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?

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