The idealist’s quest

Philippine Star

Sunday Life

Sunday, August 31, 2008

To dream the impossible dream

To fight the unbeatable foe

To bear the unbearable sorrow

To run where the brave dare not go.

— The Impossible Dream, from the musical The Man From La Mancha by Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion

It’s been 25 years since Ninoy came home and was murdered on the tarmac. It is almost 50 years ago that a political party called Philippine Party for Progress ran in a national election and was clobbered. I still remember the people involved — the late Senators Raul Manglapus and Manny Manahan, a Gaston from Bacolod and a few other good men who vowed to clean up the government and make the country move forward. I remember PPP well since my mother and a few other people she knew believed in it and actively supported it. It was also one of the earliest disappointments in politics that I can recall.

We have seen others of this reformist mold run in other elections, Brother Eddie Villanueva being one of them. During the last senatorial race, we also heard from a group of people who called themselves Kapatiran and who, like their predecessors, did not even come close to being considered electable by much of the electorate.

The usual take of most people on such idealistic endeavors is that idealism is not enough. One needs the wherewithal to fight the rulers who fool the electorate with guns, goons and gold, which they also stole from the electorate. In other words, one needs the same things that the enemy has in order to win.

The other day, a relative was talking about a very prominent businessman who claimed to have no qualms — whatsoever — about doing what is needed to close a deal. The businessman, my relative said, was actually bragging about it. He is immensely successful and understandably so. He is driven and is not about to let something like an inner voice or a conscience stand in the way of his further accumulation of wealth, power and prestige, even if it means killing or hurting people in the process.

I find it hard to imagine myself in such a man’s shoes. Logic tells me that, yes, I can “understand” what drives him, and that there are such people and that these things do happen, but I cannot empathize with it. I can probably intellectualize the concept of being compassionate towards him because he is a sentient being, but the feeling part that is supposed to go with it does not easily follow. Perhaps I am not as enlightened as I should be.

My brother Gabby says the reason why we are the way we are is because we all carry our own unique moral DNA. Perhaps. I am, after all, the son of my father and mother.

I have always been a natural constituent of so-called idealistic causes. I can even say I can’t help it. Some causes, when you hear about them, just feel right and must be supported. I have given a lot of time and effort and spent many resources to advance causes like OPM, the environment, human rights, the restoration of democracy, clean elections, education, electing good people into office and the like. Last Sunday, though I was tempted to sleep late, I spent the morning judging a singing contest sponsored by Gawad Kalinga, a movement I believe in and support. In the evening, I spoke at a rally, also for GK. Somehow, doing what my inner voice dictates affirms something big and beautiful inside me.

I notice, though, that I do not always heed that inner voice. Sometimes I choose to ignore it because I am tired or burned out. Many of us, in the name of being realistic, live our lives being numb and indifferent, the better to avoid the pain of not following what seems to be right. And I see a massive denial or, at the very least, a compromising of our beliefs and ideals when we discuss national issues or are nearing an election.

How many of us have chosen not to vote for the candidates we really believed in because we thought they would not win? How many of us have voted for people we do not trust because we are being “practical?” How many of us have refused the call to mass action even if we knew it was the right thing to do? And how many of us have found fault in the Don Quixotes in our midst by imputing imagined evil motives on them, or jeering them for their futile efforts, and predicting that they will fail?

And sure enough, when enough people wish it, it does come true. And once again, our cynicism is affirmed. It’s as if we have lost the capacity to believe that the right thing has a fighting chance, or is worth fighting for. And yet, when we look at the enemies of what we really believe and stand for with all their resources, we ask in true amazement and fear, “How can they fail?”

At my age, I have set aside many things I used to believe in blindly, and have awakened to a less fairy-tale-like reality. No more Santa Clauses, for sure. But this reality that I have stumbled into is, thankfully, not a cynical one. It is a reality that still allows so-called miracles to pull the rug out from under evil and instill goodness in the real world.

I still believe that as human beings, we can fashion a sustainable way of life that will support everyone on the planet. I still believe in the innate goodness of people. As a Filipino, I believe we can rescind the ominous socio-political contract we find ourselves in and awaken to the greatness that we can be.

At this time in our national life when every institution — government, the military, the religious, showbiz, teachers, professionals and the elite — has lost credibility and cannot be fully trusted to do the right thing, what are we to do? Where can we turn to for guidance?

What we are going through is not exclusive to Filipinos. It is also occurring in many countries. In the United States, the once unthinkable idea of a black man making as much political headway as Barack Obama is already happening. Put yourself in Zimbabwe where a dictator like Robert Mugabe seems to hold all the cards and is bent on lording it over everyone. What is left of the opposition to use against him except the burning passion to institute the ideals of democracy, no matter the odds? Or take Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratically elected leader of Burma who has been imprisoned in her home by the military for most of the past decade. Idealism is all she has, and it may not seem like a lot.

But judging by how the dramatic turns of history have gone, her idealism may still prove to be enough to overturn the situation. David slew Goliath. The Berlin Wall, which no one could imagine would collapse during his or her lifetime, has vanished. Our EDSA I toppled 20 years of plunder and dictatorship. Japan and many other nations massively devastated by war picked have themselves up and attained their own greatness.

As 2010 nears, many of our countrymen will present themselves as leaders who promise to guide us towards the light at the end of the tunnel. Some will present tried and tested narratives to ingratiate themselves to the public and dazzle us with money and glitz while sidestepping the real issues. And there will be the others who will have the right programs and ideas but no funds, little exposure, a sparse following — and will still run on the steam of their own idealistic fire.

They will ask for our help. Is this another trap that idealists will fall into, or is this the true one that will save us? The cynics will again raise the issue of pragmatism. It is really up to us to choose collectively the reality we want.

In these desperate circumstances, it is time to put on our idealist’s armor and join those who dare to do what seems impossible… When there is no other recourse left, relying on our ideals may not only be necessary but may be just what we need to pull through.