On the eve of a new era
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2010-06-29
Tomorrow, the Filipino nation looks forward to a new era when Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Cojuangco Aquino III (P-Noy) is sworn in as the 15th president of the Republic of the Philippines. At this time, it is good to look back to another hopeful era in 1965 when Ferdinand E. Marcos was sworn in as our president, after having sold our people his vision of how THIS NATION CAN BE GREAT AGAIN.

It was from President Diosdado Macapagal that Marcos took over the presidency. It was from Marcos that the late president Cory C. Aquino, Noynoy Aquino’s mother, took over in 1986. It is now from a second generation of Macapagal national leadership — from Madame Gloria Macapagal Arroyo — that Aquino takes over tomorrow. In 50 years, since the Diosdado Macapagal era, Philippine history has gone on a full cycle. 

Unlike Aquino, Marcos was taking over a country in 1965 which was then still considered the second best performing economy in Asia, next only to Japan. Aquino will take over a country tomorrow that was deeply cynical already about its future. Hope for many Filipinos today is to land an overseas job — despite its social costs — because there is hardly a job or livelihood option at home. It was only because of the excitement which was generated by Aquino’s ascendancy when our national cynicism was transformed into this general optimism we feel today.

Unlike Aquino, who is now hoping to climb out of a negative financial situation and thus generate the desired positive gains for people and country — Marcos took over a Philippines that had the fundamentals with which to aspire to be an Asian great. So hopeful was our country then that in 1967 Marcos even initiated a secret plan to recover Sabah by force from Malaysia. Starting on his second term, Marcos had embarked on an ambitious Filipino car manufacturing program. To young Filipinos today, both of these bold Marcos ventures would be utterly dismissed as presidential day dreaming.

In 1965, China, South Korea and India were nowhere like what they are today. In the 1960s, our ASEAN neighbors were sending their children here to study and they envied our level of economic performance. Today, Filipinos are seeking jobs all over ASEAN and foreign press writers would occasionally advise us to learn from the very ASEAN neighbors whose kids we taught in the 1960s and 1970s.

Tomorrow, Aquino takes over a country which had been outpaced by China, South Korea, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. From a vision of THIS NATION CAN BE GREAT AGAIN in 1965, many Filipinos today are wondering if THIS NATION WILL BE EVER THE SAME AGAIN. From eating three meals a day in 1965, poor Filipinos would be grateful to just be able to eat two full meals a day by the time Aquino ends his term in 2016.

Curiously, compared to Marcos, Aquino’s primary goals would appear to be simple and less ambitious — reduce poverty and curb corruption. Thus, the question — is Aquino capable of achieving bigger things for our country than just reducing poverty and curbing corruption? We do not always get this level of national optimism with the entry of a new president. This rare moment of national optimism and trust in its new ruler would seem wasted if the only goals are to reduce poverty and curb corruption. We should forward our country to greater heights. 

It would also be a big mistake to dismiss the Marcos blueprint for the country simply because of the misadventure with dictatorship and concomitant downside such as crony capitalism, unprecedented plunder, human rights violations and so forth. The Marcos blueprint for our country would have brought us to the Promised Land if Marcos did not betray his vision. 

Among the many laudable initiatives of Marcos were: 

1. Changing the medium of instruction from English to Filipino.

2. Promoting a Filipino sense of identity and history.

3. Opening Philippine relations with Socialist countries.

4. Shortening the US Parity Rights and stay of the US bases.

5. Encouraging Philippine exports.

6. Opening overseas labor markets.

The one big difference we see in Marcos which subsequent presidents failed to even attempt to accomplish is his consistent diligence to develop a strong Filipino sense of history, sense of identity and sense of culture. Marcos understood that a nation cannot aspire for greatness if it is not united by one understanding of its history, its heritage and is emboldened to aspire for higher goals.

China’s Deng Xiao Ping is regarded as a great national leader. Deng could not have accomplished the China economic miracle – after embracing capitalist principles – if not for an equally great Chinese nation which possessed a national genius for diligence and enterprise. The grand vision of a national leader is realized only if that vision is shared by a great people who are ready to toil and sacrifice.

If Aquino will aspire to attain greatness for himself and our people — then he has to provide his people the means to improve themselves and transform us into a strong nation. Aquino should sell Filipinos a grand vision then mold his people to the character it will take to achieve that vision. He has to be a great national leader, not simply a competent national governor.

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