In less than a week, the First National Conference and Festival on Karangalan, “Mobilizing Excellence to Create a Visionary Philippines” will begin. Thousands will start to explore more deeply what it would take to create a better country. For some, this has led to the question. Which would serve the country better today, resistance or excellence?
Some who advocate resistance say that the time has come for massive resistance to all the different forms of oppression that plagues the country. Citizens must resist the corrupt, the destroyers of the environment, the criminals, the capitalist purveyors of poverty, manipulative corporations, immorality, trapos, and other forms of slavery of body, soul, and spirit.
They view those who advocate excellence as quixotic, leaving in a world of illusion, ignoring the harsh realities of life. They say, “Get real”. Not soft approaches. No “feel good” approaches that basically distract people away from the violence of oppressive socio-economic-political structures.
Some who advance excellence say we need to demonstrate alternatives to the existing problems that plague the country. If we have no alternatives, we can never change the existing system. We have to create excellence where we are. And others focus on creating alternatives where they are. Somehow, these different small scale alternatives will collectively add up to create a better country.
They view pure resistance as ultimately futile. It may grab a lot of attention, but ultimately, it is a waste of time and energy. For the future cannot be created without showing an alternative way beyond the problems.
Beyond the Dichotomy
TruthForce! sees this dichotomy as a false and disempowering one. There are elements of truth in each approach. But neither alone is able to provide the full range of options that become available when one integrates both resistance and excellence in a new way.
Resistance is often the beginning of excellence. We do not think of alternatives, of excellent ways of re-doing things, if we are not alienated by the forms of violence that surround us. We remain a faithful slave to a violent and oppressive system if the fire of resistance is not born within us.
However, if we remain at the level of resistance, we will be stuck in the past. We cannot create a new future. We continue to replicate the past even in the very forms of our resistance because all we can point to is how bad the past is. However, we can decide to view our resistance as the beginning of a profound journey of education in how large-scale local, national, and global structures reproduce their propensity for violence and manipulation. Once we understand this, we will be able to create alternatives that are truly subversive of the logic of the oppressing system. It will not the kink of wishy-washy, feel-good alternative that actually serves as a form of distraction, an addictive drug, protecting us from the harsh realities of life. True resistance educates us to construct our alternatives at the level of where the true challenges lie.
There is also another form of relation between the two approaches of creating a better country. Properly conceived excellence in alternatives is itself already a form of true resistance. It subverts the existing power structure because it divorces people away from a passive acceptance of the current order with the lure of an attractive, well-functioning alternative. When more and more people see a functioning excellent alternative, they begin to see that there can be a new reality. They will then start to abandon the stranglehold of the existing order.
The Example of the Anti-Pesticide Campaign and Sustainable Agriculture
Take the long campaign to ban 32 pesticide formulations in the Philippines. For over a decade, proponents for a safer and more sustainable form of agriculture kept on criticizing the massive use of deadly pesticides in Philippine agriculture. They pointed to scientific evidence to back up their claims. They graphically described the chain of cause and effect leading from pesticide use to all kinds of ill effects on humans and the ecosystem. But the pesticides continued not only to be used. The usage increased thru time.
Then anti-pesticide activists took a different approach. They continued to call for a ban on pesticides. They continued to present scientific evidence showing the harmful effects of pesticides. In short, they continued to resist. But then they added a new strategy.
They also began to speak about alternatives to pesticide use. Now only did they speak about it. They actually created, on the ground, hundreds of hectares of organic and bio-dynamic farming initiatives in rice, vegetables, corn, and other agricultural crops. When the Department of Agriculture said that organic farming was good at the backyard level, they showed that organic rice farming can be done in hundreds and eventually thousands of hectares.
This combination of resistance and excellence changed the direction of Philippine agriculture. After a few years, the Department of Agriculture, faced with massive evidence, had no choice but to ban 32 pesticide formulations deemed harmful to humans, plants, animals, and the environment. Not only did they ban the pesticides. Convinced by the alternatives, they announced the creation of a new multi-million peso program that then went on to train hundreds of thousands of farmers to cut back on pesticide use.
Constructing the Philippine Future
So to the question, which is the best way to create a better Philippines, the answer is neither resistance nor excellence, but a strategic combination of both. Resistance awakens people from their lethargy. The striving for excellence awakens a different, but complementary set of capacities found in all of us. Excellence shows that indeed a better world is possible if, from apathy, we awaken, take concrete action, and create worthy alternatives in the diverse areas of life. A strategic combination of both is essential to usher in a new world.
Karangalan honors excellence because it acknowledges our capabilities to create a new future, thereby further releasing powers and energies that can sustain the quest for a better Philippines. Karangalan recognizes the discipline of resistance. Therefore it will celebrate excellence that is not aloof to the harsh realities of present-day Philippine society. Karangalan also recognizes the power of positive images of the future. Therefore, Karangalan will focus on excellence grounded both on the challenge that face all of us, as well as the equally real presence of thousands of outstanding initiatives found all over the country.
Walking on both the feet of resistance and excellence, Karangalan will take strides in ushering a new dawn in Philippine history. It will energize the peaceful completion of the unfinished revolution that created the Philippine Republic, but now contextualized in the global realities of the 21st century. Let us join the journey, the lakaran, to a new country, to a better Philippines. Let us begin it now.