The Philippines: We pretend we are a republic — At some point, we need to drain the swamp

/ 12:09 AM May 08, 2017

The Maguindanao Moro call it “pawas”—lake. Indeed, the Spaniards thought it was a lake and called it the “Laguna de Mindanao.” The Spaniards also gave the name to the great river that runs through it, the Rio Grande de Mindanao, albeit natives still call it Pulangi.

The Liguasan Marsh in the heart of Cotabato is the Philippines’ largest wetland. Few have seen all of its 288,000 hectares, unless one had ridden a chopper or flew a drone over its entire vast expanse. So immense is it that riding an outriggerless boat that the Maguindanao call “awang” will not take you across its length and breadth.

Great, beautiful, mysterious, the Liguasan Marsh is also a microcosm of what ails our political system and the national havoc it has caused. It is at once a rich natural resource and yet a portrait of the poverty that has plagued our countryside for generations.

The houses on stilts rising from some of its banks are prey to the ebb and flow of its floodwaters. The irony is, there simply is no land to dwell on. Hectares upon hectares of the Liguasan’s alluviums have been titled to rich political families, the same families living in palatial manses elsewhere, free from the dangers of rising floods. The Ampatuans and their extensive landholdings are only one of these many political families.

Why is the Liguasan a microcosm of our country’s ills? Power in the hands of our political dynasties has effectively disenfranchised the greater majority. We hold farcical elections every three years. The winner wins not because of votes but because of money. Even elections for Sangguniang Kabataan are determined by vote-buying.

The system ensures political entrenchment. There is no way for the ordinary Juan and Juana to get elected. And the vicious cycle continues.

We fail the one benchmark of selecting our elective public officials. What is the candidate’s main source of income? Many of us focus on the rhetoric. That was how Rodrigo Duterte, for example, won. He claims it was the messaging that won him the presidency, and he is right. Yet only very few asked: What does his family do for a living?

Because we do not ask, we get impressed by the frugal mosquitero—mosquito net—in a candidate’s bedroom. Mosquito nets are not our basis for reality checks.

All candidates claim how poor they are. Among Cebuano Binisaya-speaking populations, the candidates address rally crowds as haring lungsod—the people are the kings. All the rest of the political gobbledygook follows—“I am not corrupt,” “I hate corruption,” “I will clean the bureaucracy,” etc., etc. Rhetoric should never be our basis
for reality checks.

What is the family business? A family member admitted on Howie Severino’s documentary—deep-sea fishing, logging and real estate. Those enterprises, by any standards, certainly do not speak of a poor family.

It is the family business that gives us the reality check. Who are the family’s business links? What are the business interests of these links? That should pretty much already provide us a portrait of what protection they will provide their economic cohorts once they get to power.

We were struck dumbfounded when Gina Lopez was rejected by the Commission on Appointments. Irate social media posts fume at the commission. They miss the forest for the trees: The problem is the interlocking business interests and the obligation of politicians in power to pay back the campaign kitty that came from the same business interests. Mr. Duterte, himself being loquacious, said, “lobby money.”

And in our naiveté we profess to advocate for federalism? We say we must obliterate the centrism of imperial Manila? Manila is imperial, yes, yet forgetting that Manila had long exported imperialism to the rest of us in the country. That’s why we have Little Lord and Lady Fauntleroys— wives, children, siblings—in power. That’s why we are a weak state.

I used to advocate federalism. I don’t anymore. Federalism is a sure path to enriching and entrenching our scandalous political dynasties—social cancers that have metastasized. We have become a
nation pretending to be a republic.

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One Response to “The Philippines: We pretend we are a republic — At some point, we need to drain the swamp”

  1. daveyone1 Says:

    Reblogged this on World Peace Forum.

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