Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The People Power alternative

(This blog, ignored by inq7.net for publication, Philippine Inquirer columnist Randy David's endorsement notwithstanding, has been serialized in my column that bears the name of this blogsite in New Jersey-based Filipino-Asian Bulletin; UST Publishing and I have also decided that an enhanced version of the piece serve as the Introduction to the UST version of BUILD or PERISH!)

If people, any people, have instincts for growth, then poor but essentially modern nations like the Philippines cannot possibly remain a basket case forever. They’ve got to grow. Or hope to grow somehow.

To be the author of its own destiny and begin realizing what is hoped, a nation, at least philosophically, has to look into the inner structure of its being: as a community, by rediscovering the public realm that informs it and the strands of solidarity that hold it together against internal and external forces; and the individual member, by defining the tasks he assigns to himself, his goals he aspires for, and the values his life rests on, and then determining how his tasks, goals and values are identified with the community or the public, or, in other words, how his self-seeking and private wants may be made to serve other-regarding and shared ends.

Despite a people’s impulse for survival and progressive transformation, historical accounts abound about how societies perished or self-destructed when those in a position to exercise the power of governance, by deliberate intent or sheer imprudence, had failed to act, or if they had acted, to account for the consequences of their actions.

The flash floods and landslides that claimed more than a thousand lives in the Philippines in late 2004 owing to indiscriminate logging are particular consequences of such a failure of accountability. The illegal loggers, and their cohorts in the officialdom, only saw short-term gains and their selfish interests at the expense of others, the public and the generations yet to come. So is any reckless use of state violence against an ostensible exercise of the right to petition for the redress of grievance at the Hacienda Luisita. What should have been an “official” action resulted in bloodshed in the Hacienda and in the longer-run effects of undermining the faith of the less fortunate Filipinos in the personification of the state as their Parens Patriae, reinforcing in the process the perception that the government is nothing more than the lengthened shadow of the Big Businessman. The decision of the Philippine Supreme Court reversing itself and, by some tortuous reasoning, authorizing the extraction of the nation’s patrimony by foreign exploiters who are least expected to care for it and hence could potentially just drain it with impunity (given the deplorable track record of the regulatory mechanism in place) is yet another shortsighted but willful use of the powers of the public placing at great risk the preservation, and the equitable and sustainable sharing of the common wealth. When lapses in governance of this nature or others of similar or larger dimensions threaten the political life or the very existence of a nation, it is often instinctive for some well-meaning citizens to rise to the occasion and raise fundamental issues directly defying the underlying assumptions of the established political order.

One such a citizen who has stepped up to the plate was Washington Sycip, a leading Filipino businessman. Sycip has told a forum of corporate leaders about the desirability of adopting authoritarian rule in lieu of the present regime that is based on Western democratic traditions. On a different occasion, another outstanding Filipino, National Artist F. Sionil Jose, has advocated the staging of a people’s revolution to address the escalating problems of the country, foremost of which is mass poverty. Both prominent Filipinos have refused to play blind to the grave problems confronting the nation by speaking out their minds against the system in place. (See Randy David, “Alternative to a dysfunctional gov’t,” December 8, 2004, Inq7.net.)

What should be quite politically disturbing about these bold articulations is not so much as they revealed the prejudices of the proponents as the methods espoused to attain a better political order are first of all anathema to each other. An authoritarian rule, which demands unquestioning obedience from the ruled, often by violent means and at the expense of individual liberty and political sovereignty, tends to preserve the established structures securing the dominant group. A people’s revolution, on the other hand, seeks to overthrow the existing order or involves the radical restructuring of that order from below.

Moreover, the authoritarian alternative that Sycip apparently wishes to experiment can only presuppose that the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo government, along with the regime that supports it, is losing its political grip; to hang on, it should be willing to employ undemocratic means. It may be argued nonetheless that this sort of adventurism is still tenable within the democratic framework provided social consensus around it is obtained. Authoritarian rule is thus justified by the claim of stability, efficiency and certainty.

On the other hand, a revolution that Jose has in mind would assume the supersession of that consensus by the “voice of the people.” On the political level, the leading participants of the revolution will try to wrest control of the state power from the dominant group, the same group Sycip is supposed to represent. On the social level, the revolution will promise to restructure not only the existing political institutions but in fact the full gamut of the system. The immediate outcomes of the revolution—instability and inefficiency—will be just the opposite of what an authoritarian rule will claim to achieve, plus of course the prospect of a great uncertainty ahead, the ideology, leadership, organization and post-revolution strategies of the revolutionaries being for the most part vague, if not unknown.

The competing methods thus expressed have the further effect of intensifying a “class conflict” that is also exacerbated by racial complexion, Sycip being a Filipino of Chinese descent typical of the so-called “market-dominant minority” and Jose having been known to have produced, quite from the outlook of the common man, commentaries highly critical of the activities of certain Chinese in the Philippines.

In some metaphoric sense, authoritarian rule and mass revolution are first like unborn twins conceived by the same political, economic and social imperatives. They gestate at the same time and in the same womb, racing to be born ahead of each other: whichever reaches the lifeline first will try every conceivable means within its command to neutralize or nip the other in the bud.

During the time of Marcos, he himself as then the incumbent President of the Republic (whose political beginning had been moored in provincial warlordism) conceived of the authoritarian rule in order, among other things, to dislodge a competing cosmopolitan elite group and to deal with the threat of an impending rebellion. The eventual perpetuation of the Marcos rule into tyranny without the visible attainment of the stability, efficiency and certainty it had promised ultimately provoked the counter ideology of People Power. Unfortunately, the narrow achievements of People Power (owing, according to yet another remark of Sycip made much earlier, to the rich having forgotten their pledges following the first EDSA revolution) are now creating the justification for the continued sibling race and rivalry—and a vicious circular rerun, if you will—of an authoritarian rule and a people’s revolution except that now (as during Cory Aquino’s time) the authoritarian alternative is also being reared by groups external to the rule of the incumbent.

Sycip and Jose are not however madmen. Far from it. One is a self-made wealth producer and a philanthropist; the other, an artist and a social critique of distinguished national acclaim. It may be said that by their public deeds they have in many ways been esteemed as exemplary private individuals well conscious of the embodiments of the public realm. But more is expected of them exactly because of their stature in the community. Accordingly, it is central to the thesis spoken here that their alternatives, which do have merits and demerits, be rather treated as no more than opening salvos in a grand national dialogue or debate as to the internal and external roots of the nation’s dilemma and the fundamental question of what political order is best suited for the Filipinos. In that regard, the media as communicating change agents should grab the opportunity to frame it thus (or hype it, to use a media slang constructively), encouraging all parties in interest to join the paramount adventure. If in fact provided with dedicated resources and turned into some institutional practice, and hence not as mere sideshows but as equal in importance to regular news reporting, to popular spectator sports or to the ubiquitous soap operas (websites of certain mainstream news organizations are observed to conventionalize the practice albeit in still imperfect forms), it is capable of becoming a competing alternative in itself. It is radical yet readily available but neither utopian nor extreme.

Public conversation or deliberative exchange over fundamental issues of political life is democracy in its true sense. For one thing, it extends the political space of the ordinary individual who otherwise feels impotent in the face of the immense powers of the state, and thereby enhances his attachment to the requirements and purposes of the public. What’s more, by becoming a member of voluntary organizations serving as sources of yet diverse thoughts, conjoint relations, or ground-level partnerships, the individual is empowered even further to take part in the recreation of communities and institutions through associated purposes, plans and actions. Cooperative endeavors also fill in important needs unmet by official actions, while, in other significant cases, serve as compelling restraints upon the improvident exercise of those actions.

Invent the e-mail (the older version, it should be recalled, was in reference to the printing press) and other modes of instant transmission of ideas and the triumph of global democracy is inevitable. So, when accorded full complement by the wonders of modern communications, collaborative inquiry, criticism and decision-making are potent drivers for reconstructing communities or political orders. The media then as a neutral conduit, and in further deference to its assumed role as a public trust, becomes a positive antithesis of its otherwise negatively perceived role as a willing tool for the vicious but subtler power of suggestion—the deliberate trifling with truth by implicit or subliminal means—now perfected into a fine art and a science by those in power (something that Susan Roces, the widow of Da King who’d be the man, has so candidly complained about).

Indeed, the political exercise of open, honest, freewheeling but intelligent exchange is taken account of when there is broad participation. And the breadth of shared experience, understanding and consensus that may be derived from it, once internalized, can pervade the rigidities as well as the superfluities of procedural democracy now entwined in the doctrine of delegated authority. This same device can energize the political capacity to put to the test hallowed political traditions, to let people directly deal with the frailties and inefficacies of the established constitutional order or to examine the true character of constitutional transitoriness, sans the danger of an authoritarian rule lapsing into tyranny or revolutionary upheaval into anarchy. Hence, rather than unsettling, the whole process would be actually stabilizing and otherwise affirming of the truism that by republicanism, the nominal organs of government rule but the people ultimately govern—by participation.

On the other hand, it behooves to point out that the issues and controversies to be given saliency be wide-ranging enough to cover those relating to core institutional contents, as herein being urged (e.g., the pros and cons of authoritarian rule or mass revolution) as much as those merely politically or legally heretical (e.g., conversation about unilateral moratorium on the repayment of the national debt or the calling of a snap presidential election), or those of vital concerns to specific communities (e.g., ideas about reevaluating the local school system to meet community needs or exploring other sources of revenues through local initiatives). Guided and aided by the public sentiments thus engendered, and in response thereto, specific measures may then be pursued by official policymakers and by trained experts.

Arguably, fixation today, at the expert level, on marginal coping like simply getting to the bottom of the current fiscal crisis won’t be enough if the nation were at a terminally critical juncture. But any open advocacy of extreme and potentially violent measures as an answer to the excitements of an afflicted body politic—in place, as the case being made now, of the process of thinking through critically and experimentally an orderly transformation in deliberative exchanges—confuses the public sense and emaciates the public realm. When coming from people of persuasion, it certainly takes on some odd delicacy; and if not so impassioned or informed by deep-rooted and long-standing beliefs and values, it could be as impetuous, undiscerning and possibly as irresponsible as the callous profiteering of illegal loggers, the vain hubris of practitioners of state aggression, or the intellectual myopia of latter-day shamans in black robes, and hence as life-threatening to the survival and growth of the nation.

What our communities and the country need today is to act decisively upon certain arrangements on the basis of a national consensus that is motivated not by any sense of defeatism and despondency but out of the awareness that the possibilities are great precisely when together we adhere to the spirit of Bayanihan and the practical realities of interdependence. And the promises of accomplishing what’s hoped could not be any more immense than by going forward with the alternative of mobilizing the great Filipino common sense and trusting the resources and harmony of many minds.

It is quite opportune that UP Professor Randy David in his article afore-cited proposes a three-step approach “to turn the country around,” namely: “First, a large and articulate constituency for reform must assemble itself from the countless fragmented voices and social movements that are already making themselves heard in our society today. Its first task is to draw and agree on a realistic roadmap to national recovery, carefully marking out the main obstacles and dangers and indicating the immediate priorities to be tackled. Second, the document must be explained and debated in public fora all over the country, refined, and then presented to the President and Congress for action. And third, depending on the response of the present political leadership, the reform movement may either call for new elections or a constitutional convention or both.”

Against the treacherous undercurrents of tyranny and anarchy, David’s project confidently lays the odds in the service of the deeper and loftier tides of democracy.

Filipinos should try to exert every effort to serve the same call.


Post a Comment

<< Home