Saturday, 31 January 2004

Expatriate tired of defending RP

TENSE. Election time always brings butterflies to my stomach. These days I always feel tense and nervous, anxiously waiting where the next question could come from, and what form it would take.

As a Filipino expatriate, I have grown weary of defending the Philippines—or at least making excuses for the country—to people some of whom I hardly even know, who ask me about anything and everything that is happening in the country.

“Allan, how did Joseph Estrada manage to become your president? Wasn’t he just a B-movie actor before he became a politician?”

“Why is everybody leaving your country? Is everything really so desperate over there?”

“You know I have a really lovely Filipina maid. The poor soul left behind her whole family back home, just so she could work outside and send some money back to them.”

Sometimes, in my near exasperation, I am tempted to scream: “If you want to know what’s going on in the Philippines, why don’t you go there and ask the people yourself!”

Of course, I never do. And I find myself explaining patiently why these things are happening in our country.

I shouldn’t really bother to explain. So what if we have an insatiable fascination for movie stars? Doesn’t America have one too? After all, even California has an actor for a governor. And not too long ago, even their President was a Hollywood star.

But I take these questions personally. And it pains me, as much as it must cause untold grief to those of us who feel that we are always taken less-than-seriously by our peers, just by the simple fact that we are Filipinos.

FALLING PESO. Last year, the peso was P53 to the dollar. Today it is P56. All this despite the fact that relative to the major currencies, the dollar is at its lowest levels in many years.

According to my former AIM professor and now Economic Planning Secretary Romy Neri, the reason for the peso’s fall is nothing fundamental, and all political. Nobody looks at our economic performance anymore—we are being judged by the outside world purely on hearsay and rumor.

It hardly helps that our next chief political officer (read President) is likely going to
be another product of Fantasyland, skilled in fighting neighborhood toughies and bad guys, but hardly in leading the country to economic progress and restoring its international credibility.

Running a country is not like directing a movie, or even starring in one. The presidential aspirant’s handlers are very quick to come to the defense, pointing out the actor’s track record in running a profitable movie outfit, and comparing this to successfully running the country.

But they conveniently forget one thing—his movie company is successful because it has a priceless asset—the actor himself. No matter what movie he makes, people turn out in droves to watch. There is no way he cannot succeed, no matter how hard he tries to fail.

There is no such star-struck audience in the presidency—there are only critics and detractors. There are no illusions and fantasies, only cold and harsh reality. And when mistakes are made, one cannot simply yell “Cut!” and do another take. The show must go on, unedited and uncut.

The people are understandably exasperated with our political leaders. That’s why they are willing to try new faces, in the hope that one may yet prove to be our saving grace.

Our would-be actor president is probably an honest and decent man, and cares about the country, as many of us do. But not all decent and honest men can become president.

Perhaps just this time, our actor ought to consider giving up the starring role.

Published in Sun Star Daily, Saturday, January 31, 2004 (

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