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Twist in the narrative

Publication Date : 26-05-2014

 

The last time we figured in CNN and BBC, indeed hogged headlines in them for days on end, was over a grim development. That was in the aftermath of Super Typhoon “Yolanda,” when the images of death and destruction, driven home by desolate figures drifting aimlessly like “zombies”—the word was on everybody’s lips—after having lost entire families, unraveled grindingly in them. Capped by President Aquino getting flustered when Christiane Amanpour asked him if he didn’t think this was going to define his legacy.

We’re not exactly hogging headlines there today, but we’re getting our due. This time for a more joyous reason, a stark contrast with the one half a year ago. This time for achieving rates of growth that have outstripped our neighbors, making them nod their heads in approval. It’s the reason the World Economic Forum (WEF) is being held here, in the world’s recognition of that accomplishment.

The praises have been pouring over the last few days, but the scene doesn’t glow with unadulterated triumph. It emits in fact a not very faint whiff of disconnect, between the national and the global, between the inside and the outside. At the very time the WEF took place, the country was being rocked by an unrelenting slew of exposes about corruption, or specifically how the near-wholesale theft of pork barrel, which the Inquirer brought to public notice last year, was far more extensive than initially thought of.

If you’ve been out of the country the last few weeks, as I have, you’d be assailed by the sheer plenitude of stories about pork online, or the mounting list of people—as well indeed as the lists themselves—named on it. Outside looking in, it painted a picture of a nation of crooks, governed by public officials who badly needed to govern their appetites first.

The contrast is breathtaking, and makes you wonder who’s got it right, the global community which has glimpsed only the dawning of a new day, or the local media which have glimpsed only the encroachment of feral night.

Maybe both are right in different measure, which resonates with sublime irony, reversing as it does the narrative that took hold of our brains shortly after P-Noy came to power. A narrative the regime he replaced tried mightily to sell. A narrative that said that in contrast to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who might have been immoral but at least a capable economic manager, P-Noy would succeed only in improving the country’s moral health but not so in expanding its economic wealth.


Wonder of wonders, the opposite became true.

There’s no doubt about the economic growth, even if there are doubts about whether it is sustainable or not, or if, as the faithful predict, it will go on to greater heights in years to come. The achievement isn’t self-advertised, as Arroyo’s dubious economic feats were, it is universally recognised.

The only question is if it isn’t a bubble that could burst in time or suddenly. Never mind the impact of China on the future of the entire region, particularly in light of its disputes with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. Mind only the fairly brittle foundations of our growth, which is credit-driven, which is consumer-oriented.

Consider that we have nine of the world’s 38 biggest malls, beating even the United States, China, and most other developed countries for that dubious honor, which alone must suggest how skewed the development is. And which alone must suggest why the growth is noninclusive, or not benefiting the poor except marginally.

But the growth is impressive enough by itself, and nothing less than spectacular when compared to the miserableness of the previous regime. Some of the foreign guests at the WEF have attributed it to government’s success in curbing corruption, proving that indeed there’s no  mahirap (poor) where there is no corrupt. But that’s the part that’s tricky. There’s no doubt that government has taken the  daang  maunlad (road to progress), but there’s doubt it has hewed to the  daang  matuwid (straight path).

Arguably, the pork scandal unleashed by Janet Lim Napoles covers in large part doings under the previous regime, even if they are raging only now from the glare of public exposure.

I myself can’t understand why the government hasn’t harped on this point with equally unrelenting ferocity: The staggering theft happened during Arroyo’s time, and happened not just because of the staggering tolerance of it by her but because of the staggering example set for it by her (and husband). Surely the fact that the pork scam has occupied national attention to the virtual exclusion of everything else must show government’s campaign is taking root?

Alas, it’s not all as clear-cut as that. Government itself stands indicted for reasons of its own making. Not the least of them P-Noy’s defence of pork and the

Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) before he eventually decided to withdraw it, and only after it brought his approval ratings to an all-time low. Should the Supreme Court rule the DAP unconstitutional, where seemingly it is headed, it will be a major blow.

Quite apart from that, there’s government’s almost knee-jerk circling of wagons around its people and allies when they are taken to task.

Where’s your moral ascendancy when you can damn Arroyo’s spawn for corruption but protect someone accused by no less than the ambassador of a not very middling country of trying to extort $30 million from him? Where’s your moral ascendancy when you can kick out a Margie Juico for an Ayong Maliksi? Where’s your moral ascendancy when you can indulge the people who indulge them?

There’s a disconnect between the global perception and the national one, between the external perception and the internal one. Both are probably right in different measure. But what a strange twist it has been in expectations.

What an epic twist it has been in the narrative.


 

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