Thursday, February 09, 2006

The End of the Reform Age

Okay, before people react too adversely to the title, let's level-off here: yes, this is not based on any "scientific" proof, like demographics or even statements from the people involved. But, I do speak from my long experience and association with the civil society movement, especially with its more younger generation, who are essentially my comrades-in-arms if not close friends.

I think it all started sometime in the early nineties. There's this local band that has a song entitled, "para sa mga namulat sa dekada sitenta," or "for those who became aware in the '90s." For, truly, the call for deep-seated reform had its beginnings with the awakening of the Filipino youth in the administration following Cory Aquino's. We were the last children of Martial Law and the youth of the new democractic era that was ushered by the First People Power. We were the young who saw the Wall fell, who witnessed despotic governments - whether Right or Left - fall one by one as a wave of democracy swept the globe. Many older people regard my generation with a certain level of approbation, muttering beneath their breaths that we who came of age after 1986 never had it so good and that we never had to fight for anything more than parking space, a table during lunch and dinner at some snazzy resto or cafe, or for a place up front in some concert.

Of course, we proved the damned elders wrong when the student movement picked up in the mid-90s. I still remember my first mass action: it was over the Ramos initiative to amend the consti, and the usually Ivory-towerish Ateneans joined their rivals from UP Diliman and the also-resurgent ladies of Miriam College to form a chain protesting the thinely vield attempt by Fidel Ramos to extend his term via concon. I don't know about the others who were there that day, but it felt... good to do something like that, to shake a fist at Authority that thinks it can get away with abuses to power. We were young, we were Aware, and we were Active, and we were going to shake the corridors of power! And shake them we did in 2000 and 2001, as everyone whose opinion is worth something agrees that the success of the Second People Power was due to the millions of young Filipinos who turned out to protest the blatant display of trapo politics at the Senate's refusal to open the Second Envelope. It was the young who started it all by showing their indignation with the flash street protests that followed the refusal. And it was the young who, in the words of my generation, "put paid" to a regime of corruption and immorality by coming out in the millions to show the powers-that-be that they may hold the levers of power in society, but if nothing then through sheer numbers the young will trample their sorry trapo ass.

It was a good time, wasn't it? And a good time to be good. Despite everything our elders would like us to believe and accept, we showed them all that idealism, especially when backed by determination, dedication, defiance - three Ds to combat the three Gs? Hmm... - and a lot of creativity - the celfone as a weapon for a revolution; who'd have thunk? - can move more than one mountain. We dreamt, we acted on that dream, and we made that dream a reality.


Has it really been just six years since PP2? But so many things seem to have changed, and many for the bad. What better way to... destroy the forces of reform than to drain them out of the country or co-op even their best and brightest? How many young people took up nursing even if their skills and talents are better served for other fieldds? How many even of the young leaders who fought on the Second People Power now work for the call centers? Heck, even my contemporaries who went to "traditional" corporate jobs have been eaten by their work. Back then, when there was a cause to fight for you didn't need to call twice; sometimes, we even went around looking for causes to espouse. Now, it seems so hard to gather people even for a simple get-together because of work. Hah, even those in civil society and government are eaten by work.

I don't know. Who's to blame? Gloria? C'mon: like what I've always said since the Garci tapes surfaced, she only acted the way we expected her to act so what's to be disillusioned about Gloria? To blame Gloria for all the ills of the Philippines is a gross reduction of the problem. Yes, she is part of the problem, but not the only factor in the equation. No: like the stuff you see in some astrophysicist's whiteboard, the equation is far more complex than adding one to one and getting two.

In the National Youth Commission, there is a changing of the guard that I think is significant, regardless of other opinions. Bam, despite a good chance of being retained for another term as Chairperson, has decided not to. In his own words - we got to chat today at his soon-to-be-former office, after a long while - "it's time to move on to other things." And he was saying the same thing to his longtime EA, Saira (also a good friend and adviser of mine, one of only two women who can give me a scolding and get away with it), and he was telling me the same thing. Cel Aves and Cris Arnuco have also moved on from the Commission. It's hard to find a team in the premier youth institution of government that is more reform-oriented than the one Bam led and had the likes of Cel and Cris.

This to me hammered the point that, perhaps, the "Age of Reform" that started with the Awakening of my generation in the 1990s has, at least for now, come to an end. The grand experiment of Generation X with trying to change society before we're 40 is over, and... we've lost. In one sense I can understand the Ostrich-like actions of many of even my colleagues in the old UCSC because the last few years have been a trauma bordering on fatal for our idealism. Our elder leaders have not only betrayed our confidence in them but also in many cases abused us, seeing us as no more than pawns in their power games. Our icons have failed us, whether to serve as a continuing inspiration or to reach the lofty goals and image they portrayed when they came out to challenge with us the demons plaguing this country and its people. And the values that we held dear have not only been broken by our elders - so blatantly in many cases! - but what's left has been dragged through muck and mud that we can't recognize what's left of our hearts and souls anymore.

Given the context following the mad clash for power unleashed by the May 1 Mayhem - civility between the contending political forces died on the bloodied streets of Mendiola that day, alongside propriety and a modicum of pakitang-tao among the trapos - how can we bring about change? Whatever little hold we had on the levers of power and influence now fade with the exit of Bam, Cel, Cris and the others in the NYC. The national-level youth organizations are either compromised, marginalized, or engaged in inter-org and inter-ideology rivalries to become as effective as we were in 2001 (but then, given the propensity of the NDs to stick to their overarching goal - the success of their Revolution and the installation of a communist government in the Philippines - who can blame the others for becoming so paranoid and going on the defensive?). The leaders who rose during the Second People Power are lost in the corridors of career and corporation.

Gawad Kalinga shows that hope still exists and that there still is something we can do. And there is Rock Ed. But unless GK and Rock Ed have a strategy in mind - I'm actually hoping the two are some part of one big strategy, a last attempt by the remaining reformist forces to bring about positive change, but maybe I hope too much - then all these "tactical" moves can do little the way they are now to effect change. It's like standing on some beach and trying to send the ocean back using only a pail, when you need a dike to hold back the stormy seas. And lots of people. But the strategy appears not there, and the people scattered.

I have a fear. Sometime when I'm ten years older, someone who is a kid now will be in their late teens or early twenties, old enough to understand the world he or she is moving in. And then that young person will ask me, why is the world a darker, crueler, messed up place? What did you and your fellows did to prevent this?

I could probably give a dozen excuses, but perhaps there isn't. Because we who will succeed those in power faltered sometime in the first decade of the 21st century. Because we were swept under by the forces of reality and pragmatism - the newest ugly word of Philippine politics, a convenient replacement for Trapo, since it sounds far more real and palatable than the latter but actually connotates the same - and were unable to put up a unified enough stand.

So there ends the Age of Reform.

Well, who knows? In Tolkien's Silmarillion, the forces of Good, represented by the Eldar and the Edain, were decimated. Yet one couple won over to the Powers and got them to rescind their Ban and thus Evil was defeated. I love that book, Silmarillion. It's one of my all time favorites. Who knows, someone or someones will be our Earendil and Elwing, find the way to our Aman the Blessed for us, and bring us the necessary reinforcements to end this age of darkness that has swept the country once again.

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