Cinderella’s invited to the prom
October 26, 1996–A FEW weeks ago, the leaders of the world’s richest countries wanted to feel good about themselves. They also wanted the world to feel good about them. So they announced that thenceforth the foreign debts of the poorest Third World countries—mostly in Black Africa—would be forgiven by them. Oh, how noble, how generous they were. It was hopeless, they said, to expect these blacks to pay the interest, let alone the principal, on their countries’ foreign debts—mostly stolen by black dictators, just like our foreign debt was largely stolen by an Ilocano dictator. Also dark.
That was several weeks ago.
Last week, the International Monetary Fund announced that the Philippines had been invited to share in paying off the debts of the world’s poorest Third World countries.
What they were saying was, as if it was a great honor, “Welcome to the club.”
Yes, indeed, like the totally tasteless and parvenu couple John and Marsha, Mother Philippines and her beau, our President, have been invited by the nabobs of the IMF to the world debt prom.
The IMF, lest ye have forgotten, was the cruel fiscal stepmother that had our country—poor starry-eyed heroine just recently free of the dictator’s shackles—scrubbing floors and eating dirt to pay the credit card bills of Makiki exiles Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.
At a time when we were the world’s inspiration, heroes of democracies, we were told that we would be bereft of honor if we did not pay—and pay, and pay.
That debts were dubious and downright immoral did not matter. You did not argue with the IMF, which had the power of economic life and death over an economy struggling to restore a free market. They had the recipe for success, they said, and we had better follow it. Or else.
The recipe was simple: pay up. Pay the debts of the conjugal dictatorship; never mind that the money was stolen or wasted. And then you would, if not get better, certainly feel better about yourself.
And so when Solita Monsod, then NEDA director general, dared suggest that we repudiate at least some of the debts incurred by Imelda Marcos and her husband, a howl rose from the bankers. And they hastened Monsod’s exit from the public service and the conversation of the NEDA into the Merril Lynch of Philippine officialdom. (Today the NEDA regularly leaks GNP figures to the stockbrokers of the Palace inhabitants.)
One day our country looked up from her drudgery and saw former communist nations such as Poland grandly absolved of their debts—absolved by the same demanding gang of overseers that insisted we pay back every penny stolen by the Marcoses. And our nation sighed, is there no fairness, no justice?
How sad it was to see a nice country finish last. If we’d had missiles and belonged to the Warsaw Pact—the alliance of communist powers aimed at Western Europe—perhaps we would have been treated better. Oh, well.
So we slaved on, until we were finally able to say that, despite the onerous burden of illegitimate debts, we were able to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.
Well, by golly, it seems that the IMF has recognized this fact and invited us to take a seat at the table of lending countries. Well, not the presidential table, perhaps, but a table somewhere near the swinging doors to the kitchen. But who cares? Cinderella Philippines has been invited to the prom: we have arrived. now, the IMF tells us, we are in a position to help countries less fortunate than ourselves. This is better than letting the rich countries do it alone.
We hope the government doesn’t get into its daffy head to accept the IMF proposal. A nation that had the class to stand up for democracy, and that doggedly worked to dig itself out of an unjust economic situation, should not be forced by its lenders to give away the money it has so painfully earned. After all, it still has to pay for its own debt. A debt still due and, oddly, growing monstrously by the month. It has grown to $45 billion and still growing. But the economy has grown strong enough to meet the monthly installments on time.
To the bankers that means the economy has also grown strong enough to help pay off the debts of other countries who have no hope of paying any part of them.
We may be on our feet, but we are in no condition to throw money away. Ours is still a nation of indentured servants abroad and starving workers at home. We must keep what we have for the benefit of ourselves, and by “ourselves” we don’t mean the slick Central Bank types in league with the IMF.
It is true that there is nobility in poverty, in working to satisfy the demands of heartless people. But there is no nobility in allowing yourself to be fooled. The servant invited to dine at his master’s table—but a potluck dinner, where he must also bring his own plate—is not ennobled but further debased by the insult to his intelligence.
October 5, 1996
THE majority of our population now consists of the youth. This large and amorphous sector, surveys tell us, is growing rootless and wild, alienated in the Filipino diaspora. Their parents and other relatives have been leaving the country in droves in search of work, leaving them behind to shift for themselves, under the feeble hand of doddering grandparents and indifferent relatives.
It is becoming evident that the youth of today are very different from their immediate predecessors, the generation known as the Martial Law babies—the last generation of Filipinos to experience a trace of traditional upbringing. They are now old enough to get married and produce children of their own, even as a yet younger generation emerges whose mores puzzle even those just a few years older.
This alienated an alien generation—baptized by advertisers as Generation X or even post-Generation X—has social workers ringing the tocsin. Alarmed parents and school officials have done what they can to help, but that seems to be little.
This is sad but unavoidable.
But politicians, being the opportunistic species that they are, have been quick to sniff opportunities in our burgeoning youth electorate. They have plied them with parties and cash, discos and basketball courts, in the process of courting their votes. It doesn’t need a genius to see the correlation between the politicians’ eager mining of this electoral lode and the deepening disillusionment of the youth, and a far worse cynicism than even their elders had despite the corruption they witnessed in their time.
Now comes Ombudsman Aniano Desierto, with scheme to enlist schoolchildren to spy on grafters. His latest pet project was revealed during a “preconference dialogue” (government jargon for a simple meeting) attended by 40 student leaders. Speaking to representatives of the National Student Consensus, the Student Alliance for National Unity, and a representative of the UP Student Council, Desierto rumbled that “The junior graftwatch program seeks to revive old Filipino values and traditions and a sensible formula to prevent graft and corruption.”
Spying an old Filipino value. Only if you are a Macabebe.
At any rate, his suggestion was seconded by a lackey who said that students participating in the junior graftwatch will serve as the Ombudsman’s “eyes and ears.” Meaning, they will all have their backs turned to him so they can’t see what he is doing.
The idea of having children spying on adults has Orwellian implications—which should keep us from laughing off his idea the way people chuckled over the Kabataang Barangay, the movement of lumpen young that Marcos thought would be his Hitler Youth.
In the first place, having children ratting on their parents and relatives—or worse, the parents and relatives of schoolmates they do not know well but happen to dislike—smacks of communism.
And what will they rat about? How children in short pants, or mere teenagers in high school and college, are supposed to determine cases of graft and corruption hasn’t been explained. Neither has it been clarified how the children are supposed to report any wrongdoings—will there be Maoist-style “struggles”? Uproarious meetings during which children will finger their elders?
And what sort of values will be fostered by having children snooping around during class hours? The virtue of studying hard? The virtue of respect for elders? The virtue of telling the truth?
We can only see the Ombudsman’s idea leading to the propagation of certain types of behavior that are, indeed, very Filipino—such as cowardice, treachery, envy, issuing in behavior that has shamed generations of Filipinos.
Behavior that marked the most shameful and tragic periods of our past, from the stool pigeons and balimbings of the era of Marcos, to the Makapilis of the Japanese Occupation, to the Macabebe Scouts of the Filipino-American war, down to the traitor who assassinated Diego Silang and the chieftains who sided with the Spaniards.
We can only see duplicity being more ingrained in schoolchildren. We can only predict an atmosphere of mistrust and paranoia coming out of the Ombudsman’s little plan. This is no way to bring up the youth.
Haven’t we seen the Kabataang Barangay mutate under the present dispensation into the Sangguniang Kabataan, training ground for pork-barrel cadres? And this is only one example of the way greed can be institutionalized; this is bad enough, but training in scholastic espionage is the limit.
What we shall end up with are not just the shiftless and empty-headed youth of today who can no longer read or write, but amateur spies who will dare to scribble gibberish as their reports on the conduct of the neighbors. This isn’t just evil. It is pathetic.