A Boholano’s View by Jose “Pepe” Abueva The Bohol Chronicle January 27, 2013

Fascination with America. Like so many Filipinos, I am fascinated with America, and for various reasons, including perhaps what critics sneer at as Filipino “colonial mentality.” Like so many Filipinos, I have many relatives who have taken U.S. citizenship. On and off I have lived in America for some eight years, and I earned my graduate education there.

As a student of politics, to me America looms large as the largest functioning democracy despite her various aberrations. Although many around the world look to America and Britain as embodiments of democracy and liberalism, and to America as a liberator from totalitarian aggression in World Wars I and II, the two are also examples of Western imperialism.

 But their global influence endures as exemplified by English becoming the world’s lingua franca or the foremost language of international communication. Through CNN and BBC, and the social media, their daily global outreach endures. Their ideal of democracy also endures as a global model for governance. Nations long ruled by despots now rise and aspire for it under the harshest conditions as shown in the Arab countries, Central Asia, and Africa.  

 In this context Filipino familiarity with English as our lingua franca and an official language with our evolving Tagalog-based Filipino is both a global advantage and a national disadvantage that we are trying to overcome with mother-language education in our earlier years of schooling. And despite vast differences with ours, America and Britain endure as models for our democratization that should be suited to our circumstances or made indigenous.

Fascination with Obama. When Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were rivals for the Democratic Party nomination in 2008, my wife and I were initially rooting for Hillary. She seemed the more prepared to be president, but Obama and the Democrats proved us wrong. In the campaign for the U.S. presidency we were rooting for Obama. To us his victory would symbolize America’s  liberation from racial injustice and prejudice and the fulfillment of racial equality sought for in the Civil War by the northern states led by Abraham Lincoln and then pursued by the Kennedys, Johnson, and Martin Luther King.

My wife and I were enthused watching Barack Obama at his first inaugural. It seemed incredible and the more fascinating. After four years of desperate recovery from the recession and the war in Iraq brought on by President George W. Bush, we were nervous watchers of the presidential campaigns of President Obama and Mitt Romney, then again thrilled by the reelection of President Obama and how he had secured his victory. I wrote about this in this column.

What did Obama accomplish in his first term? The inimitable CNN political analyst, David Gergen, summed it up this way: “Mr. Obama took over a country gravely damaged by his predecessor. (In fact I was convinced in 2008 that whoever succeeded President George W. Bush could only last one term). He got a raw deal, and then he helped prevent the Great Recession from turning into the Second Great Depression. Wall Street doesn’t like Mr. Obama, but corporate profits have soared in the last four years. He ended the war in Iraq, and he’s on his way to getting us out of Afghanistan. He passed health care reform. Along the way, he faced a Republican Party that was not only implacable in its opposition to his agenda but also hostile toward him personally (no doubt in part because of his race.).”

As I did in this column, it is worth recalling the involvement and participation of Americans in their governance and the choice of their party’s presidential candidates in order to impress on us, Filipinos, the long road we must travel to deal with mass poverty and empower our citizens to critically assess our president and other leaders and raise the quality of our governance as idealized in our 1987 Constitution. 

President Obama defined his liberal philosophy of governance in his second inaugural. Americans and the world are well served by American observers and commentators on their president’s second inaugural on January 21, led by David Gergen and the New York Times. “In one speech, [Obama] gave the strongest embrace of 20th-century liberalism since Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society. Yes, he gave a couple of bows to the importance of individual initiative and private enterprise, but the heart and soul of the address was a call to collective action on a wide array of fronts. xxx His philosophy, as we learned, is not just about government programs but about embracing inclusion and diversity. It was, I believe, his firmest attempt to build upon [Abraham] Lincoln and [Martin Luther] King — and in effect, his address made him their modern heir. xxx He makes the aspiration of equal opportunity the central goal of his presidency.”

“His assertive address has heartened his supporters so that they seem ready to march into battle with him. They not only want him to succeed, but they now have an ambitious agenda to embrace as well.” xxx Repeating the phrase “we the people,” the president tried to appeal to Americans’ better natures.” Linda Palik added: “He argued eloquently for a progressive view of government, founded on history and his own deep conviction that American prosperity and the preservation of freedom depend on collective action.”

A grand and challenging example for us, Filipinos. As the first Afro-American President of the United States, Barack Obama is an inspiring transforming leader for us Filipinos, and in effect he offers a supreme challenge to our political leaders to be similarly transforming by embracing his ideals:

  • of “appealing to our better natures,”
  • of “equal opportunity” for all citizens,
  • of “inclusion and diversity,”
  • of “a progressive view of government,”
  • and the idea that “prosperity and the preservation of freedom depend on collective action” by all leaders and citizens.

How do we follow President Obama’s example and challenge described above? By focusing on our national vision and ideals of building the Good Society and democratic governance enshrined in our 1987 Constitution and striving to achieve them from day to day. In short: “to build a just and humane society…and “a democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace.”

To do this we have to empower our people by liberating them from poverty and dependency on their patrons, our political oligarchy of self-serving family dynasties; by reforming our dysfunctional political institutions; by electing more transforming political leaders; by our middle class citizens and the media asserting their transforming roles as well; and by making our citizens truly the source of sovereign authority, and not merely our leaders’ rhetorical “boss.”

A tall order, indeed, so we must “appeal to our better natures” and our “progressive view of government” in our own 1987 Constitution.

Let us stop indulging in our pretensions and frivolities, and get serious about our vision and ideals. Our political leaders should become “servant leaders” in the example of our most beloved president: Ramon Magsaysay.

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