Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Personal is Political

In my adult life I have found that very few people like to talk politics. They say they stay away from politics because it is dirty, illogical and depressing. If it can be avoided, people do not talk politics. It is something they think can be set aside, excluded from their conciousness like some dirty secret best left forgotten. Of course there are always exceptions, there are some who view politics quite passionately, but not quite personally. They frame politics as something that happens in government - in public institutions concerning only public officials. When they turn on the news and read the papers they see politics. But very few people see politics in their private lives.

In the Jesuit university I do not often find the occasion to talk politics because there I teach a foreign language. I am sometimes able to address certain pressing issues especially if they are of national import, such as the February state of the nation emergency. In any case, it is difficult to engage students in discussion, I believe it is because if your family circumstances has afforded you to grow up relatively insulated from ordinary Philippine social life, then why should it concern you? If you do not want of anything, then why shouldn't you sit content where things are? If you are rich then you can afford to be apolitical.

Imagine then my complete and utter suprise when upon commencing to teach in the Intramuros university, I find that students there are as equally apolitical, if not more so. I realize it is because they have little to lose and so care the least. These are young Filipinos who hail from middle to lower-middle class families, those with at least one parent working abroad. They who make up the majority do not care at all to be political. All they are concerned with is gaining their diploma so they may all leave this blighted country and realize their dreams in another social, political and economic space. They have given up the idea that they will ever strike it rich in this country, that they will ever see here the good life. They have their parents', friends' and neighbors' examples to follow.

And so if the elite do not care, and the masses don't either, then who are we left with? Those who are able to mount a formidable election machine to gain public office and then, like rabid vampires, cannibalize precious little State resources. And those who are so wretchedly poor and uneducated that they willingly cash in on such election machines in exchange for their democratic power to scribble names on a piece of paper. In the mean time, those of us in the middle dwindle in numbers as we all plot to jump ship, if not now then in the near future.

My dear friends, are we not well and trully fucked?

Contrary to what is taught in Pol Sci 11, politics is not a struggle that merely occurs in the public domain. Sure, what happens in the Batasang Pambansa is politics. The shenanigans in Malacanang is politics. The arduous/tortuous signature gathering in la Bureaucratie is politics. But what happens in your everyday lives is politics.

To illustrate:

I paid a princely sum of P7,000 ++ to take an exam on May 31. The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) was a requirement for my scholarship application (see below). Although they have a local testing center here (Prometric), only the ETS based in Princeton, New Jersey may release the test results to both the examinee and her chosen institutions. By July my recipients in Australia had already received my test scores. And there I was, checking our mailbox day after day waiting for my own copy. July came and went. Then August. Then September. No ETS envelope ever made it to my mailbox. This is my personal life, my personal dreams and the Philippine Postal Service is so absymal it cannot even effectively serve its purpose, i.e., deliver mail from point A to point B.

Then last June I had to register my car as well as renew my driver's license and again our public institutions have soiled me, extorted money and stolen from me precious hours I can never again retrieve. I spent a total of 4 hours (excluding lunch hour) registering the blighted car and another 3 for my driver's license. I spent P300 of my hard-earned money on a urine test whose veracity may well be in question, P50 on a "medical exam" which comprised of the cursory blood pressure reading and peering at letters on the wall to "test" my eyesight. Some P300 yet again on an emission test. You wonder why people run for public office on so dismal a salary? It is precisely for the opportunity to seek "rents" only public institutions such as the LTO may dole out. Officials may augment their salaries or their patrons' income by replacing services these public institutions should otherwise provide for FREE.

Most recently all our lives ground to a halt when a relatively strong typhoon (by no means a 300kph monster such as...was it Unsang or Dading?) tore our public infrastructure to bits. Some have had to endure having no power or water for days. Many were inconvenienced or worse, killed, by fallen billboards. Do we blame our government's incompetence? Yes. But who elected government? If our taxes make us customers, then shouldn't we demand satisfaction?

Many people think only to endure or escape. But are enduring and escaping the only choices? If it sucks to be Filipino then whose fault is it? If it sucks to live in the Philippines whose fault is it?

The personal is political. Those who fail to grasp this concept unknowling perpetuate political apathy and consequently, this Republic of Ineptitude and Corruption.

I tell my Intramuros students, you want to fly away to some far corner of the globe? You think to escape your roots? I think not. You may not physically be here but you will leave family behind. You will remit billions of dollars a year, and as economic conditions worsen, you will remit even more. Even then your country bleeds you. You will keep this Republic afloat and you will unwittingly keep the very Government you fled, that amoral monster of a cannibal, alive and well and fed. I say kill it. And if you want to slay it, then you stay.

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