An UnHappy New Year

P. de Vera, PhD, is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms and an associate professor at the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance. This article was published in the Opinion Section, Yellow Pad Column of BusinessWorld, January 3, 2007  edition, page S1/5.

Toronto, Canada. The Christmas season allows Filipinos to take a well deserved break from the rigors of keeping body and soul together and spend time with friends and family. In the spirit of the season, Gloria Arroyo (GMA) and her political allies recently initiated a “cha-cha ceasefire” and called on all Filipinos to work for unity in 2007 “to secure the country’s economic future”.

Perhaps buoyed by the new Social Weather Stations findings that 9 out of every 10 Filipinos look with optimism at 2007, Secretary Ignacio Bunye cheerfully declared that as “the year comes to a close, we have seen the agility and stability of our economy and we are optimistic—as everybody is—that that 2007 will be a pivotal year for the Philippines.”

But will 2007 really going to be a happy new year for the country? And will 2007, especially in May 2007, make Arroyo and her political allies?

I took my annual Christmas break to listen and feel the pulse of Filipinos abroad while traveling through the eastern seaboard of the US and Canada. The big question I wanted to ask was what do the “modern day heroes” really think about the Philippines and the coming New Year?

The Filipinos I met during my visit represented a cross-section of professions and personalities:  Culinary expert Gorio Pineda of Bergenfield, New Jersey; environmental scientist Dr. Jun Abrajano of Albany, New York; Brookefield, Connecticut building official Demy Parpana; nurse Lorna Owens of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Danny Nava of Mississauga; and engineer Ed Magalong of Brampton, Ontario, Canada.

While I knew that overseas Filipinos always remain “Pinoy at heart,” I was amazed at their deep interest and knowledge about events in the country and Philippine politics. Thanks perhaps to The Filipino Channel and the internet editions of Business World and other major dailies, the Fil-Ams and Fil-Canadians I met seriously followed JocJoc Bolante’s fertilizer scam problems, knew Garci’s plan to run for congressman of Bukidnon, and lauded the Supreme Court on its E.O. 464 decision.

They marvelled at the Metro Manila’s rail transit, worried about the reported plan of Manny Pacquiao to run for public office, kept track of  the hospitalization of GMA and husband, and even narrated in detail Lito Lapid’s barong faux pass during the Senate opening in 2004.

They pressed me for more details on events back home. Their usual question:: “Was FPJ really cheated in the last elections?” But they likewise asked many serious questions: What are the real reasons for the abrupt cancellation of the ASEAN leader’s summit in Cebu? Isn’t the President concerned about its backlash and the resulting soiled reputation of the Philippines due to our inability to keep our promise to host this event?

Why the penchant for holding all-night sessions in the House of Representatives? How can Speaker Joe de Venecia and his cohorts so audaciously ram through the cha-cha express and yet so meekly back-off when confronted by the Catholic bishops and civic groups a day later? And when or will the new international airport ever be opened?

But they reserved their most vitriolic views on the actions of Filipino politicians. They were exasperated by the never-ending pissing contest between the Lower House and the Senate.  They were appalled by the disrespectful conduct of the congressmen who instead of listening to the deliberations, move around and talk among themselves, send text messages, use their cellular phones, and even allow waiters to serve food in the session hall.

They were equally appalled by the smug attitude of executive officials such as Mike Defensor and Raul Gonzales in dismissing criticisms against GMA while openly posturing for higher office.

When I reminded them of the importance of Congress in democratic governance and inter-chamber checks and balances, Ed Magalong retorted: “With the way they conduct themselves, instead of creating just one legislative body why don’t we simply abolish Congress all together?” To my surprise, many of them openly accepted the option of a coup so long as it kicks out corrupt politicians.

Perhaps my saddest realization while breaking bread with overseas Pinoys is that while they love their country of origin dearly, their love and desire to help is often overwhelmed by their despair in the current state of affairs back home. Gorio Pineda succinctly captured this sentiment when he said “Why can’t the politicians even just for one moment think of the national interest instead of their vested interests?”

All this points to the reality that while politicians back home may jump with joy, say that things are under control, and call for unity; their declarations are apparently ignored. Many Filipinos abroad have judged GMA and other political leaders: Tinimbang Kayo Ngunit Kulang!

With this sentiment, national unity will likely remain elusive.  And if the views of Filipinos in the US and Canada reflect national sentiment, then 2007 would be a politically unhappy year for GMA and her allies.

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