Sunday, March 26, 2006

V for Vaudevillian

(Note: If you have not seen the movie yet, I suggest you click here first before continuing to read. I have not read any of the comic issues. Thanks).


By sedition law (and Batasang Pambansa 880) standards, the subversion and scurrilous libel in V for Vendetta is criminally actionable. Patalsikin Na! Now na! (Let’s kick her behind out of the Palace, now!) simply pales in contrast, if nothing else. So, why is there no arrest this time while the movie is showing (the “probable cause” being there) in the theaters of Manila?

In the end the power it packs is that of a cartoon on the big screen, Newsstand suggests an answer, even as the comic-book movie (or its message of radicalism masked in cartoonic satire) pays off lucratively in the box office while it disarms (the hard-line Right who will not openly defend Hitlerism). Yet, is it that fluffy?

“A revolution without dancing is not worth having” is, and somewhat incoherent as well, until it reminds the world again of the Filipino mutation of the French Revolution: People Power, more carnivalesque and festive than a violent upheaval, held the artillery regiment to stand down, which could have possibly disobeyed a tyrant’s order to fire at the festive crowd. That looks to be a tragedy in reverse but no comedy.

V, in full theatrical regalia (and happy face on), introduces his personhood: “Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished.”

Even if spared of the full-measure of possibly the longest alliteration known, one not distracted by the smell of a bag of popcorn could have not missed how fastidiously the scriptwriter set the tone and the mood through V’s introductory discourse.

My olfactory nerves unfortunately could not ignore the savor and my wife refuses to replay the lines. But I’ll restate the essential one I have retrieved from Wikipedia (thanks democracy): “This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox poluli, now vacant, vanished.”

First, a quick refresher: The Persian, Greek and Latin etymology of “person” is derived from the vaudevillian mask that “sounds through,” and that instead of hiding the character (of well-known gods, legends or myths) behind it, it reveals or personifies it. The mask therefore is essentially an agency, not a core.

But then as the challenge to make a prediction of the story’s outcome is also made very early, V issues a reminder somewhat like this: The voice of the people is no more, now who will sound it through to bring out the core (of humanhood)? Since it is cartoonic, the larger than life super hero (or super heroine as in . . . V as Valerie too?) is there for the asking to do the job. That would be too predictable (except for the Valerie twist), hence, if not cartoonic, fluffy.

Lo, if thus distracted and hence unable to catch that what is vanished is just the voice (because, as the story line will reveal, the people is fundamentally capable of creating ideas, their ideas), the unabashed befuddlement even of a professional and highly competent movie critic Roger Ebert becomes understandable. “The strange thing is,” Ebert said, “I kept feeling it was a sharply pointed political parable but I couldn't get the parallel going.”

I will refrain at this point from discussing symbolisms and references already covered somewhere or ostensibly discernible (such as the black bags of Abu Ghraib, the thesis to acknowledge gayhood, the conservative talk show host Bill O’Reilly incarnate, the unmistakable Orwellian plot, the clear and present danger of Hitlerian regime and, of course, the folly of Dubya’s doctrine) and instead deal on just three close to heart.

First is the mask which I will to turn to once more. I guess if the representation of the theatrical mask is not absorbed, we could be like Newsstand or even Ebert. For instance, for someone who has been following the People Power phenomenon, he would find quite readily that as the cartoon façade is disarming, so were the circus nature of Filipino’s People Power; the masking as such attracts and entertains the Eberts and the lesser Eberts out there (as well as maybe the 14 and above, moms with toddlers in tow, and even grannies to produce a “flash mob” at Rizal Park) even if they “couldn’t get the parallel going.” Now, Newsstand rationalizes, “I actually liked it, but as a movie, not as a political manifesto or a template for political action.” It seems that like Chief Police Inspector Eric Finch, it will take more serious probing of the truth, before the far-reaching menace of the emerging storm sinks in.

The psychologies of the characters in the movies help us comprehend too other real-life characters like blogger Bong Austero. Are his “austere” (to borrow Hillblogger’s characterization) reform proposals enough or sincere? Are they coming from a decidedly partisan or a self-vindicating coward?

The second symbolism that caught my fantasy is Evey Hammond. She is the politics of the transformational process. Effectively she purges herself from a long-running denial (that she had been exposed to militancy early in life) to become liberated from her negative self concepts which are manifestations of previous hurts and deliberate conditioning. As in anarchism or libertarianism, the role of the individual in Evey has been given prominence in the change process. She is able to retrieve her own essential self as V, his moral ambiguity notwithstanding, was able to assert his being authentically (he said to Evey “I love you,” didn’t he) in a therapeutic relationship of sort. Together they realize the extension of the self to the interpersonal, relational and ultimately societal sphere. (How dare the Marxists complain of the supposed emphasis on the spontaneity of the revolution inspired only by an individual super hero rather than the collective act of the masses?)

Could Austero be Finch too? How did he realize he was at a junction? Just move forward and let Norsefire regime continue its way, is that what Bong wants? Are you him instead? Or the apolitical (spineless?) Dr. Delia Surridge?

The third is the parable of the train lever. I saw it as symbols of: self-abnegation (on the part of V – yes, now I understand, Ninoy); empowerment (for Evey); conversion (of Norsefire loyalist Finch); and risk-taking (for both Evey and Finch to take action now before even any alternative is drawn up). As core - not as mere agents sounding through - Evey and Finch are both capable of creating their own ideas (mlq3 has some great one going right now) even as V’s own (which, being bulletproof, survives him) go head to head with the prevailing orthodoxy as represented by the Parliament building.

“Blowing up a building can change the world,” won’t be seditious libel if it only means a freewheeling clash of ideas. The real terror, it seems, is when we put off the light on the liberty to be both comic and tragic. Or when righteous men refuse to see, when they can, one side or the other.

In a way, a movie is like survey results. Despite the near-perfectness of the fundamentals, we sometimes see them through the prisms of our masks.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

French toast

The Wall Street Journal scoffs at France for showing “symptoms of an ailing democracy” as “thousands on the street assert the right to make laws for the millions” (the protests are actually being staged by student groups joined in by unions against a new employment contract law).

“All these small revolutions were inspired by the French Revolution,” the scathing March 21, 2006 editorial pronounces in a manner also implying that the French system being immature may yet lose the right to be called a republic, a “democratic republic” to be precise. The French never really “shied from guillotining aloof rulers,” the archetypal conservative and pro business paper digs in apparent apotheosis of the American way.

The editorial piece is not just present-day American rants and raves against the French; it is as old as American brand of politics in Thomas Jefferson’s time. I will explain my point by connecting historical events with certain discourses that are gaining high currency today.

One is on the penchant nowadays of the Arroyo government to throw the criminal law book on sedition and cognate crimes at political dissenters and detractors. But the thinking of columnist and Pinoy blogger Manuel L. Quezon III (mlq3) is to the effect that certain provisions of Revised Penal Code of the Philippines such as seditious libel (or “inciting to sedition”) are both colonial and anachronistic. My own view, which assumes mlq3’s observations as valid, is that the crime of inciting to sedition as defined under Article 142 of the Code is now extinct by force of the provisions of the Constitution. I will deal with this later but first let me sketch a brief rundown of relevant U.S. and Philippine histories.

Capitalizing on the French bogey (from Napoleonic France), the elitist Federalist government of President John Adams passed a couple of oppressive laws in the United states designed to gag the pro-French supporters of Adam’s archrival, the populist Thomas Jefferson, many of whom were poor immigrants from Europe. Such laws were the Alien Laws, which authorized the president to deport dangerous and enemy aliens, and the Sedition Act, which was similar to the inciting to sedition article of the Philippines’ penal code. Before the “lockjaw” law, as the Sedition Act was called, pamphleteering of the time were unrestrained, and Adams anti-French policies were often viciously attacked. Many Jeffersonian editors critical of the president were indicted and jailed under the law. Scholars today point out that the Sedition Act was in direct contravention of the U.S. Constitution but the Federalist-dominated Supreme Court never ruled on the constitutionality of the law. The auto-limiting law was simply allowed to expire in 1801. Following the conquest of the Philippines by the United States, the Sedition Act that had expired a century ago* was passed on to the Philippines during the “pacification” period and was ultimately incorporated into the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines to countervail the Filipino insurrention bogey or “to maintain colonial control in a subject country” as mlq3 correctly has pointed out. The Code took effect in January 1932.

As a student of Constitutional Law, I have always maintained that at least Article 142 of the Revised Penal Code was rendered inoperative ipso facto upon the taking into effect of the 1935 Constitution which provides that “All laws of the Philippines Islands shall continue in force . . . unless inconsistent with this Constitution.”

I have greater confidence today to say that Article 142 is no longer in force because the (Commonwealth) Constitution of 1935, the (Marcos) Constitution of 1973 and the (People Power) Constitution of 1987 all provide the following provisions:
No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, [of expression] or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the Government for redress of grievance.
The clause “freedom of expression” is newly added to the present (1987) Constitution.

The command of the Constitution is clear and unmistakable but why would the Court (sometimes Congress and the Executive too) insert exceptions to it, such exception as the so-called “clear and present danger” rule? Why is The Wall Street Journal still demeaning the French Revolution even today?

To put it in general terms, freedom of speech or of the press and popular power have parallel offices. The expansion of their domains has the opposite effect of constricting the domain of the powers that be. In a political sense, the press is but one institutionalized aspect of the phenomenon we now call “people power” - I mean those romantic and traditional journalists who still refuse (some by taking partial refuge in the blogosphere) to be withered into just another form of concentrated power, the media power as The Wall Street Journal represents. In revolutionary France, these powers were the clergy, the aristocracy and feudalism itself. Today, these power structures are what former president Fidel V. Ramos calls as the “unholy alliance” and “perverse symbiosis” of the political and economic elites in the Philippines. The Filipino power holders are no different from the power holders of the American variety that The Wall Street Journal is obligated to protect against what conservative intellectual Samuel Huntington regards as the “excess of democracy” (of the French sort).

I believe I have answered more specifically my second question above here, where I have cited Filipinos’ People Power as the basis of my platform instead of the “small revolutions” in France, in part as follows:
People Power as a movement can thus be juxtaposed quite interestingly to the “wars of national liberation” without being attached to either side of the ideological divide in the “proxy wars” of the Cold War period. If it’s a war at all, it is one powered by the people or a coalition of people across the political spectrum who, like the American revolutionaries, have longed for true political sovereignty and political equality.

Losing Philippines to a real democracy - the People Power democracy - is something that Americans can ill afford: it will mean the final triumph of ordinary democracy (over elitist democracy) that the American revolutionaries came so close to achieving.
One happy caveat: while the French revolution model was regarded as “an open hell,” the Filipinos’ People Power erected an EDSA Shrine.

I am hoping to provide a critical answer to the first question in my next entry.

*During World War I, the U.S. Congress passed the Sedition Act of 1918 and the Espionage Act. Both laws were repealed in 1921.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Taxing the People's limits

Speaker Jose de Venecia has made a scoffing challenge to the minority bloc in the House of Representatives to come up with other charges against President Arroyo than those thrown out last year by the House majority for another impeachment this year to attract the signatures of 79 congressmen.

The main charge in last year’s impeachment, it should be recalled, was based on the “Garci tapes” scandal. Standing unrefuted by the President or explained only dismissively, the phantom of betrayal of public trust emanating from it would likely continue haunting her presidency. The 79 signatures or votes are the minimum required to bring the impeachment case before the Senate for a full-dress trial to banish the phantom away.

At this excruciating leg of a protracted political stalemate in the Philippines, where everything else including the economy seems at an impasse, President Arroyo, if confident of her innocence, should welcome the trial in the Senate. A favorable conclusion of the proceeding should put to rest once and for all the question of her legitimacy to rule. But, now, the President’s sounding board in Congress, the speaker himself no less, does again presage an early demise of any impeachment that would resolve this question. Obviously, this is what the majority in the House contrives to accomplish in the face of the ineluctable fact that the overwhelming majority of the Filipino people (65% to be exact according to the Pulse Asia survey of March 2006) want the President to step down or be removed on the basis of this issue.

Which minority is tyrannizing which majority? Or, conversely, which majority is tyrannizing which minority?

Philippine Daily Inquirer editorialist John Nery seems assured which one is which. He writes in Newsstand thus:
I think the political opposition should come to terms with the fact that the numbers game in the impeachment process actually favors the minority. The political opposition rationalized its failure to gather the 79 signatures it needed to push the impeachment case against the President on to the Senate as yet another sordid example of the tyranny of the majority. Nonsense. In impeachment cases, the Constitution actually allows a minority to trump the majority of congressmen . . . .
Mr. Nery, while correct, frames his thesis within the context of procedural democracy, or strictly in terms of the intra-governmental checks and balances mechanism that the Constitution provides.

Before the impeachment vote last year which I had expected to proceed along partisan lines, I also wrote, in the larger context of People Power democracy as I made allusion to social (rather than constitutional) checks and balances, the following:
What is beginning to come to light from the impeachment saga against President Arroyo is that intra-governmental checks and balances (e.g., the impeachment mechanism) are not sufficient to prevent the tyranny of a group of individuals (the anti-impeachment faction in the House) over a numerically smaller group (the pro-impeachment group), so that if unrestrained by external checks, a minority of individuals in the House will ultimately tyrannize over a majority (about 80 percent who favor the impeachment process as a peaceful regime-change alternative, according to reliable surveys) of the Filipino people.
Social checks and balances upon the exercise of governmental powers are limitations to such powers external to the Constitution. They come into play when procedural democracy founders on the rock by the simple raison d'être that the conclusions reached by the delegates, supposedly imbued with finality, are perceived by the bulk of the population to be in contravention of the people’s common sense and wisdom. One recent example to illustrate this point is how easily law enforcers determined a “probable cause” for purposes of arresting former DSWD secretary Dinky Soliman allegedly for violating a law against illegal assembly. But wasn’t such great dispatch also called for in the reported involvement of four U.S. Marines in the gang-rape of a Filipina, or in the multi-million peso fertilizer fund scam that the Philippine Senate has determined to involve Arroyo’s former agriculture undersecretary, Jocelyn Bolante? And if all are equal before the law, why the resort by the House majority to all the rigmarole of technicalities to determine the same probable cause in the commission of the impeachable offense of “betrayal of public trust” on the part of the president in the face of the existence of certain physical evidence (the “Garci tapes”) and at least one incontrovertible corroborating evidence (the President’s public admission to her “lapse in judgment”)? Who is tyrannizing who when these happen?

I have written a number of times that Philippine constitutionalism is based upon the American paradigm, or, specifically, on Madisonian democracy whose inaugural objective is the prevention of a tyrannical republic. But tyranny in the Madisonian sense is meant the tyranny of the majority, meaning the people. Arguably, the American constitution could be said to have been established to protect the minority, i.e., the wellborn, the wealthy and the propertied from the people’s tyranny. Madison believed that if unchecked (basically by constitutional limitations) the masses would tyrannize the elites, human nature being essentially depraved by desire for power.

At least the Filipino experience in two exercises of People Power democracy has proved the Madisonian fear to be unfounded. The Filipino people on both occasions have been gracious enough to let the powers that be reconfigure how the system could be made workable. And based upon the same experience, the people today have reached such a level of political maturity as to allow an even greater leeway for their chosen leaders like the House Speaker to make the constitution work. The people therefore, as the ultimate source of all political authorities, are as trustworthy as their delegates.

De Venecia and allies should by now know that the external check that can be triggered owing to another arbitrary digression from the constitutional route may lead to some uncertain contra-constitutional resolutions of the whole matter. Why they prefer to ignore these alarms, tauntingly in fact, is beyond me. One thing is however certain: only the people themselves can limit their own patience.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The people's choice

In a democracy, the governor rules only by the consent of the governed, the people.

The people, acting collectively, are the source of all political authorities and consent to delegate certain authority is given by them during election. Hence, when an election is generally perceived as not free, fair and honest, the consent is tainted.

A tainted consent vitiates the authority delegated, by way of the election, to the governor, so that unless the delegation is revalidated by some act or conduct that amounts to acquiescence on the part of the people, the taint will continue to attach to the authority of the governor and open to question the legitimacy of the rule. For a governor to rule with a tainted authority is to do so only under color of authority, not with true authority.

When once people power-averse vice president Arroyo had been swept to power, I was among those who argued very strongly for the legitimacy of her government so established via People Power, upon the following grounds:

1. People Power I was indistinguishable from People Power II; in both instances the people withdrew their consent through the exercise of the right of rebellion.

2. Rebellion is an ultimate political act of the people; it is borne out by its success, hence, any imprimatur given by any other agency including the Supreme Court on the new government installed by the rebellion is unnecessary, a surplusage.

3. Specifically, the withdrawal of support from the Estrada government was so widespread – i.e., from the two Houses of Congress and the Impeachment Court to the military establishment and a wide range of civil society groups - it was impossible for Estrada to continue to govern under his “ousted” regime; withdrawal of the people’s consent proceeded from it.

4. The international community immediately recognized the Arroyo government as the “successor” regime they would be willing to deal with.

In my view, the foregoing political and other relevant events acted upon each other and served as operative factors legitimizing the Arroyo regime with or without the contorted decision of the Supreme Court in Estrada v. Desierto (whereby Estrada was deemed by the Court to have left his office by “constructive resignation” paving the succession of Arroyo to the presidency).

I have also argued that the successful defense of the Republic by the Arroyo government during the EDSA Tres uprising, considered by many as Estrada’s attempt to recapture his office (only four months after Arroyo had assumed the presidency and about two weeks before the mid-term senatorial elections of May 2001 where the administration candidates won 8-5) co-opted the outcome of the elections as the political coups de grace in ultimately completing the legitimation of her administration. The whole world was then assured the Arroyo government could withstand a rebellion and criminal conspiracy of a dimension not seen even during Marcos.

The reasons I gave why Arroyo had easily thwarted the uprising were: “Firstly, the insurrection has been real and has not been stage-managed by her or her close allies in order to perpetuate themselves in power. Secondly, the Philippine military and the PNP have just been through a recent examination of conscience during People Power II that had put to an acid test the true attributes of their professionalism. Finally (and this is something transcendental and therefore, extra-constitutional), Mother Mary, whose shrine had been desecrated by the rebels, sided with GMA.”

Why should I now think the legitimacy of the Arroyo government is imperiled today? Two things: 1) The “Garci tapes” controversy constitutes a strong prima facie presumption of illegitimacy; and 2) The presumption, not being thoroughly refuted in any forum, remains.

The presumption standing, the people’s consent for Arroyo to continue ruling is tainted.

What is obviously undeniable is that the existence of the Garci tapes strikes at the essence of an election, a betrayal of public trust that cannot possibly be let off or forgiven by the mere convenience of admitting to a “lapse in judgment.” The burden of going forward, that is, to show that those tapes are bogus, adulterated or non-existent is thereupon on the lapse of Arroyo. It is a burden that cannot be dodged or wished away simply because Arroyo’s supporters in the House have voted on procedural grounds not to allow a full-dress impeachment hearing on the matter. On the contrary, this whole conduct of Arroyo’s congressional allies has only reinforced the general perception that the people’s consent was thwarted, the election not having been free, fair and honest in the first place. In view of this, Arroyo today is governing only under color of authority or, at the most, apparent authority but not with true authority.

If Arroyo continues to hang on to rule with a tainted authority without the benefit of public acquiescence even as a large segment of the polity continues to agitate for reasonable elucidation or raise more questions about the “Garci tapes” scandal, then the people shall have the right to authenticate their consent in a new election, through the un-election process called impeachment or by the exercise of the right of rebellion - at the people’s discretion.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Lockean sense and defense

On why people resort to people power

. . . revolutions happen not upon every little mismanagement in public affairs. Great mistakes in the ruling part, many wrong and inconvenient laws, and all the slips of human frailty will be borne by the people without mutiny or murmur. But if a long train of abuses, prevarications, and artifices, all tending the same way, make the design visible to the people, and they cannot but feel what they lie under, and see whither they are going, it is not to be wondered that they should then rouse themselves, and endeavour to put the rule into such hands which may secure to them the ends for which government was at first erected . . .

On the fear of habituation to people power; and on why systemic change remains a pipedream and the oligarchy stays durable despite people power

. . . it will be said that the people being ignorant and always discontented, to lay the foundation of government in the unsteady opinion and uncertain humour of the people, is to expose it to certain ruin; and no government will be able long to subsist if the people may set up a new legislative whenever they take offence at the old one. To this I answer, quite the contrary. People are not so easily got out of their old forms as some are apt to suggest. They are hardly to be prevailed with to amend the acknowledged faults in the frame they have been accustomed to. And if there be any original defects, or adventitious ones introduced by time or corruption, it is not an easy thing to get them changed, even when all the world sees there is an opportunity for it. This slowness and aversion in the people to quit their old constitutions has in the many revolutions [that] have been seen in this kingdom, in this and former ages, still kept us to, or after some interval of fruitless attempts, still brought us back again to, our old legislative of king, lords and commons; and whatever provocations have made the crown be taken from some of our princes' heads, they never carried the people so far as to place it in another line.

On betrayal of public trust when elections and elected representatives are trampled upon by the executor of the law

[When] the supreme executor who having a double trust put in him, both to have a part in the legislative and the supreme execution of the law, acts against both, when he goes about to set up his own arbitrary will as the law of the society . . . (h)e acts also contrary to his trust when he employs the force, treasure, and offices of the society to corrupt the representatives and gain them to his purposes, when he openly pre-engages the electors, and prescribes, to their choice, such whom he has, by solicitation, threats, promises, or otherwise, won to his designs, and employs them to bring in such who have promised beforehand what to vote and what to enact.

On why the Arroyo government can properly be the rebels

For rebellion being an opposition, not to persons, but authority, which is founded only in the constitutions and laws of the government: those, whoever they be, who, by force, break through, and, by force, justify their violation of them, are truly and properly rebels. For when men, by entering into society and civil government, have excluded force, and introduced laws for the preservation of property, peace, and unity amongst themselves, those who set up force again in opposition to the laws, do rebellare- that is, bring back again the state of war, and are properly rebels, which they who are in power, by the pretence they have to authority, the temptation of force they have in their hands, and the flattery of those about them being likeliest to do, the proper way to prevent the evil is to show them the danger and injustice of it who are under the greatest temptation to run into it.

On why the Venable deal alone is enough to illegitimize the Arroyo government

The delivery also of the people into the subjection of a foreign power, either by the prince or by the legislative, is certainly a change of the legislative, and so a dissolution of the government. For the end why people entered into society being to be preserved one entire, free, independent society to be governed by its own laws, this is lost whenever they are given up into the power of another.

On the charge that people power can be ruinous as it may occasion civil wars

. . . they may as well say, upon the same ground, that honest men may not oppose robbers or pirates, because this may occasion disorder or bloodshed. If any mischief come in such cases, it is not to be charged upon him who defends his own right, but on him that invades his neighbour's. If the innocent honest man must quietly quit all he has for peace sake to him who will lay violent hands upon it, I desire it may be considered what kind of a peace there will be in the world which consists only in violence and rapine, and which is to be maintained only for the benefit of robbers and oppressors. Who would not think it an admirable peace betwixt the mighty and the mean, when the lamb, without resistance, yielded his throat to be torn by the imperious wolf?

On the people’s right to nip a rising tyrant in the bud

For the society can never, by the fault of another, lose the native and original right it has to preserve itself, which can only be done by a settled legislative and a fair and impartial execution of the laws made by it. But the state of mankind is not so miserable that they are not capable of using this remedy till it be too late to look for any. To tell people they may provide for themselves by erecting a new legislative, when, by oppression, artifice, or being delivered over to a foreign power, their old one is gone, is only to tell them they may expect relief when it is too late, and the evil is past cure. This is, in effect, no more than to bid them first be slaves, and then to take care of their liberty, and, when their chains are on, tell them they may act like free men. This, if barely so, is rather mockery than relief, and men can never be secure from tyranny if there be no means to escape it till they are perfectly under it; and, therefore, it is that they have not only a right to get out of it, but to prevent it.

On who has the last and final say

If a controversy arise betwixt a prince and some of the people in a matter where the law is silent or doubtful, and the thing be of great consequence, I should think the proper umpire in such a case should be the body of the people. For in such cases where the prince hath a trust reposed in him, and is dispensed from the common, ordinary rules of the law, there, if any men find themselves aggrieved, and think the prince acts contrary to, or beyond that trust, who so proper to judge as the body of the people (who at first lodged that trust in him) how far they meant it should extend? But if the prince, or whoever they be in the administration, decline that way of determination, the appeal then lies nowhere but to Heaven. Force between either persons who have no known superior on earth or, which permits no appeal to a judge on earth, being properly a state of war, wherein the appeal lies only to heaven; and in that state the injured party must judge for himself when he will think fit to make use of that appeal and put himself upon it.

Monday, March 06, 2006

State of war

If we come to think critically of it, Proclamation 1017 is nothing less than an affirmation of a “state of war” the Arroyo regime has waged against the Filipino people.

What are the premises of this claim? First, the fact is undeniable that the “Garci tapes” have thickened the clouds of doubt over the legitimacy of Arroyo’s presidency even following a chaotic presidential election canvass in Congress.

Then, the people’s sovereign suffrage being at stake, an overwhelming majority of Filipinos - individuals of conscience and reputable associations representing the academes, religious organizations, civic groups and civil societies in general - have demanded of the president to first clear her name of the scandal that smacks of massive electoral fraud amounting to betrayal of public trust, preferably in a constitutional process, before their consent for her to govern be renewed.

A wide chasm was also determined in scientific surveys to exist between the political choice the people was willing to pursue (i.e., for Arroyo to consider forfeiting her office as a result of her “lapse in judgment”) and the actual decision (the impeachment vote) the House of Representatives has arrived at (i.e., avoiding to put to the test the people’s preference in the un-election process of impeachment). Impeachment should have been the political and constitutional process, by which Arroyo could clear and quiet the clouds over her claim to the presidency.

Unfortunately, during the impeachment, Arroyo’s allies in the House have chosen to ignore the essence of the Rule of Law in favor of the frivolity of procedure and technicality. The House legislators were thus seen to have acted contrary to one of the ends for which they had been constituted by the people, that is, to serve and perform their check-and-balance function against the president.

The plot by and between Arroyo and her congressional allies to derail the impeachment have soon become public knowledge by their very own conduct. The House has thus allowed itself to be altered and illegitimated by Arroyo as she by herself, thereby permitting the reversion of the delegated authority to its source, the people. In a strict sense, what have taken place are a rebellious conspiracy and/or overt acts of rebellion on the part of Arroyo and her co-conspirators against the State. As a consequence, a state of war between the Arroyo regime and the Filipino People is created. The condition of hostilities, by words or actions, is today continuing since the execution of the conspiracy.

What are the known principles involved in the foregoing? To paraphrase John Locke, the English philosopher whose treatises on government became one of the foundations of American democracy, where an appeal to the law and the courts (in this case the Impeachment Court) lies open, but the remedy is denied by a manifest perverting of justice and a shameless wrestling of the laws to protect the violence of some men, then it would be hard to imagine anything but a state of war.

Locke fortified his postulation, thus:
For wherever violence is used and injury done, though by hands appointed to administer justice, it is still violence and injury, however coloured with the name, pretences, or forms of law, the end whereof being to protect and redress the innocent, by an unbiased application of it, to all who are under it; wherever that is not bona fide done, war is made upon the sufferers, who having no appeal on earth to right them, they are left to the only remedy in such cases, an appeal to heaven.
By natural right, the people have the power to remove a government if it has rebelled against them. “Whoever uses force without right - as every one in the society who does it without law - puts himself into a state of war with those against whom he uses it, and in that state all former ties are cancelled, all other ties cease, and every one has the right to defend himself, and to resist the aggressor,” Locke warned aspiring tyrants.

If the Filipino people opt for a peaceful struggle (for now, not going beyond festive encounters and “flash mobs” as mlq3 calls them), that is the Filipino way. But it does not deny the state of war the Arroyo regime has initiated and is prosecuting in various forms (from calibrated preemptive response and E.O. 464 to Proclamation 1017 and warrantless arrests, to name some) upon the sufferers. By a comedy of ineptitudes, Arroyo was even forced to admit its existence via the now infamous declaration of a State of National Emergency.

Yet, having been on the other camp before, Arroyo knows fully well the rule: the people have not only the right to get out of an illegitimate regime, but to prevent it from endangering the whole system upon which the people’s rights and liberties depend. And just as her predecessor, Estrada, the people have the right to hold an aggressor like Arroyo as fully accountable for all her acts against the State.

Friday, March 03, 2006

‘Journalism, a chancy business’

(This piece elaborates further my comment in Newsstand about an entry titled “Political Stuntism”)

“Journalism . . . is a chancy business” is a smart quip by Philippine Daily Inquirer editorialist John Nery. But depending on who is talking, it may also evoke different meanings.

Let me explain. For media owners, the business of news is business and therefore chancy. For example, a TV news program for which large investments by the owners may have been made could go awry and fail to generate the audience (the product) expected to be sold to the advertisers (the market). That makes a business venture like that “chancy”.

But the risk a professional journalist takes when writing or broadcasting to inform or to tell straight the news story is probably akin to the danger a soldier faces once dispatched to the battlefield or the hazard a professional pilot copes with as soon as his aircraft taxis on the runway. It just comes with territory, so they say.

“We are not part of the powers-that-be” is a wittier remark if, like the first one, is presented to come from “us in the media” rather than the media itself. Again, the individual journalists, like the one who shaved their heads in protest against President Arroyo’s Proclamation 1017, are easily vulnerable to intimidation (in the Philippines, the risk among journalist is statistically higher in the provinces with or without 1017); but certainly not the unsinkable Fourth Estate.

I have expressed similar distinctions before:
Journalists - the brave and principled ones, traditionally - seek out the truth (about the governors) and then try to communicate it to those who are too preoccupied to find the truth themselves. Businessmen, on the other hand, seek profits. When the outfit of journalism and of profit-making is donned by different personalities in the same entity, the result is almost always a tug of war. And whichever of the antagonists has the stronger leverage will determine whether the news enterprise will be timid or aggressive in its role as “purveyor of truth.” That is the state of mass media in general today.
I think what Oscar Wilde has written, while a bit hyperbolic, relates to the point being made here:
But at the present moment it really is the only estate. It has eaten up the other three. The Lords Temporal say nothing, the Lords Spiritual have nothing to say, and the House of Commons has nothing to say and says it. We are dominated by Journalism. In America the President reigns for four years, and Journalism governs forever and ever.
The media “governs” in the way it creates events and frames issues on its own terms. Conditions in our midst that are not considered critical by the media or social problems that affect mainly ordinary people could be passed up for important public debate. Agenda-setting is power, an awe-inspiring one, in fact. Politicians avoid picking a fight with the media precisely because of this power and its capacity to lionize allies and demonize foes.

What’s of graver alarm however is when media power becomes a potent adjunct to other powers already possessed by the powers that be. Do we wonder why, post-martial law, business concerns controlled by some taipans have started to swallow up the ownership of major dailies in the Philippines? In an old commentary, I observed that “As new media owners, they saw the utility of the newly found power to defend their business interests from the government or rival elites while creating public awareness of matters favorable to those interests and ignoring others.” And again, even this is not as harmful as when the public mind is encroached upon in silence, for then there will be no opportunity to shave our heads and wear black armbands in protest. In a regime of liberty, we can challenge the legality of a government fiat like Proclamation 1017 or the presence of a policeman in a newsroom; but when in the name of the same liberty the assault is insidious and surreptitious like in the form of the “tight shots” of the crowd of supporters for FPJ during the presidential campaign that his wife Susan Roces has complained about (presumably to suggest a smaller assembly), often there’s no recourse.

That the “profession (of journalism) has very limited power” is open to debate. But now, do we still doubt the awesome potency of the sound bytes and the power of suggestion?