POSTSCRIPT / November 16, 2017 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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We stay divided into rival tribes?

BEFORE my balikbayan brood heads for the mall, I tell them, grownups that they are, to “mag-ingat” (be careful), to take out their cellphones only when needed and then not to use them while walking, be alert that their knapsacks are not picked on the escalators, make sure their credit cards are processed within sight and not in a backroom, be always suspicious of people sidling up too close to them… the litany is long.

And their children, not yet fully initiated into the world as we know it in Manila, are bewildered. One of them, Danielle, recalled that time they shopped in Tokyo and forgot one of their bags in a store. They went back the next day and found it exactly where they dropped it, its contents intact.

In Kyoto, she remembered seeing people at the street corner waiting until the red light turned green for them to cross, even though there were no vehicles around. Overhearing this, her auntie Sandra who works in New York where many pedestrians rush to cross oblivious of the traffic lights, flashed a knowing smile.

Bless the children who have not been swallowed into the bruising adult world. How long can they survive with their innocence and trusting hearts?

How long do we, their elders, continue to preach to them peaceful co-existence in the rough and tumble world of brawlers and dealers? How do we inculcate into them honesty and a willingness to trust others so as to be trusted in kind?

It is sad to see youngsters grow up in a country where trust seems to have receded into a dark recess of our being.

Over the years, we have been reared to watch out – not for falling debris, or passing trucks and such but — for the “tambay” at the corner, the unkempt taxi driver, the seemingly innocent guy in the elevator, the executive in coat and tie lying in wait in his office, the barong-clad crocodiles lolling in the halls of Congress, the power players plotting by the Pasig river.

Now and then, negative thoughts visit us. Why cannot we just coexist, tolerate, trust and help one another? Why cannot we, like the myriad hues of the rainbow, merge into one radiant universal light?

Even if Bathala had scattered us over thousands of islands, it does not mean that He intended us to stay apart except when we have to face each other in battle. Our having been reared as rival tribes kept apart by mountains, seas and clannish idiosyncrasies is not beyond repair.

• Harking back to the old tribes

I RECALL my enrolment in UP Diliman decades ago when we had to fill out detailed paperwork that felt like an obstacle course. One question in one long form, which must have been designed by a colonial-minded administrator, stuck in my mind.

It asked for the applicant’s tribe. Tribe? I asked a fellow enrollee what they mean by “tribe.” Oh, he guessed, they probably mean if you are Ilokano, Tagalog, Bisaya, Igorot, Tausog or whatever. Oh.

Before that, it never occurred to me that we Filipinos are categorized into tribal groups. But on second thought, it does seem even now that what we pass off as a nation is actually a loose collection of tribes.

Judging from how we hammer out alliances and move against outsiders, we have slid back to our tribal orientation, except that the groups are now organized not along ethnic lines, but around political dynasties, warlords, business blocs and, lately, crime (e.g. drug) syndicates.

Anyone who wants to climb the totem pole must dominate and control all the disparate groups – by any means, fair or foul. That race to the top is political warfare, a variation of the old tribal fights.

The rivalry could be bloody. Some politician friends have told me that if one is not ready to have somebody killed, he has no business being in politics. Of course, we don’t buy that, but it sets us thinking.

To rise and stay on top of the entire structure, a strongman may have to retain the rivalry, keep it simmering, but under control — under the classic principle of divide and rule.

• Why sow disunity instead of unity?

WITH the fact of low-intensity conflict being used to consolidate power, one can begin to understand the seeming absurdity of the administration’s needing unity to achieve its goals but continuing to divide the country.

After winning the 2016 presidential election, the logical move of the winner is to embrace all warring factions and massage the mixture into one solid mass – toward national unification.

But the opposite is happening. Under the guise of reformation, a campaign of selective prosecution, mainly of political enemies and critics, is ongoing. Those who cannot be hauled to court, for lack of evidence, are hounded and shamed before the public.

This could reap the desired results since almost all of us, especially those high in government, are sinners. Practically any big player in politics and business could be pulled out at random and a credible case could be built against him.

We are not saying that the crooks should go scot-free. What we like to see is for this cleansing to be not selective. Is the guideline now “They may be crooks, but they are our crooks”?

The very office of presidential communication itself – a potent agency for national unity – has hired cyber warriors whose only mission is to harass and demonize perceived foes and critics of the administration.

The use of public funds for this negative campaign to divide instead of  unite disparate elements, to spread false and misleading information, and slap down those who dare raise a peep of protest is a throwback to the tribal wars, fomenting factionalism and unending strife.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 16, 2017)

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