POSTSCRIPT / June 24, 2001 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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How do we interweave greatness & simplicity?

WE just received from the Internet a purported letter to the Filipino people from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

We’re publishing it for many reasons: First, not everybody has the chance to receive such an email allegedly from the President. Second, while we doubt that the letter was written by GMA herself, it talks of things that we ourselves would want to write about and share with fellow-Filipinos, especially the young. Third, who knows, the letter might just touch some of us who are starting to feel defeated.

Here’s the President’s “letter” in full:

* * *

MY Fellow Filipinos,

When I was small, the Philippine peso was P7 to the US dollar. The President was Diosdado Macapagal. Life was simple and easy then.

My father was a farmer. My mother kept a small sari-sari store where our neighbors bought isang-perang asin, isang-perang bagoong, isang-perang suka, isang-perang toyo, at pahinging isang butil na bawang. Our backyard had kamatis, kalabasa, talong, ampalaya, upo, batao, and okra. Our silong had chicken, and we had a pig, a dog, and a cat. Of course, we lived on the farm.

During rainy season, my father caught frogs at night, which my mother made into batute (stuffed frog), or just plain fried. During the day, he caught hito and dalag from his rice paddies, which he usually inihaw.

During dry season, we relied on the chickens, vegetables, bangus, tuyo,and tinapa. Every now and then, there was pork and beef from the town market. Life was so peaceful, so quiet. No electricity, no TV, just the radio for Tia Dely, Roman Rapido, Tawag ng Tanghalan, and Tang-tarang-tang.

Most of the day on weekends, I played with my neighbors, who were all my cousins. Tumbang-preso, taguan-pung, piko, luksong-lubid, patintero at iba pa. I don’t know about you, but I miss those days.

These days, we face the TV, the Internet, email, newspaper, magazine, grocery catalog, or drive around. The peso is a staggering and an incredible P49 to the US dollar. (It’s now P52:$1, indicating that the letter must have been written several days back.-fdp) Most people can’t have fun anymore. Life has become a battle. We live to work. We work to live. Life is not easy now.

I was in Saudi Arabia in 1983. It was lonely, difficult, and scary. It didn’t matter if you were a man or a woman, you were target for rape. The salary was cheap, and the vacation far between. If the boss didn’t want you to go on holiday, you won’t. They had your passport. And oh, the agency charged you almost four months of your salary, which, if you had to borrow on a 20-percent interest per month, meant your first year pay was all gone before you earned it.

(GMA laboring in Saudi Arabia? The actual letter-writer must have worked there to write these things. – fdp).

The Philippines used to be one of the most important countries in Asia. Before and during my college days, many students from neighboring Asian countries, e.g. Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, and China came to the Philippines to get their diplomas. Until 1972, like President Macapagal, President Marcos was one of the most admired presidents of the world. And the peso had kept its value, P7 to the US dollar, until I finished college.

Today, the Philippines is famous as the “Housemaid Capital” of the world. It ranks very high as the “Cheapest Labor” capital of the world, too. (That’s not true anymore. We’re no longer the cheapest labor market hereabouts. – fdp) We have maids in Hong Kong, laborers in Saudi Arabia, dancers in Japan, migrants, and TNTs in the USA and Australia, and all sorts of other tricky jobs in other parts of the globe.

Quo Vadis, Pinoy? Is that a wonder, or a worry? Are you proud to be a Filipino? Or does it matter anymore? When you see the Filipino Flag, and hear the Pambansang Awit, do you still feel a sense of pride, or a sense of defeat, and uncertainty? If only things could change for the better…

Hang on, this is a job for Superman. Or who do you call, Ghostbusters? Joke. Right? This is one of our problems. We say, I love the Philippines. I am proud to be a Filipino. I send you a joke. You send it to all Filipinos in your email address list, if it kills the Internet. But I send you a note how to save our country, and ask you to forward it. What do you do? Delete it?

I want to help the housemaids in Hong Kong. I want to help the laborers in Saudi Arabia. I want to help the dancers in Japan. I want to help the TNTs in America and Australia. I want to save the people of the Philippines.

BUT I CANNOT DO IT ALONE. I NEED YOUR HELP AND EVERYONE ELSE’S. So please, forward this email to your friends, and visit the website: http://www.geocities.com/PilipinasKongMahal

IF YOU SAY YOU LOVE THE PHILIPPINES, DON’T JUST SAY IT. DO IT! And if you don’t agree with me, say something anyway. Indifference is a crime all its own. God bless us all.

* * *

TALKING of the simple things in life… If you’ve driven Manilaward on the North Luzon Tollway, you most likely have stopped at the bustling Petron service station in Bocaue. (Sorry if this sounds like an ad. It is not.)

They have an automatic facility where a machine with scores of high-pressure showers and giant gentle brushes washes your car after a grueling trip. It washes, mops and dries your car as it glides through in assembly-line fashion.

It’s educational watching not the automatic car-washing but the people gawking and gushing at the contraption. As we sometimes say in jest when seeing something atrociously new, they (like us) probably don’t have that mechanical wonder where they come from.

* * *

THE sight of the kibitzers flies us back to our self-exile days in San Francisco, the golden city by the Bay, during the Marcos martial rule.

We are reminded of newly arrived Vietnamese who would spend hours at the neighborhood laundromat watching through the glass window the clothes tossing and tumbling in the big washing machines.

To us fellow Third Worlders who regarded ourselves then as several notches above these refugees from war-torn Indochina, it was instructive to see them gazing at the contraption like they were watching their favorite soap on TV.

The poor things would soon outgrow that, we thought, or at least be able to buy their own washing machine.

* * *

THE twist was that we would later find some of these Vietnamese refugees operating exotic, and expensive!, restaurants and us eating as their satisfied customers.

And this leads on to kindred thoughts, like you better treat well that unassuming Chinese elder you bump into at the car park. He might be your next landlord.

There might be a lesson or two here.

* * *

THAT part of the President’s supposed letter about parents in neighboring countries sending their children to Manila to get a “Philippine education” could make you cry.

A diploma from a Philippine university was a prized possession of many professionals in the region. We don’t know if it still is.

An official of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations told us once that in Bangkok, where the FAO regional office is, some 80 percent of experts and key officials of the agriculture ministry were graduates of our UP Los Baños.

You could spot many of them by the wooden kalabaw (with UPLB proudly carved into it) that occupies a prominent spot on their office desks. We wonder if they have not thrown those souvenirs into the trash bin.

* * *

THE “letter” of the President, regardless of who actually wrote it, points or hints at a number of things crying for immediate resolution and action.

We point to just two things: Greatness and simplicity.

Our national vision, mission, objective, goal, target, dream, obsession, etc., should be nothing but Greatness. Let’s cast aside mediocrity and strive for greatness. Not near-greatness, but greatness in the superlative degree.

We have the human resources, however prostituted, to achieve greatness. We also have natural resources left, however exploited, to fuel a resurgence for greatness.

* * *

TO orchestrate the difficult symphony of national greatness, we need a great Leader. We refer not to just one man or woman, but a group of them, actually a team that would snatch this nation from the brink and jumpstart it back to enlightenment and progress.

We believe Gloria Macapagal Arroyo can do it as team captain. She is equipped for it.

But she has loads of problems. Her political foes continue to plant land mines along the way. Many bloodsucking politicos and their cronies have sneaked aboard the Arroyo bandwagon. Terrorists and crime syndicates continue to test the will of the government and waste valuable resources. Many of us refuse to take the first move (we want the next guy to do it first) to drop our rat-race attitude and go back to being normal, civil, cheerful law-abiding citizens.

We want somebody (it could be GMA) to grab us and lead us, willing or not, to real greatness. Somebody has to lead us in recapturing our lost glory.

* * *

WHILE we talk of greatness, we want to stress the balancing virtue of simplicity.

There’s not much space left here, so let us just quote the very first section of the forgotten Article XI (Accountability of Public Officers) of the Constitution:

“Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.”

We repeat “…AND LEAD MODEST LIVES.” That admonition is not just for government officials, but also for us citizens.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 24, 2001)

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