Filipinos in denial stage

By William Esposo

FILIPINOS go about life with the notion that things are not as bad as their really are. Psychologists refer to this as a state of being "in denial" -- that human tendency to turn a blind eye to adverse situations as a coping behaviour to escape unpleasant realities.

Ferdinand Marcos got away with his Martial Law regime for nearly 14 years (1972 -1986) because many Filipinos had preferred to take the easier path of believing the lies and the myths of the dictatorship rather than act according to their better judgment. In the end, we almost delivered ourselves at the altars of a communist-led bloodbath had we not been saved by the miraculous turn of events sparked by the EDSA people power revolt that installed Cory Aquino as president.

The same denial syndrome continue to afflict us and I wonder if it is because Filipinos no longer have icons of leadership -- such as those exemplified by Ninoy and his widow Cory -- in whom they can rally around.

I certainly do not expect the upper crust to spearhead any movement that would emancipate us from oligarchy which only lead to the widening gap between the decadent rich and the groveling masses. Nor do I expect them to rail against our pathetic brand of patronage and corrupt-ridden politics which actually serves to perpetuate their profligate lifestyle.

At the time when civil society was mounting mass actions and rallies leading to EDSA II, the Makati Business Club was still asking for a 'feasibility study' before they subscribed participation in the Oust Erap Movement. This, despite the explosive revelations of Chavit Singson.

While the more intellectually-inclined middle classes of the world are usually the moving forces of change, our own middle class, given their relatively better education and more objective perspective, seems to be suffering from battle fatigue. Amid gawking social inequities and telling signs of unrest, most Filipinos would prefer to dream and lose themselves in the world of make-believe.

The syndrome is much too familiar with me because I run an entertainment company which takes care of bringing blockbusters like The X-Files, Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, Ripley's Believe it or not, Chicago Hope to Filipino TV homes. It is my business to study the trends of the entertainment industry and what I had discovered is both puzzling and ironic.

Many of the young ones today are not aware of the phenomenon of human behavior and entertainment. It has been observed that when people are in very critical situations, they tend to crave for activities that feed on fantasy and escapism, as though fulfilling a human survival instinct for flight and escape.

The great depression in the US has seen the rise of patronage for glitzy musicals and great entertainers such as child star sensation Shirley Temple and comic Charlie Chaplin. These movie genres were in great demand because they effectively provided relief from people’s miseries. In the 70's recession, following the sagging spirit of Americans after losing the Vietnam War, "Superman" movies and like fantasy films made the big bucks. It was also the heydays of sitcoms on US television; giving birth to such classics as "Mork and Mindy" and "Three's company".

But to the credit of the American people, it did not take much for them to come back to reality and -- upon regaining their sanity -- they picked up the pieces, rebuilt their lives and their nation. Alas, here, we continue to operate in a "moviehouse" mode as though people are resigned to the conclusion that the problems will never be resolved anyway.

To me, this attitude of laid back defeatist resignation is worse than any problem. Winning or losing starts with the mind and the heart. I have seen this nation face a formidable tyrant in Marcos, backed by the US at that (the US only dumped Marcos when in February 1986 they finally realized that he was finished), but we managed to solve that problem when we put our mind to it after the sacrifice of Ninoy Aquino aroused our sense of outrage.

Today, the situation is much harder to untangle. We do not have a Ninoy. We have become disillusioned about EDSA -- thanks largely, though not solely, to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who betrayed EDSA II. There is no Cory to fill the role of a Joan of Arc. We had the belief then that democracy, once restored, will solve all our problems. In contrast, we now suffer from knowing that the system does not work and we seem helpless to correct the failing system. Neither do we have a viable alternative for junking it.

In reality, the Filipino is again left to himself and his native devices. We are on our own except that we prefer to look the other way; hoping perhaps that a 'champion' a'la Ninoy and Cory will appear in the horizon -- like what happens in the movies -- to do the battle for us. We prefer to remain inside the "moviehouse" instead of sallying forth into the world to slay our dragons.

In our younger days, we in the Ateneo were hammered with an inspirational song that was made popular in the post-World War I era (I do not belong to that era - I'm a baby boomer!) titled "Stout hearted men". The song is all about what one stout-hearted man (braveheart today) can do to influence and move 10 stout hearted men which in turn can move and influence a thousand stout hearted men to accomplish what seems impossible. Ninoy Aquino, who himself must have been hammered with that ideal during his Ateneo days, became that one stout-hearted man that inspired a million heroes in 1986.

Alas, today, what we see is an Atenean who is simply stout with plunder and who cannot even plunder using his own name. No stout hearted men in the horizon. No giants to lead us. Now we don't even have institutions to believe in and rally around.

Today, we suffer from the Filipino's great need to believe in something and someone. But then, that kind and loving God of the Filipino nation may have altogether given up on our leaders for failing to rise above their petty interests and may be -- just may be -- setting us up for hubris. Now that is reason to be afraid.

For we know well enough from history that He is also capable of allowing the most extreme of calamities and events to happen to purge and reshape society. World War I was the worst war man had seen until that time (World War II, an offshoot of WWI, was worse) and it occurred from the most ridiculous reasons when an insignificant Austrian Archduke was assassinated by a Serbian fanatic. Yet out of that great war, as World War I was called, dynasties crumbled -- the Ottoman Sultans in Turkey, Romanovs in Russia, Kaisers in Germany, Habsburgs in Austria.

Now the question is: are we going to be as stupid as those dynasties and allow the emerging situation to overcome us?


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