Friday, December 30, 2005

Why did the maestros Cha-cha?

The oldest delegate to the Philadelphia convention that “revised” the Articles of Confederation was Benjamin Franklin. At 82 and in frail health, he needed help to sign the final product, the Constitution of the United States. As the delegates gathered in front of the Pennsylvania State House when the convention ended on September 17, 1787, Franklin was approached by the wife of the mayor of Philadelphia and curious, she asked: “Well, what we have got, a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin replied, “A republic, madam. If you can keep it.”

Why was the wise old man quite tentative?

The constitutional convention came about under a specter of anarchy within about 10 years since America’s colonial struggle for “national liberation” from the British Empire which culminated in the American Revolution. There have been historical viewpoints to the effect that the conflict was less of a battle between two armies than a contest over “hearts and minds” of the population which the insurgents won. And unlike the French Revolution, the ferment in America was rather a creeping one, or an “accelerated evolution” wherein the populace was not seriously disturbed even during the actual clashes but went on doing their chores with many communities not even knowing a war was going on. When British defeat was however at hand, a substantial number of America’s elites loyal to the British crown opted to exit thus creating what today may be called a “brain drain.” Triumphant, equality became catchphrase among the “citizens” in the fledgling nation. Egalitarian thinking began to challenge ideas about society and government, and groupings that clung to any aristocratic posturing were looked upon with disfavor. However, with the common cause of the revolution gone, hopes for establishing a regime that would last were dimmed even as the infant republic labored to plod on.

Indeed, aside from the looming national economic disaster, individual states were engaged in boundary disputes at times punctuated by minor skirmishes. But what scared out of the wits of the Patriot elites was the staging of an uprising in Massachusetts by some revolutionary war veterans. The rebels, led by Captain Daniel Shays, were losing their farms through foreclosures and tax forfeitures. With “mobocracy” almost the temper of the times, the propertied class somehow became nostalgic for a strong monarchy.

Alexander Hamilton, the 31-year New Yorker and possibly the brightest among the delegates, could not hide his aristocratic bent in a convention speech: “All communities divide themselves into the few and the many. The first are the rich and the wellborn, the other the mass of the people . . . The people are turbulent and changing; they seldom judge or determine the right. Give therefore to the first class a distinct, permanent share in the government. They will check the unsteadiness of the second, and as they cannot receive any advantage by change, they therefore will ever maintain good government.”

The foregoing were the backdrops against which Franklin conveyed his infamous line. In fact, some historians believe the Shays’ mutiny in effect “founded” the Constitution of the United States.

It was not the venerable Benjamin Franklin but another thirty-something delegate, James Madison – credited with contributing so much (with his partner Hamilton) to the crafting of the Constitution - who was called the “Father of the Constitution.” I would however consider the ideas of Hamilton and Madison as the progenitor of democratic elitism in American political system.

On the other hand, fiery and populist revolutionary leader, Thomas Jefferson, who was then sojourning in Europe, missed the heated closed-door debates in Philadelphia. But a couple of months after the convention (of “demigods,” as Jefferson so appreciated the caliber of the delegates) had produced a constitution, Jefferson wrote: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” He also insisted: “A little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical . . . a medicine necessary for the sound health of the government.”

Revisiting at this juncture the American experience in nation-building and drawing certain parallelism from it should give Filipinos pause on being too hard on themselves.

As a relevant side note today, I suppose Philippines’ national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, was in some ways Hamiltonian. Rizal publicly denounced “the criminal methods” of an “absurd” and “fatal” people’s armed uprising for Philippine independence. As Hamilton, Rizal believed “that reforms, in order to be fruitful, must come from above, that those that come from below are shaky, irregular, and insecure”; whereas certain political observers, mostly Americans, think of Ninoy Aquino as a Jeffersonian democrat. But, if fortunate enough to have full opportunity, which one of Filipinos’ two icons would have led the nation keeping a true republic?

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Unleash the Peace

It’s gone!

The wild dancing with wolves,
The wise in commune with winds:
A “way of life” by-past.

The promise: heaven on earth, and sovereigned;
Where on Main St., a feather on one’s head unlooked.

Heavens hijacked! Heavens disfigured!
And the arrows landed where we truly care.

The shattered lantern too faint to hearten,
The lost ducklings too shy to quack,
The metaphor too close for comfort.

Shush . . .
The cadenced drumbeats drowned the chants of the crowd,
The best oils anointed the folly of the wise.

The eagle soared!
The nation’s impulse (power and self-same promises) in tow.
Halleluiah! Halleluiah!

Evil, all evil is fair prey!
You, too, “if you are not with us.”

Yet, one braved soul - and all it takes is one -
Implored the Manifest
(As others mourned the Spirits,
Still acrid, still uncarved, still anonymous):
Unwind the soul!
Unblurry the fury!
Unwire the fire!
Unleash the peace!
Yet, yet “. . . everything will be ok,
tomorrow my tears will taste good,”
(What are we in Hollywood and Madison for?)
So, soothsaid for passersby

Like graffiti on charred bigheads
Of once proud totem poles.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Exchanges and thoughts on federalism

(Now that the charter change debate to adopt federalism is on the national radar screen again, I would like to repost here certain exchanges and my own thoughts on the matter [slightly edited] that took place in several years ago).

On federalism and feudalism

dyandi: If federalism should promote autonomy in the localities, how different will its dynamics be (local and national-local ones) from the dynamics that exist now, or should exist, given the implementation of the 1991 Local Government Code? Bear in mind these realities: On one hand, the prevalence of traditional politics, which is foreseen to last for 100 years more, and on the other hand, the opportunities for people participation and empowerment, which have been institutionalized through two People Powers but have yet to be radically realized in local communities.

rickosay: Regionalism promotes competition between regions. But it also promotes unification of the people within the same region.

shark: There’s a possibility that with federalization, each state now legally becomes a fiefdom with the landed class in power as modern-day barons behind the office of the governor.

abe: At least, theoretically, the goal of federalism is, among others, to promote: 1) participatory democracy by bringing important issues closer to grassroots levels, and 2) efficiency through competition between and among states and other local units.

I agree that the existing dynamics that permits a “strange form of feudalism” in the Philippines, which one of you also pointed out, could possibly be further debilitated by federalism.

dyandi’s concern above is, it seems, reducible to: If the masses now play a tiny role under a centralized system, People Power notwithstanding, is there a danger that that role might further be diminished, or taken away altogether, under a decentralized system considering the dearth or absence of people power in local communities?

I would like to respond by first referring to my earlier post advocating for certain principles to guide a systemic change process. I posted that the ideal transformation, to borrow some insights from Clarence N. Stone, could follow the following guidance:

1) Diffuse power by adopting a system where everyone could govern and be governed in turn, or where the governed actually takes part in governing.

2) Through appropriate education, instill a deep sense of citizenship and public duty on the part of the governors, present and future.

The first mode assumes that every member of the body politic is essentially equal in education and experience, and implies that any variant characteristics (e.g., wealth or prestige) are unimportant enough not to favor any group or faction. It however presupposes that present power wielders are willing to join the experiment.

The second mode (education) complements the first.

The goal of this one ideal is for every member of the body politic to become committed to a continuing open inquiry of the system. If under such an ideal none stands to lose by altering a system in place that is not responsive to current needs, then all could be motivated to explore alternatives in a manner limited only by the expanse of everyone’s creativity.

In our town where I grew up (and probably in many other towns today in the Archipelago), community power has been firmly in the hands of a few powerful politicians and local businessmen, professionals, the parish priest, merchants, and some school heads (almost in that order) rather than with the people of the community.

Community activism, if any, was rather sectoral in our town, e.g., by the workers’ union of a transportation company. The union had staged a couple of strikes against the company (as to such workers’ activism the community in general was as indifferent as it was to the irresponsible waste disposal by the company into the town’s waterways); and by the students sector (during my time and apparently only during my time) when I led a couple of student demonstrations against a university founded in our town. The student demonstrations were staged demanding better educational facilities, upgraded academic standards, higher teacher’s pay, and the curtailment of illegal school contributions exacted from the poor students.

The only reason why, I suppose, I was able to pull it without putting myself in harm’s way was: The spouse of the school owner was my baptismal godparent; their son, the Mayor now, was (and still is) a best friend of mine; my father was the Dean of the school; the Mayor then who provided police protection to the demonstrators belonged to a contra-partido and a godparent of one of my brothers; and the bulk of the students who joined the demonstrations were from a competing school of another prominent politician (who happened to be my other godparent) as well as students from other schools in the neighboring city.

In other words, in shark’s feudalistic conception, the other student activists who braved to join us to challenge one fiefdom were from other fiefdoms.

What’s being attempted here is to show that empowerment, political participation, and activism were an aberration in our town (or despite our town) and important community decision making fell within the power of the community’s sub-elites who, more often than not, took their cues from other elites holding higher rungs in the hierarchy.

When I became a professional myself, I decided to opt out of the community and tried my luck in the capital region, meaning in Metro-Manila. As I’ve figured out above, the only possible reason I had been treated peaceably despite the challenge I posed to the sub-elite structure was because of my special relations with the powers that be in our community.

dyandi: Will federalism - which some consider to be decision-making process by sub-elites - change the foregoing power dynamics in our towns, or the power dynamics in your particular community given its own peculiar setup?

abe: My answer is “possible,” federalism or not, but only at the activist’s own peril.

Formal federalism and real federalism

dyandi: Will formal federalism help attain real federalism?

abe: Formal federalism, which is the legal restructuring of the political authority by dividing it among levels of government, could be the easy part. In the Philippines, what it requires is a constitutional amendment considering the unitary structure of our government under the present constitution.

But, now, once sovereignty is partitioned through charter change, will it result in real federalism, curtailing the powers of national government (and the national elites) while at the same time limiting the exploitation of the local citizens by the individual states or other local units (and the local sub-elites)?

One argument goes that under a formal federalism, real federalism is likelier to take place because, for example, it would had been easier for an activist like me to have been heard when the polity was smaller. This is the so-called benefit of voice.

The other argument is that efficiency is promoted when individual states start to compete against another for businesses to settle in their localities. This efficiency, which may refer to taxing, spending, or regulatory standards, is so-labeled as the benefit of competition, rather a business-friendly benefit especially when states offer business incentives (e.g. minimal taxation or subsidizing the cost of doing business) at the expense of the public or the ordinary taxpayers. Now, on the part of these businesses, they have the corollary benefit of option to exit into the more efficient or more business-friendly states. Hence, the competition.

In so far as the sovereignty of the individual is concerned, the dynamics of power in the local community could possibly remain unperturbed despite federalism or the partitioning of political sovereignty between national government and state governments. And worse, federalism might even reinforce the power of fiefdoms, which is the fear of shark.

On charter change (copycats beware!)

abe: The answer I would like to venture to these very valid concerns is basically: As long as the terms of the amendments are clearly spelled out to enforce certain guiding principles reached through the peoples’ collective imagination and creativity - such as, for example, the ones suggested above - instead of merely imitating or copying the federal constitutions of other countries, then the illusions of decentralization could probably be avoided.

Therefore, instead of merely focusing, for instance, on the parliamentary or presidential form of government, the proposed charter change undertaking should spend more time and effort to provide for the processes on how to institutionalize and facilitate people’s initiatives and referenda, effective recall devices, town assemblies or meetings, and other forms of grassroots consultation and people power mechanisms; and prescribe serious sanctions (penalties) in such cases as the stifling (by the government or its agents) of the lawful exercise of people power. The actual experiences of individual communities and the collective aspirations of the nation, not necessarily of some so-called experts, would be crucial in formulating these processes.

To avoid the American experience of allowing the judiciary ample powers to re-engineer the provisions of the Constitution according to the justices’ proclivities and agenda, the amendments should clearly enumerate and delineate the powers both of the national and state governments, leaving an unaccountable judiciary narrower leeway to tamper with the peoples’ aspirations.

The one thing, I believe, that should be avoided first and foremost would be to go for a charter change, now or in the future, that’s not powered by the people or dictated by our national values, needs and goals. Otherwise, the result could possibly be more disempowerment.

The argument of Crisline G. Torres, a professor of political science at the University of the Philippines, is therefore worth listening to. Responding to an earlier charter change euphoria, she has called for –
‘ . . . a lengthening of the time horizon of progressives where instead of rushing into political campaigns on Charter change, they should actively engage in the study groups on constitutional design issues’ and ‘in a matter of years . . . develop the conceptual sophistication to finally come up with a range of positions that can be put on the negotiating table with different political groups and the public on how to meet the at times conflicting goals of effective governance, political accountability, and more inclusive representation with respect to the constitutional reforms.’

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

‘A sense of country’

W.W. Rostow believes that “a reactive nationalism” is as important as the “profit motive” as a driving force to transform societies from traditional to modern. Historically, men in authority, paraphrasing Rostow, have been willing to undertake radical changes out of a wounded national pride or as a cover against humiliation by foreigners who left them behind in the competition for modernization.

I do not presume to possess the intellectual insights of Rostow but somehow I have also written that two key ingredients for a successful nation building are: a “sense of country” (words I borrowed from Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Condrado de Quiros) and “vigorous entrepreneurship,” particularly on the part of the nation’s economic elites.

I underscored too the need for a Bayanihan Pact (among capital, labor, the community and the government) “so that each may come out with something while preserving the survival of the State” and further posed this challenge: “whether the gateway to equitable accumulation and ultimately national development could also be accessed by way of the power of consensus of people power democracy that’s willing to learn from the best practices that work and, based on ongoing experience and rising above ideologies, eschew things that don’t, or change even established notions and practices when concrete realities and the complex necessities for change in the service of the common good require.”

Rostow, on the other hand, wisely pinpointed the transformational requirement of a “transitional coalition” dictated by a singular and “solid common conviction”: that they (the coalition-participants) are fully aware of their roles as stakeholders in the “creation of an independent modern state.” Rostow’s prescription can however be differentiated by his elitist perspective pointing out that an efficacious coalition had “a political (or military) wing and an economic wing” of a “new elite” or among “soldiers, merchants and intellectuals” maintaining a “balance of power within the coalition” as well as a policy balance in the pursuit of the various nationalist objectives of the modernized state whenever so established.(Certain of my own thoughts about this transition are here.)

By the examples of Japan and South Korea, and now China, the pace of modernization through the convergence of nationalism and the profit motive is apparently quickened if the society is more or less homogeneous.

In United States, it was the business brainpower and, in some way, the skewed patriotism of men like Carnegie, Harriman, Morgan and Rockefeller driven essentially by profit motives, not a slue of mediocre White House occupants, that led to the transformation of America from what today would be a Third-World status to a modern industrialized nation.

To an extent, the Filipino reformists in Rizal’s time saw parallel hindrances during their movement against Spanish colonial rule but presented not so much by the heterogeneous groupings of peninsulares (Spaniards from Spain), criollos (Spanish born in the Philippines), the Spanish mestizos and Chinese mestizos as by the regionalism of the land-based elites.

Today, among the what ifs in Philippine history is whether the bruised egos of the Los Indios Bravos at the turn of the last century would have been enough (had Commodore Dewey’s fleet not come out of the blue in Manila Bay) to transform what would have been a newly independent nation (from Spain) into an urbanized modern society. It is my view that Jose Rizal’s nationalist visions prefigured a modern Philippines in the short-term if not so nipped in the bud by America’s ambition and misadventure in imperialism.

It should be remembered that Rizal while in Europe, given the state of world economy of his time, spent time studying ceramics, leather tanning and cement manufacturing to prepare for the establishment of indigenous factories and industries in the Philippines because he believed “a people cannot have liberties without having first material prosperity.” He also organized La Liga Filipina “to unite the Archipelago into one compact, vigorous and homogeneous body”; aspired for the “equality” of the Philippines “as far as possible to the provinces of Spain in order not to be called a colony,” while advocating for the expulsion of the unpatriotic friar communities which he denounced as forming “conspiracies against the progress of the Philippines”; and “put as a premise the education of the people so that through education and work, they might have a personality of their own.”

Jose Rizal was a scion of a wealthy merchant family and a Chinese mestizo who chose to die an Indio Natural.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Judging the People's Court

Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Amando Doronila has been irreverent to People Power: he wrote that the House vote throwing out the Arroyo impeachment was a “triumph of procedures over the unruliness and arbitrariness of people power”; he called the “trial” before the “Citizens’ Congress for Truth and Accountability (the People’s Court) as “seizure and usurpation of state functions”; and, more recently, he made reference to the futility of “mob pressure” and the “temptations for power grabs from noncivil sectors of society.”

Doronila’s observations, unfortunately, border either on old-fashioned revisionism or political senility.

If the impeachment vote was indeed a “triumph of procedures,” the obvious corollary could be that it was also a “defeat of substantive principles” that the majority of the Filipino people - who wanted to go beyond the procedural and the technical - did not deserve. The House vote, callous and appalling, has allowed at least two supposed criminal conspirators (one, the President of the Republic sworn to uphold the laws of the land, and another, a high election official constitutionally bound to guard the sanctity of the people’s vote) to be absolved from the accountability of their misdeeds (obviously “noncivil”) now preserved in disgrace for posterity.

What seems to have been lost sight of in this rundown so far is the fact that the people power that culminated as EDSA I has deeper socio-political narratives and underpinnings (possibly dating further back to the forces leading to1898 Revolution) than the infamy at the tarmac, the flagrant manipulation of the snap elections vote tally and the quirky subplots in the Ramos-Enrile mutinous adventure, and yet there was immediate return and bestowal of sovereign authority to the ancien regime.

EDSA II was no different. And the presidency was thereupon served on a silver platter by status quo defenders to a constitutional successor, in the face of an immanent reform zeitgeist, and even as the illegitimation of the system in place was capped by the “triumph of procedures” during the impeachment trial of Estrada.

In brief, the phenomenon of people power has emerged as a modern counter-ideology: first, to a long-standing tyranny of the Marcos rule, and then, to incompetent governance and shameful corruption during Estrada’s tenure, in both instances sans the ambition of grabbing power despite the common goal of regime change. But what made People Power so unique, or uniquely Filipino, is the fact that while a coalition of the politically active Filipinos ultimately decided to govern, it did not arrogate the power to rule. There was no “seizure or usurpation of state functions” but in fact a re-entrusting of the sovereign power to the same powers that be.

So therefore any suggestion demoting the first two upheavals as “mob” actions (as if saying the mass disquiet of the people is no more than the “Paris riots” of late) is impious to say the least. The successful replications of people power in other regions of the world post EDSA I, it should be stressed, was as much the people’s answer to Samuel Huntington’s Cold War call for “moderation in democracy” for governance for governability’s sake, as the necessity for more “people power” democracy could be the alternative to the perceived imperfections of the ancient ideal. This brings us once more to our recurrent thesis: People Power is not a mere surge; but it could otherwise be a single-track mass action against unwanted regimes.

On the other hand, the yet unborn People Power III is more proximal to the ideal, or to the project of People Power democracy, than the first two uprisings: which is why People Power III, as well as its various cognate manifestations, is patient, deliberative, even vacillating while calculating because, maybe, it is also looking for a systemic transformation beyond the troubled Arroyo regime. Not being a precipitate surge, the multiple particles of sovereignty in the nascent power are producing politically meaningful relationship and critical common grounds among groupings of different persuasions. It is thus likelier to create certain pre-conditions for democracy essential to a genuine “social contract.”

What is more, collaborative and communicative undertakings, such as the staging of the People’s Court to uncover more about the truth surrounding the “Garci tapes” (or in some larger, if global, context, the expansive and connective public sphere of networked exchanges among individual purveyors as in blogging for the brave new world) are somehow posing or serving as real challenges or powerful drivers to rethink what heretofore have been accepted political symbolisms (of the Nation-State or the institutionalized Fourth Estate, for instance).

The “sovereign” activities of legitimate and intensely politically active minorities expressing the majority’s preference, while reflective of the deeper tides of democracy, are deemed outside the framework of proceduralism and in the opinion of traditional political pundits like Doronila, are also in derogation (usurpation) of the traditional conception of sovereignty. Yet, shouldn’t one take note too that, by Hobbessian formulation initially, the rising bourgeoisie of the old to protect their interests had needed a new form of absolute power other than the politically incorrect monarch and so the myth of the sovereign state was thus conjured up? The concept then evolved into something where the state has become the representation of the multitude acting as a body politic. Well, to be sure, one claim is more mythical than the other. But, which one is undemocratic? Or appropriately the usurper?