Monday, August 08, 2005

Hi, Pedro

(Pedro and his team are apparently attempting to rewrite Philippine history from the people’s perspective. His on-and-off comments in PCIJ are thought-provoking and I had the privilege to have an exchange with him as well as with some other well-meaning posters in July 2005. The following, about the concept of “civil society,” is one of those exchanges.)

: Sorry for any misimpression my quips have created. For one, don’t relate my quips with any of your earlier posts on this thread or elsewhere here in pcij. I just made them as points of information. Please don’t take this as patronizing in any way but i find your writing and ideas trenchant, indicative of a critical mind. In that spirit, here are more quips to add some fuel to the fire.

I share your appreciation of Randy David’s insightful views. I am even more appreciative of the fact that he is the first (and only! so far) prominent Filipino intellectual to voice out his thoughts on the Gloria tapes in a forceful, unequivocal manner. I am a former student, in fact, though not formally, of his writings and ideas alongside with the writings and ideas of other intellectuals that in the late 80s like him used to revolve around Dodong Nemenzo—the likes of Jojo Abinales, the once-radical Alex Magno, and the lesser theoretical lights.

However, I am a student more of actual Philippine history than powerful elegant theories. And here is where I will answer your Question A.

The mere formulation of your discourse on people power, its challenges and potentials (parts of which appeared earlier in your book) is to me essentially problematic. To be blunt about it, it was as prosaic as a sociological discourse. Of course, Prof. David is a sociology professor well versed with the classics and the latest works. However, here lies the problem: up to now, NO theory in the country has yet fully explained why the first People Power phenomenon occurred in the first place. At best, there are descriptive narrations, half-baked attempts at analysis and journalistic accounts making up the tome of literature on People Power.

And so, for the longest time, intellectuals just assumed it as a given. It then assumed the realm of the self-evident when Edsa Dos and Edsa Tres happened. And now with an impending Quatro or Sinco, as a given, the concept is being wielded left and right by anybody with an agenda to accomplish. And honestly, I was not a bit surprised when I read your post about civil society in caps and lowercase and found the concept of people power as a fulcrum idea.

The basis of all these counterpoints is nothing but Philippine history unrehearsed. As a sample, I mentioned Sturtevant’s book “Popular Uprisings in the Philippines” because in it he surveyed all the past uprisings by millenarian prophets in Philippine history in the past century. I said the book will give you clues because People Power as a phenomenon is easily unravelled by the lives and dreams and struggles of Papa Isio, Felipe Salvador and Valentin Delos Santos than by any elegant universal theoretical formulation. Please read it, all you interested.

Also, I used to follow the writings of an obscure writer who tried to investigate and found the connection between these groups and the 1986 People Power Revolution, a connection that goes all the way back to the 1896 Revolution and even farther back. Unfortunately, after a few provocative manuscripts, he stopped all his works and preferred even more obscurity by completely withdrawing from all intellectual activity. I have his copies of his works and if you are interested to read some of them, contact me at

I hope I have confused you more than I have clarified. I still think the “i know nothing” phrase is Taoist. If in case it’s Socratic, no problem. After all, the dialectical method was first elucidated by that grand old man. ciao!

ABE to PEDRO: The formulations that you find problematic are restated here:

1. When institutions (civil society), which mediate between families and the State, assert their primacy, the result could be their collectivization into Civil Society.

2. Civil Society, People Power and the State are for the purposes used here synonymous terms. (I’ve however omitted to mention an equally identical abstraction, the Public, which will be used in the theses that follow more liberally.)

Let me try to explain the foregoing formulations in the context that you seem to prefer, i.e., the historical.

First this question: Was there an equivalent phenomenon during the Philippine Revolution to what today is referred to as civil society (the small caps)?

I believe there was. To name some key players: 1) the propagandists (possibly the equivalent today of bloggers, if you will, but at that time mostly expatriates) which produced La Solidaridad, 2) the La Liga Filipina which attempted to configure a loose Philippine bureaucracy (founded by Rizal), 3) the Cuerpo de Campromisarios, 4) the Masonic Brotherhood and 5) the Katipunan (the resurrected La Liga Filipina, founded by Bonifacio).

Doesn’t the above list look almost like the one in the top post? [I was referring to the list of civil society groups or NGOs enumerated in the main blog.]

Well, then, as now, there was however a class conflict among the players, and to simplify, I will call the conflict as only between the middle-class (or the ilustrado) and plebeians, the former preferring to just institute reforms within the existing Public, the latter being intent to form a new Public.

To create a new Public, or a State (or to upgrade to an uppercased Civil Society or People Power), Rizal provided alternatives through Noli and Fili: Reform or Revolution.

To succeed in either alternative, the key ingredients Rizal indicated were a) patriotism, and b) self-abnegation.

Ibarra was the epitome of patriotism (the building of a school house in Noli was symbolic of his passionate stewardship to liberate the primitivized indio youth, the “hope of the fatherland”) and Elias, of self-abnegation. Indeed, without both virtues, civil society would remain in lowercase, meaning inchoate and unorganized and therefore would be unable to grow or collectivize into Civil Society (the uppercase).

The persona of Ibarra and Elias was merged in the martyred Rizal, and for a while effaced the class conflict between the ilustrados and the plebeians. The cultured and the unlettered saw a common enemy – the Friar system. But revolution as a means to attain a new Public failed primarily because self-interest (thirst for power) in Aguinaldo had prevailed over the greater good when he ordered the execution of Bonifacio (and later Luna) and dissipated the initial momentum of the revolution before the Americans had a chance to beguile the Filipinos.

As a leader, Aguinaldo failed to separate private interest from public interest. Also, while Aguinaldo was a patriot, he apparently lacked the self-abnegation of Elias and Rizal.

At the turn of the century, associated action powered by shared interests, born out of the patriotism, self-abnegation and a sense of the public of, and championed by, the civil society of the old was thereupon befuddled by the promise of the “enduring truths” of market and democracy peddled by the new Master. On top of it, the Friar system was in fact re-instituted to Christianize (how often could this happen?) and civilize the “half-devil and half-child” in the Hollywood but more virulent form, thereby perpetuating the indio myth. As a consequence, civil society has had to struggle painfully to arise from a damaged ego.

Meanwhile, a self-content and laggard oligarchy, under the backseat patriarchy of Big Uncle and its many instruments, has taken the initiative from a civil society entrapped and enthralled in its lowercased cast.

Arguably, the Philippine Revolution had preceded Rizal and company in the same way that EDSA I preceded the murder at the tarmac. But just as the execution of Rizal had galvanized the full conception of the real enemy and whereupon the fusion of interests across class lines, the murder of Ninoy led to the coalition of the Left and the Right, the bankers and the farmers, the teachers and the learners, and the clergy and the faithfuls against a common enemy upon the realization that under the conjugal dictatorship no one was really safe. Unfortunately, the people power “rebels” failed to form a new Public based on shared interests, not because they were not collectivized, but simply that they were collectivized only for a limited goal – to oust a dictator. It was then a short-lived break from pubescence or inchoateness. If at all, the public formed under the People Power Constitution of 1987 was based for all practical purposes on the inherited agencies of the old form.

Beyond any doubt, the struggle is far from over. It’s been a continuing one however, perhaps from way back or even before Gomburza. The nemesis remains potent and school houses are needed to be built, as Ibarra did, to uncover in Gramscian formulation the conspiracy of the unliberated mind.

The immediate challenge for civil society today, it seems, is how to internalize the true embodiment of the real enemy. Today, to make GMA face justice is an immediate goal. But the vision for the Civil Society has yet to be instantiated. To do so, civil society must be able to assert its primacy and thereupon form a new Public based upon Rizal’s recipe: a mix of patriotism and self-abnegation. If successful, the process has to be kept experimental. It has to be so, because the making and re-making of the Public ought not to be inflexible.

How easy it is to do?

If GMA resigns now, she could still be perceived to have imbibed the virtues of patriotism and self-abnegation, possibly enough to trigger a national catharsis. Would you agree that should that happen, it could be easier for the small letter to become a capital letter? If confidence is soon and thereby gained, it could be less difficult to experiment with other fonts of many sizes and forms, to stretch a bit more the alphabet metaphor.

Pedro, there is no Enlightenment philosophy involved here, no Prince, Leviathan or social contract construct, just the simple politics of the lower case and the upper case which, well, your curiosity could have given birth to. Congratulations! And thank you.

Take care, big guy.