Monday, March 3, 2008

Chaos as usual

"I call on the people now to disassociate itself from supporting an administration that has lost its trust and respect. [...] This President seeks not to lead us into the enlightened political responsibility, social stability and prosperity of the next millennium. He seeks rather to lead us back into the dark ages of pre-martial law political dynasties, warlordism, corruption, sham democracy and debilitating poverty."

Sound familiar? No, that isn't a quote ripped from today's newspaper. That was Jaime Cardinal Sin, ten years ago, talking about President Fidel Ramos.

Of course, given the gift of perspective, nobody thinks of Ramos with such toxicity these days. Quite the opposite, even. His time is remembered for its relative peace and stability, healthy economic growth, and respect for the democratic process. In hindsight his term seems just about the closest to normal the country has ever been.

But at the time, the atmosphere was so laden with venom. One of those silly seasons where people start saying just about anything. Jeers laced with unabashed hyperbole spewed from across the political landscape: "Warlord... dictator... dark ages... selfish and immoral... tentacles of evil... a mad dog gone berserk."

One month after Cardinal Sin made those remarks, he and Cory Aquino led an anti-Ramos rally at Luneta that attracted 200,000 people. (For those of you keeping score, that's around 10 times the number of people at the corner of Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas last Friday). After the rally, Ramos issued a statement defending himself, which concluded by saying "So, let us go back to work and move on!". Business as usual. That would be nice, wouldn't it.

A friend told me he has been waiting for me to weigh in with my political opinion-- which is actually something I could do every day, but consciously (and often unsuccessfully) try to keep to a minimum. I'd just be another voice adding to a noise I wish would quiet down. The sensationalism, the hypocritical piety, the holier-than-thou speeches... it all contributes to these recurring episodes we have where all the characters stop thinking rationally. Like a movie where the earnest protagonist goes "No no, wait, you don't understand, let me explain--!", and his frantic romantic interest cuts him off saying "Stop it, you know what, I don't want to hear it!" and walks out the door.

My point is not to tear down Ramos or to canonize Arroyo. It's just that every once in a while the drama takes over and people stop putting things into perspective. Things start getting sensationalized, and people's reactions get detached from the facts and reality of the situation. It's the same attitude today as it was 10 years ago.

I've said before that I wish for a return to times when Filipinos can find hope in the people they vote into office, or at least give them the benefit of the doubt in the absence of full evidence against them. But it's likely there never was such a time, and I'm homesick for a place that never existed. Filipinos will continue to be mired in cynicism and believe in the worst of their country. Business as usual.