“ The land of the free and the home of the brave… ” The closing words to a song now sung in privatized state schools throughout the nation; which, by the way, have partnered with private enterprise to provide uber-high-tech, sustainable, eco-friendly (on paper anyway) hydroponics farms for every farmer in the countryside.
Only this isn’t in America – nor have we stumbled upon some unlikely utopia on Planet Perfect – it’s the Philippines. Workers rush to work, their lips coffee-drenched, their eyes bright, and grins wide for the lightning-paced day that awaits them. These days, everyone’s happy. After all, what’s not to celebrate about our nascent place as one of the most powerful nations in the world?
Though cars still guzzle gasoline and spew noxious diesel fumes ‘til kingdom come on Manila’s streets, roads are manageable, with drivers the epitome of patient obedience, following the rules of the road and bowing to police officers who can track anyone who trumps the new 20 kph speed limit with laser speedometers, in a matter of seconds. Jeeps have become things of the past, as have their streetwise drivers, replaced by metro buses and transit trains owned by multinational corporations – though, like China’s old rickshaws, pedestrian cabs have somehow survived the onslaught.
Makati’s old skyscrapers are now overshadowed by those of the neighboring cities of NCR. Fast food chains have arrived from across the globe, and our own Jolly red Bee has long buzzed away to new capitalist frontiers, offering its classic Pinoy-style spaghetti just sweet enough to match its more-flour-than-meat fried chicken.
Some things have changed, others simply haven’t. Prison cells are still packed with tax evaders and movie pirateers. Boob jobs remain a celebrity staple. You might have your first lowest paying job at twenty and you’re lucky if you can find a higher paying one at 30. The coins spewed out by the Central Bank are slightly larger but have changed little in value.
There have been slight cultural shifts. There is a much greater chance that your neighbor is a transvestite; the next thing you know, he’s living with your best friend, and it’s cool. Your BigMac today is your pipsqueak Burger Mcdo tomorrow. The Filipino language is second only to English. And oh, they’re hosting the international karaoke competition in our state next year.
For travel abroad, visa applications and green cards have been thrown out the window. A Disneyland dream vacation has never been this easy for our countrymen, while tanned skin is again in. The average worker, replaced by the efficient technological behemoths of our newly not-so-industrialized country, has – as he always had – forsaken home and fled abroad to a bright new world, aspiring for his own version of the American dream. The American dream that – as it always has – promises a better future for a society that has long suffered before at last landing completely in the clutches of the New Order.
But forging this great(er) nation was not a task achieved peacefully overnight. When conflict flared between a neighboring rising power, namely China, and us, it ravaged our puny nation. So when the disunited people of a disunited archipelagic nation rose in defiance of a nation that had been an erstwhile ally since the time of their ancestors, historians fell off their seats and politicians aired their propaganda, and the UN intervened with its usual impotence. We raised our guns.
Though wars are won by men and soldiers, how could we possibly win against an enemy with bullets five times more than we had, and a nuclear arsenal to boot?
Ironically, a swelling military budget did nothing to fortify our defenses, evident in the potbellies of leaders who have rattled by every round of shrapnel they had chanced to evade, sitting in lacquered offices, saber-rattling and raving over the need for war while their foot soldiers did all the dirty work, clamoring to account for the rising toll of slain civilians on both sides. So in desperation we turned to Uncle Sam, our old buddy, who – “in the name of democracy and all that is right and true and good” – promised to help us through peaceful economic means, i.e. selling their military hardware at a lower price than the ones they sell to the enemy. And the best part? We could get all the new supplies and equipment we needed on more debt! Just sign here.
The war ended at the brink of holocaust. The help of America came at a time, and in a manner, we least expected. And yes, we won, thanks to a CIA-inspired, drone-powered scud storm that ripped our Western coast to shreds and obliterated our tormentors like the wrath of god. Yes, we won, on mountains of new debt, both financial and moral.
One thing followed another, and we soon found ourselves under the wings of a United State (without the “s”). Many rose in opposition, as we had done in EDSA, as we always do when fuel and food prices spike or on those rare occasions when our people unite, sensing the time for new leaders. But like both EDSAs and like the price hikes, such revolutions, even of the radical kind, only gave way to new despots and higher prices. The New Order came virtually unopposed, and was a cause célèbre in the international press. The local media hailed it as a reason for New Hope.
Today, the Roman Catholic Church, once the most powerful institution in the land, has been sullied by new ideas of progress. Abortion clinics have more customers than churches have congregants, with cheap condoms patronized more than wooden saints. The new generation knows and glorifies only the gods of their white heroes, the gods of mammon, the sexy gods on swanky billboards – the bayanis of old are shunned, deemed unfit and uncool by a race whose sole reason for being had become the ritual act of material consumption and the sacred dogma of get-rich-quick.
The Church seeks to oppose the System, finding unlikely allies among the Imams of Mindanao, Zen Buddhists, the Illuminati, the underground armies of a rejuvenated Left, even Iglesia ni Cristo, but how, in a nation that has long lost faith in both God and itself? Thoroughly westernized, restless, money-drunk and fast-paced ‘global citizens’ must drop all pretense of the Spiritual, even as they attend Sunday Mass while speculating on stock figures on their iPhones to the tune of 1 Timothy 6:10.
But beyond the glitz and glamour of the nation’s capital, trends of inequality and ecological devastation have reached the tipping point, as wealth has continued to concentrate in the hands of an ever narrower group of the elite.
With Panatag Shoal and Malampaya offshore drilling coming to a standstill with reserves close to exhaustion, oil exploration elsewhere has become commonplace. If your property is targeted for drilling the glorious black stuff, then lucky you – you’re instantly moved abroad, where you get to live a normal life as an OFW and where your new home need not be ransacked again after state-backed transnational mechanisms rake in all the profit. If not, you still get a stock certificate as a consolation prize and a chance to live in an underground cave home with a sticker that reads, “For Fatherland and Freedom!”
Despite our status as an emerging Oil State, gasoline prices have shot up higher than ever, as other world powers have competed over declining global reserves, and gas companies have flourished under looser government regulations.
In the rural backwaters, millions more writhe in abject poverty as nature’s systems have been thrown out of balance. Those fancy hydroponics farms, it turns out, were really large-scale plantations and hardly eco-friendly, dispelling the last of our rainforests alongside new mines made to export the bulk of our food and mineral resources abroad, as prices for both rise in the local market.
To cope with growing discontent, the poor have been pacified with debt-incurred cash transfers, or the privilege of a silent death if the dole outs don’t reach them in time.
And what about Security? War-stricken lands have been paved over by American forts and American bases surrounded by American restaurants, bars, bistros and strip clubs. Political power has been steadily centralized in the benevolent iron fists of a US-backed great Lindon B. Johnson. All in the name of national sovereignty.
So come, join us. Because Uncle Sam needs you.