“Pare-pareho lang sila.” Eh, ikaw?

Today’s editorial at the Philippine Daily Inquirer is simply excellent. This is for everyone, especially the youth — that’s you, my dear students — who feel that there is no hope or reason to believe in Philippine politics and government.

Here’s what I take from the article: When we don’t care about the government, that isn’t apathy. It’s defeatism. And when we say that they’re all the same, don’t excuse yourself from that same judgment — we’re all the same too.

My only criticism about this editorial is that it assumes all the youth are politically inactive, which of course is far from the truth, unless their paradigm of political involvement was nurtured during Martial Law (which is often the case with these editors).

Writing in the most recent issue of the Journal of Democracy, political scientist Paul D. Hutchcroft (in “The Arroyo Imbroglio in the Philippines”) attributed President Macapagal-Arroyo’s survival in office to several factors, the first of which was that her main opponent in the 2004 presidential election died. Others are: that the country was unprepared even to contemplate Vice President Noli de Castro’s assumption to the presidency; and Ms Arroyo systematically cultivated the loyalty of the top brass of the military.

But also, there was the failure of People Power activities to attract popular support. Regarding this, Hutchcroft wrote, “Demonstrations were called [in 2005-2006], but they failed to draw large crowds. Many at the time spoke of ‘people power fatigue,’ but there was probably a deeper disillusionment at play. This time around, it was difficult for citizens to nurse hopes that a mere change in leadership would fix the problems of the country. Many seemed tired of being pawns in intra-elite squabbles that ultimately brought little change.”

This observation strikes us as true, in the sense that political reality is often what people perceive it to be. The reason many people, particularly the youth, have given to justify their failure to act, politically, over the last few years, can be reduced to the singsong phrase, “same same.” This is a great evil of our times, this “pare-pareho lang sila” mentality, which justifies tolerating the status quo on the defeatist assumption that all leaders are the same.

This “same same” mentality ignores a statistical improbability: it simply can’t be true that every leader is, indeed, the same as every other. It also ignores a basic reality, which is, that there are no leaders where there are no followers. In other words, the “same same” mentality reflects more a refusal to take responsibility than an objective reality.

It is also, we might add, a curious reflection of the great, inherent powers of the presidency. Since this is an administration that believes in impunity, it has done its best to encourage the population to act with impunity as well.

Elders criticizing younger generations is as inevitable as night following day. The young criticizing their elders is equally inevitable. Edsa II saw a generation of Filipino youth, reared in the romanticism of Edsa I, eager to take to the streets, fired up by the crash course in political accountability that was the Estrada impeachment. Yet within weeks after Estrada’s downfall came disappointment after disappointment, as the elders who manned our political system refused to properly read the signs of the times. To every protest they responded with guns.

These elders disappointed the youth; they also made possible the transformation of disappointment―from cynicism to what some elders have described as apathy, but which is really defeatism. The reason, of course, is that from 1986 to 2001, the youth were told stories of success, without being made to understand that the success in 1986 came only after years of failure, and yes, disappointment and even betrayal. Edsa in 1986 was a marathon; Edsa II was a hundred-yard dash.

However, the youth’s turning away from active involvement in the political sphere, even if understandable, isn’t excusable. A society that rationalizes its refusal to exact accountability from its leaders is a society conspiring to excuse itself from the basic responsibilities of citizenship. This may make sense for the young who seek fulfillment not only in working, but dreaming of emigrating, abroad. Many more, though, may seek professional development abroad, but the fruits of their labor will be sent back home, just as there are those who are youthful today who fully intend to come home permanently when they shall have become old.

What sort of country will their loved ones have, in the meantime? And to what sort of country will they come home to, eventually? When the youth say “they” are all the same, they obviously don’t include themselves. And if they are the majority (which they are) then it means the youth can seize the day―but don’t want to. They have judged, but refuse to be judged themselves.

To my foreign readers, the title of this post reads, “They’re all the same. How about you?”

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One thought on ““Pare-pareho lang sila.” Eh, ikaw?

  1. chilling but true. despite the generalization, i feel that in one way or another, we have been guilty of this. i hope there will come a day when we redeem ourselves from this great evil of our time.

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