Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Why People Power III is taking its time

Philippine Daily Inquirer’s John Nery has put forth his interesting take on why People Power III is taking its time:
I get the sense that, for many members of the Arroyo opposition and even for some who did not support the calls for resignation in 2005 but now believe the President too politically damaged to be worth the trouble of saving, ‘outrage’ necessarily translates to People Power.

This is a serious misunderstanding.
After some analogous exposition of certain events that had preceded both People Power I and People Power II, Mr. Neri arrived at his denouement about why People Power III seems still unsettled or otherwise inchoate: “So, yes, we should take to the streets; we should repair to our churches; we should fill the public square. But we should let People Power take care of itself.”

On the other hand, Manolo Quezon believes, quite paradoxically, People Power “must at the same time be organized and yet spontaneous.”

Revolution is doubtless a complex subject. Scholarship on the causes and nature, gestation period and actual process, consequences and outcomes of a revolution is rich and voluminous.

A safe starting point toward a basic understanding of the meaning of the phenomenon is an explanation, acceptable to many, of the distinction between the so-called social revolution and political revolution. A social revolution, referring to the definition given by Theda Skocpol, a recognized authority on the subject, is one which occurs where there is a “combination of thoroughgoing structural transformation and a massive upheaval.” Whereas a political revolution results only in replacing a government or in altering its basic (or bureaucratic) form without transforming dominant value and belief systems, property relations or other institutions to which the people have ordinarily acquiesced, regardless of whether the change or changes were brought by the action, massive or small-scale, of a class conscious class or group such as a roused or outraged proletariat, a relatively deprived middleclass, a marginalized elite, a messianic or disgruntled faction of the military or a combination of any such class, group or faction.

The French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and the Chinese Revolution are often given as examples of social revolution. On the hand, military intervention or takeover, coup d’etat of the Thai or Pakistani variety or self-coup of the Fujimori or Marcos version is conceivably a political rather than social reordering.

If the events that have led to People Power I (EDSA Revolution of 1986 or EDSA I) are any guide, revolutionary uprisings go through certain levels (of consciousness): First, the underlying belief by a sizeable segment of society that the rulers and certain institutional arrangements have lost legitimacy; second, certain intense participants or change agents have gotten around their sense of powerlessness and come to realize they have the power or capacity to effect the needed changes; third, the disaffected members of society have more or less formed a consensus as to the nature and or scope of the changes they desire to occur in lieu of the illegitimated rulers or arrangements, whether be it about a total systemic overhaul, a “regime change,” an extra-constitutional overthrowing of a corrupt or immoral government, etc.

My sense is that People Power III has already reached the first and second levels of consciousness described above. However, before the Great Beast “could take care of itself” today it has yet to hurdle the third level of consciousness.

For one, I have noted even the reformists in the military and the progressives in the civil society are still tentative about the scope and the nature of the changes to be sought (note should also be taken for instance that the slightest suggestion during the Manila Peninsula “uprising” that a military junta was being contemplated has not sit well with potential supporters), while other veteran people power practitioners are apprehensive the next exercise “could again end up repeating a vicious cycle of simply ‘moving on’ in circle, and not leaping onward or to a higher ground” or a “new qualitative state.”

Recall that with the Left having marginalized itself during EDSA I, establishment figures, e.g., Cory Aquino and Jaime Cardinal Sin, having positioned themselves at the helm of the movement and US stance having immediately switched gears (from staunch support for a dictator to a lavish tribute to the housewife in yellow), any serious expectations of radical restructuring, both in the political and the economic fronts, were effectively bridled at the first “people power” revolution. Where the Aquino government could have been regarded as having actually breached an implied promise was in the area of meaningful land reform.

The forces of old-school political economy in the domestic scene plus the external pressure emanating from Washington Consensus’ prescriptions for the many ailments germinated by the conjugal dictatorship dampened nascent aspirations for transformative reforms that had been gestating for decades. There’s however one change the participants of the EDSA I movement were in unison in bringing about – the end of the dictatorship.

If EDSA I had paved the way for the restoration of “old money” elites, the Estrada presidency just before being driven out power by EDSA II saw the return of the Marcos inner cliques and cronies (even Marcos right-hand man, General Fabian Ver who had dared to shoot down the EDSA crowd at the height of the uprising, was given a hero’s funeral when he returned from self-exile in a casket). Meanwhile Estrada was proving to be a disgrace to the hidden rules of the elite class (he was of course considered as one of them ex-officio) because of what’s thought to be as nickel-and-dime operations in jueteng payoff. But EDSA moment only took shape when the “politicized” impeachment against President Estrada (a Filipino replication of the proceeding against US President Clinton) permitted proceduralism to tamper with substantive democracy with ignominy and impunity.

The demand for a change during EDSA II therefore converged around a public awareness of a rather circumscribed issue, which was the egregious disregard by the Senate majority of the essence of Rule of Law because of callous partisanship. The gestation period of the Great Beast was then almost irrelevant since the “transforming” consensus was in fact in connection with a limited, albeit vital, goal: to make People Power democracy triumph over procedural democracy.

Now, the question once again: Why is People Power III taking its time?

My own take is: There is yet no general consensus among potential people power participants and activists, as has been in EDSA I or EDSA II, as to what change to aspire for and institute.

Arguably, proposals for reforms or transformations, at odds with each other for the most part, still abound. To cite a few: some who believe the two EDSAs were both a failure aim this time to act against a failed system and plan to overhaul it either according to some rigid ideologies or based merely on the “best practices” of ongoing successful experiments; other groups are just angry and frustrated because of “relative deprivation” (middle class weighed upon with a looming downgrade to the next class complain how come only their counterparts in other regions are having all the fun); still others are focused only on struggling for control of the state apparatuses and effecting “regime change” while keeping both the political and economic structures intact; and specifically, accused coup leader and now detained senator Sonny Trillanes is eager to transform the nation “without reinventing the wheel,” whereas Bishop Francisco Claver can only entertain the belief that “our problem comes down to this: how to correct the aberration that is the present administration without destroying the stabilizing structure that is our democratic system of government.”

Interestingly, conservative segments of Philippine society such as the Catholic Church that was a key collaborator during the two successful EDSAs have of late shown their true colors maybe fearful People Power III could spin out of control and end up challenging long-held values and myths. As a result, reactionary moves from old and once reliable alliances, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) in particular, are silently taking place in the form of tokenism (a plea to President Arroyo to take lead in the fight against corruption) and diversion (a call for a new brand of People Power through “communal action”).

Ecclesiastics and the laity alike must not fail to remember that the continuing appeal of Christianity as a powerful religious upheaval and of People Power is due to the historical reality that both have given hope to the many who were once powerless.


(NOTE: According to one organizer, Monsignor Gerry Santos, national capital region director of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP-NCR), the huge “Interfaith” rally on Friday, February 29, 2008, at Makati City, made up largely by youthful participants and students, was supposedly a “communal action” at the height of which President Arroyo reportedly holed up in a military camp as a precautionary measure.)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Post-People Power III: Let's hope and let's hope not

For the elites at the command center in the Philippines, the “grand” design is simple and simplistic: encourage the migration of a substantial portion of the burgeoning “relatively-deprived” middle class which the local economy is incapable of absorbing.

Temporarily or permanently self-exiled, curtailed somehow are the chances for the adventuristic being homegrown into radical elements coming to full consciousness of a flawed system designed to favor only a few and therefore largely indifferent to their interests. But for these professionals, intellectuals and skilled or semi-skilled workers - as productive workforce abroad instead of idle ideologues or potential street parliamentarians at home (unless they are card-bearing members of the “move-on” horde) - demanding a systemic change becomes less of a preoccupation, to the relief of the elites.

On the other hand, the foreign exchange the heroic expatriates remit to the families they left behind (which is three times more than the much-heralded foreign direct investments (FDIs) of the pro-liberalizing Washington Consensus recipe) greatly enhances the buying power of the recipients and in turn eases up the pressure upon the domestic wealth producers, who have access to productive capital and other institutional means and sources of power, to take greater or more vigorous entrepreneurial risks. Preferring to shun less than “sure bet” ventures that create value-added, the economic elites are self-content to play it safe in the securer havens of mega malls, real estate, public utilities and paper entrepreneurships, i.e., banks, insurance, etc., offering more or less captive markets.

Pursuant to the design, the economic wheel is supposed to keep on grinding but business activities, decisions, and goals are narrow, calculated and short-term, individualistic rather than nationalistic, and the framework of competitiveness is local instead of global or at least regional.

The brutal irony of it is that wealth distribution, defying conventional economic gravity, proceeds in reverse, that is, trickling upward rather than downward to those who need it most. The gaping chasm of inequality, if not simply taken for granted or patched up with palliatives, is ultimately blamed to the victims through the imageries warped by the media power of suggestion that the elites control, which the uninitiated or the uncritical easily buy into.

What’s the relevance of these musings to another “people-powered” call, following the Jun Lozada revelation, for President Arroyo to step down?

Well, during the first shock wave of the NBN-ZTE scandal, I posted (Nov. 8, 2007) the following comment at mlq3’s blog:
My sense is that both the “reformists” in the military and the “progressives” in the civil society are somehow constrained by the possibility that even if People Power III succeed, the movement could again end up repeating a vicious cycle of simply “moving on” in circle, and not leaping onward or to higher ground. Take note for example that even rebel leader and now swashbuckling senator Sonny Trillanes has said he does not want to reinvent the wheel. But if the system or part of it is not working, shouldn’t the flawed facet be allowed to die away and make way for that which is budding and promising?

After two upheavals, the expectations are greater . . . that the next exercise of People Power would propel the transitioning into a “new qualitative state.”

The new state may be approximated by answering a few questions such as, off the top of my head, the following:

On the economic front (and this is directed more specifically to the country’s wealth creators): Why are we exporting people - teachers and young mothers like Marilou Ranario [working as a domestic helper the former teacher has been meted a death sentence in Kuwait for killing her employer who mistreated her] - instead of producing competitive goods and services that create value-added? Why has the Philippines been lagging behind its peers in the region or why a war-ravaged Vietnam is poised to overtake America’s first empire, once a regional powerhouse in the 50s and 60s?

On the political sphere: Should the process of building a working democracy be bottom-up or for the most part brought into being by the wise, the learned, the elites by the process of re-entrusting? If our borrowed democracy were redefined, should it continue to be based on some preconceived foreign notion or principally upon our own unique experience? How much power the sovereign people should retain and not delegate until public servants prove their worth?

And ultimately, the fundamental question: How much do we love our country?

So, People Power III should not just arrange to force a sitting president from power, it must “press on” to graduate from the same retrograde state the country is in.

A crucial part of the initial dialogue is the question of representation in governance where various interests should adequately be given a voice. So is the “to do list” during the first 30 – 60 days of regime change.

On the other hand, justice to those who breached the public trust should be swift, predictable yet humane but only after appropriate charges are substantiated by due process of law.

There’s plenty of work to do. Indeed, as the experience of People Power I and II tells us, removing someone from the seat of power could be the easy part.

No, EDSA is not dead. On the contrary, to borrow from Salud Algabre, each EDSA is “a step in the right direction.”
EDSA I (or People Power I) had a limited goal: to end the Marcos dictatorship that had essentially dismantled the traditional inner circles, the “old money” elites. The new trustee, Cory Aquino, thus represented the restoration of the old power. But the rise of Joseph “Erap” Estrada, a Marcos lieutenant, and of the “Binondo intsik behos” threatened anew the old elite power structures. The command center could not possibly permit an “outsider” to wield too much political power or for Erap’s midnight buddies to consolidate considerable economic power. Hence, through the media of mass communication the higher circle controls, the demonization of Erap: sugarol, babaero, lasengero at bobo. Consequently, Erap was ousted from the presidency by the EDSA II stratagem of “withdrawal of support” and “constructive resignation.”

Make no mistake about it: during both EDSAs people power and elite power rode upon each other’s back, with the latter keeping as expected the reins of the command center. There’s one notable contrast. Whereas Cory Aquino of EDSA I, at the inception of her administration, was open to a wider spectrum of meaningful reforms, GMA of EDSA II was quick to announce on the first day of office her deep-rooted conservative agenda: conserve the system for the “market-dominant minority” of economic elites.

Necessarily a part of a larger problem, Arroyo is not the economist she claims to be who sees a problematic political economy she is willing to solve. She comes out first and foremost a politician adroitly capable of being Marcosian sans martial law, prematurely thrust into power as the elites’ best wager to protect their interests and power structures. Now, as Arroyo shows signs of waning, the elites are again ready to double-bet on the People Power III crowd, hoping to package a surrogate as the people’s next champion.

Monday, February 11, 2008

A way out of Hobbesian state

What’s painfully disturbing about the litany of polity-wrecking scandals that have visited the Arroyo regime where none, by the regime’s own playbook, seems poised to be held accountable is that it has the effect of “normalizing” breaches, however manifest, of the basic definition of a good order.

Parallel excesses during Marcos rule, it should be recalled, were at least seen for what they were – aberrations as outgrowths of the supposed “abnormal” times. Yet, expectations then that public decency would prevail when normalcy returns were not dashed altogether.

Today, frightening telltale signs of a dysfunctional or collapsing system are cascading in the ordinary course of the business of governance: plunder of the national coffer are prima facie traceable to the First Family; documented incidences of extra-judicial killings and other forms of political repressions have been reported by reputable international organizations; flights of the middle class, professionals and intellectuals continue to drain the nation’s human capital; election fraud and machinations implicate the very governmental agencies(the Commission on Elections and the military establishment) charged with protecting the sanctity of the electoral process; emasculation of the constitutional checks and balances mechanisms is simply taken for granted by those members of Congress entrusted to enforce them; unfettered and autonomous yet primitive pursuit of self-interest by the economic elites sustains uneven economic development and gaping inequality.

The harsh reality appears inevitable: the longer President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo holds on to power, the sooner she (or even her immediate predecessor, if at all) will preside over a failed Philippine state in which life for the unfortunate majority of the Filipinos, so entrapped, will be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

I have had the chance to tackle this matter before (when the laundry list was still shorter) in the following post:
The institutional cost of Arroyo clinging to power, come hail and high water to the republic, amidst the “Garci tapes” scandal has become extremely prohibitive. Aside from the prostitution of the electoral body and Philippine military during the last presidential election as indicated in the tapes and testified to by high-ranking military officers of solid or daring scruples, the other obvious casualty of course has been the built-in checks-and-balances mechanism of impeachment when the pro-Arroyo members of the House opted to hide behind the narrow reading or misreading of the law or the brutal application of technicality. But the Catholic Church hierarchy has not been far behind; under the humiliating shadow of Palace payola to some bishops, the hierarchy has joined the chorus to bury the tapes for the “common good” while ignoring the clamor of the flock. The middling Filipino, on the other hand, which like the Church was once at the core of two great upheavals, has cast its lot with the “let’s move on” bandwagon choosing to sweep the tapes under the rug or let the matter melt into thin air as if it were a “figment of one’s imagination.”
There’s one window of opportunity to abort the slide of the country into Hobbesian anarchy: like Marcos, Arroyo must cut and cut cleanly – now, not later.

Whereupon, following a voluntary transfer of power, Vice President Noli de Castro must proceed to assume the presidency pursuant to the Constitution. At a minimum, obeisance to the constitutional succession process will restore a modicum of popular confidence in the legal order but therefrom the momentum could be built for the nation to undergo a long-overdue cathartic experience.

However, to begin at once the healing process and reconciliation, de Castro must be unhampered in the exercise of his (presidential) prerogative of deciding whether to condone Arroyo and others by the executive grant of general amnesty.

On the other hand, as a matter of reciprocal self-abnegation on the part of de Castro himself, he must commit to the nation not to vie for the office of the president in 2010, the next scheduled presidential election.