The story is still vivid, almost wild. A long time ago, a monarch habitually took time to cut grasses and clear the road of potentially hazardous big stones like a good gardener tending to his plants. Now, it is all but a hazy fairy tale of modesty from a ruler and his virtues gone for good. Without a palace to reside, an army to command or a golden throne to sit upon to receive courtiers, it is almost unimaginable how one could command respect through sheer moral compass. Yet what if criminals and offenders were simply summoned and obligingly appeared before the same old man to meekly wait for sanctions. It was almost a tall tale meant to amuse a kid until one realizes that his grandmother, the Sultan’s sister, was the storyteller trying to put in trance a wide-awake grandson to bed.
These days, the kingdom that was formed as a gift from the two most powerful Sultanates in mainland Mindanao to their newly-married heirs eroded into a lore. If any semblance of its grandeur has remained, these are the pockets of occasional “crowning” of resurrected or make-believe titles to descendants looking back at the glory of the past while being confronted with a bleak future and very bloody present.
This is life at present. In Muslim Mindanao, there is a sense of longing. So do the majority of Filipinos grappling with the pain of a lost generation amid the turbulence of a high-rolling materialistic world. The once close-knit community of kindred kinsfolks caved into the anonymity of a larger unattached crowd in the concrete jungle. Human life is cheap. Justice is simply served when the suspect is killed, guilty or not. Wealth is pegged on material richness regardless of how it is acquired. Meanwhile, public service simply turned into a profitable livelihood for leaders who ascended to power by virtue of a familiar surname, or, depending on where the political wind drifts, “friendship” with the powers-that-be in Manila.
The country that resisted Spain valiantly, fought the Japanese fiercely, and then wrestled and later worshiped the Americans is now confronting its biggest enemy so far — itself. Its history is not only penned in blood and heroism but in the treachery of some of the sons of the revolution. Once touted as Asia’s next Japan, one megalomaniac leader and his family reduced it to the region’s basket case for 14 years. Just as its people redeemed their pride and peacefully reclaimed democracy in 1986 as the rest of world watched in awe and admiration, it went back to business as usual called graft and corruption for those in power and national amnesia for the rest. Reduced to hotbed of insurgencies from the Moros and the Communists and the more threatening presence of bandits and self-styled Islamic groups, it is also suffering from a serious dearth of leadership. Not even the election of a native-born son could promise liberation. Dirty politics including its most evil spin-off called graft and corruption played squalidly spawning its more lethal form among the local politicians who learned adeptly from their central government masters.
When gore, agony, and loss of morals across all aspects pervade life, man has an uncanny way to cope up. He summons the depths of his experience from the past. It has been said that great turbulence forges society to a greater wisdom. He will rebuild from these lessons. Who could have forgotten how our grandparents or parents who saw the bloody ‘40s and built families in the ‘50s spoke freely of chivalry when men opened doors for women or when parks, movies, and the radio, not narcotics, were the people’s idea of entertainment?
It was not surprising when that generation indulged in a nostalgia. World War II saw the loss of lives and uprooting of families to a magnitude never before seen in history. Man’s darkest side emerged and went on a rampage unrelenting. Only when the surreal scene of dead bodies and the scarred living stood at the threshold of doom did man came to his self-preserving senses and stopped.
Human experience since time immemorial is built around this cycle of bad and good. There was the Dark Ages when even the so-called guardian of goodness, the Church, turned out to be as bad, if not, worse than the evil it swore to stamp out. Then there was the Renaissance when man finally saw the light and began the rebuilding process that leapfrogged science, arts, and technology to unprecedented heights. Here in the home front, the evil that Martial Law brought about to a power-hungry leader and his family and the mass of millions who confronted him in 1986 also saw the best in the Filipino and his potential for greatness. Heroes rose and with them the creative genius of a suppressed people that turned to subtle forms to attack the Dictator Marcos and his evil minions. That celebrated metamorphosis has eroded too in recent years and replaced with a revisionist view sweeping the Philippines these days without let up. The anti-heroes have become heroes. And just like the libertarian fallout that enveloped the world after the inspiration of EDSA including the downfall of Communism, the Philippines’ consciously veered towards another leader of the Marcosian type, at least, in terms of brutality and priorities. In this ensuing morality play, all the Filipinos could find comfort over the thought that they do not monopolize the shrinking brain phenomenon. The US, too, has wholeheartedly embraced evolution’s greatest regression since one lunatic Austrian corporal become a German dictator and decided to butcher 6 million “inferior” humans during World War II. Now, the same German vein also flows into an American President who is as xenophobic as the Electoral College that won him the post even if his lady rival got more than 3 million votes in the world’s most famous democracy.
The world heralded globalization in the ‘90s hoping to usher in the dawning of one global village. As borders collapsed and people, cultures, and goods crisscrossed across countries, the ensuing exchange was unprecedented. Many saw an opportunity just as many also saw a problem. Xenophobia, the old fear, emanating from displacement of weaker economies also grew. It was the same scourge that the Great Wars and subsequent upheavals in the Balkans and many parts of the world spawned before along ethnic lines. Rubbing more salt to the wound, the unabated growth of technology and the public’s unbridled access to its forms like Facebook and other social media magnified the problem. Ideas that are mostly seeded from ignorance, bigotry, suspicion, and fear crawled like the plague that almost wiped out the Europe of the old.
A Frankenstein has been unleashed and is wreaking havoc to the youth and their perception of the world and all the values it holds dear. Prowling the information highway like the ancient plague of rats that almost extinguish Europe, man is now staring at a tinderbox waiting to be unleashed and shake his life in the years to come.
The Kingdom built on piety and modesty has long gone. It brought with it the good old values that the world now has dumped in the name of an alternative fact called materialism. Now, success is no longer built on character but on the acquisition of wealth. The fallout is already being felt. Integrity no long carries a politician to the public post. The brash, once frowned, is worshiped in the name of a more acceptable “truth” called being real, demonic real, to be exact.
Yes, abnormal is the new normal. Brace up for a new cycle of the familiar struggle between good and bad in a roller-coaster ride along a surreal landscape. MS Glang