Thursday, November 23, 2006

100 Years in Limbo

In a couple of months I will be leaving the Philippines to study abroad. My greatest concern isn't the fear of the unknown, of living in a foreign land I'd never seen before or of being essentially cut off from all that I know for over a year. My greatest fear is being seduced by first-world comfort and abandoning the imaginary of a better Philippines in my head. It is tough, to hold on to this dream, when becoming my family's sole breadwinner is fast approaching. Dreaming is good if you can afford it.


Manolo offers the work of Victor Sumsky on (incremental) social change in the Philippines for the past hundred years. This short paper makes an incredible observation so simple, so elegant, I'd never heard of it before. The same way as the characters in Rizal's Noli and Fili debate the merits and drawbacks of Reform or Revolution, it is almost funny how we face the same exact dilemma today. Marcos tried building a "Bagong Lipunan" by destroying traditional elites, but has failed in creating new ones. While we are all so proud of the bloodless EDSAs, what has truly changed? While we here in Manila engineer coups and revolutions, the provinces remain unmoved, frozen.

...socially dominant groups selectively “borrow” elements of modernity not so much to transform the existing order as to recreate it in a somewhat different, revitalized form. Instead of a breakthrough into modernity, the result is a passage to neopatrimonialism. In many ways, the Philippine Revolution might serve as an example. Although it subsequently led to the formal introduction of political democracy, the development of modern education and greater upward social mobility for certain sectors of the population, there was no radical change in agrarian relations and the social structure.

It is interesting to think that for the past century our people has been stuck in limbo, still negotiating the choice between Reform and Revolution - incremental, even procedural change or one so violent as to completely rend all that we are and know. In conclusion Sumsky asks whether the dilemma of Reform or Revolution still holds significance today. Are our choices limited to traditional politicking or communist and putschist take-overs? For the past hundred years have we been futilely circling the merry-go-round, where the more things change, the more they stay the same? Or, as Sumsky suggests, is there a third way? If so, who among us will find it?

When we speak of centuries it is tempting to want to be passive victims of time, letting things unfold separate from our mundane lives. But as one wise man said, the point is to change history. While it is tempting to sit back and wash our hands of accountability, while it is tempting to jump ship along with the many, don't you feel as though the time is now? When that opening, that momentous period in time comes don't you want to be there, to seize it?


Fifteen months is a long time to be far away from home. When I come back, I might be a completely different person. In a year's time I hope to read this post with conviction.

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