OUR national mythology contains the stories of intrepid wanderers who arrived on our shores in balanghais, Malay migrants who were the most successful wave of new arrivals in a country that continues to be influenced by arrivals seeking imperial glory, financial fulfillment, or merely a new place to call home. Our ethnic groups are the fruits of wanderers; and we are, by all accounts, a peripatetic people. And as all emigration is born of seeking prosperity or trying to find refuge, many readers have asked why we have chosen Elmer Lecanto as a negative example –as a “sellout.”
Has he not worked hard to achieve his dreams? Does he not have the right to look for greener pastures? To both the answer must be “yes”; he is a man of achievement, and he is a man with initiative. He is furthermore the heir of a national policy of pawning the lives of our enterprising and educated, in order to fund a nation run into the ground by Ferdinand Marcos and Blas Ople, who helped craft the decades-old government plan to export Filipinos instead of Filipino products.
To the story of Elmer Locano can be added many others: of the scion of a hacendero family with two doctorates, who works as a domestic helper in New York, because she cannot find work at home despite her qualifications; of a young Amerasian Filipino who only knows his U.S. serviceman of a father as a tattered photograph, and who found his dreams of being a computer programmer crushed because the foundation funding his schooling pulled out: reducing him to training as a dancer to try his luck in Japan; of a Chinese Filipino who defied his family’s culture by marrying a Malay Filipina, only to end up in California to set up a new life after his mother was kidnapped. The stories of those who have studied, only to find no work, are legion. But equally many are those who leave because they have no love of country, no love of native land, no respect for hard work, and who want to get rich quick.
If our nation was born of migrants who came here to build a new life, they built their new lives with the dream of making their new home permanently theirs –and their posterity’s. If in the intervening centuries any development has occurred –from tribe to people, from people to nation- it has been because former migrants turned into citizens with a stake in the broader whole. If our leaders have let down the led, if the folly of dictators and their minions have resulted in fewer and fewer having a stake worth living for, much less working for, we must still ask: if those to whom the future belong do not reclaim their future, what hope is there left for our country?
“Corruption among the best is the worst,” the U.S. President in the TV series The West Wing sadly says, upon hearing of a war hero turned crook; to which we might say that “hopelessness among the best is the worst.” If we recognize that there are those who will leave, because they honestly find their destiny best served by doing so, there are the many who will leave from the basest, and most selfish motives. And among the young, looking for a purpose in life, there will be fewer and fewer to distinguish between those who leave in pursuit of an honorable dream, and those who leave all the better to whore themselves in order to leapfrog over the conscientious and hard working.
Our leaders have pawned generations. There has been sufficient time for those who first fled the economic mismanagement and collapse of the Marcos years, to fulfill their dreams of coming home to bring something back to the nation that had nothing to offer them. Too few have come back; too many of those who have come back have suffered disappointment and even ruin because of their decision to return. Our leaders pawned them, and have left them nothing to redeem.
A country that looks to the accomplished and young for redemption sees, with every departure, the further crushing of an already glimmering hope. The corrupt and depraved leaders of the Marcos years are passing from the scene; but too few good people are taking their place. And for these good leaders, their natural constituency continues to depart our shores. Our nation’s stocks of competence, ability, and hope, are fast reaching the point of being sold out.
The time of dying for our country is long past; but the time of living for it –when will it come? Our nation’s slender resources have been invested in the generations that have already left, and are leaving; there is precious little left. And we must ask those who are gone, and are going: even if you come back, to what will you come back, what can you bring to a country so impoverished not just materially, but morally, that will make it worth coming back to?
We recognize that for those leaving, your dreams are your own, and can be fulfilled elsewhere. But with every departure, it becomes so much more inevitable that there will be no opportunity to put an end to the cycle of bad governance and a people no longer interested in holding those who govern to account.