of the main bases, they were finally jolted out of them by a deus ex machina: Pinatubo revolted, erupting right before their eyes. They packed up fast, and left.
But the Philippines remained the apple of their eyes, not so much for sentimental reasons, but because the apple was shown in the late 90s, through their sophisticated satellites, to contain more than the riches they had ever suspected it to have, riches that they never even had, or had exhausted in their greed.
When Erap was in power, they therefore foisted the Visiting Forces Agreement on him—all they could manage in the meantime.
The pressures have been mounting since due to the floundering American dollar, aggravated as its fall has been by the US misadventure in Iraq. So what to do with the Philippines? The options have already been laid out, planned for and partially implemented well in advance, but subsequent events will tell whether any of them can prosper.
One thing is certain, though: the US government has not taken kindly to Gloria’s flirtations with China. When she goes, therefore, it will be good riddance to her.
Whom will they support in her place? Any one of the pretenders will do, including the most corrupt, because, in the present configuration of Philippine society, a configuration which started at the end of the 19th century when America became interested in the Philippines, anyone who comes to power must contend with the United States. Unless Filipinos are able to develop their own national capital, they will not be able to get out of that configuration. The traditional elite with their feudal superciliousness, best exemplified by Gloria, will not let today’s millions of potential small capitalists do it for the country, mistakenly thinking they can continue their centuries-old dalliance with whoever is in power in the world. The nouveau riche, flabby at the knees like Erap, dead as FPJ, and movie-bound as Susan, would not know how to do it, used as they are to making money some other way. The entrepreneurial class is still rising, and can be easily killed off by a measure like the “E”-Vat.
Unless, of course, the righteous prayers of born again Christians rise up to the heavens and produce a miracle, breaking up the traditional elite so that the big corporations join in the crusade to develop small capitalism, for their own eventual greater gain; pushing the nouveau riche to productive enterprise, more productive than the present service enterprises of Guia Gomez and Laarni Enriquez; convincing the Left that economic production is necessary in the protracted struggle to the socialist stage; inducing the US to leave national capitalism well enough alone, because if they are ever able to take Mindanao, which they covet because that is where the main resources lie, they wouldn’t want to feed, clothe and shelter 16 million dependents; and mobilizing the masses to take hold of their destiny by creating their own wealth, thereby acquiring a voice in the economic and political affairs of the nation.
A pipe dream. The only way the wicked can restore the pledge. But as Christian prayer-points, entirely possible, especially under a revolutionary transition government that truly understands the basic problems of the nation, and how these problems can be overcome, one by one.
July 7, 2005