The Ninety-Four Percent

Victims of Typhoon Haiyan queue for food and water in Tacloban city

It is almost impossible to name a year in Philippine history without a noteworthy incident happening. It seems as though somehow, every year a controversial event or a tragedy takes place; as exaggerated as that may sound, it is not far from the truth.

You may say that Filipinos are used to corruption scandals, natural disasters and an unstable South by now, but 2013 went overboard even by Philippine standards. The year that past saw us deal with an insurgent attack on a major government-controlled city, a corruption scandal dubbed to be the ‘mother of all scams’ and of course the strongest typhoon ever observed since typhoons started to be recorded.

The year 2013 gave us little to no reason to cheer, yet in a recent survey by polling group Social Weather Stations an astounding 9 out of 10 Filipino respondents said they are going to meet the new year with hope rather than fear. The highest percentage of hopeful responses since 2002, when dictator Joseph Estrada was deposed and the incumbent Gloria Arroyo showed signs of a promising future.

The past year however, did not see us depose any despot nor a revolution of any sorts. In fact, the year closed with revelations of corrupt practices in handling relief efforts for Typhoon Haiyan victims. So what then does the 94-percent see?

A new year is often seen a new start, a clean slate to write a new story with. Perhaps with the turn of the new year, Filipinos see a fresh start to rewrite all wrongs. While unrest was plenty in the volatile South region, the government signing a peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is a step in the right direction in terms of mending the broken bond between our Muslim minority and the rest of the country. With this development comes the belief that the unpleasant history between mainstream Filipinos and the Bangsamoro can be rewritten into one which yields a prosperous future.

The country was also rocked by a scandal of new heights, called by many to be the ‘mother of all scams’. A staggering Php10B of public funds were covertly funneled away from government coffers and into bogus agencies ran by Janet Napoles, taking advantage of Congress’ allocated ‘pork barrel’. As abhorrent and infuriating the scandal may seem, one can look at the bright side and be glad that because of this scandal three elite Senators and a dozen Congressmen are now facing plunder charges before the court of law. And of course, perhaps the best thing to come out of this controversy is the fact that the ‘pork barrel’ is now dead – the Supreme Court ruled the Priority Development Assistance Fund to be unconstitutional and lawmakers will no longer receive their annual allocations.

In fairness, while 2013 did see us deal with a lot of grievances we also had a few good moments: achieving investment grade ratings from all three major credit rating agencies was one. A clear sign that Philippine economics is finally back on the right track and is no longer a toy for the elite to play with. This should bring about promise that perhaps we can lose the ‘sick man of Asia’ tag and at last become a formidable economic force in the region once again.

Perhaps the most surprising fact about the survey is that among the highest percentages came from the Visayas region, where Typhoon Haiyan hit the hardest. Record-breaking wind speeds were followed by days of looting, and to add salt to the wounds it was later found out that politicians had dipped their fingers in the relief efforts – taking advantage by prominently branding it with their names as election year is looming.

That is a lot of reasons for any typhoon victim to be woeful, yet surveys tell a different story. Poll respondents from typhoon-hit areas are actually hopeful of the upcoming year. Maybe the reason for this is because while their government may be failing them, the world is going an awfully long way in getting them the help that they need.

Just two weeks ago, Ban Ki-Moon pledged an $800M funding for rehabilitation efforts over the course of the next twelve months. This amount is in addition to the billions of pesos of aid already poured in by donor countries, as well as the tons of relief goods shipped in by the rest of the world. The intensity of the typhoon proved too much for the government to handle, and the attention and rich donations it brought proved too irresistible for our politicians to spare their greed from – but regardless, the response boosted spirits and reminded us that when the government fails to step up, the international community will compensate.

Seeing the silver linings has always been a Filipino specialty, just ask any foreigner who have come across a Filipino for a fair amount of time. We have always learned to see the good in the bad, and this year we brandished that Filipino optimism several times. While it may have been amusing to learn that Filipinos have become more hopeful during their worst year in recent times, this should not come as a surprise as being hopeful has always been ingrained in our genes.

This survey will no doubt be welcomed by Malacanang, any administration would love to have an optimistic atmosphere. After enduring several blows to his once popular approval ratings, President Aquino needs all the positivism he can get from the people. But this can be a make or break moment for him – PNoy can either build on this optimism and use it to yield good results or he can neglect it and risk failing his people.

Let us not forget, Aquino is now down to the twilight years of his tenure, every year is actually a make or break year for him. He was elected on the platform of transforming the nation into the healthy and vibrant country it can be – cured of its corruption illness and elitist mentality – we have yet to see that happen but efforts have been put into place which provided us of glimpses of what a truly democratic nation looks like.

Maybe that is what the 94-percent sees – effort. A genuine intention from the government to reform, which came about as a result of all the controversies and disasters taking place. But should we really wait for something bad to happen for us to wait for something good? Perhaps another dream we can be hopeful for in the coming year is for the government to lay out a path for our country to follow – that straight path the President has been redundantly mentioning since he was elected. And if that dream does come to fruition, then we do have a reason to be hopeful not just for 2014 but for the years to come as well.

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