Yesterday I met with two gentlemen, John Anelli of the International Republican Institute, and Damian Murphy of the National Democratic Institute. They are part of the group of international observers here to cover the May 10 elections and its aftermath.
The discussion was wide-ranging but I thought’d I’d just list here some points I brought up in response to the questions they asked me.
1. What do the elections represent? In American terms, a hung jury. The President failed to get a healthy mandate; the opposition failed to achieve victory, in no small part due to its own mistakes.
On the part of the administration, the union of conservative, traditional forces and some parts of civil society failed to achieve a critical mass; on the part of the opposition, they failed to inspire their constituency to make a strong enough push.
2. Why, despite the efforts of the opposition, is there no widespread disconent enough, at least, to result in people going out in the streets?
Because it’s not true the Filipino roots for the underdog. The Filipino roots for the underdog only when the underdog wins. If the underdog loses, the Filipino loves ganging up on losers. Filipinos also reserve a special contempt for those to whom all the advantages have been given, but who then waste all their advantages. In other words, all things being corruptly equal in our perception of politics, the opposition, with champion cheaters on its side, has little sympathy considering they knew all the tricks and still failed to pin down the administration. The administration, on the other hand, failed in maintaining the impression it was steamrolling to victory.
3. What is at stake for the future?
The political class has been gerrymandering like crazy for half a century. In 1952 we have 52 or so provinces; today we have 79. There is no real economic sense in atomizing our country. Slicing up our country into many and smaller provinces is only a means for dynasties to make the maintenance of their power cheaper and easier to maintain.
4. This goes to another reality no one likes to admit but it’s there: from national to local elections, we love our elections because so many stand to benefit from having an absurd number of elected positions in an absurd number of provinces. The more provinces you have, the more institututions on down the line with accompanying patronage possibilities. That is why corruption is so endemic and so difficult to eradicate: so many, and not just the rich and powerful, have a vested interest in having a bloated bureaucracy.
5. Is there hope for reform? Yes. But only if we engage in two things:
a. a purging of the Communist influence on education, and an accompanying return to basics in the educational system.
b. The slow but steady creation of a new middle class to replace the traditional middle class that fled in the wake of Marcos and the administrations that have followed.
6. Reform is impossible with the elite because when push comes to shove, the wealthy can flee. A person who, at a moment’s notice, can get on a plane if things go wrong at home, has no vested interest in larger improvements.
A person who has a home to protect, a business to support, kids to send to school and kids who need work at home, has the means and motive to demand and work for genuine reform and change.
Since our middle class is basically already abroad, it is the Japayukis and and the OFW’s who will build a new Philippines. The OFW who builds a new home in the province, who sets up a small business, who has relatives operating trycicles, is the Filipino who will demand a government that keeps peace and order (so the home isnt robbed), who will demand a clean bureaucracy (so his trycicle isn’t taxed to death and he can make money); who will demand proper schooling so his kids can then support him when he can’t work in Saudi anymore.
It is these people, who are building their own homes on their own land, in places where the mansions of the rich are crumbling and the cathedrals already looted by Manila collectors, who are, most of all, exposed to governments and systems operating under the authentic rule of law abroad, who will build and demand genuine democracy at home.
This will take generations. But it is our only hope.
7. Meanwhile, Federalism will prosper because our endangered political class need Federalism to maintain their feudal turf; the entrepreneurs want it because we can at least have pockets of progress regardless if other provinces want to end up socialist backwaters; it is the only way, perhaps, people will regain that essential requirement of nationhood, a sense of being stakeholders in the body politic.
Anyway, those are some of the things I told the Americans.
8. The genie of mass rioting was unleashed by Erap Estrada and the Opposition, and the opposition and administration are both trying to stick the genie back in the bottle because they might all end up luynched (that’s why the Erap politicians abandoned the field when their forces almost succeeded in lynching President Arroyo -for if they’d lynched Arroyo, who knew who they might lynch next? This is also why, in January 2001, there was the great divide when the Catholic Church provoked an unsatisfactory settlement to the pressure against Estrada, rather than give the Communists the satisfaction of possibly lynching Estrada in the Palace).