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5/30/2006 9:58:57 PM

Toward the end of April I spent eight days in Vietnam, visiting Hanoi, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh City. I am certainly no expert on Vietnam, but what I saw could not be denied: I saw a country ravaged as no other country has been in this century by thirty years of continuous and incredibly barbaric warfare. When the Vietnam War ended in April, 1975, the country was totally devastated. Yet in the past twenty-five years the nation has healed and rebuilt itself almost miraculously! The countryside has been replanted and reforested. Hanoi and HCMC have been beautifully restored. The opera house in Hanoi is a splended restoration of the original, modeled after the Opera in Paris, and the gorgeous Second Empire theater, on the main square of HCMC is as it was when built by the French a century ago. The streets are tree-lined, clean, and conducive for strolling. Cafes in the French style proliferate on the wide boulevards of HCMC. I am not praising the government of Vietnam, which still has a long way to travel on the road to democracy, but I do praise, and praise unstintingly, the pride of the Vietnamese people. It is due to this pride in being Vietnamese that has enabled its citizenry to undertake the miracle of restoration that I have described above. When I returned to Manila I became so depressed that I was actually physically ill for days thereafter. Why? Well, let's go back to a period when the Philippines resembled the Vietnam of 1975. It was 1945, the end of World War II, and Manila, as well as many other cities, lay in ruins. (As a matter of fact, it may not be generally known, but Manila was the second most destroyed city in the entire war; only Warsaw was more demolished!)

But to compare Manila in 1970, twenty-five years after the end of the war, with HCMC, twenty-five years after the end of its war, is a sad exercise indeed. Far from restoring the city to its former glory, by 1970 Manila was well on its way to being the most tawdry city in Southeast Asia. And since that time the situation has deteriorated alarmingly. We have a city full of street people, beggars, and squatters. We have a city that floods sections whenever there is a rainstorm, and that loses electricity with every clap of thunder. We have a city full of potholes, and on these unrepaired roads we have a traffic situation second to none in the world for sheer unmanageability. We have rude drivers, taxis that routinely refuse to take passengers because of "many trappic!" The roads are also cursed with pollution-spewing buses in disreputable states of repair, and that ultimate anachronism, the jeepney! We have an educational system that allows children to attend schools without desks or books to accomodate them. Teachers, even college professors, are paid salaries so disgracefully low that it's a wonder that anyone would want to go into the teaching profession in the first place. We have a war in Mindanao that nobody seems to have a clue how to settle. The only policy to deal with the war seems to be to react to what happens daily, with no long range plan whatever. I could go on and on, but it is an endeavor so filled with futility that it hurts me to go on. It hurts me because, in spite of everything, I love the Philippines.



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