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A ruptured democracy

/ 12:57 AM February 14, 2018

Rafael was dining with his wife when he bolted up, walked towards the kitchen and collapsed. His wife called for help, the ambulance came and he was rushed to the ER. I came in to examine the young man. He had a board-like abdomen, typical of peritonitis. He needed emergency surgery. Rafael’s wife agreed but asked why — why did they not know it was serious until he collapsed?

A week ago, he had complained of abdominal pain. Food poisoning, they thought. Yes, he was feeling rather off throughout the week, probably a touch of flu. However, over the weekend, he felt so good he wanted to go to the beach, until midway through dinner when he felt a sharp pain and wanted to throw up. So, he walked over to the kitchen, but that was all he remembered.

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Often a surprise to patients, this clinical picture is nothing new to doctors and nurses. Symptoms of appendicitis vary, from mild to severe abdominal pain. The omentum may wrap around the inflamed appendix so that patients feel better. But the infection festers. Gangrene sets in and the appendix ruptures. At this stage, as intraluminal pressure is released, patients actually feel relieved. Yet, as multiple bacteria are released into the abdominal and pelvic cavities, these nasty pathogens seep into the bloodstream, causing blood poisoning or sepsis.

Which brings me to reflect on what’s happening to the Philippines…a ruptured and festering democracy?

The Philippines has not been healthy for some time. Indeed, despite the invigorating moments of EDSA and EDSA II and many more patriotic events following the People Power Revolution of 1986, the country has not fully recuperated from the Marcos dictatorship. Imelda and Bongbong’s concerted efforts at historical revision — ironically financed by money the dictator and his cronies stole from the people – are rubbing salt to a non-healing wound.

The nation has never achieved the health which Dr. Jose Rizal envisioned. After Filipino and Spanish execution squads did their dirty deed at Bagumbayan (now the Luneta), Filipino leaders (Bonifacio, Alvarez, Aguinaldo, Jacinto et alii) were barely unified, and the country got handed over from colonial Spain to imperialist America. Then, just as we emerged from the shadow of Uncle Sam, Emperor Hirohito’s Imperial army devastated the country, savagely hurling babies up in the air to catch them with Nippon bayonets.

It is simplistic but apt to say that Filipinos lived in a Spanish monastery for 400 years, in Hollywood for 50 years, and in a sushi bar for 3 years — no wonder we have yet to discover our national identity.

Ramon Magsaysay successfully elevated the country to some level of development; his focus on the “common tao” was timely. History refers to the 1950sas the “Golden Years”, in part due to Magsaysay’s integrity and an administration considered “the cleanest in modern Philippine history.”

Carlos P. Garcia’s “First Filipino Policy” favored Filipino-owned enterprises and pegged the value of the peso versus the dollar 2.64 -1. But Diosdado Macapagal (Gloria’s father) lifted exchange controls, devaluing the floating peso from 2.64 to 3.80 with a $300 M stabilization fund from the IMF. Macapagal, to his credit, did implement the Agricultural Land Reform Code of 1963.

Then Ferdinand Marcos came in, pledging to “make this country great again” only to plunder and enrich his family and cronies. After funneling at least $658 million into Swiss banks and stealing a total of $10 billion, Marcos had scraped the Philippine treasury dry. Records indicate that under the Marcos regime “3,257 (were) killed, an estimated 35,000 tortured, and some 70,000 arrested.”

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They were horrific numbers then — though those now pale in comparison to the Human Rights Watch figure of 13,000 extrajudicial and summary killings, which will finally be examined by the International Criminal Court.

Cory Aquino was neither a politician nor an administrator. And some quarters fault her for not running a tight ship. But, like Pope Benedict XVI who could not discipline the Curia either, Cory was nonetheless a moral and stabilizing force. Unfortunately, Cory’s gains got wasted by her successors. Fidel Ramos was promising, Joseph Estrada was a disaster, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo lost her way.

Benigno S. Aquino III came in and the country enjoyed economic growth and prosperity like it never did before, achieving GDPs in the 6-7% range, higher than the United States or China. Definitely, much better than Russia or Japan. Yet, there remained rumblings about corruption, not at Malacanang’s level, but at lower bureaucracies. While a rising (economic) tide is supposed to lift all boats, the economic benefits could not uniformly trickle down to the masses.

Duterte was smart enough to seize on this national desperation. Sleeping under a mosquito net, munching at a carinderia, the mayor from Davao effectively portrayed himself as the modern Magsaysay. Millennials had forgotten Magsaysay, but they instinctively responded the way Filipinos did in the 1950s when they proudly proclaimed: “Magsaysay is my guy!”

The masses could not relate to Mar Roxas or to Grace Poe, but they could relate to someone emerging from the grassroots. Frustrated by the inability of the country to pull itself out of lingering poverty, despite its economic superiority to Japan in the aftermath of World War II; frustrated that despite remarkable talent and resources, the Philippines had been left in the dust by Singapore; frustrated that its alliance with the West had not resulted in economic independence and prosperity, the country gobbled Duterte’s promises. Hook, line, and sinker.

Up to 16 million proclaimed him the political messiah, someone who would finally put the Philippines on the map. Someone who would rid the country of the drug menace in six months. Someone who would implement economic equality.

Well, that someone is indeed changing the Philippine map, in favor of China. The six-month timeline is past. The peso has shot to 50. Foreign investments have cooled off. Gas prices are up.

But never mind. Aren’t the streets safer at night? And if Duterte declares a revolutionary government and stays in office much, much longer, might the drug menace might finally disappear?

Free press is being muzzled and propagandists are paid to fool the masses. The killings continue. Yet, millions and minions are feeling better.
The appendix has ruptured.

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TAGS: Carlos P. Garcia, Diosdado Macapagal, Duterte administration, op-ed, Philippine democracy, Philippine politics, Ramon Magsaysay
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