(Like President BS, I could not physically join as I had hoped the commemoration last Sunday, November 8, of the second anniversary of Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda and the trail of tragedy, sadness, and official callousness that it left behind. So I offer this piece as my way of remembering that awful page in our lives and our history.)
I received many comments and thoughtful responses to my column last Saturday (“Aquino’s legacy: Regressing from Third World to banana republic,” Manila Times, Nov.7, 2015).
Each comment is much appreciated. Without playing favorites, I want to focus attention today on a thought-provoking one-sentence comment from reader J. Herald:
“Mabuti pa nga ang saging may puso…pero itong gobyernong ito wala…(The banana plant is better because at least it has a heart; but this government [ the Aquino government] has none.)”
This statement is pregnant with implications and insight.
Is Herald (he/she) suggesting that “banana republic” as a term of derision in politics and journalism maligns the noble banana (the plant and the fruit), considering all that it contributes to our cuisine and our daily diet?
Is Herald criticizing President Aquino’s well-proven lack of empathy for people, no matter their distress, and his government’s slavish emulation of his insensitivity?
Is Herald a survivor or victim of Typhoon Yolanda/ Haiyan, who has much to complain about in the government’s incompetent response to the disaster?
Is Herald perhaps an OFW (overseas Filipino worker), who has many issues to raise with the President and his administration?
OFWs as our top export today
The OFW angle merits further exploration, because another reader pointed out to me by e-mail that the term “banana republic” originally denoted countries whose economies had one major agricultural export or commodity, like bananas or pineapples or sugar.
The Philippines is long past this agricultural fixation. But in some ways, he said, our single biggest export today is our overseas workers (OFWs), who remit some $ 26 billion annually to the home economy and help countless countries with their labor. They contribute some 14 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The size and importance of the OFW sector have been built up many times over since the time of President Marcos, who started the overseas workers employment program — so much so that today, the OFW sector is indispensable to national life and the government in charge.
President Aquino would lose his mind and tear out all his hair if his government did not have the OFW remittances to fall back on.
People as export is a dreadful idea to contemplate, but I was not far off the mark in suggesting that the Philippines today is a banana republic. People are our banana substitute.
OFWs more victims than heroes
The real tragedy is that our OFWs, for all their contributions to national life, are neglected, patronized and much-abused. When they are not being abused by illegal recruiters, human traffickers and grifters, they are also being harassed and abused by onerous government regulations and government officials.
Although government and the media always talk about OFWs as our modern-day heroes, OFWs are more often victimized than honored.
The Aquino government has done nothing to enable the economy to employ more of our OFWs here at home. Our economy remains closed and protectionist to ensure the profitability of big business and our dollar billionaires. Policies to open up the economy to more foreign investments are bottled-up in Congress.
And then when our workers find employment abroad, they are subjected to all kinds of scams.
When OFWs send their traditional balikbayan boxes to their families here at home, the boxes are subjected to inspection, pilferage and taxes.
Whether coming or going, they are subjected to the now-infamous tanim-bala or bullet-planting racket. Bullets magically turn up in their luggage. Aquino appointed his cousin Jose Miguel Honrado as general manager of the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA). Now, with a national and international scandal blowing up over the bullet-planting scheme, Honrado refuses to resign. Aquino does not have the balls to fire Honrado and others responsible.
It’s a horrible image to raise but the Aquino government shafts Filipinos in all kinds of ways, by failing to provide vital public services, by subjecting us no end to boastful propaganda about daang matuwid, by the blatant looting of the public treasury, and by the abuse of our indispensable overseas workers.
If change doesn’t come next year, this banana republic will explode!
Heartlessness born of narcissism
In several columns earlier this year, I traced the lack of empathy of President Aquino and his administration to a basic character flaw: the man is a narcissist. He is absorbed with himself, and has no regard for others. If he has a disorder, it is narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), the official name in modern psychiatry.
His heartless response to the victims of Yolanda, to the victims of the Mamasapano massacre and their surviving families, to the victims of the Zambaonga siege, to the long-suffering commuters and motorists of Metro Manila — all are exhibits of Aquino’s malady, which disables him for the task of problem-solving.
The mad enterprise of forcing his anointed candidate in the 2016 presidential election, Manuel “Mar” Roxas to become his clone and to continue his twisted daang matuwid program is an extension of this narcissism.
The forced shutdown of Metro Manila for the APEC summit next week, which will subject all of us to four days of deprivation and inactivity, is a form of despotism that only a president with no heart will think of and impose.
So, yes, Reader Herald is absolutely right. A banana has more heart than President Aquino and his government.
After writing this, I schemed to get my wife to serve a sumptuous kare-kare dish at dinner, complete with the obligatory puso ng saging.