Ate Glo, Erap and the state of our national delusion
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo 2005-01-24
I’VE always maintained that one of the major reasons why we have slipped from leader to laggard in the region is because we have the passion to dwell in our delusions and to stay in a complete state of denial. This nationalized propensity to live in a world of delusions was most amazingly dramatized in the second week of January with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former President Joseph Estrada as key players.
Earlier that week, Macapagal-Arroyo, in a well-contrived show of bravado asserted that she will finish her six-year term. She delivered the boast in Malacanang but it was before an MOPC (Manila Overseas Press Club) regular forum which, as far as I can remember, had never before been held on Palace grounds. Despite all the official spins designed to justify the choice of venue, I can only see this as a reaction of one hell of a scared-cat of a Palace occupant trying to disguise deep panic and finding comfort in presidential security overkill.

Later that week, Joseph Estrada returned to Manila after his knee surgery in Hong Kong – taking advantage of the chance to make an arrival statement to posture himself as one who will unite the opposition and usher in a new dawn for the country. It did seem like he was trying to replicate Ninoy Aquino’s mission in 1983 who returned for the purpose of uniting the opposition and the nation against the Marcos dictatorship. Of course Estrada can never be Ninoy. And for Estrada to unite the opposition and galvanize the nation would be as far fetched as the prospect of uniting his own families.

One delusion confronted the other on January 15, the day of Estrada’s return. About 10,000 PNP personnel were deployed, far outnumbering the number of people who met Estrada. Macapagal-Arroyo’s delusion that she is well assured of “security of tenure” contrasting with the overkill PNP deployment and Estrada’s delusion of “hordes of masa followers at his beck and call” contrasting with sparse airport welcomers – provided a double-feature zarzuela for the day.

It would all have been simply comic if these delusions were merely confined to these two political figures. But alas, the state of delusion affects Philippine society across all socio-economic classes and sectors in varying degrees. Just consider the following:

1. Outside of President Macapagal-Arroyo and former President Estrada, notice how many Philippine public officials like to display the title of “Honorable” before their names. Knowing too well our rating as the 2nd most corrupt country among 102 countries surveyed by the ADB in 2003, the use of “Honorable” is not only a delusion, it also lends brazen irony to our international reputation.

2. We like to call ourselves the only Christian nation in Asia and this only confuses outsiders who cannot understand how all the Church-going rich can turn a blind eye to all the poverty and squalor that so conspicuously surround them. Jesus Christ never wanted His father’s house of prayer turned into a den of thieves and greedy hypocrites in their Sunday best. Donna Zajonc, an American political consultant, rightfully observed that you can have a case of too much religion but still suffer from a lack of spirituality. Notwithstanding all the scandals involving men of the Catholic Church and the messiah-pretenders among Christian preachers, calling ourselves a Christian nation is truly the un-holiest of all our delusions. Christ said: “Whatever you do to the least of your brethren, you do unto me.” Now reconcile that with what the upper class of our society has done to the least of their brethren.

3. Our neighbors in ASEAN have outpaced us without even finding it necessary to prescribe English as medium of instruction on the premise that it is a critical ingredient for success. Yet, we continue to insist on using English as the teaching language when it should only be a prescribed subject in the elementary and high school curriculum. The delusion continues to be perpetrated despite findings of the DECS that an alarming majority of our teachers cannot speak decent English! Just imagine what kind of education our people will have with teachers who will be trying to impart knowledge through a language they cannot speak.

4. We also like to delude ourselves that we have a democracy, in fact bragging once upon a time that we were the showcase of democracy in Asia. There can be no democracy when only the privileged sectors of society have a voice in the formulation and implementation of policy. There can be no democracy when the majority of our electorate does not fully appreciate how democracy is supposed to function and when they can be persuaded to sell their votes to the highest bidder. Or worse – when they hearken to the siren song of showbiz pretenders. There can be no democracy when most of the elections that are held in this country end up in question and when the very government poll body is suspected of rigging the vote.

5. We persist in deluding ourselves that the United States of America is our “Big Brother” and that they only have our best interests in mind. We somehow find it hard to accept that the Philippines is no different from a small corporation that is trying to do business with a global giant – the United States of America – and if we do not watch out for own national interests, we should not expect the US to do that for us.

6. Our Land Transportation Office officials are deluding themselves when they issue millions of driving licenses to people who do not even know the most basic rules of the road like the right of way, the pedestrian’s right to the road over vehicles and overtaking only from the left (under our traffic orientation). It is only due to the national genius for survival that we do not have too many road accidents from bad driving habits.

7. Our businessmen and economic planners keep deluding themselves with such yardsticks as GNP and GDP as indicators of economic well-being. In truth, GNPs and GDPs make an impact only to the upper and middle classes which control over 90% of the nation’s wealth and mean nothing to the majority who are poor.

The list goes on. With delusions practically running the affairs of state and private lives of the rich and infamous, it makes me wonder why shrinks do not abound here. From a psychological perspective, the Philippine problem may be summarized as a two-faceted mental disorder, as follows:

1. The state of blind denial of what the problem really is.

2. The mental retreat to a delusion in order to cope with the problems that the mind wants to deny.

Even the more socially aware and genuinely committed elements of civil society are themselves caught in the delusion-denial trap. The pressure and the drive to project the ‘better self’ of the Filipino are pursued at the expense of the higher priority of finding ways to resolve the ugly realities that drive the nation and its people to the brink. A company facing annihilation resulting from its disastrous accounting practices cannot continue going its merry way pretending all is well. It will do well to dispense with the usual rituals of mass assemblies and cheerleading speeches in order to focus instead in plugging the holes in its accounting system.

There is a place and time for morale boosting and a place and time for good old serious house mending. No amount of cheerleading will offset a 20-point deficit in a basketball game of a losing team which is so much inferior in height, weight, fundamentals and team work. Lacking these, the inferior team can muster the full potential of a morale boost, draw intense desire to win but everything will be for naught simply because they have not shaped themselves up and do not have what it takes to win.

In fact, our passion for basketball is another case of delusion. Some 20 years back, we deluded ourselves into thinking that we were the best in Asia because we had the only professional basketball players in the region. We thought that because the Philippine players were pros – they were superior. When the time came for us to engage our so-called pros in regional tournaments, we saw Sonny Jaworski and company reduced to dysfunctional amateurs by the Chinese and the South Koreans.

In the midst of the stark reality facing the country, Macapagal-Arroyo and Estrada are fervently trying to project themselves as the best agents for positive change; just as Macapagal-Arroyo offered herself as the “last, best hope” during the May 2004 presidential elections. I see only one kind of change that can result in the (thus far) combined seven years of reign of Estrada and Macapagal-Arroyo – loose change.

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