Christian Monsod has given me permission to extract some useful points for discussion from the paper he presented during a meeting with the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP). I’ve mentioned some points he mentioned to me after the meeting, but here are some things he said during the meeting.
His first contention is that the present crisis was one “waiting to happen” for the following reasons:
(1) Every president after the 1992 elections (Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo) weakened rather than strengthened the electoral process, principally the Comelec, by the appointments of dishonest and incompetent appointments and the use of government institutions (like the military and police) and government resources for partisan political gain. The main objective is to control the Comelec not to modernize it. In the process the modernization program was either set aside or bastardized as a means to corruption. Arroyo was not the first nor will she be the last to try to control the Comelec.
(2) The scenario of a re-electionist president was largely unforeseen in the Constitution, more so of an incumbent president facing an uphill battle for re-election. With the vast powers of the presidency, a culture of impunity, including electoral misconduct, a compliant Commission on Appointments, and a president especially proud of being a Ã¢â‚¬Å“hands-onÃ¢â‚¬Â executive, the stage was set for the crisis.
(3) On top of these, the opposition was laboring under the mindset that it could duplicate EDSA 2, long after the paradigm has ceased to be a good model for removing a president. In other words, the politicians and even well-meaning national players failed to read the signs of the times. It seems the people have become more discerning on how and when to use of people power ahead of their leaders. But the agitation and calls for resignation were sufficiently loud and serious to bring the crisis to a chronic stage.
Monsod believes that the genesis, or origin, of the present crisis, which was bound to happen because of the above, was a specific event: “the contentious canvassing of the 2004 elections,” but when it was hoped that the combined actions of prominent personalities on July 8 of this year, the effort failed. Monsod explains two reasons behind the failure.
The first involves the reasoning of those who concluded the President must resign:
(1) by Ã¢â‚¬Å“just by listeningÃ¢â‚¬Â to the tapes and combining it with the circumstances of GarcillanoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s appointment, the president can be pronounced Ã¢â‚¬Å“guiltyÃ¢â‚¬Â in the private courts of individual consciences as having engaged in electoral fraud.
(2) Her apology was tantamount to admission of guilt.
(3) Regardless of her guilt or innocence on the garci tapes and in jueteng, she has lost the moral authority to govern
The second involves the failure of certain institutions to act according to expectations:
– the military chose to be neutral
– the CBCP chose to issue moral guidelines than engage in political activism;
– the local government officials chose to support the President.
He makes some other observations:
“With the return of democracy and such innovations as the party-list system, it is hard for people to understand why street rallies are still the first option for some and the appeal venue for others who are outvoted in legitimate forums or ruled against by .the judicial process. Perhaps, that is why, to some extent, EDSA 2 continues to be a divisive event in our history, unlike EDSA 1, which was driven from the grassroots by an informed citizenry outraged by injustice.”
He suggests that,
“The Arroyo crisis is not perceived as an issue of grave injustice or of high morality (Ã¢â‚¬Å“all politicians cheatÃ¢â‚¬Â). It is widely perceived as an issue among politicians and the leadership elite, almost all of whom are equally unattractive. It has no direct relevance, or at the least, people do not see that a cheating or dishonest president cannot at the same time effectively address the Ã¢â‚¬Å“gutÃ¢â‚¬Â issues of the people Ã¢â‚¬â€œ poverty, high prices, medical care, housing- and, therefore, not worth the risk of street warfare. Look around you, how many local politicians are unbeatable in their turf even if they are dishonest because they manage somehow to deliver the right services to their constituents.”
Monsod told me himself, and his paper says it, too, that he is uncomfortable with people talking about “morality” as a reason for demanding the President’s resignation. It is too subjective, according to him. And besides, who should judge the moral fitness of a president? My own understanding of what Monsod means, is that if you want a President to resign, it must be according to concrete facts, arrived at through constitutional processes. Or through a means that has some sort of empirical basis to support it -not a survey commissioned by a private firm, or what you yourself believe, but something that comes from the grassroots, involving every level of our government.
He does, however, make this observation about the President’s “apology”: Monsod says, “The Ã¢â‚¬Å“’ am sorry’ gambit of the President also failed for obvious reasons, at least to the middle class. It may have made a favorable impact on those who wanted some closure to the issue but solidified those already opposed to her. It was carefully worded in anticipation of the impeachment proceedings, and rightly so from hindsight, and was too legalistic to mean anything. Perhaps, more importantly, it was not supported by dramatic reform moves.”
He has other things to say, but with limited space, let’s focus on where Christian Monsod thinks we should go. I will quote that portion in full, in italics:
I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t believe in many things but I believe in three things that are relevant to todayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s situation, based on personal experience.
Firstly, I believe that there is a statesman in every politician and it is up to us to find it, through every means that our imagination can bring us. Even a Marcos refused to send loyal presidential guards to EDSA.
Secondly, I believe that the collective judgment of the people is more often correct when they choose to make it known. And that the poor and uneducated often see with more clarity and discernment what the basic issues are. But they too learn from experience. The 1998 election vote was a successful peaceful revolt of the poor against the rich, except that they chose the wrong champion. But because of that, it could not be exactly duplicated in 2004.
When we were organizing Namfrel from 1984-1986, it was easier to recruit the poor than the rich to take the risk of protecting the ballot. In the 55 provinces I helped organize, the poor would immediately volunteer because it could mean the end of the dictatorship. The rich would ask for guarantees Ã¢â‚¬â€œ is there insurance if something happened to them, can we help their families get a visa to the U.S. to put them out of harmÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s way, etc. And the only unit that withdrew from pollwatching nationwide was some areas on the Makati side of the villages, although they went back to the trenches latter when the stakes were again explained to them again.
Thirdly, I am a great believer in the bureaucracy. I know most of you are not. In 1991, Comelec people, many of them involved in electoral manipulation during the Marcos regime asked to be given the chance to prove that they can deliver credible elections in the 1992 synchronized elections, and they kept their word. After the elections, the comelec central office had a net public approval rating of +64, More important the field organization which really delivers the elections had a net approval rating of +67, higher than central office. They were proud of themselves and, for a while, we believed that, in the little world of the comelec, it was possible to reform even the most damaged institutions. Unfortunately, every president after Cory Aquino changed all that and very few are left of those who made possible the 1992 elections. Can it be done again? I am sure it can. Allow me to tell a story that I think is timeless. (Ã¢â‚¬Å“Sangang ilog.Ã¢â‚¬Â)
With regards to his three points, above, I generally agree with Monsod, and his words remind me of things I have written of in the past, particularly his second point, which reminds me of my insistence that every election has a logic of its own, which we have to try to understand. His third point, with my limited exposure to the bureaucracy while working for the President, is something I agree with, too. You can obtain a lot more by viewing our civil servants and the contractual employees of the State not as the enemy, but as allies who share the same aspirations as you and I.
I am not entirely convinced of what Monsod says next, but they are his views, and are a good basis for debate and further thinking. Let me quote them in full, in italics:
Want to accomplish something do-able step by step that has nothing to do with grand designs for political restructuring and revolutionary councils?
Let us lobby hard with the President and the opposition that we are running out of time in modernizing the electoral system and revamping the Comelec, that there is a need for a transparent process to appoint 2 commissioners now and 2 more in February 2006 if we are serious about reform, that it is time for Abalos to exit from the Comelec through the most expedient means possible including impeachment because a reform program is at great risk of not being achieved while heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s there. That would immediately result in a majority of 5 of good commissioners by February 2006, and we would be on our way to restoring the credibility of the institution.
Let us lobby, using our expertise in specific concerns for policies and programs that represent Ã¢â‚¬Å“gutÃ¢â‚¬Â issues to the people. You can get involved with the right support groups as I am sure many of your have already done. I can give you examples from my own experience in three areas Ã¢â‚¬â€œ energy, agrarian reform and electoral reform, but I will take too much of your time.
Finally, why donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t we encourage people to go back to their barangays, run for barangay tanod, volunteer for committees and help make your barangay more effective in delivering basic services. I am happy with mine, especially as a senior citizen. The return of the barangay system is the only meaningful legacy that Marcos left, perhaps unwittingly, and whether you like to believe it or not, most of them are working well around the country. They perform executive, legislative and judicial functions and the barangay elections, involving over 300,000 officials with as many as 1 million candidates, is the most important election in this country today, the results of which, by the way, are released by the end of the day. Help make the barangay system work and you will have the closest thing to a functioning democracy at the grassroots, without constitutional change.
I personally believe Mr. Monsod has too much faith in the President, and to put so much faith in her is to allow the clock to run out, so that by 2010, you do not have a graceful exit for her, but a Macapagal-Arroyo President for Life fully entrenched. However, the closing paragraphs of Monsod’s statement keeps me confident that there is a a new, interesting, development taking place, independent of the tired old faces and political dogmas of the past, and it will come -if the young people decide to take on the job.
Let me close my saying that I too, in my heart, am convinced that the President was involved in the manipulation of the results of the 2004 elections. But my head tells me that if she is going to be removed, and if the solution is to unite rather than divide the nation and allow us to emerge with stronger institutions, then it should be done with full observance of due process with as much hard evidence as possible and shared by as many citizens as possible.
In other words, we need soft hearts and hard heads, and must be willing to talk and listen even to those to whom we may have already closed our minds. After all, that is what seeking unity is all about. And even if we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t fully succeed, consciously making the journey is half the battle won.
And if our leaders (whether it is an Arroyo, or a de Castro or somebody else) do not respond positively, then we have to try again and again, as we have done before, until we get the government we deserve. I think that is called faith.
There is hope. The rule of law belongs to all of us, and not the President or her defenders. The law will, like the truth, set us free.