The best of times for the worst of people


SUDDENLY, Charles Dickens is new again. In The Tale of two Cities, he wrote:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

The words score a bull’s-eye on the Philippines circa 2014.

The age of foolishness clearly applies to our times because of all the corruption, scandals, abuses and crimes that are sprouting everywhere in the country. Even America’s bizarre affair with gay culture has wafted to our shores with the horrific killing of a Filipino in Olongapo by an American serviceman.

The season of Darkness could soon fall upon us if the forecast of daily brownouts next year proves correct.

Many of our public figures, business moguls, and socialites could fit right into a Dickens novel. Their antics and ingenious skullduggery could enrich his fiction.

Benigno Aquino 3rd, our student-council president for a term of six years, will be a surreal counterpoint to Queen Victoria, who reigned over the United Kingdom for 64 years..

In the interest of full disclosure, I want to report that I got a shellacking for my column last Saturday (“Jejomar Binay: Echoes of Caesar and Hamlet”, October 18, 2014). The shelling came from everywhere—readers, friends, left and right, relatives.

Most were agitated by my elevation of Vice-President Binay to the elite company of Shakespearean characters Julius Caesar and Hamlet. And they were appalled by the thought that I was giving Binay’s bid for the presidency a push–which I was not. (I take the criticism seriously. See below for my final take on this issue.)

A Dickensian country
The vice president—his Makati dynasty, his alleged wealth, and all the quaint features of Binay rule in Makati—forms a curious part of the Dickensian country we have become with BS Aquino at the helm.

Collins dictionary (third edition) defines Dickensian as follows:

1. Denoting, poverty, distress and exploitation as depicted in the novels of Dickens.

2. Grotesquely comic, as some of the characters of Dickens.

Dickensian is a mild word for the level of mass poverty in the Philippines. While poverty is a perennial problem in the country, the past four years has been the worst of times for the Filipino poor, as their lot has worsened instead of improved.

Although the country has experienced over 6 percent GDP growth for several years now, it has been mainly jobless growth.

The unemployment rate stands at 7.1 percent, which means some 2.8 million Filipinos are jobless.

The underemployment figures are even more alarming: 20.9 percent underemployment rate and 7.93 million underemployed, as of 2013.

This period has been depressing for the citizenry across the board because of rising prices of commodities, the deterioration of the nation’s infrastructure, and the general decline of government public services.

Best times for politicians
In contrast, this period has been the best of times for politicians, as they have been the biggest beneficiaries of the pork barrel (which trebled under Aquino), the massive Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), and Aquino’s new budget policy of distributing money directly to local governments at town level.

With Budget Secretary Florencio Abad as facilitator, the funds for patronage have been collared and forcibly mustered (sometimes at the expense of projects already approved). The politicians allied with the administration have never had it so good. .

Aquino himself has feasted on the largest pork barrel and discretionary funds in Philippine history.

Invisible reforms, invisible projects
You would think that with so much money flowing, there would at least be some concrete results beneficial to the nation. But the benefits are nowhere to be seen.

In bidding for a second term as president, Aquino talked about the need to continue his reforms.

But when the media challenged him, saying “What Reforms?”, he and his Palace propagandists have been unable to cite any.

It is now turning out that virtually the only reforms he has actually put in place are dubious ones. These are:

1. The banning of wangwang (car sirens), which was decreed on his first day in office.

2. The invention of the P150-billion DAP, which the Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional

Beyond these two, Aquino would have to palm off as reforms his vindictive actions against other officials and his predecessor, namely:

1. The hospital detention for over three years now of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on trumped-up charges.

2. The impeachment of former chief justice Renato Corona, and the bribery of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

3. The impeachment of former ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

4. The filing of plunder charges against key members of the opposition in the Senate, including the Senate Minority leader, former defense secretary Juan Ponce Enrile.

To Aquino , these actions are reforms and achievements, because to his innocent mind, the intent to punish is a form of reform.

All the posturing appears hollow, because Aquino’s anti-corruption efforts do not cover his allies.

Invisible projects
In a Manila Standard story on October 8, Christine Herrera reported on an expose by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and its secretary-general Renato Reyes, jr.

Bayan averred: “The no-impact, non-existent and invisible projects belie claims that the DAP was a stimulus program, but was instead clearly used as pork barrel,”

It backed its claim with citizen complaints and photos of flooded streets, even though P1.25 billion in DAP was allocated to flood control systems for those streets.

“It has been nearly three years since the first DAP memorandum was signed by the President on Oct. 12, 2011. Up to now, the Aquino government has not fully accounted for how the funds were spent,” Reyes said.

What is more, DAP was indiscriminately used for all kinds of projects by lawmakers.

Based on a tabulation made by the Computer Professionals Union, Reyes said the top DAP projects of congressmen, senators and local officials were barangay road projects amounting to P1.9 billion. The second biggest DAP allocation went to flood control systems at P1.25 billion, followed by so-called livelihood projects at P1.19 billion.

“The barangay road is the quintessential pork barrel project used for patronage politics at the local level. There is no explanation why such projects would be the top recipient under a stimulus program other than the reality that these projects are intended to boost the electoral bid of politicians,” Reyes said.

He continued: “The DAP spending of politicians shows an irrational disbursement scheme that is based solely on the discretion of politicians rather than on actual needs and the overall development thrusts of the so-called stimulus program.”

It’s as if the politicians were in an orgy. And it is doubly immoral and offensive, because many Filipinos are starving and jobless.

An answer that destroys the question
This is also why most Filipinos find the allegations of unexplained wealth and corruption against Vice-President Binay both repellent and compelling. Binay cannot just explain them away by saying they are politically motivated. That is nothing.

The philosopher Susan Sontag has written: “The only interesting answer is that which destroys the question.”

For the nation to be satisfied, the Vice-President’s response to the allegations, unfair though they may be, must be such that all questions and doubts about his integrity are destroyed.

Approval ratings will not destroy the question. Neither will political success.

I like what a writer once said that government is only as good as we are.

This is why it is so important that we ensure the 2016 elections are free and clean and fair and foolproof. The candidates and the political parties must present their best selves and their best ideas to the people. And we as voters should vote only for those who understand what’s really at stake.

All our necks are on the line—the candidates’, the voters’, and the nation’s.

We must wrestle then with this grisly truth, or we will wind up in the worst of times.


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  1. Squire Yen,
    The last three paragraphs of your article said it all : the ignorant and uneducated majority of the Philippine electorate has placed us in this extremely dark situation. The
    Filipinos should use more of their brains when using the power of their votes.

  2. Kudos to your column today. I strongly support commentaries that is beneficial to our country and ultimately to our fellow Filipinos especially to the marginalized majority who are suffering from poverty. Most politicians are dirty and they blatantly ignore the welfare of their countrymen while enriching themselves and they have the guts to smile in front of cameras that they are after the welfare of their constituents. The mathematics of politics is very simple for an ordinary person to understand, why they are spending so much during election campaign? The question here is ” are they able to earn the equivalent of their expenses during their term in terms of their salary?” It’s up to you to think how. It is the utmost duty of the media sector to educate our countrymen. Any candidate which have the slightest question on his credibility with regards to corruption must not win in any election. Again majority of our voting population lacks the required knowledge to comprehend what must be done to get rid of these vultures of our society whoever they are. They must exposed inside out of their true colors. The answers of VP Binay camp on alleged corruption charges that these were politically motivated is selling well to the majority of our fellow Filipinos. It is our duty, your duty (all media personalities) to educate them to get rid of these greedy politicians and let our country rise once again. I hope my comment will be posted as is.

  3. Mr. Makabenta, this is a splendid piece elegantly written. In introducing your column with a Charles Dickens quotation, you have transported the dismal conditions of France in the 1780’s to the present day Philippines’ thus, ” . . . in short, the period was so much like the present period . . . ” which led to the French Revolution of 1789. I hope the narrative ends there without any subtle hint at revolution being the solution to the current “winter of discontent” and despair that engulf the Filipino nation.
    If it’s any consolation, we have but less than nineteen months to bear this shackle of an Aquino presidency. And if it’s any further solace, we contributed to this B.S. malaise by overwhelmingly electing him to lead us. Except for the vicarious sympathy for the death of his mother, what did candidate B.S. Aquino have to offer? A sterling performance record as a three-term congressman and senator? A proven decisive and able management skill that will come into play in solving the country’s multi-faceted problems? A serious mien that proves finally turning his back to his childish pranks, like toy -toying with the people’s emotion by playing with the constitution’s ban on second term ?Indeed we deserve the kind of government we have.
    And the boundless capacity for self flagellation of the Filipino will again be tested come May 2016 if and when he elects a candidate whose alleged rapaciousness is limitless transcending purportedly not only the personal but the familial as well.
    It will indeed be ” the age of foolishness”.

    • The people are so gullible, they believed that Aquino can help solve the problem of poverty, how could it be so? He cannot even alleviate the conditions of the very people working in their Hacienda Luisita!

    • “Except for the vicarious sympathy for the death of his mother, what did candidate B.S. Aquino have to offer?” You hit the nail on the head, Mr. Romero. We as a people should examine if voting someone into public office is a logical manifestation of sympathy for a candidate’s bereaved family.

  4. The best of times for most of LP stalwarts like Abad, Abaya and Alcala, the three aces of Aquino’s tuwid na daan para sa kanila lang pero pahirap sa mga boss niyang magsasaka, laborers at commuters. Maswerte sila hindi sila Koreano o Hapon kundi baka matagal na silang nag”harakiri”.

  5. We are really in a timewarp – there is no national outrage against all these evil deeds perpetuated by those consumed by the culture of greed. The public apathy threshold is very high – we generally do not mind to live in an environment hostaged by grinding poverty, inequity, crime and corruption. Corruption thrives not only in the government but in the business sector as well as they relate to government functionaries. See Robinsons Land Corporation, as an example.

    Forgotten is that Constitutional Mandate which Quality of Life for ALL.

  6. As the ditty goes: “Huwag kang manimdim, ang buhay ay . . . minsay’s nasa ilalim . . . minsa’y nasa ibabaw.”