Tuesday, January 20, 2009


A most breathtaking historic day. Simply unimaginable. From Oklahoma, where John McCain won in 77 of 77 counties, I have a clearer idea why the US is a great nation. There is nothing impossible here. When these guys go for change, they go for it all the way.

Today, we will witness a totally peaceful transfer of power in a place where the political, social and economic stakes are enormously greater than anywhere in the world. George Bush is flying back to Texas after the ceremony as a private citizen, ending what has also been an incredible journey that began when he was elected Governor of Texas in 1994.

We can learn from Texas. Their state legislature only meets in regular session on the second Tuesday in January every odd-numbered year. Each session is limited by law to 140 calendar days. This system discourages legislators from turning into professional, full-time politicians. Lawmaking is not a livelihood.

There is an anecdote of newly elected Vice President Lyndon Johnson, previously a Senator from Texas, who emerged from a meeting with the advisers of President Kennedy. Johnson was totally impressed with the breadth of intellectual firepower displayed in that gathering and he confided this to his friend House Speaker Sam Rayburn (also from Texas) who famously declared: “ They may be just as intelligent as you say. But I’d feel a helluva lot better if just one of them had ever run for sheriff.”

This is exactly the opposite of what it is in the Philippines, where politics is the ultimate occupation. Here, they may just be as experienced as they say they are, but we’d all feel a helluva lot better if most of them had succeeded in another life before traditional politics.

Monday, January 12, 2009

I Got An Idea

If you don’t think that the Philippines is in a terrible situation and matters will only become worse if we don’t do anything different then you don’t have to read on.

If you share my assessment however, that our country is in very bad shape, then bear with me and think about the solution I propose.

I won’t bother enumerating our major problems because I don’t want to engender even more despair. Insurmountability has a dangerous consequence of hopeless paralysis, the exact opposite of what I intend to accomplish.

We need nothing less than a revolution. The political operating system that governs our country is irredeemably corrupted. Historically, mass purges have been the only effective way of achieving national catharsis. And there is a way for this process to occur without violence.

In 1986, we had a unique opportunity to break free from our national fears and insecurities when the entire government was essentially replaced, from the President down to the Mayor and Barangay Captain. Officers in Charge (OIC) were appointed and were given a chance to prove themselves before a general election was held a year later.

The opportunity was unique not because of the new cast of political characters but because it was a chance for all of us to look at public service in a vastly different perspective. Public service is a sacrifice committed by fellow citizens who prepare for the responsibility by becoming financially independent and thoroughly informed about the serious issues of the time. Public service is not a path to making a livelihood. Public service, being a sacrifice should be borne by as many citizens as possible as no group of family members are naturally invested with an extraordinary aptitude for public administration.

The opportunity was lost because we failed to learn the lessons.

We need to elect a President in 2010 who will implement peaceful revolution. In 2013, this President will call for synchronized local and national elections with all elective positions open (from the 24 Senators to the Kagawads). Each candidate will pledge to serve only one term and spouses, parents and children will be prohibited from succeeding any candidate. Since many dynasties exist primarily to protect tightly vested family interests, there will be a one-time general amnesty for all administrative cases filed from the 2013 elections until the commencement of the campaign period in 2016.

This President must have an unblemished record of integrity and honesty. This President needs to be completely nontraditional, not beholden to any special interests, successful in a previous occupation. This President should embody the national ideals of a true servant-leader who will not hesitate to sacrifice for the common good.

Will this revolution solve all our problems? Certainly not, but it will be a decisive step towards the redemption of the boundless promise of our nation.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Overseas Filipino Workers of the World, Unite!

Smiles are abundant in the Philippines. It does not matter if the material quality of life is decidedly poorer, amid the hunger and disease and nakedness, you will find that people smile a lot more out here. And visitors from other countries never fail to remark upon the general warmth they receive from the natives.

Perhaps it is because we never need endure sub-zero winters or we can sleep outdoors the whole year round that we are so warm and hospitable. We have rain, regularly in the evenings and we have no pauses in our planting seasons. We have it very good in this country, so many of us simply take our profuse blessings for granted.

A popular folk tale is of Juan Tamad (John Lazy) who would rather wait for the crop to drop into his open mouth than summon the energy to bring his arm and hand to pluck the nearby fruit.

How do you explain our dismal productivity as a nation? The prevailing torpor that from time immemorial has kept us in the launch pad. How the over-solicitous cousin in the immigration desk can suddenly change into a tip-seeking tyrant to the next tourist in line, or how the loving family man of a cop can be capable of inflicting so much cruelty to drug-addicted minors?

No wonder powerful politicians will move mountains to help a stranded domestic helper somewhere in Saudi Arabia and rapidly turn around to collect a multi-million dollar commission in a public project. Religious leaders feed the hungry and provide shelter to the homeless with funds derived from gambling. Crusading journalists who begin as fearless tribunes until they become part of the same corrupt system no longer see a problem when they accept gifts from those they should be keeping an eye on. Teachers who patiently attend to 80-student classes make a little extra on the side selling reviewers that curiously appear like excerpts of the actual examinations. The most compassionate physicians who work brutally long hours will not think twice about splitting their fees with referring colleagues. Lawyers who consider themselves above the ethical fray routinely over-bill and further extend already drawn-out legal proceedings. The dispossessed urban poor will not hesitate to invite you to share their humble meal but will completely disregard property rights.

The miasma of corruption we all rail against is all over us. Proof of our infection is the degree of bitter cynicism we greeted the clarion call of, of all people, the former Speaker for a moral revolution, knowing each of us will be a casualty in such a revolution. How our insurmountable despair is reflected upon our forlorn hope that young, mega-traditional politicians will somehow scrupulously reform themselves in order to rescue us all.

The safe, reliable passage available all these years has been to leave the country. To stay as far away from a milieu that delayed development for most of us; a structure zealously secured by its principal beneficiaries. Jose Rizal lost his life more than a hundred years ago demanding the very same reforms that would enable us to transform ourselves into enlightened citizens with formed consciences. Then, as now, exile was the only option. Only now there are millions of us.

Can anyone be blamed for the prevailing hopelessness? We have been through a lot and still we remain mired. We need to save our country. Overseas Filipino Workers of the World, Unite! The situation in our country will become hopeless only when we stop looking back and caring for all our sisters and brothers we have left behind.