EASILY, the most heart-rending stories of the year are these two and they are about the utter dehumanization of ordinary human lives.
First is the finding that 60 percent of the country’s GDP is sucked up by the top 1 percent, with the 99 percent (I, me, my neighbors and everybody I know) obliged to fight, mano y mano and brutally, for the crumbs left to them. The No (Aquino) and Ro (Roxas) bros, part of the top 1 percent, don’t have the faintest idea on how the 99 percent fight over the crumbs. (If you want, No-Ro could also mean No to Roxas.)
Second is the UN report that the Philippines is the region’s most incompetent in the area of poverty reduction and lifting impoverished lives.
There was a common thread to the stories. They were both ignored, especially by the “multi-awarded journalists” and the revered pundits who – supposedly – present and articulate the most sacred and the most erudite of our version of Beltway thinking.
You probably have noticed the stark contrast on how such life-and-death issues are treated in more discerning societies.
In politically aware countries, these two realities are enough to trigger a national soul-searching which would then lead to vigorous discussions on what kind of society tolerates such kind of injustice and assault on human lives. Then, policies would be revamped to push egalitarianism. In more desperate societies, the revelation of such economic injustice could trigger upheavals worse than the bloody wages of the Arab Spring.
Here, the two issues were made public, then dissipated into a fog and a blur, drowned by the Aldub tweets, with mainstream media complicit. Or drowned by the Aquino administration’s search for a vice presidential candidate to its anointed. Or, Senator Poe’s citizenship issue, or more allegations of Mr. Binay’s alleged corruption and the expected mortal blow to Mr. Binay in form of his sinking poll numbers. Wait, one more, the hollow victories of our American reinforced -Gilas team.
But would national outrage over the two social and economic monsters that Mr. Aquino’s “daang matuwid” has created make him to veer away from his free market piety in favor of policies designed for broadly-shared prosperity?
No. Absolutely no. Even a token, symbolic gesture of empathy for the underclass – or for the aggrieved – is a no-no for Mr. Aquino.
The optic that will long endure of the Aquino presidency was the sad day the bodies of the SAF 44 arrived in Manila from the Mamasapano killing fields. It was expected that the SAF 44 would be met by the Commander-in- Chief, who green-lighted the SAF 44 mission, and was supposed to get hourly reports on the “success” of the mission.
The Commander-in-Chief, the expectation was, would then deliver a speech similar to what Mr. Reagan delivered after the loss of Space Shuttle Challenger and her crew. In that speech, Reagan said he was “pained to the core” by the tragedy and said goodbye to the Challenger crew who had now, he said, “slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God,”
Mr. Aquino indeed paid tribute that night but it was not to the fallen SAF 44 and the families they left behind. It was to a decades-old car assembly facility that changed ownership, from one car multinational to another. There, Mr. Aquino talked what he loves talking about – investments and the investors’ love affair with his government.
Between commiserating with the fallen and giving comfort to their loved ones and paying homage to an inanimate object, Mr. Aquino chose the inanimate object. It was both eerie and surreal but Mr. Aquino did not care.
While Mr. Aquino’s callousness toward human lives was in full display that day, that optic will be soon lost in the nation’s foggy memories. But another record will stand, the sucking by the Top 1 percent of all GDP, and it will be the more devastating critique of the Aquino presidency.
Mr. Aquino, now counting his last few months in office, often speaks of “legacy” and “continuity,” the natural tendency of a leader who wants a positive treatment from history. But will he get one with this record — six years of sustained boom for the Top 1 percent and either struggle or misery for the rest? The fact that his chosen presidential candidate next year is widely believed to place third in a three person presidential race is an indication that he will be remembered as one of the country’s middling presidents.
Great presidents can bend the country to his or her will, Middling presidents can’t. Levity aside, the No-Ro ( Aquino-Roxas) partnership might as well mean No to Roxas in 2016.