Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The holy coup: for a mission of love

In his Manila Bulletin column (Feb. 26, 2006) former President Fidel V. Ramos has seen “a powerful wake-up call for change and reform”- something he thinks the Filipino people want “quickly”- proceeding from recent events in the Philippines. These events include a supposed coup conspiracy that has in turn sent President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to “stampede . . . into harsh measures” against political and civil liberties. Notwithstanding, “Many powerful factors,” Ramos so figures out, “work against another ‘People Power’ revolution.”

In the first place, what must not be lost sight of in the analysis given by the former president is: Far greater than “Marcos-style repression” the Arroyo regime has chosen to resort to is the draconian problem of “unholy alliance” and “perverse symbiosis” that “throughout our history” has allowed a “durable oligarchy” to be “able to use public authority for their private benefit . . . without having to create economic value for the common good.”

Then as now, FVR has been unequivocal about what he once called the “mother of all our problems”:
What I regard as the root cause of many of our problems is the intimate link, call it the unholy alliance, between business and politics in this country. Throughout our history, wealthy, powerful and politically entrenched families have been able to use public authority for their private benefit. This durable oligarchy has used the powers of the State to create opportunities for themselves to make money and more money – without having to create economic value for the common good.

It is time we put an end to this perverse symbiosis – which at bottom is responsible for our endemic problems of greedy rent-seeking, crony capitalism, and patronage politics. One oft-repeated way of changing all this – which bears repeating here – is to continue leveling the playing fields of economic competition and political participation.
Unfortunately, despite the monstrosity of the problem and the perceived impatience of the Filipino people, FVR’s answer (a shift to a parliamentary form of government eventually leading to a “Federal configuration”) is minimal at best. Such a solution bandied as sure-bet coming as it does from a former president who came quite close to taking Philippine economy to tiger status, is nonetheless likely to founder on the rock again. The thesis: it is disproportionately incremental, doubted if not distrusted and as business-as-usual as those of other failed presidents’, before or after FVR. Not wanting to be adventuristic (except possibly Marcos), or a “magician” (like Arroyo), the political class has fallen short and every time allowing the oligarchy to prevail over them no sweat. This, not the “constant political bickering,” the “headless and scattered” character of the people’s movement or the lack of “nationwide outrage” FVR assuredly enumerates in his column, is what’s holding a People Power - that is progressively wising up, or coming out from pubescence to maturity - from taking place right now.

Arroyo, her generals and her Palace bright boys and girls as well as her indulgent coddlers are certainly being blindsided by lack of historical sense failing thereby to discern the stark reality that the ideals of true democracy are now deeply embedded in the Filipino soul as a result of the twin People Power upheavals, and as deep-rooted as such, so do fundamental political rights and liberties. Their pocket-sized ambition while increasingly swelling would be no match to the deeper tides of democracy yet to come.

Beyond the formalism of Charter change (and post-Arroyo for she, too, will pass away), the People Power project must then aspire for the formation of a new public which should come ahead of its being embodied in a public law like the Constituion. The project may not start on a clean slate because arguably there’s plenty to build on from the present setup. What is important however is that the process of experimentation must not be constrained by some arbitrary reverence to what has come to be regarded as the established order, one that’s often honored in the profession of the Rule of Law. There should be as much willingness to transform now as in the future as the needs arise, choosing continual trialing over the claim of constitutional stability.

One of my criticisms of rigid constitutionalism that has been leased to us by the Americans is that it diminishes both the ideation and the realpolitik of democracy by making it so difficult for the people to change it mid-course and yet easy enough for an accountable Supreme Court to tell what supposedly the constitution says it is as the proclivities of the robed sires so warrant.

What the still tentative People Power practitioners hope to see in the last analysis, after two People Power revolutions, is not just another “personnel” or “regime” change but a rejection of the “system in place” that has sustained “throughout history” the “unholy alliance” and “perverse symbiosis” of the “wealthy, powerful, and politically entrenched families” forming the “durable oligarchy.” As a result of this alliance and symbiosis, it should be pointed out, more than two thirds of the 85 million Filipinos live in “humiliation, powerlessness and brutal hardship,” to borrow some compelling words from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. A mere constitutional amendment is unlikely to alter the situation of the Filipino poor, perhaps not during FVR’s or our lifetime.

The Filipinos would be ready to challenge whatever myth there is that surrounds a borrowed constitutional order when the iceberg of mistrust among the collaborating actors is allowed to be broken. And if and when the time comes a Baynihan Pact uniquely Filipino is ready to be forged, it behooves the representatives to be faithful to the represented and to listen too to those who may not be the nearest and the loudest because “all human beings are created equal,” to use the political judgment or rhetoric of our colonial masters whom FVR at times hearkens to.

Lastly, to ensure the success of the systemic and paradigmatic change hoped for will require some self-abnegating mission, nay, a political act of love ranging from one end of the political spectrum to the other (i.e., from the Left, through the Center to the Right) instead of the persistent desire for ideological triumphalism from all sides. This collaboration, or holy alliance, if you will, could be the antithesis of the unholy one FVR has appropriately and correctly identified.

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