ONE of the text jokes sent to me recently claimed that Malacanang and Congress are suffering from extensive truth decay. Indeed, jokes have been an important part of the Filipino’s survival kit – a coping mechanism that allows us to “endure the unendurable” (as very well said by the late Japanese Emperor Hirohito when he counseled his nation to surrender in August 1945).
But the reality is that truth decay costs us more than what many Filipinos realize or are aware of. At the very core of all the inequities, corruption, injustice, manipulation and exploitation that millions suffer from is the absence of truth, the deprivation of it. In fact at the very roots of the most tragic periods in history were those times when people were kept in the dark about things that mattered in claiming their birthright or fulfilling their destinies, as individuals, or as a nation. That Truth Shall Set Us Free has more dimensions and far greater impact on society than what many know it packs.
No more than 70 years ago, the world woke up to the nightmare of an Adolf Hitler-led rape of truth and human decency. The Axis Powers comprising Germany, Japan and Italy plunged the world into World War II, known even today as the darkest age in human history in terms of the cost of human lives, damage to property and personal and collective anguish. That war cost a total of 20 million military deaths and 30 million civilian casualties. In Philippine terms, over 100, 000 civilians perished in the 1945 Battle for Manila alone – not counting Filipinos who perished from 1942 when the war started here.
At the core of the German Nazi ideology was the claimed superiority of the Aryan race, a thinking that resulted in the genocide of over 6 million Jews (more than the present Jewish population of the state of Israel which is under 6 million) and Eastern Europeans. The Nazi ‘Final Solution’ – as the policy of state-sponsored genocide is called – was at bottom a determined effort to subvert the truth that all men are created equal. Instead, it fostered the ‘necessity’ that a superior race has the moral responsibility to preserve itself while ‘purifying’ the social environment.
While Italy and Japan may not have shared Hitler’s passion for racial cleansing, they nevertheless joined the Axis pact in order to pursue their respective dream of creating an empire. Italy’s Il Duce, Benito Mussolini, fantasized about re-living the ancient glory of Imperial Rome. Japan desired to be the overlord of Asia.
In Asia, Japan bannered its imperial intentions with the lie about an East-Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. In truth, it was all about Japan’s prosperity and everybody else’s misery. The fabled Yamashita treasure is all about the accumulated loot from conquered countries during the war for the enrichment of the Japanese imperial coffers.
Exactly 40 years ago, the Filipinos allowed themselves to be cajoled by a lie from one named Ferdinand Marcos who took over the presidency in 1965. The Marcos big lie was that This Nation Will Be Great Again. In truth, we were at our greatest then. In 1965, the Philippines was but second only to Japan in economic performance in Asia. Because we bit into the Marcos lie, 21 years after, we awoke to the reality that we were already outpaced by our Southeast Asian neighbors in economic performance, we were in the midst of a Mindanao Separatist War and our society was already endemically corrupt. Worst of all, we lost our compass to determining right from wrong, lie from truth.
Even the world’s only superpower now, the United States of America, is reeling from the effects of a war that was launched and justified on the basis of a lie – the Iraq War. That war was launched because US President George W. Bush asserted that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that erstwhile Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was aiding international terrorists. Both claims have since been disproved and still the US is mired in a costly war that is reminiscent of their earlier debacle in Vietnam. Billions of dollars are spent a month on the Iraq War and hundreds of American lads are dying because of that lie, not to mention the greater number of Iraqi casualties and their shattered homes and public infrastructure. The high cost of the Iraq War could have easily funded the relief requirements for the victims of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
The elusive truth in the Philippines
The wide economic gap in Philippine society today where less than 3% control over 85% of the wealth threatens to push us closer to a social explosion. Easily 50% of the Filipinos are not aware of what makes them live under sub-human conditions. They neither know their history nor do they understand why they could never break the cycle of poverty that has hounded their family for generations. Ask the poorest of the poor of Philippine society why they are poor and they will likely answer that they have always been poor – that is life for them. They see the gaps but they hardly understand the political and economic structures and mechanisms that conspire to make them poor.
Their failure to appreciate their dire predicament is akin to a man who parachutes from a crashing aircraft and tumbles into the thicket of a strange tropical jungle where all sense of direction is lost, and a totally alien and hostile environment imperils his life and safety. He finds himself in a maze of confusing pathways where what appears to be the route towards home may actually lead him deeper into the jungle and what may appear as panacea for his suffering may in reality be a poison that leads to death. Poor Juan de la Cruz is in exactly that situation.
Juan de la Cruz navigates daily through dark smog of lies; many of these are from people he looks up to for relief and salvation. Truth is as elusive for Juan de la Cruz as a P240, 000 a year job which is easily four times what he earns (about 50% of Filipinos make no more than P60, 000 a year). In the few instances when Juan is able to discern the big lie, he is powerless to do something about it. Juan has been so manipulated through so many generations that he acts like a prisoner who has lived so long in a cell that he could no longer discern his way to freedom even if all the doors were left unlocked.
That the leaders of the political and economic realms are not keen on emancipating Juan comes as no surprise. The traditional politicians and the entrenched elite are the neo-colonizers that took over from the last imperial power. Emancipating Juan is not their objective – it is perpetuating their ride on the gravy train. The ultimate tragedy of Juan de la Cruz is that the spiritual leaders whom he believes to be his best guides for deliverance from all the lies that have kept him in bondage are hardly a source of enlightenment in his search for the truth that will set him free. The Catholic Church, its extension – the El Shaddai, the Iglesia ni Cristo and those other denominations that proliferate on television are all guilty one way or another in keeping Juan in the dark and thus making him vulnerable to exploitation.
One does not have to go far. Just look at how the Catholic Bishops of the Philippines (CBCP) handled the latest presidential crisis that revolved around the stealing of the 2004 elections and culminated in the systematic killing of the one process that could have ventilated the truth – the impeachment of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. In what is a clear cut moral issue, as clear cut as black and white, the CBCP took a middle of the road position. Sure, they espouse the search for truth but they stop short of sanctioning the persons behind the grand conspiracy to massacre the truth. It is no different from affirming that all men are created equal and that there is no such thing as a superior race – but do nothing to denounce genocide that is founded on the untruth of race superiority.
The failure to know the whole truth has rendered Juan de la Cruz an unwitting victim of:
1. Sub-standard government service whether concerning health, education or the availment of equal protection of the law. Being so ignorant and naive, he is not empowered to exercise his right as the stockholder of democracy and ends up instead at the mercy of a government leadership and an equally corrupt bureaucracy whose personal gains are achieved at the expense of services that are due Juan.
2. Sub-standard products – that Juan pays for with his hard-earned money – are allowed to be marketed by a corrupt government. The money that should rightly go towards delivering quality products has gone to what businessmen euphemistically call the ‘cost of doing business’ in the Philippines. Unscrupulous businessmen who maliciously plan to sell sub-standard products are allowed to do so because of corruption. These sub-standard products can range from unsafe baby products, fake medicines, unsecured education plans, lemon vehicles, compromised food and so forth. Poor Juan almost literally sheds blood earning his wages, yet he does not even get value for money – truly one of the unkindest cut of all.
3. General deterioration of services vital to sustain a family, a society and a country. Cops who moonlight as goons and drug pushers, doctors who are not qualified to prescribe or operate, engineers who cannot build a bridge, teachers who cannot even speak acceptable English yet are forced to use the language as medium of instruction, legislators who cannot even be accomplished actors but now making laws, COMELEC officials who cannot count, high cost of energy generation that makes business unfit to compete – these are but the more flagrant examples of how Filipinos are shortchanged daily but on a grand scale.
4. Public service that has lost its service orientation and metamorphosed into an aberration that is one of self-service. We have hoodlums in robes selling court decisions, policemen who terrorize neighborhoods instead of protecting them, 158 congressmen who claim that their constituents voted for and love the president while all credible and reliable surveys prove anywhere from 65% to as much as 80% believe she stole the 2004 elections and want her ousted. We even have Catholic Bishops who see a massive conspiracy to subvert the truth yet prescribe that we all just simply move on.
Many of the crimes that have been committed against the Filipino have been done in the name of ‘democracy’, ‘justice’, ‘nationalism’ and for the good of the ‘silent majority’. The truth is that these were criminal acts that were committed to the detriment of the interest of the majority in order to serve the interest of a few. Yet these truths remain hidden and unknown to those who need its emancipating enlightenment. The truth that is supposed to set us free has become the very weapon of the people who exploit us. Truth that is hidden results in justice denied.
In 1983, it took the Ninoy Aquino assassination to wake the Filipinos from their stupor and for them to realize that we will not get anywhere with dictatorship and must return to democracy. One of the major partners in that movement to enlighten the nation after Ninoy’s murder was the Catholic Church. The earliest Truth Forums that were held were done in churches or in schools run by religious orders. It was the call of Jaime Cardinal Sin that triggered the massive outpouring of People Power that became the decisive event in the restoration of democracy.
People Power may have been bloodless but People Power had two weapons in its arsenal – the sword and the cross. There are junior officers who are willing to lend the people their sword today in order to bring out the truth. They have time and again manifested their position in this crisis. But alas, the cross has opted to be timid.
The suffering of the Filipino people is at its worst today. Even during the worst of the Martial Law years, we did not have the economic deprivations that Filipinos suffer from nowadays. How can the workers of the vineyards of Jesus Christ (as Catholic priests call themselves) abrogate their task to espouse the truth at this time when there has never been so much darkness in the land?
Christ was crucified because He was not the type to take the middle of the road. If He did, He would have struck a modus vivendi with the Pharisees who arranged His crucifixion. But He did not and instead He gave mankind a new testament, the Gospel. The Gospel is the Good news. The Good News is the Truth.
Let’s hope that the Catholic bishops do not consign the task to champion the truth to the second coming of Christ.
You may email William M. Esposo at: firstname.lastname@example.org