"Think about what more we can do. "
Sunday’s opening of the 30th Southeast Asian Games was a spectacular display of Filipino talent and creativity, more than enough to stir national pride among the Filipino audience.
Especially if you take into consideration the recent episodes of wrangling and criticism in the weeks leading to our country’s fourth hosting of the SEA Games.
It seemed that everyone was bracing for a disaster.
We were more than relieved that the opening ceremonies did not disappoint.
In fact, it made us proud of the fact that we were not only able to put on a good show. The songs and dances —and the talent, both musical and athletic—remind us the good in us and our people’s immense capacity for greatness.
I have to admit: I was a bit uneasy about the preparations for the SEA Games. A few years back, I was on top of the organizing committee for hosting of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup, the first ever to be held in the Philippines. It was not an easy job to do. We had an inches-thick handbook to comply with —including making sure that we had halal food to serve the visiting football teams, the basic amenities provided for them in their locker rooms, and even the right signages and branding installed at pre-identified spaces at the Philippine Stadium which served as the venue for the competition.
I remember two nights before the match, we had to redo the markings on the football field, because it fell short by a foot based on FIFA specifications.
I concede—days before the opening —every well-meaning Filipino had a reasonable right to be concerned about the success of this year’s SEA Games.
But not the right to be deprecating, and disparaging.
Because in the end, it was the country’s—our nation’s good name that was at stake.
As Filipinos, that line between objective criticism and downward denigration seemed to have been blurred many times.
For some, the harder and the more pointed and unforgiving the deprecation—people seem to think that they would sound credible, concerned and more correct.
Too often would they forget the difference, that critics would point out the wrong, the disparaging would say you can do no right.
Filipino ka lang kasi. This mindset makes an easy excuse of what we think of ourselves as a people. That is why we’re poor, because we have always been so, and we can never afford to be rich. That is why we are helpless about the future, because we feel powerless about the present state of things. That is why government is corrupt, because we think that those in politics buy votes to win—yet we never mind the voters who readily sell their ballot. That is why our nation is so divided—we think it is because we have so little trust in each other, when it fact it reflects how little faith we have in ourselves.
Sunday’s spectacle was a timely reminder of our immense potential for greatness, our diverse culture and rich history. For one particular moment, a shared feeling of national pride permeated almost every Filipino home (with a few exemptions, of course)—with the songs, dances and champions retelling the world that we are more than the negativities that pervade the media and that we can break free of the cage of limitations that we have imposed on ourselves.
Looking back, the criticism did have some positive effects. It ensured that we take a closer look at our organizer’s blind spots and motivated them to belatedly up the level of workmanship in recent weeks.
It might be too early to say that this year’s hosting of the 30th SEA Games will be a complete success when we still have two weeks of competitions ahead of us. But I daresay, keep the criticisms going.
But to the disparaging, I say, shut up!
My only frustration is that partisan politics is obviously to be faulted for the unforgiving condemnations of recent weeks. Critics could have ended with pointing out what needs to be done better, and offering a helping hand to correct it. But some of our political leaders and critics of the current administration went further to spell disaster all over the preparations, that it was failure before the games even began.
I would not be so quick as to absolve those responsible for the organizing mess and I salute the President’s gesture of apologizing for the pre-game mishaps—but a public office is a public trust—and accountability must be exacted from those in charge at the proper time.
Watching the opening ceremonies (on television, and I regret giving up those tickets to the Philippine Arena), I realized that as a nation we have been short selling ourselves. We seem be always on the watch for a decline, and that we persistently stay out of sync with progress. The grandeur of the opening festivities not only reminded me of what is best in us, but also the promise of who we can be as a nation.
We always do a good job of hosting international events, but I hope that one day will come that our success as country will not simply be about onstage portrayals but real-life progress that will make lives better for our people. Imagine what more we can do, if only we get our act together and choose to put country above our own selfish interests.
Think about it—if China and Thailand had the same volume of an English-speaking workforce. If Singapore and Japan had the same amount of natural resources. If Laos and Cambodia had the same level of affinity with Western trading partners. If Malaysia and Indonesia had an equal level of civic participation like that which our country’s civil society and even media organizations enjoy. If Christians and Muslims elsewhere had the respect and closeness that Christians and Muslims in the Philippines had for each other. If the cold utilitarian economic systems of the West were coupled with the warm family relationships that define our people. If only the faith which now serves as a bond for the Filipino diaspora abroad would be put into action at home. Imagine what we could have already achieved.
Think about the opportunities we have missed—when we have used poverty to justify why we can’t, manipulated politics as an instrument to divide and tapped the media as a weapon to destroy—and we continue to be disparaging and deprecating at everything around us.
Think about the glory of what the Philippines could be—if only we win as one.