I DROPPED by Diliman a few days ago to leave a copy of the book “When China Rules the World” for political science professor Dr. Clarita Carlos. She had kindly accepted my invitation to be one of the four-member Panel of Reactors to the lecture of the same title by Martin Jacques, author of the book, which will be held at the Hotel InterContinental on November 19.

(If you happen to be interested in understanding China more, and in the process understanding better how we as a country should deal with the Peoples’ Republic, then I hope you’ll find time to attend. There is a minimal lecture fee, and to get more details contact Pilipinas 2020 through the email pilipinas2020@ymail.com.)

Driving around the campus I espied a billboard of sorts, proudly placed outside the UP College of Law’s Malcolm Hall. While I didn’t stop to read what it said, I noticed that it carried a big picture of UP Law alumna and former UP Law professor Ma. Lourdes Aranal-Sereno, who recently was named as the first female Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. I am not sure if the billboard was erected by the College of Law; I am sure it was NOT erected by her former students (myself included), not because we didn’t like her but because we aren’t organized enough to do that. But I suspect it was set up by her UP Law organization – most probably a sorority – because of course if the Chief Justice is your sorority sister you should be proud of that honor.

And that’s so Filipino, isn’t it? Seeking out connections to important if not popular people (don’t get me wrong: by this I mean a Chief Justice is important but not always popular, while a celebrity is popular but not always important), and sometimes bragging about it. It’s so Filipino to try to make that connection, because that connection comes in handy when times are tough (for whatever reason) or, more seriously, if you are facing a jail term! And sometimes that connection is offered – that’s why you have fixers in many government offices offering to facilitate things for you – instant connections for a fee, of course. But if somewhere in that government hierarchy you have a ninong, or a “tita,” a cousin or better yet a brother or sister; or if your neighbor knows the brother of a cousin of the boss, voila! There’s the connection.

To paraphrase the Clinton election mantra, “it’s who you know, stupid.”

It’s all about classmates. And it is all about class mates.

I have said, time and again, both privately to friends and publicly in some of the talks I have given, that the ultimate reason why we feel nothing much changes in this country is because nothing much changes at the top. For over 400 years, we’ve been “ruled” by the same small elite group of families and friends, even while they were acting as “katiwalas” of the occupying Spanish, American and even Japanese forces. That’s the top 1 percent of our country, the same top 1 percent who, like Mitt Romney, perhaps pay far less taxes than many of the middle class do.

Add to the top 1 percent who make up the economic elite about 9 percent more of our population who make up the professional and academic elite, including you and me, those who were lucky or talented enough to enter the good schools where they became classmates of the 1 percent and who, after graduation, started working for that 1 percent. They now make up the elite, too. And while the 9 percent have grown the size of the elite geometrically, it still leaves behind a whopping 90 percent of society that is unable to break into that professional 9 percent or, even more, the 1 percent – and are thus condemned to live a cycle of life from great grandfather to great grandson, eking out a living barely enough to survive.

It is from this 90 percent that we get our OFWs – perpetually looking outside our borders for better opportunities. It is from this 90 percent that we hear the words “Mabuti nang mamatay sa pagod sa trabaho sa Saudi kaysa sa mamatay ng dilat sa Pinas”. Yet it is also this 90 percent that keeps the country moving – they’re the workers who man our factories, ships, trucks, buses, schools and hospitals; they’re the rank and file of organizations big and small, private and public; they’re the voters who get entertained by songs and dances, by promises sometimes kept but usually broken, by scandals among the important and the popular that allow them, for brief moments, to be entertained long enough to forget the meal they missed or the hours of sleep they’ve lost.

These are the folks not properly “wired”. They’re the ones whose classmates are not high enough in the various rungs of our society’s organizations to be able to make a difference for many. And they’re the ones who see the seasons change but nothing else. Because, if we were to equate our society to liquid in a glass, the elite make up a film of oil sitting atop a glass full of water. That film of oil has left the water beneath it stagnant. And stagnant it will remain until something happens that is strong (if not violent) enough to cause the displacement of the covering layer of oil.

So where are your classmates now? What are they up to? I’ve tried tracking mine down and am happy to report that many are professionals now, doctors and lawyers and engineers working on, with or for members of the elite. A few are in different positions in the public sector, which should serve me well if and when I decide to become an influence peddler. I know that I had one or two who booked a stay at the National Penitentiary in Muntinglupa but I think one of them escaped by claiming eternal rest. And yes, I have a couple as well who have gone on to the afterlife and they are the ones I hope to be reunited with last.

Classmate, class mate. That’s the story of our society. And if you truly want change in this country, then you should be prepared to give up whatever benefits you enjoy from having classmates in the right places, or being their favorite (because you are the most useful!) classmate!

– Jose Bayani Baylon