Celebrating our ‘adverse’ diversity

There is so much to celebrate this month, from Valentines Day when lovers of all combinations anticipate with varying intensities of ecstasy, to the more somber remembering of the first EDSA Revolution whose lessons we never learn and whose legitimacy some of us continue to doubt and probe. In between, we celebrate this day the International Mother Language Day. Now on its fifteenth year since it was first observed in February 2000, this day is a celebration of linguistic rights and cultural diversity and a timely occasion to reflect how far we have gone in promoting understanding and tolerance among our people deeply polarized by politics and faith that an open, honest conversation about renewing the ties that bind us becomes an imperative especially in light of public outrage and renewed calls for an all-out war in the South.

According to Ethnologue, there are 185 listed languages for the Philippines. Of the 185, 181 are living languages, and four extinct. Of the living languages, 41 are institutional, 71 developing, 46 vigorous, 13 in trouble, and 10 dying. We might as well add that at least 10 of the 41 institutional languages are now being used in public schools instruction as prescribed by Sections 4 and 5 of Republic Act 10533, more popularly known as the K-12 Law. The said provision draws its rationale from Department of Education Order No. 74 issued in 2009, mandating the institutionalization of mother tongue-based multilingual education. As soon as issues regarding orthography are resolved, more regional languages will be added as medium of instruction.

Clearly, the sheer number of languages indicates a vibrant diversity. But where does this diversity lead us? Does this explain why we are such a fragmented people? Is diversity something to celebrate?

The debate on the divisive national language, for one, remains open not because of the continuing resistance to privileging one language over other equally vibrant, widely spoken and circulated and studied languages but because the process of assignment was less than fair, honest, democratic, transparent, and credible. The greatest irony of it all is that of a people having a national language without a clear sense of nationhood. This anomaly clearly magnifies indifference to historical realities that this republic is a communion of nations of the Ilokanos, the Tagalogs, the Cebuanos, the Maguindanaoans, the Tausugs, the Yakans, the Talaandigs, and the Matigsalogs and whose patriots fought gallantly and shed blood to resist the forces of homogenization.

Besides language, our geography seems to offer an explanation why we can never be united, politically and otherwise. The discontinuity of our lands not only separates us as mainlanders and islanders, this with supreme ridiculousness as we are an archipelago, but also means exclusion for those outside the reach of the messenger on a bicycle, those beyond centers of power and economic production. Our insular attitude is not helpful either in bridging this archipelagic divide.

So where do we find the answers?

Our much-maligned geography actually teaches us about interdependence, the middle ground that tempers both our apartheid and unionist tendencies. This interdependence has long been in place for centuries until our colonizers, starting with Spaniards and later on the Americans, started centralizing our political, economic, and bureaucratic life, the eventual establishment of which made us overly dependent on the capital—the center of power—for decision-making.

Nature configured our geography in such a way that it nurtures diversity and interdependence of organisms, of people, without our destructive intervention. However, the disruptive rise of capitalist trade and globalization externally and the expansion, centralization, and consolidation of political power in the hands of the few families internally have altered this ecosystem. Many don’t realize, or refuse to recognize, that our geography is the perfect habitat of vibrantly federated communities where people pursue their communal goals peacefully and productively with less reliance on, if not total independence from, a central authority to decide which language to be used for what function, what form of government they should adopt, or what kind of future they would like to imagine for themselves.

However, our polarizing politics, parochial governance, and incompetent leadership have a peculiar way of reverse engineering what nature, science, and logic ordained to be the sequence of sensible institutional response to certain situations. I remember how the noted architect Felino Palafox Jr. lamented that his suggestion to regulate housing developments within the Marikina catch basin was repeatedly ignored by succeeding administrations despite findings from several studies all saying the area is too risky for settlement. Then Typhoon Ketsana (Ondoy) came lashing, submerging the area that left thousands cut off from the rest of civilization for days. What is exhibited in this tragedy—and the series of tragedies in Zamboanga, Eastern Visayas, and now Mamasapano—is the seemingly irredeemable inability of our leaders to rise above the pettiness of politics and bureaucratic wrangling that resulted in the massive loss of life and property, subtracting further our diminishing pride and self-respect as a people. On occasions of great necessity, we do not only hold the answer to the questions we have; we are the answer to these questions. We are the ransom to our self-abduction.

We have searched far and wide, spent infinite sums of money, even pleaded to deities for answers to problems whose solution lies nowhere but here, on the very lands on which we built our houses and our dreams, and on the very seas we sail on to beautiful sunsets. Our search should be reoriented inward, to our open hearts and minds willing to embrace the lessons that marginal people’s histories, unevenly scattered islands, untamed oceans, and the melodious chorus of the 181 tongues teach us.

Finally, not to be lost as an important lesson is that the key to ending adversity lies in our bold openness in celebrating diversity, nourishing it with understanding and tolerance, and making it thrive within the rigid confines of our pharisaic morality and unbending laws (but with non-binding effect on the lucky, chosen few). This is not going to be easy, especially to the many among us who “increasingly live in hermetically sealed ideological zones,” to borrow a phrase from the esteemed political economist Robert Reich. And the road to redemption for those trapped in these zones is nothing lofty but an open mind that welcomes opposing ideologies and their tenable synthesis and a humble heart that delights in surprises and possibilities, including the possibility of a lasting peace in our troubled and unjustly divided lands.


Why a presidential resignation won’t matter

Even before news of the carnage in Mamasapano hogged the headlines last week, several calls for the president to resign have already begun in earnest. Recalling a few years back the botched Luneta hostage rescue, we remember it precipitated angry calls demanding President Aquino to quit office for failing to avert the crisis that cost the lives of several Hong Kong tourists. That unfortunate event would later strain for a time the relations between Hong Kong and Manila. But going further back Luneta, calls for the president‘s resignation were already regular column fodders. In fact, even before Aquino could clock in a hundred days in office, some quarters have already demanded his resignation.

But why such a national ‘penchant?’

Many argue that our president exercises more powers, or that he is more powerful, than US president Barack Obama as the former virtually control the entire bureaucracy and whose vast influence extends to Congress and the Supreme Court. For comparison, we know how Obama was power-checked, others say check-mated, by the Republican-dominated and largely uncooperative Lower House, when majority of its members refused to fund federal budget which resulted in government shutdown in late 2013. The US Lower House, in effect, not only held hostage federal funding but more glaringly handed Obama an in-your-face “we are as powerful as you are, dude” rebuff.

To better appreciate the vast powers and influence of our president, we refer to the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona as its almost perfect manifestation. I say almost because public outrage, the political interests of senator-judges (vis-à-vis the upcoming midterm elections at that time), and Corona’s own undoing via his ‘unguarded’ testimony, among others, were in play. The not-so-secret presidential push and inspiration, aside from ‘clear instructions’ to allies in both houses of Congress, added up to the pressure for an expedited proceedings.

Yet the vast powers of the president are held together by a delicate mantle of public trust, the maintenance or erosion of which can be as fickle as the weather gets if we go by the latest round of trust survey ratings. Regardless of the changing public mood, however, one thing remains constant: that the power enjoyed by the incumbent is contingent to the trust the public continually bestows on the office and its occupant, but really more so on the latter. This is, at least, in theory. And this is where the problem lies.

We reckon that the election of Aquino in 2010, while phenomenal on so many levels, has not much to do with his vision for the Philippines or how his program of action could register growth beyond his term. Rather, it has more to do with sentiments of people betrayed and shortchanged by his predecessor—a people desperate in their search for a leader who personified the complete opposite of the one they were about to replace. In sum, the people placed their trust on the one man they believe would, could, and should cure the inherited ills from the Arroyo administration. This is hardly surprising at all under our patronage-driven and personality-based politics. Thus began the reign of Aquino as superman and president.

We cannot avoid discussing presidential resignation by not examining the failures of our political institutions, as well as open the conversation on the numerous attempts by various sectors to strengthen them. The institutional failures provide perfect havens to patronage and corruption and until we do something fundamentally difficult to destroy these lairs, we will spend the rest of our productive life digging deeper holes than plugging the leak, so to speak.

But to say that we preserve the status quo in the absence of a leader who is of the same mold as President Aquino is utterly irresponsible, if not downright stupid, and tantamount to insulting the millions, okay the thousands, among us who are better qualified to run the affairs of the state.

Our aversion and resistance to presidential resignation is not without basis. For one, our unsteady political institutions still remain prone to subjugation by power wielders who come and go every six years or so and whose combined tenures, so far, have only served to undermine rather than strengthen these supposedly impersonal democratic and therefore accessible institutions.

Understandably, there are many among us whose aversion is influenced by the character of the beneficial successor. (Being an institutionalist, this is the least of my fears.) What feeds more aversion is the uncertainty of the readiness of our institutions–unsteady many of them are–to once again be subjected to another round of changes before they could find traction as they undergo rehabilitation after a long period of ‘maltreatment’ by the previous administrations. To be fair to the second Aquino administration, efforts were undertaken to flesh out results of its strategy Daang Matuwid. It may be devoid of vision, but Daang Matuwid rallies people around one common cause and that is reforming public institutions. Whether these efforts have degraded patronage and minimized corruption is a different story altogether.

When Pope Francis came to visit the Philippines, the social media site Facebook was flooded with posters bearing “Pope Francis for President” slogan maybe simply for being such an inspiring and unifying figure to a divided people. Well, I have a bad news for them: even if Pope Francis succeeded President Aquino by some anomaly, chances are he also fail just the same under our system as it stands right as you read this. There is only one way a perceived good leader can succeed in a bad system, situation, or institution: he must have reformed it first, if not transform it.

So, while no one holds the exclusive franchise to good governance, is there someone who can or would guarantee its continuity? That was a trap question actually. Let me rephrase that by asking rather objectively, impersonally: Can our institutions afford to absorb, adjust, and manage (with relative ease?) the constant shifting of directions and priorities from one administration to the next in such a short period without losing focus on the core deliverables?

I hope each of us can muster our own answers and find our priorities of engagement. I have found mine in the last five words in the preceding paragraph that I believe can last me well beyond 2016.


Link to Rappler: http://www.rappler.com/views/imho/83196-presidential-resignation-matter