The freedom to do good

Jejomar Binay
Despite Edsa, most Filipinos are still poor. That's our greatest shame.

Vice-President Jejomar Binay (Photo courtesy of ar.electionsmeter.com)Once again we celebrate Edsa—the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution. It was our belated New Year in 1986 because so many things ended and began with Edsa.

These were the decades-old dictatorship, under which so many people suffered and for whose dismantling so many lives were paid, and the long road to reform in our government and society, for which many are still hungering up to this day.

Freedom and reform, or true democracy and a moral government, are two national ideals our people have been striving and fighting for, which came to a head so remarkably peacefully in 1986.
 
Despite Edsa and the passing of the years, the attainment of freedom and reform, of real democracy and morality in government, will not be instant. Our generation and those after us will still be working towards these ideals in their lifetime, I anticipate.

Because the desired effects of these ideals are even more difficult to achieve: political and economic freedom on one hand, and on the other, reform that means a government that works and functions not only for a few. In other words, freedom from poverty and freedom from corruption—the depredations of those who are more powerful than us.
 
I am part of Edsa, having been involved in the struggle against the dictatorship and staying at President Cory Aquino’s side as history swept her into the Presidency. And swept us into positions where we could introduce significant change.

My own struggle as mayor of Makati, saving the municipal government on the brink of bankruptcy and finally making the country’s financial center attend to the poverty of its own residents, was part of the Edsa Legacy.

Political will

My experience in Makati, I am not afraid to repeat, has taught me well: have a political will, enroll the people’s participation, and be transparent about it. And if we may add, collect taxes well but don’t put all the money in the bank, spend it for social services.

Roughly, that brought the country’s premier financial district from the brink of bankruptcy to surplus, from debt to liquidity. And from a place almost strictly for business to a place that cares for people.
 
As far as alleviating poverty goes, one must have a will of iron but not a heart of stone. As far as protecting democracy goes, Makati has been a rampart of freedom and a bastion of protest all these years.
 
As far as unleashing the full potential of democracy goes, Makati is the showcase of pro-poor projects, programs, and institutions. We have seen the fruits of People Power in Makati through a government that serves its people well. There is no reason why it cannot be done at the national level.
 
As the Vice President of our Republic, I can only be grateful to the President for giving me the opportunity to serve in two important areas of concern—housing and Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) affairs. It allows me to do my part where it really matters, do something for the welfare of our less privileged countrymen. 

There is a lot to be done in these areas but for people-oriented programs to be more effective, we could progress into a stage where other key services for the poor can be integrated. I feel that there is much more that I can do within this government and for this government.

I share completely the President’s vision of rebuilding a new world from the ruins of the past administration, armed with the spirit of Edsa or People Power, conscious of the Edsa Legacy.
 
If we could choose which among the country’s problems—and all of us know there are many—should be addressed first,  it should be, to be insistent about it, morality and poverty. The restoration of decency or morality to government and to people’s lives in general.

Theft of values

The corruption of the previous administration was not just confined to the theft of money, it went further to the theft of values.

We were robbed blind of our self-respect and trust. Before anything else, we need to make the people see that they have a government they can trust. At the most basic, we need to make the people see that they have a government that is not out to lie, cheat and steal from them at every opportunity.
 
Poverty alleviation is the next but equal priority. It  cannot be put off but must be thought through and worked at even while addressing corruption and distrust in government. Democracy is a government of the people, by the people, for the people. And when we talk of “the people” in this country, we mean basically the poor.

That’s what most Filipinos are. Poor. That is our greatest shame. We may not allow this to continue further. Certainly we may not allow this to get worse, the poor getting poorer, which will happen if we don’t act now.

Raising our people from penury requires a comprehensive program whose design cannot be limited to those who are positioned in government.     
 
Every brilliant idea and strategy that comes from anywhere has to be considered, and anyone who has a positive contribution should be welcome, irrespective of affiliation and provenance. All worthy inputs should be synthesized into a coherent, unbiased, workable plan of action that leaves no stone unturned. And every thinking mind and throbbing heart must be put into its execution.
 
Again let us think back to Edsa. If we are to maximize its gains we must first know what the gains are.

Freedom always includes the freedom to do good. This is what the restoration of democracy is all about.
 
That may not seem such a big deal for those who were born after Edsa, who have no recollection of martial law. And that may not seem such a big deal for those who never suffered from martial law, who never risked their lives during martial law, who were never there until after martial law was over.

But for those of us who did, it was a big deal. It is a big deal. You look at life during martial law and after Edsa, and you will be looking at hell and heaven.

Remind next generation
 
The way to maximize that gain, or even just conserve it, is first of all to continue to be vigilant of that freedom. For those who went through the dark night of martial law, regaining freedom is manna from heaven. That is something the current generation and the next ones ought to be reminded of again and again.

They owe what blessings they enjoy now to the blood, sweat and tears of the past. Especially the blood: Many people died to keep the torch of freedom alive.

For those who have been insulted by the martial law regime, and those who have lost their dignity not by any martial rule but by the rule of money and the poverty it causes, freedom is also the restoration of equal opportunities in life.

The second way to maximize, or conserve, it is to make the poor less poor.

Democracy means nothing if it does not also democratize the enjoyment of the earth’s bounties. If it concentrates wealth only in the hands of a few.

We have to redistribute wealth more equitably. We need to uplift the plight of the poor. We have to make the poor less poor.  And we have to redistribute dignity. We have to make the poor less miserable.

The restoration of freedom must also bring about the restoration of self-respect.
 
For the world, Edsa bequeathed the legacy of an exercise of people’s power that is unique. Specifically the massing of a throng in the streets to directly express their will, people emboldened by their outrage, people armed by their convictions. Enough to defy the tanks, enough to risk life itself to end repression.

Half the battle

As we can see, that is finding echoes in other parts of the world. That owes greatly to the Philippine experience. That owes greatly to Edsa.
 
But Edsa is just half the battle won. Edsa remains an unfinished business. The point is for us to remain vigilant of the democracy we worked so hard to regain.

The point is for us to make democracy “more democratic” by democratizing wealth, by making the poor less poor. And by extension, the other half of the battle is making the poor less poor by making them able to help themselves.

And that is, again, through the restoration of their dignity and the redistribution of opportunity. – Rappler.com
 

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