Tonight I have to address a group of young professionals on the current national situation. Prior to the President’s speech, I had hoped to simply urge them to hold fast to their values as members of the middle and professional classes; that they should demand of their President and our national institutions the highest degree of professionalism and integrity. Now I believe my message will have to be much more complicated, involving many more shades of grey, but ultimately hoping to prove things remain best seen in terms of black and white.
Hitler and his propaganda minister, Goebbels, brought forth the big lie theory of propaganda: say it loud enough, boldly enough, often enough, and the people will believe it.
The President’s speech last night, obviously inspired by the prescriptions of Fidel V. Ramos, was a big lie: or, to be precise, a series of half-truths leading up to a big lie. Let me discuss the reasons why, by quoting portions of the President’s statements, and then giving my opinions on them.
First, as to the preamble, so to speak, to her concrete proposals:
I do not blame any individual or political block for this sad state of affairs. It is simply the truth that the political system that I am part of has degenerated to the point that it needs fundamental change. We are collectively to blame, so we must collectively be the solution. Let he who is without sin, cast the stone. To those who feel that they cannot cast the first stone, I invite you to help in the solution.
The partial truths are, that yes, the system is rotten, the system is flawed, and that yes, we are collectively to blame; but the lie exists in her evasion of responsibility for her fair share of contributing both to the flaws of the system, and to the exposure of those flaws in such a way as to require some sort of national decision on her fitness for office. The principle of collective guilt is one that is dangerous to assert, and even when claimed, cannot excuse individual guilt. The entire political crisis begins with suspicions of the President’s guilt, no matter how many more are implicated.
My proposed approach to reform our system of politics and governance is something that I had wanted to bring forth during the upcoming state of the nation address. However, because our country is hungry for a resolution to the political uncertainties that have plagued us these past few weeks, I will bring it up now.
The President brought up the question of Constitutional amendments and revisions many times, always postponed them for many reasons; she avoided an obvious truth, that intellectually, she is convinced that these reforms are, indeed, needed (just as her father was) but that until now, she had viewed it politically expedient to postpone discussions to a later date. Now that her back is to the wall, politically, it becomes timely to bring up Constitutional change; which means that regardless of her deeply-held intellectual position on federalism and parliamentary government, in the end, it is political expediency that matters now. The big lie, then, is that she feels only charter change can redeem our society; she knew this long ago; but she has only committed to it when her political survival is at stake.
What I intend to do is to work with legislators and civil groups who believe that changes in the fundamental law of the land are necessary in order to confront such basic issues as federalism, the character of our legislative process, reducing red tape in government processes, running for public office under a true party system and with less need to raise campaign funds, modernizing the economic provisions of our constitution, and so forth.
The half truths are: these are specific constitutional changes that appeal to specific sectors, including the sectors deemed to have been at the point of turning against the President; these are reforms that she began in many ways, but would then ignore or postpone when politically convenient (testimony to how flawed, indeed, the system is); she attempts to please everyone, which will please no one, as by combining consultations with civil groups generally inclined toward a convention, and with legislators, who on the whole favor a constituent assembly, she merely postpones a big fight ahead, which she then, in true political fashion, referee, strengthening her political position. The big lie here is that she is neither committing to a convention, or a constitutional assembly, but instead, to the perpetuation of the broker-role, the wheeler-dealer, the transactional, position past presidents have played in order to dominate constitutional conventions.
As for her specific proposals:
First, I’m asking my entire cabinet to tender their resignation in order to give the executive a free hand to reorganize itself. I’ll ask our sectors to give me the names of candidates that we can invite to replace those who will not return to the cabinet, or even to help out at other levels of the executive.
We know that the biggest lie is here; this was a tactical move not aimed at wiping the slate clean, but instead, meant to eliminate a potentially politically-fatal (for her) resignation by members of her cabinet, which even her loyal Secretary of Justice confirmed was about to happen. The other, little half-truths here, is that to those desiring a prime ministerial type of government, she is offering to play prime minister now, by relinquishing powers that go beyond what the present charter expects her to be able to delegate; and that furthermore, instead of being an avenue for reform, she is increasing, once more, her political prospects by being able to offer plum patronage jobs (cabinet portfolios) to people more willing to serve her without question. She is arming herself with a chance to purge the government of the independent-minded and those who have made a stand against her.
Second, the cabinet will be given a free hand on governance, while I focus on the fundamental changes that we need to put in place.
This is, in essence, an abdication of responsibility, and by this I don’t mean just executive responsibilities, but the accountability she was increasingly being asked to submit to. The big lie here is that by pleading she will loftily look toward campaigning for reform, she will really be campaigning to preside over the future direction of the country, a direction she shouldn’t be qualified to influence, or direct.
Third, I will begin to reach out to the political and civil sectors that have an interest in the various advocacies that are relevant to our constitution. Federalism, for example, is an advocacy that I had espoused long ago.
This is a big, utterly dangerous lie; the deceit here is staggering. She declares herself the incarnation of Federalism, essentially tying its prospects to her political survival. As someone who is open to the idea of Federalism, we must ask: does this do Federalism justice? Will Federalism, achieved under her auspices, and determined not by the people of Cebu, the rest of the Visayas, Mindanao and other parts of the country, but instead by our professional political class, which desires Federalism not in order to bring the blessings of good governance to the people, but to secure dynastic rule, be an authentic and relevant Federalism? I submit that the Federalism that private citizens in Cebu desire, for example, is different from the Federalism in the mind of the politicians. Compressing the period during which such necessary, but far-reaching changes are deliberated upon, either in an assembly (whether a convention or Congress) and then submitted for ratification by the people, merely increases the chance that what will be passed off as a new Constitution will be as flawed as the present one.
This is neither political ploy nor gimmick. I believe that this process will quickly lay the foundation for deep reforms in our society, including reforms in our political way of life. This would be a legacy that our generation of politicians and citizens could collectively be proud of. I now have grand children to play with and to help bring up. Like all of you, I want our children to grow up in a better Philippines. I have prayed on this, and I hope that I have discerned God’s will properly.
The lie to end all lies, the lies perpetrated by Ferdinand Marcos, who dazzled the political class with prospects of being given positions in the interim Batasan Pambansa in exchange for ratifying his version of a constitution; the lies peddled by him to convince the middle and upper classes it was better to tie their fate to him, rather than prolong the Constitutional Convention and make the country vulnerable to the Communists; the lies peddled by him to convince good, honest, people that he was good and honest (and a visionary) at heart, when his ultimate aim, as is the President’s ultimate aim, is political survival.
These are strong statements, but my feelings are strong. There remains the constitutional avenue for determining accountability, and it is, impeachment. What are the risks in pushing for impeachment? The chance that a brash move by the President’s majority will either quash it, or inflate it; either way, it means the prospects of a sudden change of the national debate from one over her -and other leader’s- culpability and accountability, to that of institutional reforms, will at best, be rushed, either way. It does neither the constitutional option of impeachment or the need to reexamine the Constitution any good.
I submit, the President’s proposals are a disservice to the country. They trivialize constitutional reform; they evade the need for accountability; they set aside the desire of others to get to the bottom of things, in order to best evaluate the controversies at hand; they serve to entice people with the prospect of a quick fix to a national crisis, by claiming that it is hard and difficult solutions required of us, now. Of course hard and difficult solutions are required; but to say those solutions lie in the President’s proposals, is to confuse the difficult with the expedient.
All the more, I do not regret having said the President has shown herself more Ferdinand Marcos than Diosdado Macapagal. All the little and big lies the nation swallowed hook, line, and sinker at the outset of martial law were in the President’s speech. This was a masterful performance, I say yet again, because it was so seductive; appearing bold, but really, sly; appearing rational, but really, delusional; appearing a concrete plan of action when it is the ultimate act of disservice to the country. She ignored even reasonable requests and expectations -a Truth Commission, cabinet revamps, depriving her family of opportunities to be misconstrued due to their access to power- and instead, set aside the question of accountability, demanding that in a nation of the blind, the one-eyed woman should be queen.
But just as they did during martial law, will our middle forces and upper class, our professionals and managers, decide to give her appeal the benefit of the doubt? Without realizing, of course, it was our country’s decision to do this that has put the Filipino middle class on the endangered species list.