After struggling through a dismal year of natural and man-made calamities, even the advent of the New Year has not quickly dispelled the dark around us. Try as we may to be hopeful, we are tortured by the thought that our leaders and institutions will not perform any better this year, perhaps faring even worse.
President Aquino says we’re now in the last two minutes of his presidential term, meaning that it’s like the final minutes of a basketball game, when victory or defeat is decided. He wants to win. He’s confident that he can still win the game for himself and for us.
Many people are not encouraged by his choice of metaphors. The odds of winning a game in the last seconds and with the last shot are very poor. Those who become heroes are usually the go-to-players, the sharpshooters and the high-percentage scorers. The president has no one like that on his team. Some like Mar Roxas and Jericho Petilla have already failed their promises. And some like Budget Secretary Florencio Abad is too clever for his own and the nation’s good. The rest are just benchwarmers, especially the members of the Hyatt Ten, who are recycled players from the Arroyo administration.
Some political scientists and economists have discounted the chances of the Aquino team. They’ve fallen too far behind. The political system is not functioning as it should. Congress, both houses have been corrupted by the executive. The judiciary has been shaken up. The bureaucracy is diseased and incompetent. There can be no miracles without hard work.
Pessimism as self-fulfilling prophecy
It all sounds like a recipe for pessimism, which is a dead-end. But this is precisely why reformers and leaders must fight pessimism from taking hold of us, says the historian and social activist Howard Zinn. “Pessimism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It reproduces itself by crippling our willingness to act.
“There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often in the 20th century we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions by extraordinary changes in people’s thoughts. By unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems that seemed invincible.”
Continuing, he says in a telling passage: “Political power, however formidable, is more fragile than we think.
“Those who have power and seem invulnerable are in fact quite vulnerable. Their power depends on the obedience of others, and when those others begin withholding that obedience, begin defying authority, that power at the top turns out to be very fragile.
“Generals become powerless when their soldiers refuse to fight, industrialists become powerless when their workers leave their jobs or occupy their factories.”
Shedding the pawn mentality
In his Manila Standard column yesterday, my colleague Jojo Robles alluded to the feeling many of us sometimes feel that “we are pawns in some giant, incomprehensible game of chess – where the players make moves that we cannot see, much less predict and where we could be victims of some unseen Fate that has preordained our defeat.”
But pawns, says the neuro-surgeon Dr. Benjamin Carzon in an article for the Washington Times, are important in their own right.
“In a chess game, a pawn can become any one of the royal pieces, if it can make it to the other side of the board. The opponent will do almost anything to keep one from reaching its goal, because that would interfere with the power structure. If they can keep the pawns on ‘their side’ of the board, where it is much safer, the status quo can be maintained. Although no analogy is perfect, it is pretty easy to see the point here. By keeping large groups of citizens complacent and afraid to challenge authority, the position, wealth and power of those in authority can be maintained. The last thing those in authority want is independent-thinking citizens who wake up to the reality that this country was actually designed for them and not for a ruling class that thinks it knows what’s best for everyone else. They dread the possibility of people actually scrutinizing their words and deeds, and holding them accountable for same. By using strong-arm tactics and a sheepishly compliant news media, which originally was supposed to be the guardian of truth, they have been very successful at pawn control.”
Addressing the duties of citizenship, he says: “All of us as citizens must stop acting like pawns and start acting like masters of our own destiny.
“We can play the role of nice little pawn or we can be smart, courageous and move out of our ‘go along to get along’ comfort zone to accomplish something that is truly great for our future. At first, it might be a lonely journey, but eventually others will see the light, and we will shed the pawn mentality and be promoted to the position of proud and independent citizen of the nation.”
This, I submit, is where we find ourselves today. We can be just mere pawns in the great game of national life. Or we can be the enablers and makers of the change necessary for the nation to move forward and upward.
Self-dealing at SSS — As if in concert with the oil companies and Meralco, the Social Security System stealthily levied a substantial increase in members’ contributions to the system at the start of the new year.
They tried to make it palatable by saying that the increase will enable the system to hike benefits to members like myself.
Relegated to the background was the fact that in 2013, the SSS Board and officers appropriated for themselves substantial bonuses and benefits, reaching up to the millions.
This is like a deal that the mafia offers to people it shakes down: a huge cut for themselves, and increased payments from helpless shopkeepers.
The chairman of SSS is Mr. Juan Santos, formerly trade and industry secretary in the Arroyo Cabinet, and a member of the famous Hyatt 10.
When the 10 left the Arroyo cabinet, it was ostensibly to denounce dishonesty in GMA’s presidency. Now we see one stalwart of the group actively involved in self-dealing at the SSS.
Hypocrisy, they say, is the most dangerous lie of all.