• Mr. Duterte is still grappling with 20th century problems

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    The flag was hoisted in 1946, yes, but we had 400 years under Spain and a half a century of Coke and Hollywood. Around 450 years of Old Europe and North America, the two, true Great Powers after Rome. Our civilization, even with the relative newness of the Republic, is an ancient one.

    In the ideal world, a civilization that old would have built itself up into a 21st century powerhouse with concerns more focused on R&D, innovation. developing the next life-changing app, or writing the next big idea that would change the planet for good. At this stage, the landscape shall have been littered with technology corridors, smart and self-sustaining cities, a pool of nerds just as capable of designing the next space voyager to Mars. In the ideal world, a president’s SONA should have focused on entirely and strictly 21st century concerns such as where to retire the shuttles we have used for our moon landings.

    Or, what should be our positioning for the challenges – and opportunities — of the next century.

    Remember that Singapore was a poor appendage of Malaysia at the time we were the 2nd fastest-growing economy in Asia after Japan.

    We are not yet in the 21st century, unfortunately and tragically. Listening to the SONA of Mr. Duterte, one who truly loves our country would feel a sense of deep depression. What kind of governing context made the President deal with age-old problems in a SONA delivered in the 21st century? Why was he talking about the problems of the mid-20th century such us intractable poverty and small fishermen crowded out by fish pen operators at a dying lake? Or, of miners still engaged in gouging the earth to despoil the environment? Or, traffic jams at the scale of Lagos or Karachi? In a sense, you can only pity Mr. Duterte as he spoke from his powerful perch? You wished the topics were different.

    I wrote this after I washed the dung off pig pens at a near-bankrupt backyard hog farm — and with the neighboring farms tilled by men with hoes. The 21st century has not dawned on us – and much of the entire archipelago.

    What factors and what personalities made him inherit this ghastly legacy of grief and underdevelopment?

    Mr. Duterte is not inclined to look back and blame others. What matters, he said, is the present and the future. He is man enough to man up to the problems not of his own making. That is a welcome change from the blameless leader we have had before him. But we can’t really move on without examining the systemic failures that made the SONA of Mr. Duterte more about correcting fast failures than hoping about the future.

    We have to ask the question. Why are small fishermen crowded out by fish pen operators in a dying lake still our narrative in the age of Twitter? And why is this deprivation still our story for the 21st century?

    We all wish the narratives at his SONA would have been radically different. We wish for issues that truly belong to the 21st century: smart cities, massive R&D funding, modern urban rail networks for the cities, high-speed trains and modern buses for the provinces, the gentrification of the grimiest slum colonies and agricultural outputs that are triple the current yields. The problem is we can’t wish those deeply-rooted 20th century problems away.

    I think you have also noticed that Mr. Duterte, through the process of induction, segued from the problems of dying communal fishing grounds and hollowed-out mining sites into the age-old problems of communist insurgency and the Muslim rebellion in the South.

    And out of these problems came the most memorable line of his SONA. “I want the peace of the living,” he said. It is both painful and depressing (and embarrassing) for the nation to hear a popularly elected president still tied up to the agenda of stilling guns and searching for the elusive lasting peace. But what is his option if not to confront these 20th century realities that still hobble the country.

    The good thing is Mr. Duterte acknowledges that these problems of great antiquity exists and he is ready to deal with these.

    The good intentions of Mr. Duterte, impulsive as they may seem, are not apparently enough and there is little hope that the “peace of the living” that was the central theme of the president’s SONA will find fulfillment soon. The concessions to the Left, hopeful in the first few days of his presidency, are about to be deserted by their better angels. An unfortunate ambush of militias forced Mr. Duterte to call off the ceasefire with the Revolutionary Left, whose above ground leaders are in his Cabinet.

    Now, the search for the “peace of the living” is back to square one.

    Now, Mr. Duterte is in between a rock and a hard place. Will he continue the confidence-building measures and his genuine efforts to reach out to the Left? Or, will he succumb to the militarist urges and order and all-out offensive against the army of the Left?

    The setback of the peace process will chain the Duterte administration into the bitter, long-drawn, bloody insurgency problem of the 20th century. The dream to escape from the morass of strife and underdevelopment – and position the government for 21st century issues for once — will be buried once more in the graveyard of our own follies.

    Against the incessant advice for an all-out war with the Left, we are praying that Mr. Duterte will be guided by his better angels and still pursue his dream of “peace of the living.”

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    1 Comment

    1. The road to peace is indeed rocky! Patience is key and the involvement of all sectors such as the Church, civil society, academe and others are crucial to achieve the peace of the living.