Lost in a ShunBy Philip Dominguez Mercurio
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Her arrival came to me through an email invitation from the Philippine Consulate General.
The email read: “The Bay Area Filipino American Community and The Philippine Consulate General of San Francisco celebrate the first visit to the United States of Her Excellency Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in her new mandate as President of the Republic of the Philippines” at the Hyatt Regency, in Burlingame.
Price tag: $30. Apparently, her first tour of duty was to receive her doctorate at the University of San Francisco (USF) then swing down to Burlingame the next day to be applauded into her second term.
At the time, I wasn’t particularly concerned about her visit. I knew by late October the League of Filipino Students from San Francisco State University was planning to rally at USF citing Glo’s record of human rights violations, but on the same day of the doctorate, I would be unavailable, receiving the Best Youth Voice Special Achievement Award from the New California Media in Sacramento.
When I found out later about the supposed barring of three professors from San Francisco State (one of them ironically receiving a Special Achievement Award for Valley Reporting herself) and their students from Her Excellency’s presence, I was surprised.
Very surprised. I mean, what a way for Ate Glo to recognize some of the most revered individuals within the Filipino American community in such an honorable way. Shunning them through other channels, silently and indirectly, just makes me wonder what kind of message she was trying to send the younger Filipino American generation who adore these professors and accompanying students for their passion and charisma.
Exactly what could these professors possibly have done that could make Ate Glo and her entourage fearful of their presence within their mist? Were they that known for their “troublesome” presence here in the San Francisco Bay Area that they’ve even been making waves thousands of miles away? For such humbled beings, I’m sure these professors would be surprised by the complement.
It was a pity I was unavailable to attend either of Ate Glo’s public… I mean, restricted appearances. The fact I was invited to one of them even though I was closely associated with a few of the barred professors, that being Daniel Begonia, being one of his former students would have placed me on the wonderful tight-rope of admission.
Would I have come in as a disruptor of the peace? Or a docile, go-with-the-flow, I-want-to-take-a-picture-with-the-president parishioner? Oh no no no.
I would have wanted to ask one question and one question only. And it would have had nothing to do with her honorary degree, her new mandate or something about human rights.
In fact, I have another pressing issue in mind.
A few weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal published a piece on the front page entitled “In Vast Archipelago Unlikely Force Gains Grip: Democracy.” In it, the story revealed the dramatic turn around about our neighbor to the south, Indonesia, in embracing the ideals of democracy.
The process of decentralization which has been gradually transferring power to the masses from a smaller elite group has caused bouts of corruption but also in an ironic twist spawned the very democracy which now is battling that same corruption.
According to Timothy Mapes, citizens have turned to their votes sweeping away corrupt officials and electing new ones who better address their needs. In fact, so widespread has democracy gripped the country that defeats of sitting officials have been felt all the way up to presidency, where incumbent Megawati was voted out by General Yudhoyono, a man whom the U.S. Ambassador to Jakarta, Ralph Boyce, sees as the one who “could restore Indonesia to its rightful place as the leader in the region.”
What interesting to note is that Indonesia has many of the same problems facing the Philippines: growing unemployment, declining foreign investment and separatist insurgencies in outlying parts of the nation.
But in terms of dealing with those problems, Indonesia seems to be doing a much better job. In terms of elections, the Philippines suffered elections plagued by strings of bombings, cries of fraud and continued speculations of anarchy and coups at ever turn.
Indonesia though seemed undeterred by bombings of their own and held what has been labeled “the world’s largest and most complex one-day election ever.” In fact, so successful was their election, it was reported that 80 percent of their 155 million registered voters participated in their election helped out by two of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organizations who helped out with 100,000 election monitors. Even the United States could only pull off a voter participation percentage of 50 percent.
With this turn of events, it’s no wonder that Asia Foundation’s Tim Meisburger was happy to tell The Wall Street Journal that, “Indonesia is today the most democratic country in Asia, including Japan.”
This shouldn’t be a surprise to Indonesia which the New York Times labeled as a country with “one of the worst-performing economies in the vibrant Asian region, rampant corruption and a homegrown terror network,” as much as to the Philippines.
For the Philippines, our true shining point was being the only true democracy in the Southeast Asian region. With the direction of the country purring along while all our neighbors are roaring, becoming the next tigers in the region, our democracy was our signature in a rift of growing poverty, overpopulation and corruption.
Now, for a country such as Indonesia which only a mere seven years ago spiraled through a dramatic upheaval filled with riots and rapes leading to the downfall of authoritarian regime of President Suharto showing signs of an enlightened democratic process reveals a complete failure in the way things are done in the Philippines.
The Philippines had two chances for turnaround democracy via two bloodless, nonviolent transitions into new administrations but it’s disheartening to note that there was nothing accomplished after those triumphant victories by the people.
Now finally, with another six years on the contract for Ate Glo, the Philippines finally loses that one last cent of respect we’ve had in the global community of being the leader of democracy in the region to Indonesia.
So with that in mind, I would like to ask Ate Glo my question: How the Philippines could lose their democratic edge on her watch to a country with a worst human-rights record and a higher corruption ranking?
It seems unfathomable but unfortunately a coming reality which could be summarized simply by a remark from Mr. Boyce who said, “It’s extremely impressive that this emerging democracy has been able to develop an Indonesian-style election system that to date has worked in free and fair and extremely peaceful fashion.”
When will we get our free, fair and extremely peaceful election Mrs. President, one that would again make us the undisputed and true leader of democracy in the region? Would I get a direct, well-reasoned answer? Or some kind of run-around or even worst the “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the first part of the question” Rummy-style answer?
For now we may never know.
Maybe when she returns to receive her honorary degree from San Francisco State.
That will be the day. - PDM
See this article,"Lost in a Shun" in Philippine News. Click here.