Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Trillanes, a hero, a villain or plain cuckoo?

One way of telling whether Senator Sony Trillanes is a hero, a villain or a plain cuckoo is to compare first his yet brief narrative with those of the two celebrated Filipino outlaws (or nutcases) the country has in due course acknowledged as national heroes.

One such familiar account is Dr. Jose Rizal’s. Rizal was a young man, about the age of Trillanes today, when executed by musketry at Luneta following a sham trial for rebellion. He practically sentenced himself to death for authoring, self-publishing and circulating in the Philippines his two novels, Noli and Fili. The books were a powerful commentary and a biting mockery of the powers that be, the friary, exposing the clergy’s religious pretenses and venalities, and the cancer it had caused in the Philippine society.

There are historical chronicles about the Philippine Revolution to the effect that Rizal was afforded the chance by the rebels’ emissaries to walk out of prison and eventually join Andres Bonifacio’s armed struggle. But he seemed to have other things going on in himself. Rizal could have been petrified while grappling with all the possible scenarios of a violent revolution and then sadly concluded its success was still a long shot; that even if the rebels could pull it through somehow, the bloodletting and suffering in a protracted strife would be unimaginable. Beside the fact that the achievements of earlier attempts at social agitations had been less than encouraging, Rizal could have also figured out that his role as a change agent was immense and thus appreciated that the lingering dilemma could be resolved, or the equation altered, should he suffer, as he did, the ultimate sacrifice of martyrdom.

A parallel account can be drawn about another Filipino hero, Senator “Ninoy” Aquino. As the Filipinos, or 40 million or so of them, cowered in fear during the tyranny of Marcos, Ninoy courageously stood his ground. Never did he waver despite efforts by Marcos to break his spirit such as by humiliating him to rot in long and often solitary confinement. Somewhat paradoxically, Ninoy knew too well the key to his freedom was himself: all he had to do was to acknowledge Marcos’ rule. Yet even when so vulnerable and defenseless, and abandoned by political allies and friends in his greatest needs, Ninoy remained unyielding. It was only through physical compulsion he was made to participate in his trial he wanted to boycott, to lend the proceedings (and indirectly the Marcos government) legitimacy. His reaction was to dare the judges to finish their task promptly – as ordered by the dictator, his accuser. Expectedly, Ninoy was convicted of the charges against him, among which was for the crime of subversion and, just as Rizal, sentenced to die by firing squad.

I will hazard to state both Ninoy and Rizal, well-aware of the amplitude of their high station, were hopeful, and confidently so, their selfless act, by and in itself, would be fruitful, i.e., it would serve as the necessary spark for the people’s collective action to mount a vigorous challenge to what have come to be regarded as unjust regimes. This bears repeating: under the rule of law of those regimes, two of Philippines’ most revered icons have been judicially declared criminals.

Trillanes today is also standing trial for various “political crimes” against the Arroyo regime. But unlike Rizal and Ninoy, the rebel soldier, although now a senator, is still a bit player in the grander scheme of things. This question therefore needs an answer: Is it fair demanding at this stage for Trillanes to have done a Rizal or a Ninoy to serve as the agent of change?

I salute Mr. Trillanes (as well as General Danilo Lim) for the singular courage and patriotism he has exhibited anew. I believe the Philippines will remain unsinkable if more men like him continue to thrive in our land. My thesis however is that beyond the risk of political decapitation for a promising boy wonder in mainstream politics, martyrdom at this stage on the part of Trillanes would either be wasteful or foolhardy: wasteful, because his martyrdom is not even necessary to rally a critical mass of supporters behind his cause if only such cause in fact reflects the people’s true aspirations; foolhardy, because it could even generate the contrary effect of being perceived as a careless assent to the claim by certain quarters dismissive of “people power” – that of it having supposedly sunk to a “fatigued” state (which might then require the fresh blood of martyrs to nourish and invigorate it).

The Great Beast did not come out of hibernation but I have no doubt it is not enfeebled by overexertion, much less, defanged. On the contrary it is much more potent, even sophisticated because of the invaluable lessons learned from the first and second exercises of its sovereign powers. If it’s not easily or precipitously stirred to rise, it is simply because people power has already passed its testy and heady days, and has grown to be more patient and calculating than when first awakened from long stupor.

What this situation translates into is that after two people powers (and EDSA Tres), the nation is now in earnest pursuit not merely of a change of personnel (from among the ruling elites playing their usual game of musical chairs or, to be different, from some messianic soldiers gladly marching to the same music) but of real and meaningful alternatives to the organic structures that have sustained our flawed experiment in nation building. In other words, the Filipino people want some believable answers to the question of how their lives will actually change if they opt for another people power.

For instance, keeping the peace or containing graft and corruption are laudable ends but even real gains on these spheres would be seen as illusory if there’s no equity because the advancement of the economic and social well-being of the people has only been given short shrift or otherwise left to the vagaries of the self-same forces that by design are supposed to be deliberately indifferent to it.

For newfangled reformist like Trillanes, there’s yet plenty of room for learning to recognize for example the distinction between the Arroyo regime and the long-standing oligarchy. Whereas, we should pause to reflect, the former could be grasping for last breaths, the latter is robust, well-entrenched and will survive Arroyo.

A fragile regime whose vital signs are failing can be rattled by a walkout of some indicted soldiers from a court hearing and followed by a walk-by to a luxury hotel to announce their intentions. Not so when it comes to a 12-headed Hydra like the Philippine oligarchy. To tame this brute, it would require motivating masterfully to action a worldly-wise Great Beast of superior power.

In the final analysis, the Filipino people will reciprocate the call of trustworthy and honorable leaders who, being fully conversant with the new strain of cancer afflicting the polity and the society at large, would not just die on them in martyrdom, but will work with them in life: first, to retire the beast of prey and the old forces abetting it, and then, politically willing as well as able to re-invent the wheel, transform the nation. More specifically, this will require forming, communicating and coming to a consensus on, new ideas about how to confront objectively the real conditions of inequities of wealth and power distribution in our society and to find the means for a continuing rediscovery towards the task of nation building.