Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Haunted by Marcos’ ghost

Marcos, as many Filipinos may still recall, employed every means possible to fabricate a semblance of public acceptance of his regime which he claimed, until his expulsion, to be constitutional and democratic. As an astute politician, Marcos was quite aware that governments, regardless of forms, must exert every effort to gain popular consent; and if only to secure a modicum of public acquiescence, he did not hesitate to corrupt everyone and the established order.

The people’s consent is therefore of the essence in any government that purports to be a democracy. For, at least theoretically, there can be no democracy that is not firmly based on the will of the governed. The powers that be are thus highly sensitive to the fundamental requirement of popular consent, whether the government being run is in fact democratic, oligarchic or despotic.

With about 80 percent of the Filipinos today wishing President Arroyo to leave office, how could she possibly secure the consent and support of the people without being repressive and manipulative in the way leaders of tyrannical disposition are prone to?

What is more, the technological wonders of speed and connectivity are now allowing citizens (the better-informed and well-meaning ones, in particular), in concert with people of like persuasions, to affect state decisions. And these are occurring in ways that are proving to be discomforting to the abilities of power holders to control public opinion through the traditional media outlets.

For instance, Malacañang has had to let loose two officials of cabinet rank (Ricardo Saludo and Rigoberto Tiglao) to post rejoinders in Newsstand as certain topics in the blog and comments thereon turned to be quite too disturbing to ignore. What could reasonably be suspected as a Palace-inspired blog, Rational Sphere, has actually been created for the coziness of the presidential bloggers barraged as they have been in not-so-neutral exchange zones. Yet, Newsstand owner John Nery was still gracious to quip: this can be the beginning of a truly meaningful deliberative democracy.

But, whether deliberative democracy can be justified, if the public is yet incapable of making appropriate political decisions in the pursuit of the common good, is still problematic. The answer of course is education, i.e., to increase the salience of politics in people’s lives. This means more, not less, politics and, hence, greater involvement by the people in the political processes. Simply voting for representatives (ah, yes, those people’s representatives some of whom burnt their midnight candles and themselves during the impeachment vote) is therefore not enough for purposes of true empowerment. But appreciating the real issues is participation in the political sense.

For now, there would be no good, long drink for mlq3 (if he is not a teetotaler). But if for the foregoing reasons alone, the quixotic campaigns of the grandson of the illustrious MLQ as well as the valiant efforts of the investigative reporters of PCIJ during the failed impeachment against President Arroyo are priceless in this educative process. Their salutary contributions are unmistakable in the face of the mainstream Philippine media’s phlegmatic performance of its duty to inform the people and of its supposed role as a public trust.

Thus, from the “circus atmosphere,” one expects more unintended consequences such as in the form of continuing “living room” and “street” political tutoring of the populace could be headed for some concrete fulfillment. For one thing, enough lessons from the past (from the unfulfilled expectations of People Power I and People Power II) might have been learned by now. And, and . . . lo, is there ample awareness this time of how to go about delivering the people’s true interests from the usual elitist rationale for economic growth (for the elites’ shake) without economic democracy?

Indeed, democracy also means the right to earn a decent living in the very place one calls home. Unfortunately, unlike Marcos who openly brandished dictatorial powers to have his untrammeled ways, Arroyo is practically a lame duck president hostage today to keeping political IOUs as one of the bitter pills produced by the impeachment saga. So, even if willing to make amends for her “lapses,” Arroyo, as a matter of political convenience, will have no choice but to relegate once again this long-standing people’s aspiration to the trenches of oblivion. This translates into less food on the table of nearly half of the country’s population as long as Arroyo is president.

Now, will people power sustain its potency and go beyond the political theatrics that the first two upheavals have unfortunately become? Or, in the days ahead, should Filipinos in fact expect to see an Iron Lady cast in the lengthened ghost of Marcos ready and willing to wage a war of attrition, at all costs, against the Great Beast?


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