Thursday, July 20, 2017

[Second Opinion] The delusion of quick fixes

by Gideon Lasco
Philippine Daily Inquirer

By 1980, it is predicted that Manila may have expanded so much that it may include Infanta, Quezon province. This will be a city, therefore, two sides of which are harbors. One on the Pacific Ocean and one on Manila Bay or the China Sea side.” We will never be able to tell if Ferdinand Marcos, who delivered those words in his 1976 State of the Nation Address, was genuinely convinced that his New Society would usher in a transformation of Asimovian proportions.

Regardless, he is not alone in imagining — or claiming — that dramatic changes take place in our country in a short period of time. “Three [MRTs] will be completed in 2004, one in 2005, and another one in 2006,” declared Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in her own Sona in 2001. “Before I step down, all the land covered by CARP will have been distributed,” Noynoy Aquino pledged on the same occasion in 2012. Two years later, he would trumpet the Laguna Lakeshore Expressway Dike, assuring that bidding would take place very soon amid hearty applause.

Perhaps one can fault our former presidents for making empty promises. But one can also ask why such promises were seen as plausible at that time. And why the same plausibility is accorded the current president’s pronouncements: Kill me if I don’t resolve crimes in 6 months. “Just give me a little extension of maybe another six months,” he would say later, only to eventually concede that the promise was a ‘miscalculation’ and that his term is not enough.

The political expediency of quick fixes taps into people’s impatience in a broken system that they feel has not worked for them. They also draw from our people’s penchant for blind faith — i.e., an uncritical acceptance of what our politicians say. We ask presidential candidates what they plan to do for our country, without interrogating how exactly they plan to do it.

The problem with most quick fixes, however, is that they break the continuity that’s necessary for most programs to succeed. In DOT, for instance, the changing of slogans — from “Wow Philippines” to “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” to “Experience Philippines” — is undertaken by every new administration, as if it would miraculously allow us to finally beat the tourist arrivals of Thailand and Malaysia (both of whom, by the way, have maintained their respective slogans for the past decade).

Another is they lead to desperate and drastic measures that are ultimately detrimental to our nation. Instead of building a comprehensive approach to our drug problem, the government embarks on a ‘war on drugs’ without addressing why people use drugs in the first place. Death, whether in the form of suspected drug users getting shot or criminals getting executed, is valorized, despite the overwhelming historical and scientific evidence that it is not just inhumane, but ineffective.

And then there’s martial law, which is being touted today as a magical solution for Mindanao’s problems — even though, as my colleague Oscar Franklin Tan pointed out, it does not actually add to the already awesome powers of the presidency. Completely untethered from any sense of history, some even wish for martial law to be declared over the entire country, thinking  that it would return us into an imagined utopia. Alas, many of our leaders tolerate these untruths, betraying a complicity that is just as expedient for them as the myths they enable.

“Federalism,” too, is trumpeted as a panacea for our republic’s maladies, as if it would overhaul our broken political system and rid us of the pernicious culture of patronage. While federalism is a legitimate long-term aspiration for the country, the way it is presented by today’s political actors, as yet another silver bullet, misses the mark, even as it once again hits people’s longing for change.

Quick fixes can take the form not just of programs or platforms, but individuals, as when they too are touted, and uncritically accepted, as the answer to our problems. And here is where the gravest danger lies. Over 40 years after a Philippine president presented himself as our nation’s savior, the last thing we need is another fake messiah.

Originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer:

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