POLITICS is the country’s favorite pastime and the country runs on hot air and steam – from politicians and voters respectively.
But first, some accepted “truths”: Freedom of the press is alive and well in the Philippines, so is freedom of speech.
Will such freedoms stave off the migration of Filipinos (estimated between 10 million to 12 million and counting) looking for jobs and better opportunities– leaving at the rate of 5,000 daily?
Will such freedoms rid the Philippines of corruption, or end the scourge of poverty?
Decades before and after martial law, the country has had journalists and columnists of integrity, quite a few thrown into military camps, some vanished without a trace, others pursued their advocacy as party list representatives.
As a whole, millions of miles of column inches for headlines and columns exposing graft and corruption had come and passed and with it pulp from trees that feed the printing presses.
And what have we to show for all that used pulp: fiction of democracy and development masquerading as truth?
We had the First Quarter Storm, which saw the biggest ever assembly of workers, farmers, fishermen, students and people, hundreds of thousands braving the truncheon and live ammunition of the Metrocom and Presidential Security Guards.
Now, that part of Philippine history is lost to Millenials.
Socorro Laurel of Vancouver, Canada only has to close her eyes 45 years later and she can still smell the tear gas, hear exploding pill boxes and the sound of truncheons meeting flesh and bones of activists at Mendiola.
After graduation, she tried to start a career in the Philippines. Despite a sterling academic record, the name of her school – synonymous with student activism – got her nowhere. So she left for Canada.
Now, she is one of the directors of North Vancouver Barangay, one of the rare non-profit organizations given a place to run for immigrant affairs – the Filipino Community Center in North Vancouver.
Wilmar Garcia was a chemist and Medical Technology graduate in the Philippines. With her career going nowhere after martial law, she pursued work in Saudi Arabia then moved to Vancouver, British Columbia. Now she owns a thriving business – Fiesta Filipino Market and Restaurant. Her husband Tony is an active member of the North Vancouver Barangay. Watch and listen to her story – https://www.facebook.com/visa.counselor/videos/vob.1443685429/10207853947973639/?type=2&theater
Soccoro, Wilmar and Tony took pride in EDSA but witnessed how this historic event took a downward spiral in the succeeding years from people power to being a few-pols gathering –away from the EDSA Shrine.
Filipino Canadian newspapers (published weekly and distributed through stores like Fiesta Filipino) follow the trail of columnists, journalists, party-list representatives and a few conscientious government officials as they denounce the increasing divide between those who have and the have-nots.
News of blue chip companies earning billions while a majority of Filipinos try to live on about $3 a day compete with recurring stories about the MRT mess, Smartmatic and Comelec-Napoles scams, putting billions into the pockets of politicians and their minions even as teachers’ salaries for being election workers remain unpaid.
Filipinos overseas read, watch and listen to the usual government response: Probes. Vows to probe. More probes. Press releases and sound bites of probes.
To soothe and ease the pain, morning and mid-afternoon talk shows, talent searches, drama-ramas offer an escape route, as does the lotto.
Entertainment has replaced religion as the opium for the masses even as politics compete as a teleserye of its own.
The targets of the probes, on the other hand, remain moving and unmoved, doing business as usual.
Sometimes, a diamond of a rarity is forged as in the incarceration of three bigwig senators indicted and detained for their reported complicity in the Janet Napoles scam.
And such rarities emit hope.
By and large, however, the political hot air and the letting off steam through freedom of speech and freedom of the press preserve and strengthen the status quo.
Come 2016, democracy, Philippine-style, will go to work. With millions disenfranchised and vote-counting machines suspect, the country will elect either the anointed or the adopted.
Each set of winners in a six-year cycle is considered lean and clean, scrubbed off the dirt by each election cycle. Promising a New Society, a Strong Republic or a Better Philippines after being forced to pledge such commitment by the sheer dint and volume of probes and public outcry, emasculated by the freedom of speech and the press, ensconced into power by the votes of those who care or could not care less.
In the Philippines, the cherished freedoms seem to simply relegate the poor to a destiny of disaster. Free, but doomed to poverty, clutching at entertainment shows for slivers of hope, spending food money for lotto tickets for a chance to escape poverty as most of them lack the proficiency to be call center agents or the funds to pay for overseas opportunities.
The Philippines is one huge steam and sauna bath.
A majority of the people provides the steam to keep the politicians not just alive and kicking, but fit.
The rest – like Socorro, Wilma and Tony – vote with their passports and visas to find justice and opportunity overseas, leaving the political and economic sauna behind.
All of them now serve kababayans, new arrivals and long-time residents in Canada without fanfare- bidding goodbye to the political sauna. “Sawa na” is what they call it– (We’ve had enough!)
They are Free. Not Doomed.