The right path
I like to study. Life in the academe has always appealed to me. Of course, there are the inevitable deadlines to meet, papers to write, exams to take. But the serenity of life on campus, the atmosphere of learning, and the freedom to pursue ideas that one would not normally be able to explore in a corporate milieu—all of these give life on campus grounds an enduring appeal.
So when the chance to return to the academe—albeit for a few months—presented itself, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to step back for a while from the “rat race” and return to the world of libraries, lectures and learning. All of us, at one time or another, feel the need for a change of pace and surroundings, and the desire to do something not out of duty or for the sake of financial compensation, but simply because that something gives us a sense of personal, intellectual and emotional fulfillment that money and professional accomplishments can never truly bring.
I shall therefore take myself off for a few months next year to a distant shore in pursuit of further learning, and while a part of me is excited to walk the halls of the academe again, I am also, admittedly, rather apprehensive about the family and friends I will be separated from, for some time to come. Because while life in Metro Manila (MM) is as hectic, as frenetic, and as energetic as it always is, there is a sense of … unease, perhaps … that drifts over this great city, a feeling that the metropolis, if not the country itself, is holding its breath, waiting for something to happen.
Many Filipinos—myself included—have been watching events unfold since the elections of May 2016. Every national election brings with it a sense of optimism and collective hope that the country’s situation will improve, and that many of our most pressing problems will be addressed. The future seems, at least for the first few months after a new set of elected officials are sworn into office, a blank sheet of paper, pristine and unblemished, a symbol of yet another chance for the country to hopefully get it right this time, and bring the nation forward into a more optimistic tomorrow.
Fifteen months later, the initial mood of optimism has clearly been tempered somewhat by a number of harsh realities, not the least of which are the catastrophic near-destruction of Marawi and the increasingly contentious campaign against drugs.
Although many are relieved that the Marawi conflict is drawing to a close, more and more persons in my circle of relatives, friends and business associates have become vocal about their misgivings on the way the “drug war” is being handled. While they all agree that drugs are a real menace to society, I can already discern among them a growing sense of disquiet at the progressively violent manner in which the “drug war” is being waged. Machiavelli’s principle of “the end justifies the means” may sound tempting to a government that has long been grappling with the drug menace, but the temptation to resort to such extreme options may ultimately result in a Pyrrhic victory for the country.
Others have also expressed to me their discomfiture at comments made about the international community, specifically the European Union (EU).
I can understand how some public officials may see foreign criticism of some government policies as interference. It is best to remember, however, that it is the wise man who can accept criticism—in any form—as a means for self-improvement, and it is the hallmark of a mature character to receive criticism with equanimity, graciousness and the willingness to be enlightened.
I hope, then, that cooler heads will prevail, so that the cautionary advice of the EU shall not be perceived as an imperialist desire to dictate to a less economically-developed state, but rather as the concern of fellow democratic nations for the direction our own relatively young democracy is taking.
There is no harm in remembering that the Philippines is still a developing country that is not fully capable of dealing with natural disasters, serious security threats, and unforeseen economic shocks.
The rather uncomfortable truth is that we need the support of the international community, particularly in times of great difficulty such as the catastrophic destruction wrought by Supertyphoon “Yolanda” in late 2014, and the increasing efforts of foreign militant groups to radicalize our fellow Filipinos.
We would do well, therefore, not to alienate those who are in a position to offer us help in times of trouble, and who have been generous in providing us aid when we needed it most urgently. While this does not mean that we should roll over and allow ourselves to become doormats for those who bring us aid, it does mean that we should accord them—and their representatives—the appropriate measure of respect due to them as our comrades in the family of nations.
In June of last year, I reflected in an essay that I didn’t envy the President the immensely difficult task of choosing which issues to prioritize. All that has happened since then has shown us where his priorities lie, and while I do not fault him for his choices, I do hope he will not lose sight of the very painful truth that there are other very pressing matters that also demand his attention.
The traffic situation in MM is one such problem; now approaching epic proportions, it continues to bedevil the entire NCR, sending the level of air pollution in the city skyrocketing even as it wastes billions of pesos on fuel, compromises productivity in virtually all economic sectors, and exhausts an already-overfatigued citizenry.
Perhaps the traffic problem, and many other issues, are not as … dramatic as the campaign against drugs, but these other problems also have a significant impact on our quality of life, and yes, on the economic development of the country.
They, too, need the President’s attention if they are not to worsen and exacerbate the woes of our people, many of whom live everyday lives that are already difficult enough, and who look to the President to give them hope that their situations will one day improve.
Fifteen months have already passed since he was sworn into office, and some quarters have already begun to lament what they perceive to be his undue focus on only one or two issues. I fear it is time for the President to cast his eye on the country’s other problems, before their impact on the country becomes too severe to quickly address.
There was a time, 20 years ago, when leaving the country to live abroad for a few months meant being unable to follow the everyday events at home. The Internet and social media have changed all that, of course, and I will definitely use every technological means available to me to keep track of the goings-on in MM. But no matter how advanced communication technology may be, to the Filipino who must make his home—however temporary—in a distant land, there will be no true peace of mind until he is home again.
I know, then, that although I will be half the world away from family and friends, my thoughts will remain here, and with each passing day, I shall hope that, however slowly, life for the Pinoy will get better.
Above all else, however, I shall hope that the promise of change made by the President when he was elected into office will be fulfilled in a way that shall see the Philippines a far happier, more prosperous, and more peaceful land than when I embark on my sojourn abroad. Change, after all, is in many respects akin to a fork in the road—one branch may send us on the path to peace and plenty, while the other may lead us along the road to perdition.
For all our sakes, I pray that the President’s decisions will lead us along the right path.