Saturday, December 10, 2022

Nation-Building, Not Storytelling

by the Weekly Sillimanian | January 1, 2022

Filipinos are among the most resilient people on the planet, at least according to popular opinion. If one is finding a concrete image of a nation that went through years of battling with disasters on unprecedented scales, they can certainly see it right there on Filipinos. 

The fact that more or less twenty typhoons of varying intensities hit the Philippines annually is one good narrative to start with — and Typhoon Odette, known as Rai by the world, is only one of them. Floods and winds have damaged homes, claimed lives, and tried taking away the longstanding joy of Filipinos. But as one puts it, the best remedy for pain and gloom is laughter and smiles, and Filipinos are top-notch in displaying the most beautiful examples of such even amid the most unpleasant landscapes.

But for how long will resiliency sustain us Filipinos? Is resiliency a valuable asset that should be kept on record to boost the morale of an impoverished nation, or is it a narrative used to cover up pressing problems such as hunger, poverty, and unrest brought by ineptitude and incompetence?

Filipinos live under a representative democracy, which means the cries and concerns of the people are embodied in an elected leader who should put everything in place and make comprehensive and participatory decisions to solve the nation’s problems. In a democratic country such as the Philippines, the principle is that the government is “for the people, by the people, and on the people”. Still, unheard cries and concealed realities plague the nation right now, using the “resiliency myth” as a cover-up story for the government’s inability to answer the pleas of all its citizens.

We strongly believe that leaders should be held accountable to whatever problems the country faces, may it be natural or deliberate ones. Being elected by the people, a leader should truly listen and submit to his people. When a public official says these lines in their oath, ” . . . and consecrate myself to the service of the Nation,” they are already affirming that their person is already a beacon for the people. The leader should be there not to assert dominance over the people, but to serve their interests. When people are in need of help, the leader should proactively provide for and empower them to move forward. 

Public officials should not conceal the reality on the ground to save their faces just because of the Filipino people’s lack of choice but to remain tough and flexible during calamities. When the situation is dire, call it. When their people face hardships, the leaders should not be making rounds of resiliency myths in the press, but rather, be at the frontlines and provide people with their basic needs to move forward – food, clothing, shelter, among others. 

As their constituents, we regularly pay our taxes and other obligations, expecting them to be our lifeboats during tough times. So when the people ask for ayudas and other needs, it should not be taken as an indolence on their part, but as a signal to give back to the people what is truly theirs. Aside from this fact, these outcries are part of the freedom of expression which is embodied in a democracy. While this should be respected, the government should also make sure that the people’s needs are met, especially when they have no means to acquire them because of being affected by disasters and other uncontrollable events.

Asking for accountability also requires the people to set aside their lingering fanaticism towards any public official. We should look at the situation of our neighbors, rather than putting our hearts into a public servant. We elect officials to serve and represent us, not for us to merely adore and build monuments for. 

The Germans, after their defeat in the Second World War, failed to comprehend the intensity of the genocide that were happening in their own country, perpetrated by their own leader, Adolf Hitler. But when the conquerors from the free nations opened the doors of the concentration camps for them to see the stench of corpses, these people became dumbfounded. They had realized that a massive crime had been happening on their doorstep all along while they sang, danced, and enjoyed living their lives, and the criminal happened to be the leader whom they gave their hearts to and considered as their near-deity.

It would have been a different story if they were not blinded by Nazi propaganda and got carried away by Hitler’s oratorical prowess. They could have ousted him and saved a million lives. They could have brought him to justice themselves.

Sometimes, leaders can be crafty enough to conceal realities so that people won’t say a word of disapproval towards them. The “resiliency myth” is one gospel statement they would make to capture the hearts of people, by making them believe that they did great in “staying silent” even in their empty stomachs. 

Stop using resiliency as a tool for distorting the public from the reality that people are hungry, thirsty, and in need of concrete help. Let people see the reality that they can truly know if they have elected the right person to lead them. It is in the worst of times that we truly see the true colors of our leaders, well behind the personas that they show in their political campaigns. 

If there is one thing that we should be resilient with, it is in asking public officials to be accountable to their constituents. Remember: there is nothing wrong with being resilient in itself, but relying on such a trait becomes harmful when it disregards the root problem; leaders failing to serve the public trust and leaving all the problem-solving to their people.

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