My Country Is Not For Sale

In 1998 I began my first job in government as a member of the legislative staff of one of the reps belonging to the first batch of party-list representatives, Sanlakas’ Rep. Renato Magtubo.

It didn’t take a full month before my idealism was tested, or shaken. In an elevator with older congressional staff members, I overheard them talking about the contenders for the House Speakership––Manny Villar, Sonny Belmonte, and Joker Arroyo.

You’d think that the staff members were debating about the merits of the three congressmen, but they weren’t. They were talking about rumors (later echoed in news reports) that Villar was paying off each member of the Lower House to secure their votes, to the tune of Php200,000.00 each.

That bit of news I was familiar with. I had frequently tagged along with Cong. Magtubo in dinner meetings with Cong. Arroyo and fellow supporters, and with each meal I noticed that our numbers were dwindling. So I had a pretty good idea why.

What I found troubling about the discussion between the staffers was that––despite knowing that Villar was paying off congressmen left and right––these staffers wanted Villar to win the Speakership.

Why?

“Siguradong masmataas benepisyo natin kung si Villar maging Speaker.” (Our benefits will surely be greater if Villar becomes Speaker.)

The conversation was so disturbing that I wrote a letter to the Manila Times––a letter that was printed with my name withheld to protect my principal––that condemned this kind of thinking, the kind of mentality that has made Congress truly deserve its title of “The Lower House.”

More than a decade later, the same thing is happening again, but this time, there’s more than the Speakership at stake. Now it’s the presidency on the line, and if the recent SWS Survey is any indication, it seems that Villar’s billions are again working in his favor.

I don’t know if my outrage is an indication I haven’t changed since ’98––if that’s the case, then I’m glad. Because the moment I lose my capacity to be angered by what is undeniably wrong, then I’ve lost myself to the cynicism and pragmatism I promised I wouldn’t give in to when I swore to give my last breath to making my country A Better Place To Live In.

And make no mistake about it, Manny Villar sitting in Malacañang is just plain wrong. And the fact that most of our people are eating up the crap being shoveled down their throats by his ads is even more wrong.

For God’s sake, this is a man who, eleven years ago, practically bought the House Speakership––a fact not proven in a court of law, of course, but a factoid that was oft-reported in the news at the time.

This is a man who says that comedian Willie Revillame is qualified to be a Senator of the Republic, for crying out loud!

A candidate who exploits loopholes in our election laws to engage in widespread, heavy, very premature campaigning!

A so-called leader who does not have the courage to even face his constituents to present his plan of action for this country––preferring instead to have his younger, more articulate proxies speak in his stead!

Is this how far we’ve come over a quarter century since Ninoy was killed? From a nation of cowards we’ve now become a nation of idiots? Or worse, a nation of people who can’t tell right from wrong?

So Villar says he can give us jobs, and his billion-peso empire is proof of it––so we just say, fine, we’ll forget your propensity to shell out cash whenever you need or want something? So, okay, he spends his own money to save abused OFWs from their oppressive employers––is that better than him having a concrete plan for our overseas workers?

Are we so easily bought? Do we so willingly buy this crap?

We complain endlessly about how everyone and everything in this country can be had at the right price. The problem is, we’re all talk. When faced with what could be the most important presidential election in our generation, most are content to complain, to hem and haw, to wish and hope.

Enough talk. We want good leadership, we have to work for it. If most of our countrymen can’t see the light, then we––those who feel and believe we know better––have to help the unenlightened realize that those courting their votes are not the sum of their political ads.

Kung hindi tayo kikilos, sino? Kung hindi ngayon, kailan pa? (If not us, who? If not now, when?)

This article is written by Jed M. Eva III, reposted with permission from Thinking Aloud.

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