Re-imagining Pilipinas Bukas
By Jim Paredes
The idea riveted some members of an NGO called Pinoy Power Inc. a few months back. The idea was to try and imagine what the country could be in the future, not unlike the way Rizal did during his time when he wrote ‘The Philippines: A Century Hence’.
What direction can we take the nation to? We asked ourselves. We felt it was a good time to do this. After all, we have just elected a new administration full of promise of reform. And this February is also the 25th anniversary of the 1986 EDSA People Power event. It felt right to do it.
The idea finally materialized last weekend when 99 people from different disciplines, advocacies and passions were invited to join a workshop to do exactly that—re-imagine what the Philippines can become 25 years from now. Artists, businessmen, entrepreneurs, overseas Filipinos, indigenous peoples, social professionals, scientists, religious, senators, cabinet members, and others showed up for the workshop. It was purposely a motley group whose members were encouraged to cross disciplines, and be imaginative and inspired.
We gathered together from Friday night to late Sunday afternoon for this unique visioning exercise. Friday night was for getting-to-know-you over drinks to get people more relaxed. It helped to break the ice early since the credentials of most who were attending were quite impressive, and thus potentially intimidating to some. What was needed was an unguarded, instant, relaxed sharing of ideas.
The workshop was conceptualized with the intention to break the mold of the usual workshops. It had none of the traditional elements such as keynote speakers to establish the themes for discussion. The last thing we wanted was too much intellectualizing instead of speaking candidly and concretely, or too much posturing in place of sincere sharing. In place of spoken words coming from people with PhDs, we had short interesting videos and unique musical numbers (kulintang players, a modern ethnic band, the Kamikaze band, a children’s choir), and dramatic vignettes to establish the themes for the discussions which were to follow. We also had three people from diverse backgrounds talk about the topic at hand in ten-minute segments to provoke the discussions.
The workshop was held at the sprawling Meralco Center in Antipolo which had a lot of areas to hold different activities, break-out sessions, and meals.
The discussions started Saturday at 9 a.m. The first session explored the proposition of culture as ‘wiring’. Are we as a people wired to fail? We asked ourselves. This was meant to elicit a lot of ranting and raving, a way of purging the negativity out or getting over this national pastime of self-bashing so we could spend more time expressing the positive potential scenarios we could come up with through re-imagining.
The next session provoked us to be more positive. One way was to take a look at the same things that bogged us down, and ask how they can be positive traits. Can our family ties extend to a social network that could be beneficial to all of us? Could our penchant for ‘small’ help liberate us? Could our hospitality and heartfelt caring for people serve us well?
Culture, economics, politics, and sometimes religion, dominated the discussions. People talked about their apprehensions but also gave insights for opportunities. While participants from almost all sectors, including the military, spoke of problems, the same people also spoke of solutions.
But we discovered that reimagining a different, more optimistic trajectory for our country was not easy. Most everyone, it seemed, was stuck in a box. Not a few noticed that we had become creatures of habit. It was quite an effort to re-imagine a specific, rosy, positive scenario without being bogged down by how we were going to get there.
At one breakout session, a participant reminded our group that when John Kennedy declared that the US would be the first country to land a man on the moon, he had no idea how it would be done. To further push the point, I suggested that we think like children and not be pulled back by the need to be realistic, logical or ‘sane’ in coming up with our vision. “Jump and the net will appear,’ I said. ‘If it does not, we may discover we actually have wings.’
Soon after, visions and declarations began to flow as easily as water. Some ideas from our group and those shared in the plenary were quite exciting: one expressed that 25 years hence, he hoped that he would be taking his grandchildren to a ‘Poverty Museum’ since poverty would be a thing of the past. Some people envisioned a one percent fertility rate, a society with 80% of its members in the middle class, a forest cover of 40% and coral reefs restored to 50%. An indigenous hoped he would be ale to drink from the Pasig River!
I expressed my vision of Philippine culture, ideas and arts as being dynamic, positive, influential and as identifiably unique as say, Japanese, Brazilian and Chinese culture. No more gaya-gaya (imitations). We would be proudly, uniquely Filipinos with something important to share. Someone else wished for an end to his NGO since it wouldn’t be needed anymore, simply because government would be efficiently and abundantly delivering the goods and services to the people.
A military man expressed the vision that the highly professional armed forces would be confined to barracks and not have to intervene in civilian life anymore because the internal conflicts would have been resolved and we would be enjoying domestic peace. Society would be peaceful, and people would have enough food, proper health care, access to education, jobs and a healthy, clean and sustainable environment. Essentially, that was the big picture envisioned.
To anchor the ideas closer to reality, it was suggested we come up with ‘doables’ along the vision lines which could be started within three years.
The weekend had many highlights, which included the unique presentations done by groups in song, poetry and drama sprinkled with lots of chutzpah and cheer. Then there was the ‘historic’ dinner that had the same menu (extravagant French cuisine no less) served during the Malolos Convention of 1896, and the beautiful Kundiman sung by Rachelle Gerodias and two other tenors after the meal.
We also did a social experiment after a discussion on poverty where, during the last lunch, only one table for about eight people was served lavishly with fine dining while the rest of the 91 delegates had sardines and mami noodles. We wanted to see if the ‘rich’ would notice the disparity, and whether the ‘poor’ would complain. After a while, the abundant table did notice the ‘grumbling’ and promptly shared their food; and everyone burst into applause.
I left the workshop with my heart full and my spirit soaring. It must have been the same for most of those who attended. At certain points, when people were speaking from their hearts expressing their love of country, and even during some of the performances, I thought I could feel Inang Bayan present in the room listening attentively as well.
I could hear strains of meaningful songs playing in my head as I left the workshop. But two phrases that stuck in my mind summarized my feelings. One of them was ‘Kay sarap pala maging Pilipino’, a line from a song I wrote in 1986. The other was something I heard from Joey Ayala years ago which went, ‘Kung kaya mong isipin, kayo mong gawin.’
We have re-imagined a future of this prison we are in. Now we must act.
Mabuhay tayong lahat.
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